Many people that train using HIT have the opinion that something just isn’t right with those guys that spend day after day in the gym doing endless sets of every lift under the sun. A common opinion is the volume guys don’t understand the “scientific” approach to building muscle, and just don’t push themselves hard enough to get the job done in a few sets. Many volume guys on the other hand look at the HITers as not being as devoted as they are, and truth be told, maybe a little lazy. They figure if you really want it you’ll do as many damn sets as required as many days of the week as possible. It doesn’t interfere with life, “it is life!”
While there are lot’s of “in between” trainers that do moderated versions of one or the other training styles, the HIT guys and volume trainers make up an extremely large segment of the training populace. Both of these almost diametrically opposed training styles have a large following for the simple reason they are both very effective for those that are suited to each method. While most new trainees end up sampling a good variety of different training modes while learning what works best for them, many never get past the “same old, same old” they learned through haphazardly watching everyone else do the same thing.
This is especially true of guys that start with volume if you don’t mind me saying so. Even those that experiment often experiment around an extremely narrow portion of “what seems to work for them.” In a good majority of the cases this is well and good if the trainee has found a system that works for them, but a waste of time and energy if they are spinning their wheels making little or no progress from week to week. What I’m going to discuss in this article are those trainees that play both sides of the fence; I am also going to go over some ways that may make volume and HIT more agreeable for those that strictly choose one or the other.
To say that volume work is responsible for the largest percentage of the top physiques is an understatement. But by and large, volume training tends to overtrain the average person. What many average Joes find is that doing a little gear (or these days, some of the more effective pro-hormones like ([insert your product]) makes them no longer average. For many people, gear/PHs can greatly increase the trainee’s ability to recover from sessions that would have left them hopelessly overtrained while clean. Knowing this, many methodical lifters train HIT, or low volume while clean, and then gradually ramp up the workload when “on.” They then ramp the volume back down as the cycle ends.
My usual rule of thumb for people that don’t have either a lot of gear experience or overall training experience is to pick a routine that you KNOW is effective for you while training clean, and then let the gear amplify the results. Doing this as a planned approach makes a lot of sense for most trainees. This approach is especially beneficial to those of you who are still getting to know how your body responds to different stimuli.
All newbies out there reading this take heed. One of the biggest mistakes people make is getting on a cycle, believing that now they can train “just like the pros,” and overtraining so badly they hardly grow. I have seen COUNTLESS people blaming their lack of progress on “bogus gear,” when the truth of the matter is they never had a chance on their newfound six day a week 20 sets a body-part routine.
Even the most dogmatic HITer has to admit that SOME people, even those that respond well to HIT while clean, often don’t grow as well as they do when combining a volume approach with good gear. And if it works…
Okay, so what if you are the type of lifter that trains clean (at least most of the time)? Here are some approaches that can allow the HIT (or low-volume) trainee to get some potentially productive volume work into his routine without too much of a chance of overtraining. Conversely, I will recommend some approaches that will give you volume guys a break from endless sets and stalled poundages, and should usually spark some new growth in the process.
The simplest method, and the one most often used in a haphazard way is to do either a high volume or HIT routine until progress stalls, at which point you can slowly work into the higher/lower volume routine, or do a sudden switch. Given the choice I like the “quick switch” to the new format, as it tends to result in better gains. The problem with how this is usually carried out is that the trainee waits WAY too long before it finally occurs to him that he is truly stuck. And, by then the trainee has not only wasted valuable time, he has also managed to make his body less apt to be responsive.
Better ways of making this transition start with having a game plan in place with some structure to the switch. Additionally, it is wise to be truly aware of what your body is telling you. This will allow you to transition from one training mode to the other without becoming totally burned out on either method.
Ways of making this transition include:
One on, one off. This means the trainee performs a volume routine the first week, and switches to a low volume/hit routine the next. Lifts can stay the same, with only the number of sets and days spent in the gym changing from week to week. Conversely, you can change all the loading parameters each week. This method usually results in less strength gains since there is less nerve innervation improvement, but in my experience it also tends to produce more size gains. Guys that are not naturally at least somewhat strong do best keeping the lifts constant and modulating the volume and rep count/cadence instead of performing different lifts. This simple hi/low schedule truly works wonderfully for many people. The loading is constantly changing, and the fluctuating approach allows recovery from each of the different training variables (volume, frequency and intensity). Shifting your training approach in this manner goes a long way toward preventing stagnation and overtraining.
And as an aside, please keep in mind that the term “volume” is relative. The 10 sets that would leave a true hardgainer totally overtrained may be a reasonable load for someone with fairly good recovery ability, and may in fact be a low level of loading for the guy that can progress on 16 sets a bodypart. And of course those same 10 sets are a huge load for a hardgainer/or HIT style trainee, who usually only performs 1-2 sets a bodypart.
