Intensity vs. Volume for Hypertrophy (includes a 4 day split routine)

Intensity vs. Volume for Hypertrophy (includes a 4 day split routine)

by Chris Mason

My last article addressed how to get bigger legs in 30 days using a form of double pre-exhaustion with a very high intensity of effort and low volume. I addressed how hypertrophy can benefit strength athletes from bodybuilders to weightlifters with some detail, but I did not directly touch on the topic of intensity vs. volume as it relates to hypertrophy.

John Defendis had the vacuum pose down!
John Defendis had the vacuum pose down!

Intensity vs. volume has been a topic of hot debate over the years with the two extremes of the spectrum being commonly represented on one end by the HIT (High Intensity Training) one set to failure popularized by the legendary Arthur Jones (the man who invented Nautilus® training equipment), his protege Ellington Darden PhD, and bodybuilding icon Mike Mentzer. The other end of the spectrum has the GVT (German Volume Training) proponents and the system coined Intensity or Insanity championed by bodybuilder John Defendis (he learned it from another bodybuilding legend named Steve Michalik) which promoted up to 60 or more sets per body part per session (clearly the high volume champion)! 



The one immutable physiologic fact is that intensity and volume are inversely related when it comes to strength training. Intensity can be defined in this case by either the classic weightlifting definition which relates it to the percentage load used compared to the trainee’s one rep max, or by how close to concentric failure (when you cannot complete a rep) one comes during their post-warm-up sets. The higher the intensity of the session, the less volume which can be benefited from.

Konstantin Konstantinov knows intensity!
Konstantin Konstantinov knows intensity!

Many, many trainees confuse tolerating a given high volume routine with truly benefitting from it. Some trainees can adapt to a volume load such that they don’t show the classic symptoms of overtraining, but that does not mean they are training in such a fashion as to elicit, and more importantly, to permit supercompensation which results in improved size, strength, or both.

Don’t be a dummy, dummy! If you are not consistently progressing, assuming you are not near your genetic potential for size, strength, or both, you are NOT training properly, and as most serious trainees are not lacking in the effort department (i.e. intensity) chances are very good you are training with excessive volume and literally preventing the outcome you seek!

Vic Richards was definitely near his genetic potential!
Vic Richards was definitely near his genetic potential!

Now, as anyone who has been around the iron game for any length of time knows, there can be a pretty large variance in the amount of volume which works for a given trainee. There are two main reasons. First, individual genetic makeup provides for variance. Some people can simply handle more high intensity volume than others. Second, intensity, as has already been stated, is a variable that can make a huge difference. There is a marked difference in terms of recovery from training done at 100% intensity (as a percentage of one’s 1RM), or to failure with repetitions, than training done at 70-80% intensity, or stopping two or more reps short of failure. In the end, I believe this is a primary source of the confusion that persists in the bodybuilding (hypertrophy specific) world as to what volume of training is best.

So, what is the answer, what is the optimal volume and intensity for training for hypertrophy? In terms of actual results the answer is somewhat equivocal, but when you take into account time (the actual amount of time spent training) the answer becomes much clearer.

Over the years I have trained myself and many, many others both in person and remotely. What I have found to work best for the vast majority when hypertrophy is the primary goal is 4-6 working sets (I define work sets as post-warm-up sets) of 8-12 reps taken to, or within 1 rep of failure for larger body parts, or muscle groups, and 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps for smaller muscles, or muscle groups. So, nutshell, high intensity with moderate volume is the most effective means of eliciting maximal hypertrophy. Sure, variants of this formula work, but as noted in the previous paragraph, when you consider time spent in the gym, the formula I have set forth is the most “cost effective” I have found. Increased volume, generally speaking, does not translate to significantly better results (and often leads to overtraining), and less volume nets less results.

Earlier in this article I mentioned bodybuilding legend Mike Mentzer. Mike, after his competitive bodybuilding days, and before his death, promoted less and less volume. What is interesting is that at his competitive best he did not train with one set to failure. He used multiple working sets to failure and was able to achieve what is arguably one of the finest physiques ever displayed sporting a very rare combination of shape, symmetry, and sheer mass. I think Mike’s move towards extremely low volume was based on both a diseased mind (I understand he was considered to have some mental health concerns) and the need/compulsion for progression that is basic to human nature. People, especially high achievers, always feel compelled to improve things. This basic attribute of humanity is simultaneously a driver of achievement and a foible.

Mike Mentzer looking AMAZING here!
Mike Mentzer looking AMAZING here!

I mention Mike again because the following routine, which I have found to be VERY effective, is based off of a contest training regimen which Mike employed at his peak. To be clear, Mike was one to grow into his shows, so the pre-contest routines he used were potent at stimulating hypertrophy.

