Similar to just about anything in life, getting bigger and stronger requires dedication, persistence, and lots of hard work. However, hard work is not enough. To win the war you have to have the right strategy. You have to know how to execute the right plan at the right time and see it through to the end. While high volume training is not necessary for novice trainees, it is absolutely necessary for advanced trainees to get bigger and stronger.
High volume training is of course not the only effective method of training. However, it is a form of training that needs to be applied as some point to successfully take your training to the next level.
In this article, I am going to go over the pitfalls of doing volume training incorrectly and show you how to personalize high volume training to your unique body type for maximum gains in size and strength. Lets get started!
Why Bother With High Volume Training
With all of the different training protocols out there, you might be asking why you should even bother with high volume training. After all isn't high intensity training effective and less time consuming. Sure high intensity training takes less time, but it is not more effective for building size and strength.
For one thing, low volume foes not give you the pump that high volume training does. Why is the pump important? According to top strength coach and Vin Diesel look alike Christian Thibaudeau, "If all you want is to gain quality muscle size, and lots of it, achieving a good pump is important." The best way to get the most effective pumps is to use high volume with heavy weights. Forget about doing one hundred pushups to get a pump. That is not what we are after. We want pumps from heavy weight for maximum muscle growth. Now that we have covered why to do high volume training lets go over several mistakes that people make when applying high volume training programs.
[ Too Much Work Too Often ]
- The first mistake that many trainees make with high volume training is doing too much work too often. You cannot do fifteen sets for legs on Monday and expect to be able to hit legs again on Wednesday.
Chances are high that you will need 3-5 days off in between each muscle group depending on the intensity of the workout and individual recovery abilities. This does not necessarily mean that you hit legs on Monday and do not workout again until Friday. It means that you do not work legs again until Friday. Do some other muscle groups on Tuesday and Wednesday.
- There is an inverse relationship between frequency of training and volume of training. In other words, the more work you do in the gym the less often you can go to the gym. Intense higher volume requires a lower
- and a higher frequency of rest days.
[ Not Properly Planning Out Workout ]
- Second, simply going to the gym and doing four to five different exercise for one body part is not proper planning. That is too much to focus on at one time. You cannot improve on several exercises at the same time.
Also, once you hit a muscle group hard with a compound exercise such as the bench press or squat, there is really no need to follow up with three to four more exercises for that same body part.
Do you really think it is necessary to hit the chest with so many drills? I don't think so. The chest does not have ten different parts that need to be addressed by a variety of drills. Just focus on one to two drills that activate the most muscle fibers in the area and move on.
[ Program Is Not Balanced ]
- Third, many trainees make the mistake of doing high volume programs that are not balanced. For example, many male trainees will do ten to twenty sets for the chest and biceps, and two to three sets of
- for the lower body.
In addition, to building an imbalanced physique, this form of training will lead to over training very quickly unless you are a genetic freak.
It is far too easy in life to gravitate towards things that we like to do and avoid things that we do not like to do. This is a recipe for disaster in and out of the gym. Imagine if you decided one day that you enjoy sleeping in everyday and that you do not enjoy going to work. You decide that you are only going to do things that you enjoy and as a result stop going to work.
Well, after a few days you will be out of work and will have a hard time getting a recommendation for another job. Lets face it, in order to be successful in any area of life you have to be willing to do things that you do not want to do. Do not expect the gym to have a different set of rules.
If you do not like working legs then you probably need to do more legwork. If you hate doing work for your midsection, then you probably need to do more work for your midsection. Pretending that the rules do not apply to you is a sure fire recipe for disaster. Balance is they key and is a critical component of effective high volume training.
[ Applying HIT To HVT ]
- Fourth, applying
- to high volume training only works for people with blessed genetics or trainees that are on the juice. You can only do so many quality sets while training to failure before you have to compromise exercise technique to keep the sets and reps going.
What most jackass trainees do to keep the reps and sets going is to go into forced rep territory. We all probably have experiences of someone asking us to spot them on the bench press and finding out that we are doing all the work for them.
I remember one time, someone asked me to spot him on a bench press set. I had already seen this individual do several sets with crappy form and knew that he was out of his league. He asked me to keep my hands on the bar and to only help him if he needed it.