Of course you can make the switch from volume to intensity a lot less frequently than once per week; performing 2-10 weeks of either style of training before changing to the other style works well for some…and much worse for others. The key here is not waiting until you are totally “had” before transitioning, and understanding why the switch can be a big boost over what you might have achieved running either style constantly. And while this definitely qualifies as a cycling strategy, it is really not intensity cycling in its truest form. But that’s another article for another day.
If you respond well to volume, yet find yourself stuck way too long at the same poundages, you may find that doing volume for 60-75% of a given period, and inserting HIT/low volume/power training (call it what you will) as a means to reduce overtraining tendencies and boost strength levels goes a long way towards a bigger, better you. Say whatever you want, but an exceedingly large percentage of those doing volume training experience very irregular poundage progression.
If the volume and frequency is right for YOU when doing a low volume routine, strength increases are usually like clockwork. So with this scheme you do some volume, make progress on the weights and make good size gains. Then, BEFORE you are hopelessly stuck, you switch to HIT and rack up some solid poundage increases, and then HIT the volume (ha-ha) with more weight on the bar and climb another size rung. This is a good plan for those of you that don’t tolerate volume well and tend to overtrain, yet get good size gains from using high volume for short periods of time. Doing your HIT routine for 60-75% of the time, and then periodically switching to a volume approach gives some people just the right balance they need to get the best of both worlds.
For those of you with attention to detail, and more importantly the ability and willingness to log yout training (this should be everyone, but you’d be surprised), another effective method is wave-loading the workload. This can be a great long-term routine structure for those that don’t grow well, provided you don’t go too high with the volume, or stay at the high end of the volume scale too long. And it’s also useful in the short-term to provide some additional growth stimulus.
This wave approach requires the lifter to start out with a low workload volume, and gradually increase the loading (sets/lifts, in some cases frequency) until he or she is at a max (for you) load. At that point, you work your way back down the volume scale again, or begin the process from the beginning. The key once again is to not go over the “edge” and end up severely overtrained. If your work capacity (i.e., ability to recover well) is fairly good, you can make the progressions relatively fast, and stay in the higher loading level zones for the larger percentage of the time. For those of you with…well lets just say less than ideal genetics (the vast majority of trainees) the best approach is to ramp the load slowly, and more importantly, don’t go too high with the workload. Hanging out on the brink of overtraining can be result-producing for those people who recover fairly well, but ends up being counterproductive for most folks that thrive on lesser workloads. Remember, we are trying to change the stimulus, get some additional size gains that volume often promotes, and then close the door before we hit the wall.
If you are a HIT trainee that does 1-2 sets a bodypart an example wave-loading program could look like this:
Week 1-2: Normal level, 1-2 work sets per bodypart (warm-ups not included)
Week 2-4: Increase to 3-5 sets per bodypart, while decreasing the intensity
Week 5-6: Jump to 6-8 sets per bodypart, again decreasing intensity levels (for many, this is as high as you need or should go)
Week 7-8: Top out at 9-12 sets; this will be enough for the majority of trainees
And this same layout works for volume trainees too, although it is a given that many volume guys won’t stop at 12 sets.
Repeat, or go back to another training mode. This is also a great way to see where your threshold lies.
A few things to keep in mind
HIT advocates have a hard time letting go of the intensity when adding sets and it doesn’t take long to realize just how beat-up you become when you repeatedly perform many “all-out” sets. As the volume goes up, intensity needs to come down. This is the opposite problem of volume guys switching to an abbreviated routine, and then doing their sets like they still have 15 more to do. The intensity must match the workload. HIT/low volume training doesn’t work if the sets aren’t pushed pretty hard. Does anyone out there really think a couple of wishy-washy sets will really make you grow? REALLY? And while it may not be common sense that you can’t do lots of all-out sets day in and day out, it sure doesn’t take long to find out from practical experience that it just doesn’t work for many. Another caveat is that if you are TRULY a hardgainer, leave all this alone and realize this was just some easy reading and not practical instruction.
If you have read any of my writings/rantings before you probably know that I favor low volume work for myself and most of the people I train. Why? Because as a personal trainer that offers a money back guarantee if not satisfied, I HAVE TO provide results, or it’s “on me.” Joe average, with average genetics for recovery and growth characteristics USUALLY does much better in the long-term basis on HIT/Hardgainer style routines.
But in the end, all that matters is what works, and be it volume, HIT, Powerbuilding, HST, OT-Max or any other flavor of training you can name, the results are all that matters. Using some of the techniques described in this article will often allow those of you that fall flat on your faces doing volume work to get in some result-producing workouts without tipping the recovery scales too far out of balance. Or, these techniques can give you volume guys much needed recovery time, during which you can focus more exclusively on poundage progression while you recharge your batteries a bit.