If you have read some of my recent articles or social media posts then you no doubt know I am a big fan of volume when it comes to making drastic changes in body composition especially for the advanced trainee, which is something that I teach all of our personal trainers out of our Sydney CBD and Chatswood gyms along with those whom are studying to become personal trainers through our Certificate 3 and 4 in Fitness.
Now while I do believe high volume is needed to force adaptation in advanced trainees there is limit to how much we volume we can add over the course of the week. We cannot continue increasing volume indefinitely or sustain ultra-high volume for long periods at a time. Something I have come to accept over the years is that as we progress towards the limit of our genetic potential, especially as a natural, progress becomes painfully slow.
Typically we have short periods where we make some decent progress followed by long periods of stagnation or regression. This is because the stress required to force adaptation needs to be followed by a period of unloading. The body needs time to replenish its energy stores, for the nervous and endocrine systems to recharge, and for the joints and muscles to adequately repair. There also needs to be a period where we become de-sensitised to the training stimulus before we increase it again. During this period progress may be painfully slow or non-existent.
Elite power lifters and other athletes have known for a long time that they cannot be at their peak all the time which is why after a meet or competition they start their new cycle with low loads and build up progressively over the course of their macro-cycle.
This is how the birth of periodization in sports came about. Bodybuilders from the Golden Era like Arnold and Frank Zane used a similar approach back in the 70s in which they would increase their workload over the course of the year in order to peak for the Olympia. As a result I have recently come up with my own system that I use personally and with advanced clients to increase weekly volume in a systematic and progressive fashion over the course of a macro-cycle.
I do this by firstly starting out on a base volume following a transition or deload period, and then weekly volume is increased progressively by first increasing session volume, followed by frequency. To illustrate how this plays out I am going to show you the progression I used in the 4 months leading up to my last comp.
From my second to my last comp I only gained about 3kg of stage weight in 3 years. For a natural athlete close to their genetic potential progress is slow. But 3kg was enough to make the difference between 1st and 3rd place.
Phase 1 (4 weeks):
Phase 1 started in early Jan after a 2-week transition period over Christmas. During this phase I was hitting about 12-16 sets per body part per workout and working each body part twice a week on a 3-way split. That equates to about 24-32 sets per body part per week. Because this was basic building phase for the most part reps were between 6 to 10.
Phase 2 (5 weeks):
In phase 2 I increased volume to about 16 to 20 sets per body part per workout still hitting each body part twice a week on a 3-way split. That equates to 32 to 40 sets per body part per week. Reps stayed mostly between 6 to 10. This was the end of the building phase. The last week of phase 2 was a 1 week transition phase where I trained full body 3 times with 3-4 sets per body part with between 8-10 reps. The purpose of this phase was to deload and recuperate from the previous 8 weeks so I can be fresh going into cutting phase.
Phase 3 (4 weeks):
Phase 3 was the beginning of my cutting phase. I trained each body with 12-15 sets per workout 3 times per week on a 2-way split. This equates to 30 to 45 sets per body part per week. Here I used a DUP setup where I alternated between light, medium, and heavy days, reps were between 8 to 15 depending on the day.
Phase 4 (4 weeks):
Phase 4 was an over-reaching phase were I trained each body part with 15-20 sets per workout 3 times per week on a 2-way double-split routine. This equates to 45-60 sets per body part per week. I also used a DUP set up here like with the previous phase. The last week each body part was trained only once with about 15 sets of 8-12 reps. The primary purpose of this week was to dissipate fatigue accumulated during the previous phase. Calories were increased above baseline in order for super-compensation to take place.
Here is an overview of the weekly volume increase over the course of the macro-cycle:
|Phase||Sets Per Session||Frequency||Weekly Sets Volume|
Keep in mind this particular progression was based on my individual work capacity and the time available I had to get in shape for this show. It can vary based on an individual’s circumstances. When I don’t have a comp or an event coming up where I need to be in peak shape, for the most part I will stick to my base volume of around 12-16 sets per body part twice per week. I have learned to accept that you can’t be all out all the time, and during those base periods progress will be slow.
But if you are concerned about longevity, which is what really counts, then those base periods are where you lay down the foundation. You have to just learn to be patient throughout the process and know when to push hard and when to pull back.
Editors note: When it comes to volume if you haven’t already we highly recommend checking out this article here, where Stefan talks in depth about this topic in his training like a pro series.