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. While many volume guys look at the HIT’ers 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 a 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 o time and energy if they are mostly spinning their wheels making little or nor progress from week to week, and month to month. What I’m going to discuss this time are those that play both sides of the street, and also 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, it tends to overtrain the average person. What many “average Joe’s” find out 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/PH’s 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 overall workload when they go “on”, then ramp back down as the cycle ends.
My usual rule of thumb for people that don’t have either a lot of gear experience, nor 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. But if you know by experience you get a big boost in recovery while “on”, or know volume works wonders for you……but not for very long. Doing this as a planned approach makes a lot of sense these trainees.
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 pro’s”, and overtrining 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 bodypart routine.
Even the most dogmatic HIT’er has to admit that SOME people, even those that respond well to HIT while clean often don’t grow as well as when combining a volume approach with good gear. And if it works………
OK, so you train clean (at least most of the time) and want to hear something that applies to you? Here are some approaches that can allow the HIT trainer to get some potentially productive volume work in without too much of a chance of overtraining, and will conversely allow the volume guys a break from the endless sets, stalled poundage progression, and will usually spark some new growth.
The simplest method, and the one most often used in a haphazard way is to do either the volume, or HIT routine until progress stalls and then either 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 the way this is usually carried out is the trainee waits WAY past too long before it finally occurs to them that they are truly “stuck”, and by then they not only have wasted valuable time, they have made their body less apt to be responsive.
Better ways of doing it start with having a game plan in place with some structure to the “switch”, or at least be truly aware of what your body is telling you and transit from one mode to the other while not totally burned out on either method.
Ways of doing this include:
One on, one off. That means doing a volume routine week one, and switching to a low volume/hit routine the next. Lifts can stay the same and only the number of sets change, and days spent in the gym. 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 tends to provide more size. Guys that are not naturally at least fairly strong do best keeping the lifts constant and modulating the volume and rep count/cadence instead of doing different lifts. This simple hi/low schedule truly works great for many people. The loading is constantly changing (if you are smart). 50% of the time volume and frequency is something that can be recovered from, and the high volume is kept from being a constant stressor and leaving you stuck.
And as an aside, please keep in mind “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 loading for the guy that can be progressive doing 16 sets a bodypart. And of course that same 10 sets is a mountain of a load for hargainer/or HIT style trainees that usually only do 1-2 sets a bodypart.
Of course you can make the “switch” frequency a lot longer than a week, and doing 2-10 weeks of either format before changing 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 form of “cycling strategy”, it is really not intensity cycling in its truest form. But that is another article for another day.
If you respond well to volume, yet find yourself stuck way too long at the same poundage’s, 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 boosting strength levels goes a long way towards a bigger, better you. Say whatever you want, but an exceedingly large percentage of those doing volume 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 we do some volume, make progress on the weights, and size gains, and BEFORE we are hopelessly stuck, we 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 rung.
It also works for those that don’t tolerate volume well, and tend to overtrain, yet get good size gains for short periods doing volume before they hit a wall. Doing your HIT routine for 60-75% of the time, and volume the remainder gives some people just the balance they need to get the best of both. Doing just enough volume work to spark some additional size gains, and then getting away from it while the getting’s good!
For those with attention to detail, and more importantly the ability and willingness to log their training (this should be everyone, but you’d be surprised) another effective method is “waving” 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 scale too long. And it’s also useful in the short-term to provide some additional growth stimulus.
This is done by starting out with a low workload volume, and each week gradually increasing the loading (sets/lifts, in some cases frequency) until a you are at a max (for you) load, and then work your way back down 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 all 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 less workload. 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 trainer that does 1-2 sets a bodypart you could do:
Week 1-2, normal level, 1-2 (work sets, warm-ups not counted) sets per bodypart
Week 2-4, increase to 3-5 sets per bodypart, while decreasing the intensity
Week 5-6, jump to 6-8 sets, 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.
And this same layout works for volume trainers 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 doing many, 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 left 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, day out, it sure doesn’t take long to find out from practical experience that it just doesn’t work. 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 a 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 its “on me”. Joe average, with average genetics for recovery and growth characteristics USUALLY does much better on a 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 here will often allow those that fall flat on their faces doing volume to get in some result producing workouts without tipping the recovery scales too far out of balance, or get the volume guys recovered, and progressing with their poundage’s again.