At my gym we have three rules – turn up, don’t complain, and never quit. Of the three rules, the first is by far the most important. If you just commit to turning up as frequently as you can, then I can help you with the rest. So, here’s how we get you from your current three sessions per week to the kind of training volume that will actually bring you closer to your goals.
Making Training a Lifestyle
The problem for many people is they haven’t figured out that working out isn’t an addition to their lifestyle. It has to be part of their lifestyle. For the intermittent trainees, the ones who only train two to three times per week, the act of coming to the gym is abnormal and a special thing they do on that day. That makes the job of a trainer nearly impossible. It is only when you, the trainee, understand that for anything you do inside the gym to become visible, it’s what you do outside the gym that matters most.
“The secret to success in all things physical boils down to one thing – training volume.”
The primary lifestyle factors we care about are how many hours of sleep you get each night and how and what you eat. Once you start to figure that out and nail your diet down, then I’m going to have the next conversation with you. That conversation always hinges on one thing – two to three hours of exercise a week isn’t enough. It’s not enough if you want to look good with your shirt off. It’s not enough if you plan to enter any kind of fitness event, such as a fun run, BJJ competition, or even a multi-day hike.
The secret to success in all things physical boils down to one thing – training volume. Whether you believe in the 10,000-hour rule or not doesn’t matter. The simple fact of all things physical is that the more you train the better you will become.
Beware of Low Volume
Unfortunately for the consumer, the fitness industry tries to get by on lies and trickery. They market to the layperson with advertisements about how you can get by on one or two short, intense sessions per week. Oh yeah, I’ve seen plenty of Olympic gold medals won on only an hour of training per week.
Personally, I have no idea how anyone can fit all of his or her training into a half hour session. It takes me nearly that long just to get my body ready to train hard. If I were a client of a half-hour trainer, we’d finish warming up and I’d be getting shown the door as the next client came in. Obviously, you’re not going to make much progress if all you ever do is warm up.
Use Caution to Build Volume
The other problem is that training volume is a double-edged sword. While extra training sessions build fitness and strength faster, they can also hurt you just as quickly. And because everyone has been told every session needs to be an all-out search for hurt, they think that any extra sessions must be approached this way, too.
But let me ask you a question – how many truly hard sessions do you have in you each week? Maybe you have one or two. If you’re currently doing two to three training sessions per week and looking to do more, then there’s a fair chance you might only have one genuinely hard session in you each week.
“Volume and intensity have an inverse relationship – you can go hard or long, but it’s difficult to do both.”
So, the first step in building training volume is to reduce intensity. Volume and intensity have an inverse relationship – you can go hard or long, but it’s difficult to do both. Adding volume to your training will actually allow you to go harder for longer eventually, but it’s going to take some time to build up to that.
The Ten Steps Method
We’re going to use three tricks to slowly build training volume to allow you to develop superhuman work capacity. These three tricks are:
- Daily walking
- Daily stretching and mobility work
- The ten sets method
When it comes to walking, people often get confused. For starters, walking isn’t exercise. It’s transport. Only one hundred years ago (the blink of an eye in our evolution), you’d have walked nearly everywhere. But for our purposes, walking will give you some extra easy minutes of movement during the week. It’s amazing the changes you can see from as little as half an hour of walking daily.
Note: This isn’t walk the dog time or push a stroller time. This is you, on your own, no headphones, walking briskly for thirty minutes daily. Don’t make the mistake of trying to make these walks hard by adding weight or running. These walks need to have nearly zero cost to your system, so don’t add recovery cost by adding weight or the impact of running.
Daily mobility work is to be done separately to your training. Like the walking, it needs to be easy movement and to be done as a separate session. If you’ll notice, that means you’ll have at least an hour of easy work every day split between the thirty minutes of walking and the thirty minutes of mobility and flexibility work.
On the three days you are currently training, you’re going to drop any metcon-type work as well as the low-rep, low-volume heavy strength work. Instead, you will swap it for the ten sets method. The ten sets method was made popular by strength coach extraordinaire Charles Poliquin in his famous German Volume Training article. However, it’s not always necessary to do ten sets of ten reps.
“Like the walking, [mobility] needs to be easy movement and to be done as a separate session.”
Another famous training plan that included something similar was Pavel Tsatsouline’s “The Bear” program from Power to the People. While it called for twenty sets of five instead of ten-by-ten, the total number of reps comes out the same, as does the average intensity for all sets – between 50% and 60% of 1RM.
So, we can say that for good gains in general strength – yes, there really is a type of strength called general strength – we need about one hundred reps at ~55% 1RM. One thing I do differ on from Poliquin is to not use high-rep sets for the legs. While that may help you grow massive legs, it’s not always a good idea to add leg size – ask any runner if he or she wants thicker, heavier legs. To that end I prefer to still use the ten sets method, but drop the reps to focus on maximal strength versus general strength, as well as help avoid the associated hypertrophy. For strength, we are looking for about 25 reps total per exercise.
The Program Format
Our program then looks like this, with the addition of an extra hour daily split between walking and mobility. This simple plan, based on an increase in training volume, will help you develop more work capacity, which in turn will help you deal with higher-intensity training later on. Perform all exercises below as supersets.
Day 1 – Upper Body
- 10 sets of 10 for two upper-body exercises
- Rest 60 to 90 seconds between exercises
Poliquin likes horizontal presses mixed with vertical pulls, such as a bench press variant plus chins or pull ups.
Day 2 – Cleans and Squats
- 10 sets of 3 reps of power cleans alternated with front squats
If you do these with roughly only a minute between sets, on a 70-90 second cycle, you will get a little incidental conditioning help, too.
Day 3 – Upper Body
- 10 sets of 10 of different upper-body lifts from day one
- Rest 60 to 90 seconds between exercises
If you did horizontal presses and vertical pulls on day one, then try shoulder presses and bent-over rows on day three. Alternatively, if you were really trying to boost your numbers in bench press and pull ups, then you could hit them twice for the week to make faster progress.
If you have questions or if you give this method a try, post to the comments below.
More like this:
- The Most Underrated Principle of Strength Training Is… Balance
- Velocity Based Training: Stop Guessing Your Weights and Reps
- An Introduction to Implement Training: Get Strong Like a Strongman
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