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Is Volume Killing Your Gains?

Is volume killing your gains

Most bodybuilders believe that a high training volume is the key to building muscle mass as quickly as possible. Professional bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman have inspired many trainees to use high-volume workouts when training for hypertrophy.

But is high volume training really the best approach for building muscle mass? More importantly, is too much training volume killing your gains? The answer may surprise you! 

Introduction

  • Part 1: The Best High Volume Training Programs
  • Part 2: The Best Low Volume Training Programs
  • Part 3: How To Deload For Faster Progress

In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you everything you need to know about how to manipulate your training volume to build as much muscle mass as possible. 

Training volume can be defined as the number of working sets you perform in a week for each body part. There are two main approaches to training volume for building muscular hypertrophy:

  • High Volume Training
  • High Intensity Training

The high volume guys believe that your overall training volume is the primary driver of muscular hypertrophy. They argue that if you want to build as much muscle mass as possible then you need to prioritize training volume by performing a large number of sets per week per body part.

A high-volume training style might feature 10-30 sets per body part per week. In order to recover from 10-20 working sets per week they recommend you avoid taking most of your sets to failure.

Some high volume guys even recommend you stop most of your sets several reps shy of failure. Guys like Jeff Nippard, Dr. Mike Israetel, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jay Cutler are huge proponents of the high-volume approach.

Here is Jeff Nippard giving a good breakdown of the high-volume approach to training:

The low volume guys have a completely different approach to training. They believe that training intensity is the key to building muscle mass and strength and that the high-volume approach is a waste of time! To these guys too much training volume is literally killing your gains!

High-intensity bodybuilders believe that you have to push yourself really, really hard on a smaller number of sets for optimal results. High-intensity bodybuilders usually only perform 1-10 sets per week for each body part. This is a radically different approach from the high-volume bodybuilders who perform 10-30 sets per week!

To make up for this low training volume they train to failure and sometimes even beyond failure with things like rest-pause sets, forced reps and isometric holds. Guys like Greg Doucette, David Henry, Dorian Yates and Dusty Hanshaw are huge believers in high-intensity bodybuilding training programs.

Here is Dorian Yates giving his thoughts on the importance of training intensity:

So who’s right? Is training volume really the key to building muscle mass, or is it literally killing your progress in the gym?

Let’s get one thing straight: if you want to build muscle mass as quickly as possible then you have to train hard. You have to bust your ass in the gym. There is no magical program where you can train with “5 reps in reserve” on every set and build slabs of new muscle tissue.

Even on a high-volume training program you have to approach failure on some of your sets. If you don’t believe me then just look at the training of Ronnie Coleman. He used more training volume than almost any other bodybuilder in history!

If you think Ronnie shied away from failure and monitored his “reps in reserve” on every set then think again!

In reality both training approaches work. High-volume training works but so does low volume / high intensity training style. It is your job to figure out which one of these training styles works best for you and then to hammer it home until you reach your goals.

In reality the type of training you respond best to is a function of your neurotransmitter profile

Bodybuilders with a more balanced neurotransmitter profile usually get their best results on high-volume training programs. These guys can grind out sets relatively close to failure without burning themselves out.

They respond best to lots of sets and various time-under-tension techniques such as supersets, tri-sets and giant sets to fatigue their muscles. If you tell someone with a balanced neurotransmitter profile to perform a Dorian Yates style workout they will burn themselves out after just one workout!

Most competitive bodybuilders have a more balanced neurotransmitter profile and respond best to higher training volumes. This is a big part of why the high-volume approach is so popular: the guys with the best genetics for bodybuilding typically grow best with a high training volume.

On the other hand if you have a neurotransmitter profile that is high in acetyl-choline and/or dopamine then you might get your best results from a high-intensity training program.

These are the bodybuilders who love, and I mean LOVE to lift heavy in the gym. They live and die by the heavy slag iron!

Guys like Greg Doucette who thrive on high-intensity training programs just like the feeling of pushing themselves to their absolute limits on every set. Greg would rather hump a cactus than do something as boring as a 10 sets of 10 German Volume Training workout!

When in doubt Greg shuts off his frontal lobe and just trains harder! 

If you put a low-volume / high intensity bodybuilder on a high volume training program he will quickly overtrain and make zero progress. For these guys high-volume workouts absolutely destroy their training progress. 

If you respond well to high volume workouts then you should absolutely be using them! They are extremely effective for building muscle mass. Just make sure that you can train progressively over time with your high-volume workouts.

20 sets with the pink dumbbells isn’t going to give you the hypertrophy gains you want!

In my experience alternating higher-volume accumulation phases with lower-volume intensification phases gives you the best of both worlds: a large training volume AND long-term strength gains so you can train progressively.

I cover the accumulation / intensification model in more detail in part 3 of this article.

If you do not respond well to high-volume workouts then there is still hope for you. A smaller percentage of trainees get their best results from low-volume workouts where you perform 1 working set to failure per exercise.

This doesn’t mean you only perform 1 total set per exercise. Instead you perform a few heavy warm up sets before your 1 working set with maximum weight.

