Training with heavy weights, training with higher volumes and training with high intensity techniques are some of the best methods for developing maximum amounts of strength and muscle.
Training with relatively heavy weights means that you will lift a weight that is heavy enough that your muscles are unable to lift the weight for more than 6 – 8 times. You can change up the rep range to 8-10 from time to time and 10-12 on rare occasions – certain smaller muscle groups such as arms can yield more benefits when trained in a 8-12 rep range.
Training with high volume means that you train a target muscle group with a high number of sets per exercise and / or more exercises. High volume training usually involves 20 – 30 sets per muscle group. I’m a big believer in working with high volume. This is also how Arnold Schwarzenegger and some of the other classic bodybuilders used to train.
Select the most effective exercises as your core lifts:
When designing a training program, you must pick compound free weight exercises as the foundation of your program. The core lifts that you want to focus on are deadlifts, squats, flat and incline bench presses, barbell and dumbbell back rows, pull ups, parallel bar dips and barbell and dumbbell shoulder presses. These compound exercises are the most effective and will provide you the most returns for your hard training. Other great exercises to include are cable lat pulldowns, cable seated rows, barbell and dumbbell shrugs, and barbell and dumbbell arm exercises. Other exercises involving machines and select isolation work are good to do after the core lifts. However, machines and isolation exercises by themselves are relatively ineffective.
Diet and sleep:
Secondly, with a training program that will involve high amounts of volume, heavy weights and intensity techniques, it is crucial that you have a nutritious (and high enough calorie) diet and that you get enough sleep. If your body is not able to recover from the stress of training, you will snowball effect to exhaustion pretty quickly. So, if you are not eating properly and not getting enough sleep, I would recommend not starting with a max strength and muscle training program until you correct these issues. Getting good carbs, fats and protein pre and post workout is especially important. Along with a good diet and sleep, make sure that your stress levels are low and that you also take a 20-30 minute power nap when you can. Read Maximize Fat Loss and Muscle Gain to build a nutritious muscle building diet. Also read Do you breathe right? to optimize your breathing pattern for lowered stress and improved performance.
Most guys at the gym should be concerned about under-training and not over-training. However, with this program you should monitor how you feel since it will test the limits of your body. The key to a max strength and muscle program is to train intelligently – get in tune with your body, monitor how you feel and back off a little when your body tells you to. If you maintain an excellent diet and sleep schedule and monitor how you feel then this will be progress accelerating training for you.
Experiment with exercises:
Feel free to vary the angle of the exercises slightly to see if it creates a better stretch and tension in your muscles. Change your grip and foot stance to better suit your body’s individual mechanics. Remember, in order to maximize your progress at the gym, you have to get in tune with your body. This takes some time but after a while you’ll develop a fingertip feel for your training environment and be able to adapt exercises to your greatest benefit.
Intensity techniques allow you to workout with higher levels of intensity and provide your muscles with added stimulus to increase in size and strength. Read How To Get Into Your Zone to train with complete intensity and focus. Beginners tend to make good and steady progress with conventional rep and set schemes. However, assuming your diet, rest and the other variables are in place and you feel that you’re not making the sort of progress that you should be then give the following intensity techniques a try.
With these training techniques you will push past failure. Intensity techniques include supersets, dropsets, forced reps and negatives. Keep in mind that these techniques produce a greater shock on your nervous system. Use them judiciously – don’t over utilize them, and observe how you feel so you avoid over-training.
Supersets involve doing back to back sets for either the same body part or for the opposite body part. For example, you do a bench press then immediately you do a barbell bent over row. You can also do a primary and secondary muscle group superset – for example, a bench press followed by triceps pushdown. You can do supersets in every workout if you’d like.
An example of a dropset is when you bench press to failure with a given weight, then you immediately strip some of the weight and do another set to failure with a lighter weight. You can double-drop by reducing the weight once or triple drop by reducing the weight twice. I like to do triple drops. For example, you could start with 225 lbs till failure, then drop the weight down to 205 lbs till failure and finally to 185 lbs till failure. Use dropset in the last set of one of the exercises for a muscle group (such as the bench press). Don’t dropset each workout.
Run the rack:
This is a variation of the drop set technique that you can do with dumbbells. Let’s say you’re doing dumbbell shoulder press – start with a weight and do 8-10 reps, then immediately pick up a lighter weight and do the next set, then another set with lighter weight. You can challenge yourself with running the rack 3 to 6 sets in a row. Use this technique sparingly.
Do a set of an isolation exercise for a muscle group such as a chest fly, then without rest do a compound exercise such as the incline bench press. This will exhaust the main pectoral muscles and let the secondary triceps and shoulder muscles work harder. You can do a pre-exhaust set on a muscle group relatively frequently.
At the end of your working set of the bench press, have your training partner help you just enough to enable you to rep out another 2 or 3 more reps. Use this technique sparingly.
This is where you do several exercises for one body part in a row without resting in between exercises. For example, you could do a set of incline bench press, immediately followed by dumbbell flat bench press, immediately followed by dips immediately followed by push ups. You can do giant sets each workout.
This technique focuses on the negative portion of muscle contraction – the lowering of the weight to the chest on the bench press, for example. Use a weight that is 10 – 15% heavier than your 1 rep max weight. Have a spotter give you a lot of help with pushing the weight up from your chest then slowly lower the weight on your own. Take about 6-8 second to lower the weight to your chest. Use this technique sparingly.
SAMPLE LIFTING ROUTINE
The following is a sample of my training routine which involves high volume and heavy weights. I add a varying selection of the above intensity techniques from workout to workout:
Monday and Thursday:
Incline Bench Press: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Chest Press Machine: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Incline Chest Press Machine: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Dumbbell Chest Pullovers: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Pull Ups: 5-6 sets; till failure
Barbell Bent Over Rows: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Cable Lat Pulldowns: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Cable Seated Rows: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Dumbbell Rows: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
High or Low Machine Rows: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Barbell Shoulder Press: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Dumbbell Rear Delt Raises: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Barbell or Dumbbell Shrugs: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Tuesday and Friday:
Barbell Squats: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Romanian Deadlifts: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Leg Press: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Hamstring Curls: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Standing Calf Raises: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Seated Calf Raises: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Parallel Bar Triceps Dips: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Barbell Biceps Curls: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Close Grip Bench Press: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Dumbbell Biceps Curls: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Cable Triceps Pushdown: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Cable Biceps Curl: 3-4 sets; 6-10 reps
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday: Rest and recovery days.
I weigh about 185 lbs and the following is my eating overview along with the above training program:
4-5 times a day; 3-4 meals; 1-2 protein shakes/ snacks.
Calories: 3,000 calories per day.
Protein: 200 grams of protein.
After every six to eight weeks, lower your training volume and intensity for a week or two. Or even take a week off and let your body and nervous system relax and fully charge up before you get back to more high volume and intensity training. Remember to eat sufficient amounts of nutritious high calorie foods and get sufficient 8-9 hours of sleep for optimal results.