I stumbled across your site about 6 weeks ago and read
the articles concerning low
volume training. I was a little unsure about the approach,
but I figured I'd give it a try. It's now 5 weeks later, and
I've seen faster strength gains than I have in years along with
a much faster recovery time! You've made a believer out of me!!
:) I used to do 5 sets per exercise (1 warm-up, 3 progressive
sets and one exhaustion set), and I never saw the results I'm
getting now. I'm curious as to what recommendations you can offer
for effectively building muscle mass? In the "old days,"
I would go with 5-6 sets of progressives, lowering the reps as
I increased the weight and no exhaustion set. Would something
similar apply in a low volume version? Thanks again for all of
the great work and informative information you have provided
to us all!
Thank you for your kind words
on the ExRx site. Important practices for building muscle mass
include varied workouts, proper diet, and objective progress
Your diet will be paramount in your goal of muscle mass gain.
There is a very fine line between eating enough calories and
eating too many. Make sure you are consuming the ideal amount
of quality protein, healthy fats, and unrefined carbohydrates
throughout the day. If you have difficulty eating enough calories
for muscle gain, make sure you are eating regularly 4-6 times
daily. You may also need to eat more quickly so you can eat more
before you begin feeling too full (within ~20 minutes). See Dietary Guidelines
and Diet Development.
Regular changes to your weight training program will be vital
for continued progress, independent of your goals.
Continue to change your exercises every month or two, but
favor heavy basic
exercises. Choose auxiliary
exercises sparingly. In the context of a split program, an
additional auxiliary exercise is appropriate for a second exercise
for larger muscle groups or for "weaker", or under
par muscles. The mistake many people make is classifying too
many of their body parts as "weak" and consequently
including too many exercises or sets. Continue to limit your
weight training workouts to one hour or less to better ensure
adequate recovery and avoid overtraining.
Within an individual, strength
is highly correlated to muscular size. Muscular hypertrophy
should not be expected if you continue to use the same old 50
lb dumbbells, workout after workout, month after month. You must
strive to increase your strength for maximum muscle gains. For
a beginner, resistance can be increased quite frequently whenever
a certain number of repetitions are achieved. Periodically, changing
exercises typically allow for continued progress for a number
of years. Advanced weight trainee's increases typically occur
far more slowly.
Strength and subsequent lean body weight gains occur more
rapidly with diverse workouts. This can be accomplished by slight
variations to particular workout variables. A workout that emphasizes
muscular endurance permits more repetitions to be performed on
strength day. A workout that emphasizes strength will allow more
weight to be handled on muscular endurance day. Each fitness
component feeds into the other. Also see Interdependence
of Performance Fitness Components and Training Principle:
An analogy can be made between exercise progression and climbing
a mountain. Our ascent begins quite easily with only periodic
deviations in direction. As we climb higher, the terrain becomes
steadily steeper. Climbing further toward the summit requires
more frequent alterations in direction; traversing slightly to
the left (eg: more reps) then a bit to the right (eg: more weight).
Sometimes we can climb fast, other times slower, and every once
in a while, we may even need to descend slightly, or rest, in
order to climb to a higher level. Many years ago, I used to make
similar analogy with a frog jumping across a pond on lily pads
in a zigzag pattern, but for some reason, it did not seem to
make as good of analogy :-/
Even with these systematic deviations, do not stray too far
from your major training goal. For example, if your focus is
primarily muscular size, there probably would be little value
in performing 50 repetitions (or 5 sets) for an endurance day
or plyometrics for a power day. Instead, make subtle, yet, distinct
variations from workout to workout. The transfer of muscular
endurance or power to strength, and subsequent muscle mass gains
may be diminished if the variations are too drastic.
Strength gains are greater with altered
workload every workout compared to alterations in workload
every month (Rhea 2002). Scheduled varying
workloads based on percentages of a one repetition maximum
(1RM) can be used for experienced lifters, but beginners can
make faster progress by increasing workloads every time they
can perform an upper repetition range (eg.: 8-12 reps).
Alternatively, the repetition speed or recovery periods between
sets could also be varied. Again, be sure to strategically place
workouts with more normalized repetition speeds and rests between
sets for a carryover to strength.
Even when following a low volume program, variations in training
volume can still be considered if planned properly. More sets,
by its self, may only yield marginal, if any greater improvements
in strength and muscle growth. On the other hand, varying the
number of sets periodically may allow for opportunities of incremental
strength and muscle mass gains. After adapting to an additional
set(s), strength will increase when fewer sets are later performed.
This transfer of muscular endurance to strength can even be observed
with single set training; progressively performing more repetitions
until an upper range is reached, weight can then be increased
with a subsequent decrease in reps. You will find you will have
to decrease intensity somewhat what during higher volume training
periods. This is acceptable as long as it is ultimately followed
by a period of higher intense, lower volume training. During
higher volume periods, still choose the lowest number of sets
variations (eg.: one set difference), monitor overtraining
symptoms closely, and implement recovery workouts accordingly.
A similar strategy can be used by adding an additional exercise
temporarily, particularly when targeting a "weak" or
under par muscle group. Typically this involves adding an additional
exercise (for muscular endurance) after your basic
exercise (for strength and muscle mass). Pre-exhaust
is an alternative advanced technique where an isolated
exercise is performed directly preceding a compound
exercise for the same muscle group, typically in a superset
fashion with minimal rest between the two exercises. A strength
transfer can be achieved when the pre-exhaust is ceased. To avoid
overtraining, perform these more advanced techniques only periodically
and sparingly. The order of the exercises in a workout can also
be altered somewhat to achieve a similar effect.
You may also choose to specialize on a particular "weak"
or under par muscle by changing the order in which you perform
your exercises. Choose a split
program that you can place your under par muscles a closer
to the beginning of the workout since you are typically stronger
earlier into your workout.
Monitor your progress objectively. Find someone who can take
your body composition (7 site skinfold measurements) every month
or two, ideally someone who is very experienced with this procedure.
Make sure they take at least 2 if not 3 skinfold measurement
from each site (see techniques).
Take an accurate body weight at the same time of day, each time
you test, so you may more accurately calculate and compare lean
weight and fat weight along with your body
composition over time. On this same day, you may also want
the tester to take circumference
measurements of various body parts (eg.: chest, waist, arm,
thigh calf, etc.). If you are not making lean body weight increases
or gaining too much body fat, trouble shoot your program and
make the appropriate changes to your program right away. Continue
with these changes until your next body comp test.
Any program will lose its effectiveness over time. A beginner
and intermediate exerciser may only need to change exercises
periodically for continued muscular development. Advanced exercisers
will need to incorporate more complex variations in intensity,
volume, recovery, and exercise programming. Adjust your diet
and exercise practices in accordance to regular assessments of
fat and fat free body mass.