IFBB professional bodybuilders Dorian Yates, Dusty Hanshaw and David Henry built their all-time best physiques training this way. In fact David Henry famously added 30 pounds of muscle in 3 years once he started using a high-intensity training program. And this was AFTER he earned his IFBB pro card!

Of course if you want to make the low-volume approach work for you then you have to train unbelievably hard on your working sets. Not everyone has the guts to train this way over the long-run.

Please note: if you have any trouble reading the training routines presented here then this article is for you

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: The Best High Volume Training Programs

There are an endless number of ways that you could design a high volume workout or training program. I define a high-volume training program as one that has you perform AT LEAST 10 working sets per bodypart per week.

Let’s take a look at a typical high-volume chest workout:

  • Bench press, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Incline bench press, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Dumbbell bench press, 4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Machine fly, 4 sets of 8-12 reps

In my experience this is one of the absolute WORST ways to design a high-volume workout. You will build muscle mass at a snail’s pace training like this! If you want to build muscle mass as quickly as possible then you want to focus on bodybuilding training methods that prolong the time under tension of your sets.

Some of the best bodybuilding training methods include supersets, tri-sets and giant sets. These bodybuilding training methods are extremely effective but they are also very demanding. If you have a low pain tolerance or don’t like working hard in the gym then these methods won’t work very well for you.

Now let’s take a closer look at how to program supersets, tri-sets and giant sets for maximum muscular hypertrophy.

High-Volume Training Method #1: Supersets

Supersets are a very simple but extremely effective bodybuilding training method. The idea is simple: you perform 2 exercises back-to-back for the same body part. For example you could perform exercise “A” for your chest, rest 10 seconds and then perform exercise “B” for your chest.

Supersets are so effective for stimulating hypertrophy because they prolong the time under tension of your set and make your muscles work longer than normal.

Just think about it: your muscles are forced to work twice as long as normal when compared to a regular “straight sets” protocol! This extra time under tension will produce a powerful hypertrophy stimulus by increasing both muscular damage and metabolic fatigue, two of the biggest drivers of muscular hypertrophy.

There are a huge number of ways you could structure a supersets workout. The simplest superset workout involves 1 super set per muscle group.

Take a look at the following workout:

Lower Body Supersets Workout

  • A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 3-5 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Machine hack squat (medium stance), 3-5 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed out), 3-5 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: 45 degree back extension (against bands), 3-5 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

This workout features 2 supersets: one for your quadriceps and one for your hamstrings. This workout is far more demanding than it looks!

The key to making this workout work is to push yourself on every single set. You want to perform all of your sets just a little bit shy of failure. You may have 1 or even 0 reps left in the tank on your sets!

This protocol can easily be performed twice per week. If you perform it twice per week then you are performing 12-20 total working sets per week for both your quadriceps and your hamstrings. This is right where you want to be when using a high-volume training style.

Another option is to perform a superset later in your workout after you have already done some moderately heavy sets. Here is a great arm workout you may want to try:

Arm Supersets Workout

  • A1: Decline DB extension, 4-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 4-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: 60 degree incline cable curl (supinated grip), 3-4 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B3: Hammer strength dip machine, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B4: V-bar cable pushdown, 3-4 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise B3, exercise B4.

This arm workout features anywhere from 10-16 total working sets for your biceps and your triceps. This is a lot of volume! If you are an advanced bodybuilder who responds well to higher volume workouts then this may be just what you need to bust through a plateau in arm size.

A more extreme way to structure a high volume supersets workout is to perform 2 separate supersets per body part. You would perform 3-5 rounds of a superset early in your workout and then another 3 rounds of a superset later in your workout. This is a brutal way to train but the results are more than worth the effort.

Here is a sample chest and shoulders workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Chest And Shoulders Superset Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x 8-10, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Machine pec-dec, 3-5 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline bench press, 3-5 x 8-10, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Cable crossover, 3-5 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Hammer strength overhead press, 3-5 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Seated DB partial lateral raise, 3-5 x 20-30, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • D1: Rear delt pec dec, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/1/1, 10 seconds rest
  • D2: Band pull apart, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest

As you can see this workout features 12-18 total sets for both your chest and your shoulders. The supersets jack up the levels of muscular damage and metabolic fatigue way beyond what you could achieve with a regular “straight sets” workout.

Before moving on I want to show you one last way to structure a supersets workout. I stole the idea for the following workout from the strength coach Charles Poliquin. This biceps workout actually features 3 separate supersets. Check it out:

Elbow Flexors Superset Workout

  • A1: Bilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (supinated grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

This workout is designed to thoroughly trash all of the muscle fibers in the elbow flexors.

The “A” superset targets the short head of the biceps. The “B” superset targets the often neglected brachialis muscle. Finally the “C” superset targets the long head of the biceps.

This is a rather extreme workout and should not be attempted too frequently.

Bodybuilding Training Method #2: Tri-Sets

Tri-sets are an unbelievably effective hypertrophy training method. They involve performing three separate exercises back-to-back for the same body part. Tri-sets are basically a more extreme version of supersets.

The main reason why tri-sets work so well for boosting hypertrophy is they stress your muscles with an enormous amount of time under tension. Remember, hypertrophy is largely a function of two factors: load and time under tension.

