Understanding Volume Training and Putting it in Play
We all start our fitness journeys with various goals in mind. Some people want to get skinny, others want to get ripped. There are those who have functional fitness in mind and those who want to be a Ronnie Coleman. Regardless of goal, there is a style for obtaining it.
Most people have the same mindset when they first start strength training regimens: go in and lift the heaviest weights you can a few times, move on to the next exercise. Beginners may or may not have a plan for what to work on which days. Of course you will see some sort of progress, but without structure your gains will be subpar.
I remember my early gym days when I would go into the gym 6-7 days a week to lift the heaviest weights that my body would let me lift. I saw and felt results, so I kept doing it. By no means am I saying that it didn’t work; it absolutely did. The results just weren’t what they could have been because there was no structure and the small details were missing.
Eventually, constant gym goers start to learn their way around the gym and take what they learn from experience, others, and the internet to build a structured regimen. After a while of doing the same exercises week after week, people will plateau and need to switch it up.
Enter volume training.
When progress stalled out, I did what any young, enterprising individual should do. Eavesdropped on the bigger guys and listened to what they do. They were talking about something called ‘volume training,’ but before I caught an idea of what it was they were gone.
I did some searching online when I got home and the more I learned about it, the more I was intrigued. I was sold when I read that it originated in the 1970’s and has been used by tons of bodybuilders, Olympians, and world class coaches.
I’m one of those people that always lets their curiosity get the best of them, so I decided to commit to 4 full weeks of intensive German Volume Training. If it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for me? After all, I had a good level of muscle already. I had just plateaued and needed a change.
Imagine my shock
The first two weeks, I went through it like a champ. It was grueling work but I’ve always been good at powering through with determination. When I hit week three, however, everything changed. My whole body was yelling at me to stop.
The results I saw in week two helped push me through weeks three and four. Suddenly, my biceps started to look muscular instead of just toned. The definition in my legs was miles past where they were. By the end of week 4, I was shocked at what I saw in such a short amount of time.
It did not come easy by any means, and I felt like quitting quite a few times, but I kept on. Now, you’re probably wondering what it is and why results come so quickly when GVT is done correctly.
What is it?
Volume training is an intense workout regimen that was developed to provide noticeable results, quickly. A very simple explanation of the process goes like this: You lift a lot of weight in a short period time with the same muscle group through the same exercise.
It sounds easy, but it’s pretty advanced stuff, not for the casual gym-goer or the weak of heart. This technique will push you and your muscles past your limit. However, it will give you serious results if you truly commit to it.
The sheer volume of weight lifted during each session takes dedication and determination because you are going to want to quit; I can almost guaranty you that.
Volume training is in a completely different realm than the normal workouts consisting of 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps spread out over 5-6 exercises.
Volume training is exactly what it sounds like: high volume. Nothing fancy. Just 100 solid reps of heavy weight for each major group.
The sheer volume is crazy
Instead of the traditional setup, you would do 10 sets of 10 reps for a single exercise. You read that correctly, 10 sets of 10 reps in a row. You would follow that up with one or two traditional exercises that target the same muscle group. For example, if you are on chest day you could do your 100 reps on the bench and follow it with 3-5 sets/8-10 reps of flys and pull overs at a medium weight.
Now, when you do GVT you don’t want to use the weight that you generally do in the gym. Traditional weight training relies on you putting as much on a bar as you can and lifting it in an effort to get stronger. With volume training you want to shoot for 80% of your one rep max and then stick to it the entire time. That means if your maximum bench press is 175lbs, you want to bring that down to about 140lbs. You want to put your weight somewhere that you could do 3-4 sets of 20 reps. If you hit a point where you can’t continue, drop the weight 5lbs and try again. The key is to finish all 100 reps with as little aid as possible.
I know that it seems like lowering the weight wouldn’t give you the results you want, but trust me. Even though those first 5-6 sets will feel easy, by the time you’re hitting rep 3 on set 6 or 7, you’re struggling to even get that barbell up.
Ok, doesn’t seem too bad.