After I helped him with a lift off, the bar went down to his chest like a ton of bricks. I effectively did an upright row to get the weight back up and just when I was about to help him rack the weight, he said four more reps. I did not know whether to laugh or punch him in the face. He could not even lower the weight to his chest under control and actually had the audacity to think that he completed a rep.
Moreover, he actually thought that he had room for more reps! What a joke. As you might have guessed this guys physique was about as impressive as his lack of strength and intelligence. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you are working when you are not.
As Franco Columbo once said, forced reps are better done on your own. Doing ten sets on the bench and going to absolute failure on every set is a sure-fire way to fry your central nervous system and lead to burn out in no time. You have to be smarter than that. Another rule to remember is that the more volume you do, the lower the intensity has to be.
[ Doing The Wrong Exercises ]
- Fifth, when it comes to high volume training many trainees make the mistake of picking the wrong exercises. The most effective way to take advantage of high volume training is the focus on compound exercises such as:
Forget about curls, triceps pushdowns, leg extensions, and leg curls. If you want maximize size and strength focus on the few exercises that give you the most in return for your efforts.
In the sales world there is a saying that 80% off a company's revenue is done by 20% of its sales team. The majority of your strength and size will come from the few exercises that are most effective not from the majority of exercises that are relatively ineffective. Don't believe me? Try taking curls and leg extensions out of your routine for a month and see if your physique looks any different.
[ Poor Diet & Not Enough Sleep ]
- Finally, a critical mistake that many trainees make with high volume training is having a poor
- and not enough
- . Doing everything right in the gym is not enough. It is when you are not in the gym that your body is trying to recover and rebuild from the
- of high volume training.
Trying to get bigger and stronger on a low calorie diet is like trying to do a sculpture with no clay. Just as you need clay to do a sculpture, you need calories and lots of them to build an impressive physique. Do not even bother working hard in the gym if you do not plan on getting your diet and sleep in order. It will be like trying to drive a car without wheels. No matter how hard you hit the pedal, you will go nowhere. Here is what you need to do. Eat five to seven meals everyday.
coconut While I do admit that this takes a lot of work and planning, it is a crucial part of maximizing the benefits of high volume training. Have a protein shake two to three times a day to take care of a few of the meals.
For the other meals, focus on organic food and eat out as little as possible. Save your money for healthy food at the grocery store. Make sure that you have a balance of protein and fat at every meal. Pre and post workout nutrition is also important. I find that having some protein and fat two hours before workouts works well for me.
A simple pre-workout meal that I use often is two peanut butter sandwiches. This provides a balance of fat, protein, and carbs that powers me through my workouts. Having a protein and carb shake an hour before a workout or even during a workout is another option that works well for many trainees.
- For post workout, make sure that you have some protein and carbs within an hour after each workout. Your body will be starving for nutrition after a hard high volume workout. The longer you wait, the less beneficial the post workout nutrition will be. The more volume you do the more protein and carbs you need after a workout.
For more information on optimal sports nutrition, read John Berardi's articles here.
Regarding sleep, make sure that you are getting 8-10 hours of quality sleep as well every night. Sleeping 5-6 hours a night and having a stressful lifestyle will hamper your results tremendously and likely bring them to a screeching halt. If you cannot get eight hours of sleep in one shot, take a 20-30 minute power nap after your workouts or whenever you can.
How To Personalize An Effective Routine
Okay enough foreplay about high volume training lets dive into how to personalize an effective high volume routine for you. One very effective high volume program that I have used many times with my clients is the "German Volume Training (GVT)" program. GVT has been around for sometime and was used by trainers such as Vince Gironda back in the day. A few years ago, top strength coach Charles Poliquin brought it back to the masses.
The program calls for doing ten sets of ten on compound exercises such as the bench press and barbell squat. You start off with 60% off your one rep max and do not increase the weight until you can complete ten sets of ten on any given exercise. This program is brutal. However, many trainees added 10-15 pounds in as little as six week by persevering with GVT.
Unfortunately, many people that tried GVT also received little or no benefit. Why is this? Well, not everyone has the same muscle fibers. Some people are dominated by fast twitch muscles and thus respond better to low reps and heavy weights. Alternatively, other people are dominated by slow twitch muscles and respond better to higher rep sets with moderate weights.