For example:

(Hypertrophy) = (Load) x (Time Under Tension)

To build maximum muscle mass you need to train with reasonably heavy weights but you also need to accumulate a significant amount of time under tension. Tri-sets are so powerful because they jack up the time under tension of your sets but without negatively impacting the loads that you can lift!

If your regular sets take 30 seconds to complete then a tri-set takes (30 + 30 + 30) = 90 seconds to complete. This means the time under tension of your muscles is 3 times greater than normal!

I am sure some of you are asking why no one else in the gym uses tri-sets if they are so effective. In reality most of what you see in the gym is “monkey-see, monkey-do.” Most people do not put much thought into their workouts.

If you want to maximize your results then you will have to be a little more creative and use some unconventional bodybuilding training methods such as tri-sets. 

In my experience one of the most effective tri-set training protocols is the 6-12-25 method.

The idea is simple: you are going to perform a tri-set where you perform 6 reps on the first exercise, 12 reps on the second exercise and 25 reps on the third exercise. You get to overload different types of muscle fibers with the wide variety of rep ranges. In my experience the 6-12-25 tri-set protocol works especially well for the quadriceps.

Here is a sample lower body routine you may want to try:

Lower Body 6/12/25 Tri-Sets Workout

  • A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Vertical leg press w/ bands, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated leg extension machine, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral), 2-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Romanian deadlift, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Reverse hyperextension, 3-4 x 25, 1/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise B3.

If you look at this workout and say “that doesn’t look very hard” then you need to ask yourself if you’re really pushing yourself hard enough in the gym.

Remember, tri-sets are a post-exhaustion training method. The purpose of the second and third exercises is to further fatigue your muscles after you approach failure on the first exercise.

No, you do not need to literally “fail” on your last set of squats. But you do need to pick a weight that is very close to your 6-rep max. This workout can be performed anywhere from once every 4-7 days depending on your recovery ability.

Another great option is to structure your tri-set as a mechanical advantage drop set. To perform a mechanical advantage drop set you will pick 3 different variations of the same exercise.

For example you could use three different types of pull ups. You then sequence the exercises so you are performing the most difficult exercise first, then the second most difficult one, and finally the easiest exercise variation. You perform all three exercise variations back-to-back in this order without changing the training load.

Because you are moving from the hardest exercise variation to the easiest one you will be able to continue banging out repetitions without having to reduce the training load from one exercise to the next. This is a fantastic option if you train in a busy commercial gym and are not able to hog three separate pieces of equipment at the same time.

Here is a sample mechanical advantage tri-set workout for the upper back that you may want to try. Check it out:

Mechanical Advantage Tri-Set Back Workout

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull ups, 3-5 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium supinated grip pull ups, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Barbell dead stop row, 3 x 10-12, 2/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: One-arm dumbbell row****, 3 x 10-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight you used on the “A1” exercise

****Use form that is halfway between a strict DB row and a Kroc row. Some momentum is OK but don’t get carried away with it. Ronnie Coleman is a great role model.

Here are the training videos: exercise A1-A3, exercise B1, exercise C1.

This is a great high volume upper back workout to use if you are training body parts roughly once per week. After all, you are performing anywhere from 15-21 sets for your upper back with this workout! This is not something I would try to perform twice per week.

As you can see tri-sets is one of the more creative and effective ways to reap the benefits of high volume training. All of these exercises and sets are performed for a reason. Contrast this to the typical “straight sets” workout where a large number of the sets don’t really accomplish anything other than eating into your recovery ability. 

High Volume Training Method #3: Giant Sets

If you thought tri-sets were an extreme way to approach high-volume training then you have obviously never heard of giant sets. Giant sets involve performing at least 4 separate exercises back-to-back for the same body part. I say at least 4 exercises because there is no limit to the number of exercises you can perform in a circuit.

IFBB professional bodybuilder Milos Sarcev likes his clients to perform as many as 10+ exercises per giant set when they are training to build muscle mass or lose body fat!

Giant sets are so effective because they let you accumulate an ungodly amount of time under tension in one extended set. This sends an unbelievably powerful training stimulus to your muscles. Let’s take a look at some sample giant set training protocols.

Here is a fantastic giant sets shoulder workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Shoulders Giant Set Workout

  • A1: Seated cable rope face pull, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated DB lateral raise, 3-4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated DB overhead press, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Seated band pull apart, 3-4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Standing behind the neck press**, 3-4 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform the bottom half range of motion only

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4, exercise A5.

In my experience the shoulders are one of the bodyparts that respond best to giant sets training. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. EMG research has shown that the deltoid muscles actually have 7 separate muscle heads rather than just 3.

If you are curious the anterior deltoids is really made up of 3 separate muscle heads, the side deltoid is made up of just 1 muscle head and the rear deltoids are made up of 3 separate muscle heads. This means that you need to use a wide variety of shoulder exercises and “hit the muscle from all angles” for maximum development.

Giant sets are a very effective and time efficient way to accomplish this. One of the drawbacks to giant set training protocols is it is almost impossible to perform them in busy commercial gym.

One way to work around this issue is to perform mechanical advantage giant sets. In other words you would perform 4+ variations of one type of exercise to get your volume in.

