by Nick Hickey
We've all seen them before -- the enthusiastic gym-goer who hammers away at his biceps with 40 sets week after week with little results to show for his efforts. His heart is in the right place, but he is suffering from a common problem: too much unnecessary volume! Notice I said unnecessary volume. Volume training is fantastic and it is one of the most useful tools in your weight-training arsenal to add some quality size to your frame. The problem can be over-doing it.
The other day in the gym, a guy with the attitude I alluded to above began to talk about his chest workout to me and my training partner. Although I don't like long conversations during a workout to disrupt my flow and concentration, I tuned in to hear about his approach. He explained how he does 6 sets of bench and then 2 drop sets followed by 8 sets of this and 10 sets of that and on and on. You get the picture: TONS of sets and reps but with what intensity? I would say that it is impossible to work out with high intensity if you do that much volume. Have you, like me, seen the pros' workouts in the fitness magazines with their insane volume? If you are like me, you have been inspired to give this type of high volume workout a try. But, every time I do, I always come up short on energy and my workout intensity decreases as the workout progresses.
The answer to this dilemma is simple: quality over quantity. There is only so much intensity that can be kept up throughout the course of a workout. Most of us aren't pros and can't do 40 sets for chest and recover normally. If you can, more power to you. However, these people are few and far between. For the rest of us mere mortals, the answer may be as simple as lowering the volume of your workouts and increasing the intensity of the sets.
When I first started my weight training journey I was eager to grow. I adopted a no pain no gain attitude that lead me to believe that doing more sets in a high volume workout would result in more muscle gains. Sometimes that is not the case.
After training for a while with minimum success I got some valuable advice from HouseOfMuscle.com Founder and Owner Joel Sward. He set me up with a simple, and effective workout routine. The workout was focused around the bench, squat and deadlift for 3 sets of 5 reps with as much weight as possible using proper form. What followed were 2 or 3 other supplemental lifts (like flat dumbbell flyes, incline dumbbell press and/or cable crossovers) to add some muscle mass for 3 sets of about 8 reps per body part. That was it! Nothing fancy. Stick to the basics and stick to what works.
Suddenly, guys who were larger than me in the gym noticed my progress. I was growing bigger and stronger and my gains were coming much faster than theirs. I was in and out of the gym in an hour with my simple routine while they toiled away doing countless sets for 2 hours with less results to show for it.
Someone even made a comment to me about how I spent less time in the gym to complete my workout than him. He couldn't see why I was progressing so fast. Don't get me wrong -- although relatively short in length the workout was centered around using as much weight as I could. This created intense sets that forced me to focus and fight for every rep. The workout was dense with quality!
I'm not saying to quit working hard and drop your number of sets without reason. The point of this article is to emphasize the quality of your workout and the intensity you bring to each and every set you do. Don't get caught up in doing countless reps and sets, which burn out your energy and cause you to use puny weights. You're better off if you can get quality reps with heavier weight. This will raise the intensity and lead to some new muscle gains. So again, focus on the quality of the sets and not the quantity. Approach your workout with energy, effort and enthusiasm and you will succeed.
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