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Volume Training Variations


For the bodybuilder trying to pack on muscle, nothing is worse than being stuck in a rut. Several factors contribute to plateaus, but a lack of training variety is a primary one. Of course, a lot of bodybuilders know that. So they typically vary sets, reps and sequence of exercises, but often it just doesn’t work. When you get to that point, the only thing to do is change your training program completely.

There are many ways to do it. What follows are several of the best programs for busting through a plateau. What makes them unique is that they all rely on volume training as opposed to intensity training, but it’s also their approach to volume training. These programs aren’t the same old thing you’ve been doing.

If you’ve been reading bodybuilding magazines for a long time, you’ve probably come across one or two of these workouts. I doubt you’ve seen all of them.

German Volume Training

This is probably the most popular-and best-known-of all of the methods presented here. The term “German Volume Training” comes from strength coach Charles Poliquin, who coined it more than 10 years ago when he was writing for the now defunct Muscle Media 2000. Though it was usually called the “10-sets method,” Poliquin preferred German Volume Training because of the program’s roots in German-speaking countries, where athletes would often use it in the off-season to add muscle.

German Volume Training involves completing (or at least attempting to complete) 10 sets of 10 reps with the same weight on the same exercise. For most people that works out to using a weight that you can typically get 20 reps with before reaching muscular failure.
When Poliquin first wrote about it, he recommended using the following bodypart split:

Day 1: Chest and back

Day 2: Legs and abs

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Arms and shoulders

Day 5: Off

Here’s what a beginning routine would look like. Note that 10 x 10 means 10 sets of 10 reps.

Beginning German Volume Training

Day 1: Chest and back
Incline barbell
presses 10 x 10
90 seconds’ rest between sets
Chinups or pulldowns 10 x 10
90 seconds’ rest between sets

Day 2: Legs and abs
Olympic-style squats
(high bar, close stance) 10 x 10
120 seconds’ rest between sets
Lying leg curls 10 x 10
90 seconds’ rest between sets
Weighted incline situps 10 x 10
90 seconds’ rest between sets

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Arms and shoulders
Barbell curls 10 x 10
90 seconds’ rest between sets
Skull crushers 10 x 10
90 seconds’ rest between sets
Seated lateral raises 10 x 10
90 seconds’ rest between sets

Day 5: Off

Follow this program for four consecutive weeks, and then take a down week. During that time you want to allow your body to recover by using the same workout but with only about half of the poundage. You can then return to the workout for another four weeks of hard training before switching to another program.

Advanced German Volume Training

For advanced bodybuilders variety is even more important, as are lower repetitions. Poliquin compensated by using what he called the “5 percent method.” After the first workout you increase the load approximately 5 percent per workout for two workouts in a row while reducing the target reps by one. At the fourth workout you reduce the weight by 5 percent and return the rep range to what you did at the first workout. The progression begins again from there.
Let’s say that you can squat 300 for 10 reps. Here’s what your squat program would look like for the next six weeks. Note that 10 x 5 x 300 means 10 sets of five reps with 300 pounds.

Workout 1: 10 x 5 x 300
Workout 2: 10 x 4 x 315
Workout 3: 10 x 3 x 330
Workout 4: 10 x 5 x 315
Workout 5: 10 x 4 330
Workout 6: 10 x 3 x 345

At this point you can either switch to a new program or change exercises and work through another six-workout cycle for each bodypart.

Staggered-Volume Training

This little gem was designed by exercise physiologist Douglas Christ more than a decade ago. He claimed-and probably still does-that it’s the best program for maximizing growth hormone release. I wasn’t sure about that claim when he made it, and I’m still not sold. I do know, however, that it’s an excellent way to pack on some muscle when you’re stuck in a rut, particularly when you’ve been pounding away at Heavy Duty, low-rep-style routines.

Here are three keys to making this program work:

1) Perform full-body workouts three days a week.
2) Pick one exercise for each bodypart, sticking with more-bang-for-your-buck movements that work a lot of muscle groups at once.
3) Do a high volume of work.

Depending on your fitness and strength, do eight to 12 exercises for 12 to 16 reps each. Also-and here’s the kicker-you perform all sets in “jump-set” fashion, alternating exercises for antagonistic bodyparts in four-set groupings. For instance, you do four sets of a chest exercise, four sets of a back exercise, then go back to the chest exercise for four sets. Continue in that manner until you’ve performed all the prescribed sets for the two exercises.
Here are two examples of staggered-volume training programs The first is for beginners-or those not conditioned for full-body workouts-and the second is an advanced program.

Beginning Staggered-Volume Training

Perform the following program on three nonconsecutive days a week:

Leg presses 4 x 12-16
Lying leg curls 4 x 12-16
Leg presses 4 x 12-16
Lying leg curls 4 x 12-16

Incline-bench presses 4 x 12-16
Wide-grip chins 4 x max reps
Incline-bench presses 4 x 12- 16
Wide-grip chins 4 x max reps

Barbell curls 4 x 12-16
Bench dips 4 x 16
Barbell curls 4 x 12-16
Bench dips 4 x 16

Lateral raises 4 x 12-16
Incline situps 4 x 20-30

Here are a few more pointers for getting the most out of this program:

1) Don’t approach muscular failure except on the last rep of the last set of each exercise.

2) Use approximately 50 to 60 percent of your one-rep maximum-that should keep the intensity at the right level.

3) Take at least one minute of rest between sets; any less and you’ll become too fatigued. Don’t take more than 2 1/2 minutes between sets; any more and you won’t be working your muscles hard enough.