Here is a mechanical advantage giant set workout for the elbow flexors that you may want to try. Check it out:

Elbow Flexors Mechanical Advantage Giant Set

  • A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / pronated grip), 3-4 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight you used for the “A1” exercise. In other words do not change the weight for the 2nd, 3rd or 4th exercises.

I’m going to skip the videos for this routine. If you are advanced enough to attempt this routine then you should know how to perform a preacher curl! 

All you have to do from one exercise to the next is change your grip. This can be as simple as moving your grip in / out or rotating the bar and switching from a pronated grip to a supinated grip. 

Of course it’s impossible to talk about giant sets training without talking about Milos Sarcev style giant sets. If you are at all interested in giant sets training then I highly recommend the following interview featuring Milos Sarcev himself:

Milos Sarcev uses giant sets with most of his bodybuilding clients. In order to pack on as much muscle mass as possible he has them perform upwards of 10 exercises in a row in a circuit for each body part!

This is a seemingly insane way to train but Milos is known for getting superior results with his athletes. These 10+ exercise giant sets are incredibly effective for building muscular hypertrophy and facilitating fat loss.

Here is a sample Milos Sarcev style upper back giant set that you may want to try. Check it out:

Milos Sarcev Style Upper Back Giant set

  • A1: T-bar row, 3 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Rack deadlift, 3 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing barbell shrug, 3 x 10-12, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: Wide neutral grip machine pulldown, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A5: Trap bar bent-over row, 3 x 10-12, 1/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A6: Lying DB pullover, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A7: Medium neutral grip cable pulldown, 3 x 10-12, 1/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A8: Narrow pronated grip cable pulldown, 3 x 10-12, 1/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A9: Medium pronated grip pulldown machine, 3 x 10-12, 1/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A10: Seated cable row (close / semi-supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest

Here is a video for the entire workout:

Milos Sarcev style giant set protocols typically work best when you are training with a coach or a training partner who can push you through your hardest sets. This is NOT something you should do if you are training by yourself.

There is just now way you can push yourself hard enough on your own to get the most out of this type of training program. If you perform 3 rounds of this giant set you can easily perform 30 total sets for back in a 1-hour workout.

It’s simply impossible to match the effectiveness or the efficiency of giant sets training with a regular “straight sets” workout.

Part 2: The Best Low Volume Training Programs

High volume training programs are a great way to train for hypertrophy. After all, there is a reason most professional and national-level bodybuilders use some form of high volume training.

Unfortunately high volume training programs are not for everyone.

Some trainees quickly overtrain unless the overall training volume is very low. Others just can’t handle high-volume workouts from a psychological perspective. They would rather eat fiberglass than do something so boring as train for the pump!

For both of these types of trainees a high-volume training program would absolutely kill their gains. A better solution is to perform a lower volume but higher intensity program focused on progressive overload and post-failure training techniques.

In my experience the two best high-intensity bodybuilding training styles are Dorian Yates’ “Blood And Guts” training program and Dante Trudel’s DC Training program. If you are a low volume kind of guy then these two programs can’t be beat.

Let’s take a closer look at each of them. 

High Intensity Program #1: Dante Trudel’s DC Training

DC Training was invented by Dante Trudel, the co-owner of the True Nutrition supplement company. When Dante was 19 years old he was 6 feet tall and 137 pounds with two rolls of quarters in his pockets.

19 year old Dante lost a posing contest to a broomstick and started lifting weights with the goal of becoming a bodybuilder.

Dante spent his first 2-3 years doing the typical high-volume training programs that all of the professional bodybuilders were doing. He eventually came to a radical conclusion: the standard high volume stuff didn’t make any sense!

Dante set out to reverse engineer the whole bodybuilding equation. He wanted to figure out what was actually responsible for making a muscle grow and how to speed up the muscle building process as much as possible. DC Training is Dante’s master thesis on how to build muscle mass at the absolute fastest rate.

DC training is based on a few training principles:

  • Progressive overload in bodybuilding rep ranges using rest-pause sets
  • Extreme stretching immediately after you perform your working sets
  • A moderately high training frequency where you hit body parts 3 times in 2 weeks

The official DC Training split is an upper body / lower body split performed 3 times per week. You are going to rotate through 3 different upper body workouts and 3 different lower body workouts over the course of 2 weeks.

On the third week you start repeating workouts and you try to beat your previous performance on each exercise: For example:

Week 1: 

  • Monday: Upper Body Workout #1
  • Wednesday: Lower Body Workout #1
  • Friday: Upper Body Workout #2

Week 2:

  • Monday: Lower Body Workout #2
  • Wednesday: Upper Body Workout #3
  • Friday: Lower Body Workout #3

Week 3

  • Monday: Upper Body Workout #1
  • Wednesday: Lower Body Workout #1
  • Friday: Upper Body Workout #2

On week 4 the cycle continues. Here are the muscle groups you train on the upper body and lower body training days:

Upper Body Workout Template

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Back Width
  • Back Thickness

Lower Body Workout Template

  • Biceps 
  • Forearms
  • Calves
  • Hamstrings
  • Quads

You are only going to perform 1 exercise per body part per workout.

For example on your first upper body day you would perform your favourite chest exercise. On your second upper body workout you would perform your second favourite chest exercise. Finally on your third upper body workout you would perform your third favourite chest exercise.