Monday & Thursday:

Superset (perform 3 supersets):

Incline dumbbell flye x 10 reps

Flat barbell bench press x 10 reps

Giant set (perform 2 giant sets):

Leg extension x 12 reps

Leg curl x 12 reps

Full squat x 12 reps

Rest 3-5 minutes then (not part of the giant set):

Leg Press – 1 x 15 reps

Calf raise – 2 x 20 reps

Overhead cable ab crunch – 2 x 12 reps

Tuesday & Friday:

Wide grip chins – 2 x failure

Superset (perform 2 supersets):

Dumbbell pullover x 10 reps

T-bar row x 8 reps

Superset (perform 2 supersets)

Dumbbell lateral raise x 12 reps

Seated dumbbell press x 10 reps

Superset (perform 2 supersets)

Barbell curl x 10 reps

Dumbbell rollback x 12 reps

Donkey calf raise – 2 x 15 reps

Overhead cable ab crunch – 2 x 15 reps

* Each of the above sets is a working set. Warm-up as needed prior to their performance.

Follow the above routine for three months. After three months take at least ten days off totally from training and then begin a new training regimen based upon your goal(s).

Nutrition and Supplementation

This is a training article, but some mention should be made of both nutrition and supplementation to support your intense hypertrophy focused training. In terms of nutrition the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle applies. The key points to remember: You should try to minimize consumption of processed foods, consume sufficient protein (1g per pound of body weight is more than sufficient), consume sufficient calories to support potential growth (this is the most often missed component), and have some sense of nutrient timing surrounding your training (be sure to consume some protein and quickly absorbed carbs immediately after training).

The concept of sufficient calories is a bit amorphous, so let me be more specific. For younger men, and those with a fast metabolism, sufficient caloric intake to fuel growth ranges from roughly 17-25 calories per pound of body weight. For older trainees, and those with slower metabolisms, the range is more along the lines of 14-18 calories per pound. The only way to know what is best for you is to experiment, but the ranges noted are good starting points.

In terms of supplementation, and keeping one’s budget in mind, I recommend the following:

http://atlargenutrition.com/product/pre-workout/ – take one serving about 40 minutes prior to training

http://atlargenutrition.com/product/nitrean/ – 1.5 scoops mixed in water or milk post-workout

http://atlargenutrition.com/product/results/ – one serving post-workout on training days and with a meal on off days

Intensity vs. Volume for Hypertrophy (includes a 4 day split routine)

Intensity vs. Volume for Hypertrophy (includes a 4 day split routine)

by Chris Mason

My last article addressed how to get bigger legs in 30 days using a form of double pre-exhaustion with a very high intensity of effort and low volume.  I addressed how hypertrophy can benefit strength athletes from bodybuilders to weightlifters with some detail, but I did not directly touch on the topic of intensity vs. volume as it relates to hypertrophy.

John Defendis definitely had the vacuum pose down!
John Defendis definitely had the vacuum pose down!

Intensity vs. volume has been a topic of hot debate over the years with the two extremes of the spectrum being commonly represented on one end by the HIT (High Intensity Training) one set to failure popularized by the legendary Arthur Jones (the man who invented Nautilus® training equipment), his protege Ellington Darden PhD, and bodybuilding icon Mike Mentzer.  The other end of the spectrum has the GVT (German Volume Training) proponents and the system coined Intensity or Insanity championed by bodybuilder John Defendis (he learned it from another bodybuilding legend named Steve Michalik) which promoted up to 60 or more sets per body part per session (clearly the high volume champion)! 



The one immutable physiologic fact is that intensity and volume are inversely related when it comes to strength training.  Intensity can be defined in this case by either the classic weightlifting definition which relates it to the percentage load used compared to the trainee’s one rep max, or by how close to concentric failure (when you cannot complete a rep) one comes during their post-warm-up sets.  The higher the intensity of the session, the less volume which can be benefited from. 

Konstantin Konstantinov knows intensity!
Konstantin Konstantinov knows intensity!

Many, many trainees confuse tolerating a given high volume routine with truly benefitting from it.  Some trainees can adapt to a volume load such that they don’t show the classic symptoms of overtraining, but that does not mean they are training in such a fashion as to elicit, and more importantly, to permit supercompensation which results in improved size, strength, or both. 

Don’t be a dummy, dummy!  If you are not consistently progressing, assuming you are not near your genetic potential for size, strength, or both, you are NOT training properly, and as most serious trainees are not lacking in the effort department (i.e. intensity) chances are very good you are training with excessive volume and literally preventing the outcome you seek!

Vic Richards was definitely at or near his genetic potential!
Vic Richards was definitely at or near his genetic potential!

