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

Vic Richards was definitely at or near his genetic potential!

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: - take one serving about 40 minutes prior to training - 1.5 scoops mixed in water or milk post-workout

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


Bigger Legs in 30 Days

Tom Platz still has the freakiest legs ever!
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.


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!


Chris Mason







The Aesthetic Lens for the Strength Athlete
By Julia Ladewski

Have you ever looked in the mirror and thought, “Man, my shoulders/arms/chest/legs could use a little size”? Have you ever taken a long, hard look at your programming and wondered why your bench/overhead press/squat/deadlift have stalled? As athletes of the strength game I think we’ve all done that. Sometimes we take a stab in the dark as to how to fix it and sometimes we have a legitimate plan. It’s easy to look through the strength lens to fix the aesthetic problems, (e.g. my bench is weak, so if I build that up, my chest will get bigger) but have you ever looked through your aesthetic lens to fix your strength problems (e.g. my quads are small, so if I bring those up, it will help my squat)?
This basic concept came to me recently. Last May and June I competed in a figure show and two physique shows. Considering I only had three months to prep and diet I fared well, but also learned some very important lessons in the process. As I look back on my pictures I can see two distinct areas that were lagging behind – my shoulders and my quads. “If I ever do another show,” I thought, “I’m definitely going to need to bring those areas up.” As I slowly transitioned out of bodybuilding training back to powerlifting I realized that my raw squat wasn’t where it should be, and my bench press had stalled. I put 2 and 2 together and realized my aesthetic weaknesses were also my strength weaknesses. I can distinctly remember thinking,“If I can bring up my shoulders and quads now, I bet my lifts will improve as well.” I’m sure this concept is not new, but I think my revelation is one that can help a lot of strength athletes who have never considered it. Consider the young man with no lats. I bet his bench suffers, particularly off the chest.
How about the middle aged mom with poor posture and no upper back? I bet she has trouble keeping position in the squat. The meathead dude with no glutes? Can’t lock out a deadlift.


Matt Mendenhall didn’t have any aesthetic weaknesses

Needless to say, I decided to address my weaknesses. My normal powerlifting template was a 4 day a week plan that followed a conjugate style of training. I had 2 lower body sessions and 2 upper body sessions. I had to find a way to add my shoulder and quad specialization to what I was already doing. What follows is how I incorporated more quad and shoulder volume into my training and how it has helped my geared powerlifting as well.

Lower Body Max Effort Days:
After completing my max effort squat or deadlift for the day I performed one of the following for 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps:
• Front Squat (shoulder width stance)
• SS Yoke Bar Squats (shoulder width stance)
• Manta Ray Squats (shoulder width stance)
• Leg Press (shoulder width stance)

Upper Body Dynamic Days:
After completing my speed bench, I performed one of the following:
• Floor Press
• Incline
• Benching with a Catapult/slingshot
• Dumbbell press

While those movements definitely added volume to my bench, I decided to move my shoulder work to the day after my upper body dynamic day. This allowed me to do a little more volume than I would if I kept it on bench day.

Extra Shoulder Day:
This day had an overhead press exercise followed by accessory shoulder work done Mountain Dog style.
• Overhead press
• Swiss Bar overhead press (varying grips)
• Dumbbell overhead press
• Arnold press
• Side Laterals (reps, slow eccentrics, chains, etc)
• Partial Side Laterals, heavy

After a few months of consistently doing the above I noticed that not only had my raw strength increased, my shirted bench and geared squat were on the rise as well. In March of 2013 I squatted 413 in full gear, and in November (after focusing on my weakness) I squatted 375 in just briefs. At the same meet in March I shirt benched 275. Just a few weeks ago I doubled 260 (which will be my opener in March), and hit 280 for an easy single.

Try this approach yourself. Take a long hard look at your aesthetic weaknesses and see what you can take away from it to help your strength gains. Devise a plan and be consistent with it. Your results will soar to new heights.



On July 18 of this year former record holding powerlifter Ryan Celli won the middleweight division of the NPC Masters Nationals bodybuilding competition.

Ryan was an absolute standout as a powerlifter at various times having both the best raw and equipped totals and or individual lifts.  What many don’t know is that he was a bodybuilder before he ever ventured in the powerlifting arena.


Years of incredibly heavy lifting have taken its toll on Ryan’s body.  The injuries and wear and tear have forced him to train differently, more like a bodybuilder, so returning to bodybuilding was a very natural transition.