When you repeat your first upper body workout your goal is to beat your previous performance on your favourite chest exercise. You can do this by performing more reps or increasing the weight lifted.

For most body parts you are going to perform 1 all-out rest-pause set. The protocol for a rest-pause set is simple:

  • Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range (or higher), then rest while taking 10-15 deep breaths
  • Train to failure again using the same weight, then rest while taking 10-15 deep breaths
  • Train to failure a third time using the same weight, done!

Most body parts are trained using 1 all-out rest-pause set per exercise. There are a few exceptions:

  • Back thickness exercises (deadlifts, barbell rows, t-bar rows etc.) are trained with 1-2 straight sets. For example you could do 1 set of 4-8 reps and 1 set of 8-12 reps for deadlifts.
  • Forearms are trained with 1 straight set of 8-12 reps.
  • Calves are trained with 1 straight set of 6-12 reps. For calves you have to use a 2-4 second lowering phase and an 8-15 second isometric pause in the stretched position on every rep.
  • Quads are trained with 2 sets: a heavy set in the 6-8 rep range and a 20-rep set that Dante calls the “widowmaker.” 

The widowmaker for quads deserves its own discussion. The goal is to perform 20 reps with your 10-12 rep max. For example on squats you would perform 10-12 reps with your 10-12 rep max. Then instead of racking the bar you lock out your legs and take in 3-5 deep breaths.

As soon as you feel partially recovered you will squat down and bust out 1-3 additional reps. This process is continued until you have performed 20 total reps. Dante calls this a widowmaker because of how hard it is to perform!

Immediately after working each body part you are going to perform an extreme stretch. This is essentially a loaded stretch that you hold for 60-90 seconds.

For example the chest stretch involves holding a pair of dumbbells in the bottom position of a DB fly.

These stretches are incredibly painful but are extremely effective for boosting muscle mass and strength. Dante absolutely swears by them and they are a core part of the DC Training program. If you want to learn more about DC-style extreme stretching then check out this article:

That concludes our overview of the DC Training system. If you respond well to lower volume / higher intensity training programs with an emphasis on progressive overload then you will love DC Training.

Here is a sample upper body and lower body workout you may want to try:

Sample Upper Body DC Workout

  • A1: Hammer strength incline press, 1 x 7-10 RP**, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Seated DB overhead press, 1 x 10-13 RP****, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Dead stop skull crushers, 1 x 7-10 RP**, 2/1/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Rack Chins, 1 x 7-10 RP**, 4/1/X/0, rest as needed
  • E1: T-bar row, 2 x (8-10, 14-16), 2/0/X/0, rest as needed

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Aim for 7-10 reps on your first attempt of the rest-pause set.

****Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Aim for 10-13 reps on the second part of the rest-pause set.

Sample Lower Body DC Workout

  • A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 1 x 9-12 RP, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Standing cable ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 1 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Leg press calf raise, 1 x 7-10, 5/15/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Sumo leg press, 1 x 8-12, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • E1: Hack squat (medium stance), 2 x (6-10, 20****), 3/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Aim for 9-12 reps on the first part of your rest-pause set.

****Performed as a “widowmaker” set as described above.

Once again if you find that high volume training protocols absolutely kill your progress then you may want to consider a low-volume training program like DC Training. Dante Trudel has a nearly unmatched reputation in the bodybuilding industry for turning 150 pound nobody’s into 250 pound bodybuilders in record time.

Of course DC Training is not the only low volume / high intensity training program you should consider…

Dorian Yates “Blood And Guts” Training

DC Training isn’t the only low volume / high intensity bodybuilding training program out there. In my opinion the other high intensity training program you should consider trying is Dorian Yates’ “Blood And Guts” training program.

Dorian won the Mr. Olympia title 6 times in a row and was the greatest bodybuilder of the 1990s. This is significant because most people consider the 1990s to be the most competitive decade in the history of professional bodybuilding.

Dorian quickly discovered that his body couldn’t recover from the high volume routines that everyone else was doing. For him too much training volume caused him to overtrain and make zero progress.

Dorian discovered very quickly that he got his best results by performing 1 all-out working set per exercise. He took all of his sets to failure or even beyond failure. Dorian’s favourite post-failure training technique was forced reps.

The procedure for performing a forced rep is as follows:

  • First train to concentric muscular failure. You have to literally “fail” on your last rep!
  • As soon as you start to miss the rep your training partner will give you some assistance to complete the rep. For example on a set of incline dumbbell presses your partner will help lift your elbows to complete the rep.
  • After your training partner helps you through the concentric range you have to lower the weight down under control on your own.

All together this counts as 1 forced rep. 

Take a look at the following video of Dorian performing Nautilus Pullovers:

On this exercise Dorian performs 5 reps on his own. On the 6th rep he starts to fail with the weight and his training partner assists so he can complete the rep. In total Dorian performs 5 reps on his own plus an additional 3 forced repetitions.

On most exercises Dorian went to failure and then performed an additional 1-3 forced reps. On larger free weight exercises such as deadlifts and incline bench presses Dorian would perform 1 set just shy of failure. 

