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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Two Approaches to High Volume Training - By Todd Baisley

Most of us who visit Natural Strength probably wouldn't be considered high volume trainers. Years ago, we realized we made better progress and enjoyed lifting much more on a lower volume, less frequent, and more intense protocol. Some of us even became more upbeat as a person, without our CNS being beat down from 5 to 6 days per week of relentless training.

Having said that, there are some times when a higher volume (say 20 sets per body part) may fit your lifestyle. When stationed on a smaller base in Panama during the late eighties, there was precious little to do after we were no longer allowed off base. Camping out in the gym for set after set, at that phase of my life, was better than hanging out at the cheesy NCO club. Some people I know and have known of, have found a good gym therapeutic when going through a divorce, and easier than going straight home to an empty apartment. Ditto for some retirees with more energy and time on their hands than they are used to. While it would probably be better for them to develop other interests and relationships, for some the gym scratches the itch.

While there are an infinite number of ways to adjust a high volume routine, they generally fall on or between two poles. One is a more health and muscle building focus, while the other would be pure strength and size.

The first approach could be epitomized by some of Jack Lalanne's routines. In his later years he stated that he would do 20 sets per body part, resting 15 seconds between sets. While one doesn't have to follow this exactly, the idea is a lot of sets in a little time. Supersets are encouraged and reps would usually be more in the 8 to 20 range than the typical strength building range. A good blend of compound and isolated exercises is typical. Plan on using a lot less weight for the last seventeen sets or so.

The upside is there is no need for extra cardio. It also can be great therapy for aching joints. When asked what to do for injuries, Jack would often respond, "Work that sucker!". Find the right angle, the right exercises, and strengthen that muscle all around, while pumping it with blood. I have asked a couple of physical therapists if blood flow is the key to connective tissue repair, both of them said yes. Many sets equals much blood flow (as well as a cost effective and manly approach to physical therapy!).

The downside is most of us won't gain much size or strength on this protocol. While a bulky fellow might carve out some muscularity, I have frankly always gone backwards in the size and strength department when on this type of routine. Better break out your copy of BRAWN or SUPER NATURAL STRENGTH if that is your goal.

The polar opposite would be a high volume workout emphasizing big weights, long rest periods, and compound movements. Paul Anderson used this type of approach. Do a set, rest as long as needed to get your strength back, but not cool down, then do another set. Repeat many times. Squats, half squats, weighted dips, presses, presses from the forehead, deadlift, etc. Plan on spending a long time in the gym. It's not a bad idea to bring some milk or other energy giving drink while you camp out.

On the plus, if you can keep your calories up, you will slowly add layers of thick, dense muscle tissue, the kind that won't disappear if you miss a week in the gym. Because you are doing so many sets, you can become very proficient at a movement, and your strength will go up. Patience and not training to failure are important.

On the down side, this will do little to improve overall health. You NEED to do cardio as well. Strength AND health, as Bob rightly reminds us. Major time investment is another down side. You can make as good or better gains on an abbreviated program. However, if you're at a season when you need to fill time or you're a young guy and you and your buddies enjoy a long squat off, give it a try. Life will get busy again, and you can always fall back on a more sensible program.
BODY • MIND • SPIRIT