Now, as anyone who has been around the iron game for any length of time knows, there can be a pretty large variance in the amount of volume which works for a given trainee.  There are two main reasons.  First, individual genetic makeup provides for variance.  Some people can simply handle more high intensity volume than others.  Second, intensity, as has already been stated, is a variable that can make a huge difference.  There is a marked difference in terms of recovery from training done at 100% intensity (as a percentage of one’s 1RM), or to failure with repetitions, than training done at 70-80% intensity, or stopping two or more reps short of failure.  In the end, I believe this is a primary source of the confusion that persists in the bodybuilding (hypertrophy specific) world as to what volume of training is best.

So, what is the answer, what is the optimal volume and intensity for training for hypertrophy?  In terms of actual results the answer is somewhat equivocal, but when you take into account time (the actual amount of time spent training) the answer becomes much clearer.

Over the years I have trained myself and many, many others both in person and remotely.  What I have found to work best for the vast majority when hypertrophy is the primary goal is 4-6 working sets (I define work sets as post-warm-up sets) of 8-12 reps taken to, or within 1 rep of failure for larger body parts, or muscle groups, and 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps for smaller muscles, or muscle groups.  So, nutshell, high intensity with moderate volume is the most effective means of eliciting maximal hypertrophy.  Sure, variants of this formula work, but as noted in the previous paragraph, when you consider time spent in the gym, the formula I have set forth is the most “cost effective” I have found.  Increased volume, generally speaking, does not translate to significantly better results (and often leads to overtraining), and less volume nets less results.

Earlier in this article I mentioned bodybuilding legend Mike Mentzer.  Mike, after his competitive bodybuilding days, and before his death, promoted less and less volume.  What is interesting is that at his competitive best he did not train with one set to failure.  He used multiple working sets to failure and was able to achieve what is arguably one of the finest physiques ever displayed sporting a very rare combination of shape, symmetry, and sheer mass.  I think Mike’s move towards extremely low volume was based on both a diseased mind (I understand he was considered to have some mental health concerns) and the need/compulsion for progression that is basic to human nature.  People, especially high achievers, always feel compelled to improve things.  This basic attribute of humanity is simultaneously a driver of achievement and a foible.  

I have always loved the sheer power Mike exudes in this pic.
I have always loved the sheer power Mike exudes in this pic.

I mention Mike again because the following routine, which I have found to be VERY effective, is based off of a contest training regimen which Mike employed at his peak.  To be clear, Mike was one to grow into his shows, so the pre-contest routines he used were potent at stimulating hypertrophy.  

Monday & Thursday:

Superset (perform 3 supersets):

Incline dumbbell flye x 10 reps

Flat barbell bench press x 10 reps

Giant set (perform 2 giant sets):

Leg extension x 12 reps

Leg curl x 12 reps

Full squat x 12 reps

Rest 3-5 minutes then (not part of the giant set):

Leg Press – 1 x 15 reps

Calf raise – 2 x 20 reps

Overhead cable ab crunch – 2 x 12 reps

Tuesday & Friday:

Wide grip chins – 2 x failure

Superset (perform 2 supersets):

Dumbbell pullover x 10 reps

T-bar row x 8 reps

Superset (perform 2 supersets)

Dumbbell lateral raise x 12 reps

Seated dumbbell press x 10 reps

Superset (perform 2 supersets)

Barbell curl x 10 reps

Dumbbell rollback x 12 reps

Donkey calf raise – 2 x 15 reps

Overhead cable ab crunch – 2 x 15 reps

* Each of the above sets is a working set.  Warm-up as needed prior to their performance.  

Follow the above routine for three months.  After three months take at least ten days off totally from training and then begin a new training regimen based upon your goal(s).

Nutrition and Supplementation

This is a training article, but some mention should be made of both nutrition and supplementation to support your intense hypertrophy focused training.  In terms of nutrition the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle applies.  The key points to remember: You should try to minimize consumption of processed foods, consume sufficient protein (1g per pound of body weight is more than sufficient), consume sufficient calories to support potential growth (this is the most often missed component), and have some sense of nutrient timing surrounding your training (be sure to consume some protein and quickly absorbed carbs immediately after training).

The concept of sufficient calories is a bit amorphous, so let me be more specific.  For younger men, and those with a fast metabolism, sufficient caloric intake to fuel growth ranges from roughly 17-25 calories per pound of body weight.  For older trainees, and those with slower metabolisms, the range is more along the lines of 14-18 calories per pound.  The only way to know what is best for you is to experiment, but the ranges noted are good starting points.

In terms of supplementation, and keeping one’s budget in mind, I recommend the following:

http://atlargenutrition.com/product/pre-workout/ – take one serving about 40 minutes prior to training

http://atlargenutrition.com/product/nitrean/ – 1.5 scoops mixed in water or milk post-workout

http://atlargenutrition.com/product/results/

 – one serving post-workout on training days and with a meal on off days

 

Killer Quads by Julia Ladewski

Killer Quads

By Julia Ladewski

Julia has built some quads!
Julia has built some quads!