People that are dominated by fast twitch muscles probably did not respond to well to GVT. While those with a majority of slow twitch muscles probably did. At this point you are probably wondering what category you fall into. One way to find out is to have a muscle biopsy done. However, this is painful and intrusive and not a practical option for most.
A more practical alternative is to do what my friend and top strength Christian Thibaudeau, author of "The Black Book Of Training Secrets" calls the "80% reps test." Here is how it works. Take 80% of your one rep max on an exercise and perform as many reps as possible with good form.
According to Coach Thibaudeau, if you can only perform three reps, then you are extremely fast twitch dominant and need to focus on low-reps. If you can perform 5-10, then you are fast twitch dominant and need to stay in that rep range.
If you can perform 14-21 you are slow twitch dominant and will be better served with higher rep sets. This is very useful information for designing a high volume or any training program for that matter that will work well for you. Lets start off by using the GVT program as a template for an effective high volume-training regimen.
Monday: (Chest and Back)
Wednesday (Shoulders and abs)
- (three sets)
- (three sets)
- (three sets)
Unless indicated otherwise, you will be doing ten sets on all of the exercises. Each workout contains a pair of antagonistic muscle groups. This is an effective way to train for time management and strength. While you are training one group the other one is getting a break. Take two-minute breaks in between each set.
In other words, do a set of A-1, wait two minutes and do a set of A-2. Then wait another two minute and do a set of A-1 again and so forth. Keep going back and forth until you have done ten sets on each exercise. The outlined program is appropriate for all muscle fiber types. What will be different is the amount of reps that you do.
If you are fast twitch dominant, then keep the reps between three and five. If you are slow twitch dominant, then keep the rep range between ten and twelve. I recommend that you start with the lower end of the rep range and work up to the higher end. For example, if you are fast twitch dominant, start off doing 10x3 with 80% of your one rep max. When you can do 10x3, work on doing 10x4 with the same weight.
When you can do 10x4, work on doing 10x5 with the same weight. When you can do 10x5, increase the weight by 5% and start back at 10x3. This cycling will keep things interesting and allow you to benefit from GVT Longer. On the auxiliary sets, follow the same rep scheme recommendations for your muscle fiber type. Just limit the sets to three.
Another effective high volume program is the "Russian Bear" program that I learned about from top strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline, author or "Power To The People." Here is how the "Russian Bear" program works.
Start off by doing a hard set of five on an exercise. Do not pick your five-rep max. Pick a weight that you could do six to seven times with good form and stop at five reps. Wait five minutes after the first set and do another set of five with 90% of the first set.
After that set, wait 30-60 seconds and do a set of 5 with 80% off the first set. Keep doing sets of five with 80% off the first set and take one-minute breaks between each set. When you can no longer do five reps with good form, call it a day. This may happen after four sets or as much as fifteen. It really varies with the individual. Since you are not training to failure and are using relatively lightweights for most of the sets, you can do the "Russian Bear" program more often.
For example, you could do it three times a week. Just take a day off between each workout. Unlike the GVT program, the "Russian Bear" program consists of full body workouts. Here is a sample "Russian Bear" program.
- A-1: Military Press
- A-2: Pull-up
- A-1: Bench Press
- A-2: Bent-over row
- A-1: Military Press
- A-2: Pull-up
Alternate between the two workouts each time. Each workout is a full body workout that hits all of the major muscle groups. Do A-1 and A-2 in antagonistic fashion. Take two-minute breaks in between the first two sets of each exercise and thirty second breaks between the working sets with 80% of the first set. On B-1 follow the program as stated previously.
Take two days off for every three workouts that you do. Now lets personalize the "Russian Bear" program for specific muscle fiber types. If you are fast twitch muscle dominant, keep the rep range between three and five per set. If you are slow twitch muscle dominant, keep the rep range between ten and twelve.
Stay on whichever high volume program you go with for a maximum of six to eight weeks. After a maximum of eight weeks, switch to lower volume training for four weeks before doing another high volume program.
Also, do not start either high volume-training program here if you do not have money to purchase new clothes. Otherwise you are going to look funny when all of your clothes are too small for you. Make sure that you eat and sleep well and get ready for some killer results.
About The Author
Mike Mahler is a strength coach and a certified kettlebell instructor based in Santa Monica, California. For more information on Mike's new DVD, go to www.mikemahler.com.