Since the mid-1960s, higher-volume bodybuilding workouts have largely prevailed in the fitness world. For many successful bodybuilders, embracing high volume is a common theme. So, what exactly is volume-based training? It involves performing numerous sets of various exercises for each muscle group, with the emphasis on accruing effective reps without pushing to failure. The most iconic bodybuilders, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay Cutler, Lee Haney, and Chris Bumstead, have all employed volume-based training.
However, it’s important to note that very high-volume training is best suited for steroid users. The intense volume used by elite bodybuilders is likely excessive for natural lifters. This doesn’t mean that natural lifters can’t pursue volume-based training; it simply means that the volume should be scaled to suit their needs.
So, for natural lifters, effective volume-based training can be characterized by:
- 3-6 sets per exercise, with 1-3 reps left in the tank (RIR), avoiding failure.
- Incorporating 1-3 warm-up or preparation sets.
- A wide range of rep brackets, typically ranging from 8 to 20 or more reps per set.
- Utilizing 1-6 exercises per muscle in a single workout, with 2-4 exercises being more common.
- Targeting 5-6 exercises per session, with higher volume achieved through additional work sets rather than an increasing number of exercises.
- Training each muscle once or twice a week, although once a week is more common.
- Taking 60-120 seconds of rest between sets, mostly to prevent workouts from extending to two-hour marathons that hinder focus and quality.
- Incorporating a variety of exercises, including free weights, machines, and pulleys, depending on the muscle’s responsiveness.
Volume-based training is beneficial for beginners as it provides ample opportunities to practice movements and muscle contraction, enhances motor learning, and fosters neuromuscular development. Yet, it can accumulate ineffective “garbage volume,” leading to unnecessary fatigue. Misjudging RIR and central fatigue are potential pitfalls, along with greater muscle damage and increased risk of training burnout due to higher stress and the release of cortisol and adrenaline.
While it’s a form of “high volume,” the volume utilized by natural lifters is nowhere near what enhanced bodybuilders employ. The volume should gradually increase over a training cycle, with weekly work sets falling within the range of 60-120 sets, spread across the major muscle groups.
In conclusion, volume-based training, though high in volume compared to effort-based training, can be a valuable approach for natural and lower-level intermediate lifters. It provides a gentler path for progressing in strength and muscle development, encourages practice of muscle contraction, and offers effective ways to stimulate hypertrophy. However, it’s important to manage volume wisely to prevent accumulating excessive, ineffective work and maintain a balance to avoid burnout. This approach can be incorporated as part of a more extensive training cycle alongside other training methodologies.