Dorian performed all of his sets to failure but that does not necessarily mean his program was low-volume. Dorian performed anywhere from 2-7 exercises per body part! Here is the breakdown:

  • Chest: 4 exercises
  • Shoulders: 5 exercises
  • Triceps: 3 exercises
  • Back: 7 exercises (!)
  • Quads: 3 exercises
  • Hamstrings: 3 exercises
  • Calves: 2 exercises

This is actually pretty close to what a lot of high volume training programs use. The main difference is that Dorian is busting his ass on every exercise and training to failure while a lot of so-called high volume guys just go through the motions.

It really makes you think: are high volume bodybuilding routines really all that effective? Or are they just a way for people to convince themselves that they are working hard when in reality they don’t have the “guts” to push themselves on their sets?

But I digress…

Dorian used a slightly unusual training split:

  • Day 1: Chest And Biceps
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders And Triceps
  • Day 5: Back And Rear Delts
  • Day 6: Off
  • Day 7: Repeat!

The training frequency is once every 6 days per body part rather than once every 7 days like most professional bodybuilders used. Dorian believes that this is one of the most effective training splits that an advanced bodybuilder can use.

For less advanced bodybuilders Dorian often recommends a push / pull / legs split performed either 3 or 4 days per week.

Here are the official Dorian Yates workouts as seen in his Blood And Guts training DVD:

Dorian Yates Chest And Biceps Workout

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 x 6, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Flat machine press, 1 x 6 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 1 x 6 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Standing cable crossover, 1 x 6 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • E1: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 1 x 6 + 1 forced rep, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Standing ez-bar curl, wide supinated grip, 1 x 4 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • G1: Unilateral machine preacher curl (supinated grip), 1 x 5 + 3 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed

Here is the chest and biceps training video:

Dorian Yates Legs Workout

  • A1: Bilateral machine leg extension, 1 x 8 + 3 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: 45 Degree Leg Press, 1 x 11, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • C1: Machine hack squat (feet low and narrow on the platform), 1 x 6 + 1 forced rep, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • D1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet neutral / dorsiflexed), 1 x 5 + 3 forced reps, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • E1: Romanian deadlift (to mid-shin height), 1 x 8, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Kneeling unilateral leg curl (feet neutral / dorsiflexed), 1 x 5 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • G1: Standing machine calf raises, 1 x 13, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • H1: Seated machine calf raise, 1 x 5 + 3 forced reps, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed

Here is the leg training video:

Dorian Yates Shoulders And Triceps Workout

  • A1: Seated smith machine overhead press, 1 x 6, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Seated DB lateral raise, 1 x 10 + 3 forced reps, 1/1/X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: Unilateral standing cable lateral raise, 1 x 5 + 4 forced reps, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Standing DB shrugs, 1 x 13, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • E1: Standing bilateral cable push down (straight bar, pronated grip), 1 x 8 + 3 forced reps, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • F1: Lying Ez-bar extension (to forehead), 1 x 6, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • G1: Standing unilateral cable push down (supinated grip), 1 x 6 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed

Here is the shoulders and triceps training video:

Dorian Yates Back Workout

  • A1: Nautilus machine pullover, 1 x 6 + 3 forced reps, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Bilateral hammer strength machine pulldown (supinated grip), 1 x 6 + 2 forced reps, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • C1: Standing barbell row to knees, 1 x 6, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • D1: Seated unilateral machine row, 1 x 5 + 2 forced reps, 1/0/X/1, rest as needed
  • E1: Bent-over rear delt machine, 1 x 11, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • F1: Bent over rear-delt DB flies, 1 x 8, 1/0/1/0, rest as needed
  • G1: 90 degree back extension (BB on back), 1 x 10, 2/0/1/1, rest as needed
  • H1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 6, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed

Here is the back training video:

Before moving on you should know that Dorian Yates recorded all of his workouts in a training journal. In fact Dorian has every single workout that he ever performed as a professional bodybuilder recorded in one of his old training logs!

Using a training log is important in ANY training program but it is especially important with a high-intensity program such as Blood And Guts training. Every workout Dorian was trying to beat his previous performance on each exercise.

If he incline bench pressed 405 pounds for 8 reps then on the next workout he would bump up the weight to 410 pounds and try to get the same number of reps. This is a good habit to get into.

Any time you repeat a workout your goal should be to improve by at least 2% on each exercise. That can be as simple as adding a rep or adding 2% to the bar. Sometimes Dorian “hit a wall” on an exercise. When this happened he would simply swap that exercise out for another one that trained the same body part.

In this manner Dorian was able to progress in strength AND size year-round without any plateaus.

I highly recommend you give Dorian Yates’ high intensity training program a shot if you have a hard time making progress on higher volume training protocols. It is one of the best bodybuilding training programs ever invented!

Overview of Mountain Dog Training

I want to finish off the discussion of the most effective low volume / high intensity training programs with a brief discussion on John Meadows’ “Mountain Dog Training.” John is known for his extremely high volume bodybuilding style workouts.