Over the past two years, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to growing my quads. My powerlifting training history had made me very strong, but decidedly lacking in the hypertrophy department. For the past two years I have spent a great deal of time practicing exercises and exercise combinations which elicit hypertrophy.

Time under tension is one of the main keys to increased skeletal muscle mass, and that has been a focus. The following is a list of workouts I used to build up mass in my quads. These workouts do not include direct hamstring work, but rather focus on the quads.

Lean and not mean :)
Lean and not mean 🙂

Workout #1

*SS Yoke Bar(TM) Squats

4×5

*SS Yoke Bar(TM) Reverse Band Squats

3×8

Banded Leg Extensions

3 sets of high rep near failure

Workout #2

Squats w/ 1 chain

14 sets of 3, short rest to encourage lactic acid formation

Front Squats

2×15, 1×25

Chain Lunges

24 with chains then 24 without chains, 3 sets

Workout #3

Manta Ray Squats

work up to heavy set of 5, then drop set of 10 reps, then drop set of 15 reps

Leg Press

3×30

Sissy Squats

4×8

Workout #4

Squats-

4×8 with 3 second eccentric (lowering phase)

Front Squats- ascension set

5 reps at each ascending weight, 4 total sets

Only rest is to change the weights

Heavy Dumbbell Lunges-

4×8 each leg

Workout #5

Yoke Bar squats w/ 2 sets of chains

work up to heavy set of 5.

Then drop a chain and do 5 more reps.

Then drop another chain and do 5 more reps.

Then drop the weight in half and do 10 more reps.

Giant Cambered Bar front squats

5×10 with 45 seconds rest

Banded Leg Extentsion

10 reps at each band resistance (use 3 resistances)

Workout #6

Yoke bar Anderson squat

5×8

Bulgarian split squat (front foot elevated)

3×12 w/ chain and DB’s

Reverse band squats

1 giant drop set of 10, 10, 10

Workout #7

Banded Squats

worked up to a tough set of 8, then did 3 sets of 3 with little rest.

Front squats

5×15

Supersetted with

Band Leg Extensions

5×15

Workout #8

Front squat

work up to difficult set of 10

Reverse Band Yoke 1.5 rep squats (down, half way up, down and all the way up)

work up to 3 sets of 8

Bigger Legs in 30 Days

Tom Platz still has the freakiest legs ever!
Tom Platz still has the freakiest legs ever!

Size is a one of the main goals of bodybuilding, but myofibrillar hypertophy (an increase in the size of the contractile myofibrils – that which mechanically makes your muscles contract) can also benefit the powerlifter, weightlifter, or other strength athlete not necessarily relegated to a weight class.  The reason is because demonstrable strength is both a function of the nervous system and the skeletal muscular system.  Intermediate to advanced lifters can essentially tap the potential of their nervous system relative to a given volume of skeletal muscle mass thus slowing, or eliminating gains in strength.  To further elucidate the concept, the nervous system is essentially the conductor and orchestrates the coordination of the musculature both intra and inter-muscularly.  It can be trained to extract greater force production from the muscles for a given plane of movement, tempo, and load.  As with any adaptation, the adaptation of the nervous system to strength training is not infinite.  At some point, the only way to extract appreciably greater force production from our muscles is to increase the size of their contractile elements (the aforementioned contractile myofibrils).

Ok, so now you hopefully have an idea of why hypertrophy can be an important component of any strength sports regimen, now to the HOW.  Below is a specialized leg routine based on a concept I first read about from the inimitable Ellington Darden of HIT fame.  Yes, I know, HIT doesn’t work and blah, blah.  Well, keep in mind that one of the best Mr. Olympia competitors ever, Dorian Yates, used a version of HIT to dominate professional men’s bodybuilding for years.

Yates

While HIT in its classic form has not proven to be optimal for any purpose, it has many effective components, and among them is the creation of giant sets (3 or more exercises back to back) which are absolutely brutal in nature, and when utilized properly can elicit unprecedented fits of muscular hypertrophy.

Use the following giant set once per week.  Perform it twice after appropriate warm-ups and then complement it with some direct work for the hamstrings ( 3 sets of 8-12 reps of direct hamstring work).

Perform each movement to just shy of concentric failure (i.e. stop when you know you cannot get another rep).  Have each exercise setup ahead of time and do NOT rest between them until the giant set is complete.

Leg press – 10 reps immediately followed by…

Leg extension – 12 reps immediately followed by…

Full back squat – 12 reps – then you lay down and try to revive yourself…

If you can walk properly after each giant set (remember, only do it twice per workout) you have not worked hard enough.  Your legs should be pumped to the bursting point!

This training will hurt.  It might even make you vomit, but if you can take it, give it your all, and complement it with plenty of rest and calories for fuel, your leg WILL grow like weeds!

by

Chris Mason