If you are one of those people who enjoy a challenge, it gets better. What makes this even harder is that you only have between 60 seconds and two minutes (depending on school of thought and what muscle group you are training) to rest between each set. No walking around and sipping on water, you have to completely focus the whole time. By the time you hit the back end of the sets, those two minutes will fly by and you won’t want to finish.
Your muscles grow under stress, and the longer they are under stress the better your progress will be. Of course, if they are under stress for too long you risk injury at worst and fatigue before you finish the set at best. The key lies in a good tempo.
In weight training, like in music, there is a tempo, or rhythm, that should be followed for ideal results. Playing a sheet of music too fast or two slow can drastically alter the song. Similarly, following proper tempo during strength training can make or break your progress.
That tempo changes based on goal, muscle group, and exercise type. As a general rule for GVT:
- For long range movements such as squats, deadlifts, chin ups, or dips, use a 4x0x2x0 tempo.
- For movements that are short range like bicep curls or incline rows, you would use the same technique but a 3x0x2x0 tempo.
You are probably wondering what those numbers mean. It’s simple:
- The first number is the time spent lowering the barbell while on the bench press.
- The second number is how long you rest when you hit full range of motion for the muscle.
- The third number is how long it takes you to go back to the original position.
- The fourth number is how long you rest before starting the next repetition.
For example, if you were to follow a 4x0x2x0 tempo for squats, you would take four seconds to lower yourself into the squat, keeping control the entire time, have absolutely no hesitation once in the squat position, and return to standing position within the next two seconds. Then you repeat the process without hesitation at the top.
Because this strategy is so intensive, it’s recommended to work out 4-5 days a week and take at least 2 rest days per weekly cycle. Make sure that you’re keeping your muscle focus days as far apart as the week allows. This is very hard on the muscles and doing two arm days in a row, for example, could lead to injury.
Try a workout split like:
Monday: Chest (10×10 Bench, 3×10 Flys/Pullovers)
Tuesday: Back ( 10×10 Bent over Rows, 3×10 Reverse Fly/Pullups)
Thursday: Legs and Glutes ( 10×10 Squats, 3×10 Deadlift/Kettlebell Swings)
Friday: Arms and Shoulders ( 10×10 Curls and Overhead Press, 3×10 Shrugs/Pulldowns/Hammer Curls/Skullcrushers)
Sunday: Start Over
This kind of schedule can help protect your body from harm by giving your muscles time to recover enough between sessions.
Form is critical
Volume training is considered an advanced training program and because of that, I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to have proper form when you are following this regimen. Putting your muscles under such extreme stress without proper form runs an enormous risk of serious injury. Do not run through this program if you have not perfected proper form.
Dead lifts, for example, can be very bad for your back if you don’t have the proper form. Lift too heavy without engaging your core or keeping your back straight can slip a disc, pinch a nerve, or worse.
It’s extremely important to listen to your body when you are doing any kind of training. Any body builder or power lifter will tell you there is a difference between burning and hurting. Your muscles burn when you are working them properly. When you start to feel pain, you’ve done something wrong. Trust me, you’ll know the difference between the good and bad pains right away. You power through the burn, you stop at the pain.
It is important to remember that when you are putting your body through this kind of stress, you must be mindful of what you consume and do before and after a workout:
- Make sure you are following proper nutritional guidelines if you want to make any progress. This means having an adequate amount of fuel coming in for your muscles to rebuild themselves and grow. A vital part of this is making sure you consume enough protein to refuel and rebuild your muscles after you tear them apart during your workouts.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Your muscles need the hydration to help fight off fatigue, keep them strong, and move vital nutrients into and waste out of your cells.
- Stretch regularly to help your muscles relax and recover!
Without these factors in place, you run the risk of injuring yourself or burning out quickly.
It could be for me
Volume Training is a fantastic way to build muscle. As a perk, the increased metabolism caused by the intensity will help you burn off some excess body fat, provided you are eating optimally.
If you are able to commit to this technique, you will see results. With proper nutrition, hydration, form, and consistency, you can have the body you’ve always wanted. It just takes a some time and a lot of work. I was able to put on quite a bit of muscle in just a few months my first go around on this program. You could, too.