The world of fitness is a very hectic one indeed. Everywhere you will find some “expert” declaring some new training method over the other.
Well here is a quote you might appreciate if you’re confused on what to do:
“Methods change. Principles last forever”.
In reality, there are TONS of things you can do to build muscle, but when everything is organized, it will come down to three main things.
Volume is probably the most influential variable for muscle building as it is directly correlated with many things such as number of contractions and total time under tension.
This is most prominent in bodybuilding as bodybuilders will aim to basically trash a muscle, feed, recover, and repeat the process to build muscle. It also is probably the most misunderstood and/or miscalculated variables because it literally will dictate what happens in a program. Because of this, programing volume is one of the most important things to do.
When programmed correctly, it will get you huge. Despite what many pro-strength guys say, a good amount of volume with just the right intensity will get anyone bigger and stronger.
Although volume may be the more influential variable for building pounds of muscle, there has to be enough intensity or load for hypertrophy to occur.
3 sets of 12 with 50% of your 12 rep max isn’t going to do much for your muscles in most cases.
Just look at guys who can squat hundreds of pounds. When have you ever seen a skinny guy squat with 500 pounds on his back?
A lot of training programs are going to focus on one of the two methods as it is possible to gain muscle (for a while) focusing on one method.
For example, Starting Strength has its guys go low to medium volume while focusing on adding weight on the bar every workout for basically as long as you can.
It’s simple and it works wonders. The only problem is that there will be a time when just adding weight on the bar won’t work as effectively anymore. The same goes for a volume based programs.
Whether it is due to muscular or neurological reasons, doing only one method will slow down your results and inhibit your body’s ability to recover.
Which brings me to the third and most important factor in muscle building:
Whatever training you do, it will places stress on the body. A more volume based approach will places more stress on the muscles and a more intensity based approach will place higher stress on the nervous system, although they both overlap.
This means that each approach and everything else you do in the weight room is literally just a form of stimulus on your muscles and nervous system.
This stimulus will bring your body out of homeostasis (or allostasis for those who want to be more specific) and from there, it will try to bring itself back to it.
To do so, it must recover and in that recovery stage is where supercompensation happens and hypertrophy actually occurs as the body tries to rebuild itself from the past stress placed upon it.
Without recovery, there are no muscle and strength gains.
On the other hand, without the stimulus there is no use for recovery.
Of the two methods, both work and should be used for maximum strength and muscle gains. The problem is that there are tons of ways to combine the two. Add in the need for recovery and planning a muscle building program can get confusing very quickly.
To remove this confusion, I’ll propose a simple template that will take advantage of both methods while integrating enough recovery so you never burn out.
Month 1: 6-8 Reps
Month 2: 10-15 Reps
Month 3: 6-8 Reps
Month 4: 10-15 Reps
Basically, on month 1 and 3 you will focus on the lower end of the hypertrophy spectrum and will perform a bunch of heavy compound exercises. On months 2 and 4, you will lighten up the load and stock up on isolation exercises.
Another way to explain is like this (thanks Anthony Mychal)
1. Minimal exercise selection, little to no isolation. Lower reps. No pump. All strength and power.
2. More exercises, lower percentage of 1RM, more isolation, more pump work.
So a full body workout in month 3 will look something like this:
Med Ball Throw 3 X 5
Box Jumps 3 X 5
1A) Back Squats 3-4 X 6
2A) Weighted Pull Ups 3-4 X 6
2B) DB Incline Press 3-4 X 8
3A) Farmers Walk 3-4 X 25 yards
And a workout from month 4 (upper body workout) will look like this:
Frog Jump To Med Ball Throw 3 X 3
1A) Barbell Flat Bench Press 2 X 8
1B) Chin Ups 2 X 8
2A) DB Flyes 3 X 10
2B) Lat Pull Downs 3 X 15
3A) Barbell Cheat Curls 4 X 10
3B) Diamond Pushups 4 X 15
3C) DB Bicep Curls 4 X 12
3D) Tricep Extensions 4 X 12
As you go through the months, you will be alternating between both volume based and intensity based training. This will allow for recovery between both methods which in turn means you will get bigger and stronger.
Simple yet effective.