Doug Young Built his Bench Press and Physique with High Volume. Bro science and lab science concur, higher volume training regimens produce greater gains in strength and muscle size. Even Arthur Jones and HIT disciples that have reached a high level by using multiple sets just refer to the sets leading up to the top one of the day as “warm-ups” and only count their final set to failure. I am not here to debate semantics; I am here to help you get results. The problem with continually adding training volume is time; even if you have time, how productive is a three-hour bodybuilding workout? We are going to look at five ways to increase volume that will not add time to your training routine or overall fatigue; view this as a rearrangement not an addition.
Cluster Sets Cluster sets simply mean more sets and fewer reps. A traditional three sets of eight reps workout would become eight sets of three reps. Olympic lifters have used cluster sets for over half a century and powerlifters have for decades. Now, even more aesthetically-minded individuals are hopping on board. I personally have used this technique training IFBB pro bodybuilders Johnnie Jackson, Cory Mathews and Branch Warren.
Author Josh Bryant, Training Tyrus Hughes with Cluster Sets Strength athletes like cluster sets because they can produce greater amounts of force and velocity over the duration of sets. Wise bodybuilders like them because they can get more done in less time. Next time you are training triceps, instead of your traditional three sets of 12 rep rope pushdowns, use the same weight for five reps, rest 20 seconds and repeat this sequence for five minutes straight, you will get a hell of a lot more volume albeit in less time! For strength purposes, instead of three sets of five reps with a full three-to-five-minute recovery, try six sets of three reps with a 90-second recovery, you will be done faster and get in more work! If your training has become a complete cluster, give cluster sets a shot! Warm-ups Don’t spend 20 minutes on the exercise bike chitchatting about the latest pseudo-science exercise technique hawked by the infomercial darlings; use this time to prepare for the task at hand, slaughtering some pig iron! Since volume is the product of weight being used multiplied by sets then multiplied reps, even three sets of 10 reps with an empty Olympic barbell is a staggering 1350 pound of extra volume (45x10x3=1350). Strength is a skill! Skill development needs practice; practice by warming up with the movement you are performing. Keep in mind we are not talking about pre-exhaust training, just three to five extra warm-up sets with light weight in place of a traditional cardio machine. If you are going to train with 225 pounds on the squat give this warm-up sequence a shot: 45x6x4 sets, 95x5x3 sets, 135×4, 170×2, 200×1 and then finally do 225. This strategy increases volume, decreases fatigue and will have you performing better! Staggered Sets A 1988 study showed that shot putters increased throwing distance and vertical jump height by only training the fingers and the toes, this proves to be your best, you must sweat the small stuff. Taking care of neck, forearms, abs, calves and other muscle groups that are easily skipped over is essential for optimal performance, staying injury free and having a symmetrical physique. Most lifters just tack these “extras” on at the end of a workout; best case scenario if they are faithful, it is an extra 15 minutes or so in the gym. More often than not, the “extras” get skipped, be it getting home to watch Monday football or just ogling over the opposite sex. The original bodybuilding godfather, Joe Weider, came up with a solution—staggered sets! Staggered sets involve training several muscle groups together, altering muscle groups with each successive set. Pair smaller muscle groups with larger ones to minimize fatigue; while the smaller muscle group is working, the larger one is recovering and vice versa. An example would be using a wrist roller for forearms between sets of squats. Like everything in life, prioritize! The big, multi-joint core movement is the ultimate end game, so don’t pair exercises that “interfere”. Are you deadlifting today? Great! Avoid the following: staggered sets, grip work (you have to grip the bar), bicep work (unless you want to tear a bicep) and heavy hamstring workout. However, triceps extensions, lateral raises and fly movements are in! Joe Weider was not a crazy, old man fantasizing! In 2008, the lab confirmed what those in the trenches have known for decades. A study compared two groups with prior strength training experience that performed two separate training regimens. One was a standard bench press workout of five straight sets opposed to a second group that performed the same bench press workout, but between sets of bench presses, they performed leg extensions and calf raises. Bench press performance was unaffected by including leg extensions and calf raises coupled with the fact training volume was achieved without adding one extra minute to the workout. Does your neck need extra work? Hit some harness work between sets of biceps curls. Are your forearms lagging? Hit some Zottman curls between sets of leg press. The idea of staggered sets is best expressed in the words of eight-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney, “Stimulate do not annihilate.” Staggered sets make it clear: you have no more excuses to avoid the “small stuff!” Down Sets Here is another oldie but goodie, but instead of performing these movements in a triple drop to failure style we are going to focus on movement quality. Using leg day as an example, after the first main movement of the day, your heaviest squat set, drop the weight down by 20 percent and perform three to six sets of two to four reps, resting 60-90 seconds between sets. Perform each rep on each set with a controlled negative and explode the positive as hard as possible. This is Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT), the brain child of my mentor, Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield. Keep in mind, lifting heavy weights requires you to produce high amounts of force (mass x acceleration = force). Most people just focus on the mass part, lifting heavier weights. For these sets we will do them with the highest amount of force BUT without sacrificing technique or tightness.
Mike Gerardi Squatting Submaximal Weight with Maximal Force To reiterate, do this only for the first main movement of the day! If you train with 240 on the bench press and perform the CAT sets with 200 pounds, just think of the extra volume with four sets of three reps. (4x3x200=2400), that’s 2400 extra pounds in one session! With down sets, serious volume can be accomplished without a serious time commitment! Furthermore, these sets allow for higher force production and building more efficient movement patterns, teaching the skill of strength. Final Thoughts You now have five ways that can help you get stronger and build muscle without having to spend any extra time in the gym; you will get more done without sacrificing quality. Take it and grab a seat on the gains train!