I’m not arguing that Mountain Dog Training is low volume or anything like that. However, take a look at the following workout template:

  • Exercise #1: 2-3 progressive warm up sets, 1 working set to failure
  • Exercise #2: 1-2 progressive warm up sets, 1 working set to failure
  • Exercise #3: 1-2 progressive warm up sets, 1 working set to failure
  • Exercise #4: 1-2 progressive warm up sets, 1 working set to failure

Many of John’s workouts are structured in this way. For example a typical Mountain Dog chest workout might consist of 4 exercises.

On each exercise John (or his trainees) might perform 1-3 progressively heavy warm up sets followed by 1 all-out working set. The working set may be performed just shy of failure, to failure, or even beyond failure with high-intensity techniques such as drop sets, partials etc. 

Compare this to Dorian Yates’ chest workout template:

  • Exercise #1: 2-3 progressive warm up sets, 1 working set to failure
  • Exercise #2: 1-2 progressive warm up sets, 1 working set to failure
  • Exercise #3: 1-2 progressive warm up sets, 1 working set to failure
  • Exercise #4: 1-2 progressive warm up sets, 1 working set to failure

I don’t know about you but I’m not seeing much of a difference. What does this mean? Is Mountain Dog Training really low volume? Or is Blood And Guts training really high volume? What the heck is going on here!?!?

Here’s my take on it: it doesn’t matter if you train with “low volume” or “high volume” workouts. You have to train hard if you want to maximize your results. There is no magic training program where you can go in and perform a large number of half-assed sets and reach your genetic potential.

High volume works, low volume works. Whatever training style you use you have to train hard and that means pushing at least some of your sets close to failure. 

Part 3: How To Deload For Faster Progress

One of the challenges with using high volume training programs is they can be difficult to recover from. Some trainees make awesome progress on high volume routines for 2-3 weeks and then “hit a wall” and start to go backwards.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t do high volume workouts or that high volume workouts are killing their gains. Instead it just means that they need to incorporate deloads in order to be able to recover.

In this section I want to cover some of the most effective deloading strategies that you can use to maximize your results in the gym. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Decreasing Your Training Volume
  • Decreasing Your Training Frequency
  • Alternating Accumulation And Intensification Phases

Let’s take a closer look at each of these deloading strategies.

Deload Strategy #1: How To Deload By Decreasing Your Training Volume

The first and most obvious way to deload as a bodybuilder is to decrease the number of sets that you perform.

By briefly reducing your training volume you give your body a chance to properly recover from the previous high volume workouts. You may even find that your body super compensates during the reduced volume workouts as it finally adapts to the training stress.

Here are a few volume reduction strategies that you may want to try:

Option #1: Decrease Training Volume Over A 3 Workouts Progression

With this option you would perform 2 high volume workouts and then 1 lower volume workout in a row. This pattern can be repeated as many times as necessary. For example:

  • Workout #1: 100% Training Volume 
  • Workout #2: 80% Training Volume
  • Workout #3: 20% Training Volume

Here is what this volume reduction strategy might look like for a bodybuilder training his back:

  • Workout #1: 15 total sets
  • Workout #2: 12 total sets
  • Workout #3: 3 total sets
  • Workout #1: 15 total sets
  • Workout #2: 12 total sets
  • Workout #3: 3 total sets

This option works really, really well for trainees who cannot handle more than 2 high volume workouts in a row.

Even if you recover well from high volume workouts it gives you the chance to push your training volume really, really high on the first two workouts because you know the volume is coming down on the third workout.

Option #2: Reduce The Training Volume Every 5th And 6th Workout

With this option you would perform 4 high volume workouts in a row followed by 2 lower volume workouts. For example:

  • Workouts 1: 100%
  • Workouts 2: 100%
  • Workouts 3: 100%
  • Workouts 4: 100%
  • Workouts 5: 40-60%
  • Workouts 6: 40-60%

This option works well for trainees who have a very high tolerance for training volume. Here is what this volume reduction strategy might look like in practice for an advanced bodybuilder.

For this example the bodybuilder is training quadriceps twice per week and is alternating back and forth between an “A” workout and a “B” workout. Check it out:

  • Day 1: Workout A = 10 sets
  • Day 4: Workout B = 10 sets
  • Day 8: Workout A = 10 sets
  • Day 11: Workout B = 10 sets
  • Day 15: Workout A = 5 sets
  • Day 18: Workout B = 5 sets

On Day 22 the bodybuilder would be ready to return to more of a high-volume workout with lots of sets. Deloading by volume is one of the simplest and most versatile deloading strategies. It works great for bodybuilders and anyone training primarily for muscular hypertrophy.

Of course it is not the only way…

Deload Strategy #2: How To Deload By Decreasing Your Training Frequency

This is an extremely effective and underrated deloading strategy. Rather than decreasing the number of sets that you perform in a workout you simply insert extra rest days between your workouts.

This strategy works best if you are training body parts more than once a week. That way when you reduce your training frequency you are still hitting body parts at a minimum of once every 7 days. Let’s take a look at some practical examples. 

How To Do A Training Frequency Deload With DC Training

The basic DC training program has you perform 3 workouts per week. This may not sound like much but these workouts are very demanding on your body and especially your central nervous system.

After about 3-6 weeks on the program most trainees start to feel beat up and dread going to the gym. When this happens Dante recommends that you just “skip” one of the workouts.

