Intensity vs Volume

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High Intensity Vs High Volume Training

By Free Bodybuilding Programs

At both ends of the bodybuilding scale we have two training methods that have been in a constant fight for supremacy since modern bodybuilding first became popular back in the early 1900ís.

These two training methods are at opposing ends of the bodybuilding scale; completely different in the way they make you train, so which is best? Alas there may never be an answer as there are benefits and disadvantages to both. The following comparison might just help you make the decision on what type of training to use.

Volume Vs Intensity

Volume refers to the amount of reps and sets you perform per workout and has an inverse relationship to the amount of weight a person can lift during that same workout. As an example if you can bench press 100kg for 1 repetition you are performing a high intensity lift. Logically, the lighter the weight you lift, the more repetitions you can perform per set which then translates into a higher volume regime.

It is also important to note that intensity and volume regimes will use a different range of total sets per workout, for example high intensity regimes will usually use 30 or more sets per workout, with high intensity regimes using somewhere in the region of 15 or less. If a high intensity workout uses over 20 sets per workout it fails to be a truly high intensity workout and starts to cross the boarder into a high volume regime.

There is no universal code, or definition of the amount of sets and reps that indicate a high volume or high intensity regime, but the following is an acceptable guide:

High volume/low intensity: 32 sets per workout

Medium volume/medium intensity: 24 sets per workout

Low volume/high intensity: 13 sets per workout

Historically high volume was king with bodybuilders in the 70ís and 80ís with films such as Pumping Iron filming literally all bodybuilders of the day performing high volume routines. Whilst these bodybuilders built impressive physiques with high volume training they also relied heavily upon anabolic steroids. The steroids made it possible for them to train using 30 or more sets per workout with sometimes two workouts per day.

The disadvantages of using high volume training was soon realised by those trying more high intensity techniques. Relying on steroid use is potentially fatal, not to mention the adverse side effects and cost. Generally, also the amount of time it took to perform the volume workouts was simply unacceptable for normal people with a 9-5 job.

An alternative to high intensity was born

As bodybuilders became more educated they realised that muscle responded to an overload stimulus, whether that be from volume, or an increased load of weight. Bodybuilders in the 90ís such as Dorian Yates often took this type of training to the extreme with very high intensity workouts that included just one set to failure per exercise with only a few working sets per workout.

Did these bodybuilders make great gains with this training? Yes. Did they also rely on steroids? Yes. For the normal person using an extremely high intensity regime will have its advantages for example the ability to overload a specific muscle group with a and increased weight.

The main criticism of the ultra-high intensity technique is the failure to adequately stimulate the body (and central nervous system) enough to spark an anabolic response. Supporters of the high volume technique are certain that the key to building muscle is to force nutrients into muscle cells to spark muscle growth (known as the pump) and that high intensity only builds strength and not muscle mass.

Who is correct? If it is taken for granted that any type of training will enable you to build new muscle mass then for the average person high intensity training seems to be the most beneficial simply because workouts can be performed in as little as 30 minutes.

Both methods can have their place in a rounded bodybuilding regime, and in fact people currently using one of the methods will probably see a dramatic gain in muscle if they switched to the opposing method simply because the body will respond positively to the different stimulus.

What we do now know is that the body requires a change in stimulus periodically if it is to be forced to grow new muscle mass on a constant basis so the best way to benefit from the advantages of both techniques is to design a programme to periodically change the volume and intensity of your workouts, as follows:

Weeks 1-3: 20-25 sets with 12-15 reps

Weeks 4-6: 15-20 sets with 10-12 reps

Weeks 7-9: 10-15 sets with 6-8 reps

Weeks 10-12: 5-10 sets with 4-6 reps


You donít need to use just one training method to gain muscle and there is no one size fits all, best training protocol that will give you the best gains. High intensity training may be a more logical choice for those short of time but if you are able to train for around and hour, three times a week you can have the best of both worlds and use both high volume and high intensity techniques to gain the most muscle mass.

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