The transition paid off, BIG!  The NPC Nationals are the top amateur bodybuilding competition in the world.  The Masters division is no exception, and winning it is quite an accomplishment.   We at AtLarge Nutrition want to congratulate Ryan on his accomplishment.

Ryan’s AtLarge Nutrition Supplement Regimen:

BCAA+ – 2 scoops every training session (7 days per week)

ETS – full serving every evening before bed (7 days per week)

Yessica Martinez – New Age Strongwoman Blog #2


I’m always talking about how much I love the gym.  I want to tell you why.  I love the gym because it is a constant.  It is never in a bad mood (although sometimes we are), it never judges, and it’s always ready when you are.  Bottom line, it will always be there for you.


The past couple of weeks have seen consistent training and eating.  Well, at least until school started…  School and work are the necessary evils of our training lives.  They have to take priority (unless your training is your work).  They may interfere with training, but rather than get frustrated I see it as an opportunity to grow.  It forces me to find ways to be more efficient in all aspects of my life.  Don’t look at the necessities of life as negatives, look at them as the challenges that permit you to be the best version of yourself possible.

My training is still going strong!  My routine hasn’t changed much since my last blog, but the results have.  I’m hitting PR’s every week, 5 lbs. here, 10 lbs. there, and more reps!  For example, this week my squats went from 4 sets of 5 reps with 185lbs to 3 sets of 8 reps with 195 lbs.  My 2-board bench press when from 3 sets of 5 reps with 170 lbs. to 3 sets of 8 reps!  I also got a PR on axle push presses moving from 6 sets of 3 reps with 90 lbs. to 3 sets of 8 reps with 110 lbs.


To close this blog I want to say one of the reasons I am doing the blogging thing is because I want to let people know that training is not all rainbows and butterflies.  As I was noting above about work and school, life can get in the way and things happen.  I hope to be a source of inspiration for others, much like Tay Dresch, Jen Petrosino, and Laura Phelps are for me.  We are all in this together!

Tay-DreschTay Dresch is a strength athlete Yessica admires

Strength Training for Athletics – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt Your Training


Strength training for athletics has transformed from a taboo practice 50 plus years ago to the norm today. It is so pervasive even pre to early teenage athletics include it in their regimens.

The evolution of strength training methodology for performance enhancement has been haphazard at best. The methods of Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, powerlifting, and CrossFit are all used and claimed by their various proponents to be the best, but there is no general consensus, and if you went to 10 different strength coaches you would get 10 different ways to train an athlete in the same sport.

I’m not going to use this article to argue for a particular methodology, rather, I am going to provide you with what comes as close to being scientific law as possible when discussing human physiology and exercise, and how to apply that information. Specificity of adaptation, or the S.A.I.D principle as it applies to physical training is the most misunderstood and or misapplied principle in exercise. The key thing to understand here is that the adaptation of both the skeletal muscular and nervous systems to training is extremely specific.


One need look no further than the virtual plethora of defined forms of strength to see how varying stressors elicit unique changes in the skeletal muscular and nervous systems. Below is a brief, non-comprehensive list with basic descriptions:

Starting strength – maximum force production capacity in the first 30 milliseconds

Explosive strength – the ability to develop maximum force quickly

Reactive strength – the ability to quickly move from an eccentric to concentric contraction

Speed strength – the ability to move light loads quickly

Strength speed – the ability to move moderate loads quickly

Static strength – increased muscular tension with no change in length – the ability to hold a given load in a static position

Maximal strength – the maximal volitional force an athlete can generate in a given movement


By definition, and at face value, starting strength and explosive strength seem to be nearly identical, but each adaptation is so unique they have virtually no relationship to each other. In other words, you can improve one and not the other.

Another, perhaps more relatable example of training specificity comes from the science of motor learning. Motor learning studies have shown that activities, and the skill they require, which seem very similar when observed have virtually no carryover from one movement to the next. For example, a proficient tennis player will not be proficient as a badminton player without sufficient practice (and vice versa). Both sports are racket based, but they are completely different from your nervous system’s perspective and thus the skill (which is a function of neural acclimation to a movement pattern) acquired for one sport does not transfer to the other.