You would only train 2 days per week on one of the weeks rather than the usual 3 days per week. For example:

  • Week 1: 3 workouts
  • Week 2: 3 workouts
  • Week 3: 3 workouts
  • Week 4: 2 workouts

DC Training uses a moderately high training frequency where you hit body parts once every 4-5 days. When you skip a workout you are still training body parts once every 7 days. You also get a TON of extra rest with the additional day off.

For example let’s say that you skip one of your Friday workouts and push it back until the following Monday. That means you have Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday off to recover. By the time the following Monday comes around you will be feeling good as new! 

How To Do A Training Frequency Deload With Dorian Yates’ Blood And Guts Training

Dorian Yates is also a big proponent of taking additional days off from the gym when needed to recover. About once or twice a month Dorian would take an extra day off after his leg workout.

For example here is Dorian’s usual training split:

  • Day 1: Chest / Biceps
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders / Triceps
  • Day 5: Back / Rear Delts
  • Day 6: Off
  • Day 7: Repeat

As you can see Dorian liked to train body parts about once every 6 days. Here is his split when he inserts an extra rest day after legs:

  • Day 1: Chest / Biceps
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Off
  • Day 5: Shoulders / Triceps
  • Day 6: Back / Rear Delts
  • Day 7: Off
  • Day 8: Repeat

Just inserting that extra rest day makes a world of difference and allowed Dorian to super compensate following the previous training stress.

Of course the strategy of inserting extra rest days works best when you are training body parts more than once a week. That way when you insert your extra rest days you are still hitting body parts at a minimum of once every 7 days.

This is one of the advantages of higher-frequency programs. If you are hitting body parts once every 7 days then it is probably not a good idea to insert more rest days and wait even longer between workouts for each body part.

Deload Strategy #3: How To Deload By Alternating Accumulation And Intensification Phases

This is perhaps the most effective and most underrated deloading strategy.

The basic idea is to alternate between 2-4 week blocks of high volume bodybuilding-style workouts with 2-4 week blocks of lower-volume strength workouts. The higher volume bodybuilding style workouts are called accumulation phases while the lower volume strength phases are called intensification phases.

Accumulation phases are great for building muscle mass. Unfortunately they have one HUGE problem: it is very difficult to get stronger when you use higher-volume accumulation phases.

Of course a bodybuilder doesn’t care about how strong he is, he just wants to build muscle mass. The problem is unless you are getting stronger over the long-run then you are probably not adding much muscle mass to your frame.

I don’t care how many sets you do, if you are only incline pressing 135 pounds for reps then you are going to have a small chest. The reverse is also true: I don’t care how bad your diet is or how little volume you use, if you can inline press 500 pounds for reps then you are going to have a big chest whether you like it or not!

Alternating accumulation and intensification phases gives you the best of both worlds: you build muscle mass with the high-volume workouts and you get stronger during the lower-volume strength workouts. The intensification phases also act as a deload and help you to recover from the previous weeks of higher volume training.

For example here is how you might structure a 10-week block of hypertrophy training using the accumulation / intensification model:

Of course there are many other ways to incorporate accumulation and intensification phases into your program. I have had a lot of success rotating through three different types of workouts with my more advanced online coaching clients. For example:

  • Workout #1: Giant sets
  • Workout #2: Tri-sets
  • Workout #3: Rest-pause sets
  • Workout #4: Giant sets
  • Workout #5: Tri-sets
  • Workout #6: Rest-pause sets
  • Workout #7: Giant sets
  • Workout #8: Tri-sets
  • Workout #9: Rest-pause sets

The giant set and tri-set workouts are more geared towards building muscular hypertrophy while the rest-pause workouts are more geared towards building strength. In this manner you can rapidly build muscle mass with the giant set and tri-set workouts while still training to get stronger over time with the rest-pause workouts.

Conclusion

Is volume killing your gains

Optimal training volume is one of the most controversial topics in the fitness industry. Yes, high volume workouts are great for hypertrophy. However, they must be programmed correctly for optimal results.

You may want to consider using advanced bodybuilding techniques such as supersets, tri-sets and giant sets to get the most out of your higher volume workouts. You may also want to consider using a specific deloading strategy such as periodically reducing your training volume or frequency for a few days to allow your body to super compensate.

For most trainees the accumulation / intensification periodization model is an awesome way to train because it gives you the best of both worlds: rapid hypertrophy gains from the high-volume workouts as well as consistent long-term strength gains from the intensification workouts.

Remember, consistent long-term strength gains are essential even if your primary goal is increased hypertrophy.

Finally some of you reading this may not respond well to high volume workouts at all. If that describes you then too much training volume really is killing your gains!

Don’t worry, there are plenty of high-intensity bodybuilding training programs such as Dante Trudel’s DC Training and Dorian Yates’ Blood And Guts training that are absolutely awesome for building muscle mass.

Even John Meadows’ Mountain Dog workouts are worth a try if you can’t handle a lot of volume as he only has his trainees perform a few all-out sets per workout.

Remember, there is no magical training program. A Training program is only good if it is customized for you and helps you get the results you want!

“The proper attitude is to go into the gym like a rational human being and perform only the precise amount of exercise required by nature. More is not better; less is not better; the precise amount required is best.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training program!