Advanced Staggered-Volume Training

This program is for trainees who already have a high level of strength and muscle development. Less-advanced trainees can use it after training on the beginning program for a couple of months.

Monday and Friday
Squats 4 x 12
Stiff-legged deadlifts 4 x 12
Squats 4 x 12
Stiff-legged deadlifts 4 x 12
Squats 4 x 12
Stiff-legged deadlifts 4 x 12

Incline barbell presses 4 x 12
Wide-grip chinsor lat pulldowns 4 x 12
Incline barbell presses 4 x 12
Wide-grip chins or lat pulldowns 4 x 12
Incline barbell presses 4 x 12
Wide-grip chins or lat pulldowns 4 x 12

Barbell curls 4 x 12
Lying dumbbell
triceps extensions 4 x 12
Barbell curls 4 x 12
Lying dumbbell
triceps extensions 4 x 12

Standing overhead presses 4 x 12
Hanging leg raises 4 x 20- 30

Wednesday
Leg extensions 4 x 20
Lying leg curls 4 x 20
Leg extensions 4 x 20
Lying leg curls 4 x 20

Flat-bench dumbbellpresses 4 x 16
Bent-over rows 4 x 16
Flat-bench dumbbell presses 4 x 16
Bent-over rows 4 x 16
Dumbbell curls 4 x 16
Skull crushers 4 x 16
Dumbbell curls 4 x 16
Skull crushers 4 x 16
Dumbbell curls 4 x 16
Skull crushers 4 x 16
Seated dumbbell overhead presses 4 x 16
Incline situps 4 x 20-30

Power-Volume Training

Power-Volume training is a system that I came up with a few years ago, and I wrote about it in the November ’04 IRON MAN. Although mainly geared toward building strength, it’s also a great means of building muscle, especially when you’ve been performing workouts with higher reps. (For instance, it would be a great program to use after a couple of months on staggered-volume training.)

Power-Volume training works by incorporating four distinct methods of training into one week of workouts:

1) Dynamic lifting
2) Very heavy training-max singles, doubles and triples, never more than five reps
3) Partial reps
4) Frequent training

As with a lot of good strength-building methods, the parameters of this program aren’t set in stone. There are, however, a few ground rules:

1) Train each lift up to three times a week on a heavy/light/medium system. (Highly advanced lifters can train up to four times a week, but we’ll save that for another article.)

2) Keep a training log and keep track of your workload on each lift and calculate your total poundage lifted. When you don’t keep records, it’s too easy to slip into overtraining. You need to make sure you’re not doing too much work on your light and medium days.

3) The first day of the week is your heavy day, when you work up to a max set of low reps (between one and five) on two exercises-one for your upper body and one for your lower body. You regularly rotate the exercises to keep your body from adapting and to keep the strength gains coming. The more advanced you are, the more exercises you need in your arsenal and the more frequently you need to rotate them.

4) The second workout of the week is your light day, when you use 50 percent of your maximum weight on two core exercises (one for upper body; one for lower body) for eight sets of two to three reps.

5) The third workout of the week is your medium day, when you use 70 percent of your one-rep max on your core exercises for eight to 10 sets of two to three reps.

6) Each session incorporates various assistance exercises, which keep your lifts moving up and build mass in parts of your body that need a little extra work. Heavy and medium days involve assistance exercises of the more compound variety. Light days will see you using exercises that limit you to less weight.

Beginning Power-VolumeTraining

Here’s a sample week’s worth of programs. Remember that you’ll rotate from your core exercises every week or two, but the list below will give you a good indication of how things work. Note that 135 x 5 means 135 pounds for five reps.

Monday: Heavy Day
Incline presses
(core upper-body exercise)
135 x 5, 175 x 3, 225 x 3, 245 x 3, 270 x 3, 290 x 3, 290 x 3, 300 x 3 (barely able to get the last rep), 305 x 2 (missed the 3rd rep)
Total workload for lift: 5,800
Lying triceps extensions 135 x 2 x 8
Close-grip chins bodyweight x 2 x 8
Bottom-position squats (core lower-body exercise) 135 x 5, 225 x 3, 275 x 3, 315 x 3, 365 x 3, 405 x 3 (hard lift, barely got the last rep), 425 x 1 (failed on the second rep)
Total workload for lift: 5,855
Hanging leg raises 3 x 20

Wednesday: Light Day
Flat-bench presses 150 x 8 x 2
Total workload for lift: 2,400
Bench dips bodyweight x 2 x 15
Sumo deadlifts 225 x 8 x 2
Total workload for lift: 3,600

Friday: Medium Day
Flat-bench presses 225 x 8 x 2
Total workload for lift: 3,600
Parallel-bar dips bodyweight+45 x 2 x 10
Wide-grip chins bodyweight x 3 x 10
Olympic-style squats 275 x 8 x 2
Total workload for lift: 4,448

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of this program:

1) If this is your first time training on such a heavy-weight and high-volume system, stick with the same core exercises for three weeks. If you’re a more advanced lifter, rotate exercises at least every two weeks.

2) Don’t worry too much about calculating workload on your assistance exercises unless the assistance lifts you’re doing are compound movements and more damaging to your nervous system.

3) After a couple of months of training, take a down week, during which you do reps instead of max lifts on your heavy days and cut out your light day altogether.

Final Thoughts

There you have it: three different but highly effective programs for saying good-bye to your training plateaus. If you really want to bust through those training ruts, try training for the next six months using nothing but these three programs. Use the German Volume Training for two months, the staggered-volume training for two months and then finish the whole thing off with the ultimate strength-and-mass kicker-two months of Power-Volume training. Training plateaus should be a thing of the past! IM

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