The lesson to be learned is that strength training should not be used with the idea it will directly enhance performance. For anyone beyond a rote beginner to strength training, increasing their squat will not directly translate to increasing their ability to jump. Far too many strength coaches are under the mistaken belief that simply increasing maximal strength will make an athlete better, or similarly, that because Olympic lifting is considered to be “explosive” it will make their athletes more explosive. It simply isn’t true, and the specificity principle proves that. Olympic lifting involves the use of heavy loads. There is no correlation between how fast you can move a load which is 70-80% of your 1RM (one repetition max) and how fast you can explode off the line in football, or how high you can jump to get a rebound. Both of those activities rely on explosive strength which can only be significantly developed with very light loads.


Don’t be confused, I am not saying that strength training has no use for athletics. What I am saying is that it is most often misapplied. A proper training program will address the specific needs of the athlete (and therefore sport). For example, an offensive lineman will want a combination of sheer mass and explosive strength as well as some degree of maximal strength for when locked up with another bull of a human being. Hypertrophy specific training should be used to develop the sheer mass, sport specific movements, or lightly loaded exercises which are very similar in movement pattern to sport specific activities for explosive strength, and powerlifting exercises for maximal strength.

The smart strength coach, or the self-directed athlete seeking to optimize performance should familiarize themselves with the myriad forms of strength and how they are developed, and then use that information to design a program which will develop the qualities needed in order to optimize performance.

Follow our newsletter for the next installment which will confuse the heck out of you by telling you how increasing your maximal strength CAN aid sports performance ;) .

by Chris Mason



AtLarge Nutrition athlete Ryan Celli is preparing for the bodybuilding pro qualifier, the NPC North American Championships this coming weekend. Ryan is a truly unique athlete in that he has also been a professional powerlifter and has held multiple records in the sport.

Ryan will be competing as a middleweight in the Men’s Open, Masters 35, and Masters 40 classes. He is coming off a win of the 35 year old class at the NPC Men’s Nationals just a few weeks ago. We wish him the best of luck. Get that Pro Card Ryan!

ted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment Optimal, Not Brutal: Conditioning for Fat Loss and Weight Class Management


Optimal, Not Brutal: Conditioning for Fat Loss and Weight Class Management

By Julia Ladewski

The off-season lifter usually takes one of two approaches:

Eat so much that they get fat, bloated and completely out of shape
Use that time to clean up their diet and drop some body fat

No matter the general approach, one thing is consistent for most lifters, no cardio! Most lifters all fear that they will forfeit their strength gains and or lack the energy to really give it their all for their strength sessions.

No matter which of the two general approaches above you tend to take, these conditioning tools are an excellent way to either keep from adding excess body fat, or to optimize your conditioning for strength sports.

The plan is to keep it short and sweet. The goal is to condition without compromising the absolute strength adaptation. In addition, we make it a double whammy by utilizing weak point training as well.

Conditioning Circuit #1

Prowler sprint 20 yards

20 Kettlebell swings

Prowler sprint 20 yards back

Cable pulldown abs x10

X-band walks x10 each way

REPEAT 4 times

(Prowler sprints can be exchanged for prowler walking if you don’t want to fry your legs too bad. Change the angle and the way you step to hit more quads, hamstrings or glutes)

Conditioning Circuit #2

Backward sled drag 30 yards

Forward sled drag 30 yards

Suitcase carry 30 yards, right arm

Suitcase carry 30 yards, left arm

30 Band Goodmornings

REPEAT 4 times

Conditioning Circuit #3

Kettlebell Swings x20

Med Ball Slams x20

Farmer’s walk x 20 yards and back

Prowler push (walk), low handle 20 yards

Prowler sprint, high handle 20 yards

REPEAT 4 times


Exchange some of the exercises to target your own weak points. They should be exercises that are not overly taxing, but ones you can still manage good work without much soreness to follow.

Hamstrings – leg curls, glute ham raises, single leg RDL, glute bridges, swings
Low back – back raises, Reverse Hypers, band goodmornings, swings
Quads – goblet squats, various lunges, TKE’s
Upper back – face pulls, rear flyes, band pull-aparts
Triceps – pushdowns, close grip pushups
Shoulders – front raises, side raises, various overhead presses
Core/abs – planks, leg raises, v-ups, Turkish get-ups, stability ball crunches and knee tucks, farmers walks, waiter carries


Julia Ladewski is a certified strength and conditioning coach, elite powerlifter, and national physique competitor. She is an online strength, fitness and nutrition coach, writer and speaker.