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Home Training Build Muscle Intensity vs. Volume Training- The Debate Is Over

Intensity vs. Volume Training- The Debate Is Over

Intensity vs. Volume Training- The Debate Is Over


To build muscle mass, burn fat, and develop the best body of your life, you obviously need to train with weights, perform cardio, and have a sound nutritional diet. There is a very specific formula to building muscle and I’m going to break it down in a few parts.

1) Intensity
2) Nutrition
3) Recovery    



1) Intensity

Whenever you step in the gym, you need to get in the mode that you are going to give it your all in the gym. You can go with the mentality that some form of working out is more beneficial than not working out at all, but that will not provide you with the body you want. If you think that a ripped and chiseled physique is only reserved for certain people or those who do some form of performance enhancing drugs like steroids or HGH, you are certainly mistaken. The only reason why they have the body you are seeking for and you don’t is because they understand the idea of intensity.

Intensity, in the sense of the word that I’m referring to, means contracting every muscle fiber in a specific bodypart to the point of failure. By reaching failure, you exhaust the muscle to the point of stimulation for it to grow. However, if you lift beyond that point of failure, you overtrain. 

Overtraining is not just overdoing it for the sake of itself, but is actually detrimental. Overtraining doesn’t mean that you just won’t benefit yourself any more by doing more sets and more reps, but it actually means that you are irreparably harming the muscle to the point where you are damaging it so it cannot grow back stronger or larger. Why go to the gym at all if you plan on overtraining? 

I’m sure you think to yourself that you’re doing yourself a favor by going to the gym 5 days a week and lifting set after set, yet every time you go to the gym, you haven’t increased the weight your doing. You bust your ass in the gym, yet see no progress in your body development or the amount of weight you are doing. Odds are you are either not going with intensity to reach failure or you are overtraining. Listen…if you do not come back into the gym any stronger than last week, you have been wasting your time.
So how do you reach failure? Many people think that failure means the point that you cannot complete another rep for the weight you are doing. For instance, if you have 225 pounds on the barbell bench press and you can’t get it up for #6, people constitute failure as being rep #5. However, this is not failure. After you complete 5 reps of 225 pounds, you can probably do another rep of 215 pounds, and then 200 pounds, and then 190 pounds, etc…all the way down the line. So, theoretically, failure occurs at the point when you cannot do another rep of 1 pound for that particular bodypart. Now, if you can envision this properly, then you’d understand how incredibly intense of a set this is. Basically you’d have to perform dozens of sets consisting of your 1RM directly after another. But that is the theory of failure and you can come pretty close to doing it by implementing strip sets and drop sets to reach that point of failure.
Now there is a difference between volume and intensity. Most people who are heavy gym goers (and I’m talking about guys who go in 5 days a week or more, yet see no progress) are of the volume nature. These people do an incline dumbbell press with 80 pounds, let’s say and do them for the amount of times that they can complete the process (about 10 reps or so). Then they rest 60 seconds and perform the set again until they can complete the process (probably 9 reps or so this time). Then they move from exercise to exercise and do the same thing, yet never reaching the point of true failure and overkilling the muscle by trying to partially tear down fibers that have already been partially torn. The volume guys basically just incorporate their slow twitch muscle fibers, and intermediary twitch fibers; however, most volume trainees fail to implement their fast fatigue-resistant twitch fibers and their fast twitch glycolytic fibers for extended periods of time in their exercise.
Have you ever looked at a sprinter vs. a marathon runner?


The sprinter certainly has the more attractive physique; and it’s the idea of intensity that provides that difference. Volume trainees are the marathon runners- going for long periods of time in the gym using minimal weight throughout their routine for a longer period of time. The intensity training guys are the sprinters- compacting an incredibly intense session in a shorter period of time.

By going to complete failure, you exhaust all 4 sets of muscle fibers, without damaging the slow twitch and intermediary twitch muscle fibers beyond the point of repair.

You need to get in the mode of intensity where you have one working set to complete failure and no more than that. You must have proper warm up sets and cool down sets and you can implement a few different exercises in one workout session, but only one set to failure in each of those exercises is necessary. Any more than that and you will overtrain, not bettering yourself in any regard.
If you look at powerlifters, their method of training allows them to get stronger every single week. Most people who lift regularly rarely, if ever, increase their strength week to week. Yet, most powerlifters don’t have the bodies of a sprinter. However, there is a recognizable difference here that creates the difference in physique between powerlifters and sprinters: Bodyfat percentage. Most powerlifters don’t look like a sprinter, yet they are very strong. Sprinters don’t train to do one 100 yard sprint and then call that their entire workout. They sprint as fast as they can for a period of time, rest for several minutes and then perform another sprint at full speed (repeating this process several times in an hour long session). However, they do not repeat a sprint until they can perform the sprint at their full speed or else they are wasting their time (theory of intensity- they want to engage all 4 sets of muscle fibers). The difference in developing the body of your dreams, is in the amount of calories you are expending vs. the amount you take in.


2) Nutrition

I am sure you are bored by now, and I’ll try to keep the rest of this article short. Nutrition is vital to your efforts. You are wasting your time in the gym if you don’t have a sound diet. The most important things that I want to hit home are that you need to:

1) Eat 6-8 times a day
Eating frequently keeps your Basal Metabolic Rate elevated throughout the day.

2) Eat a large breakfast.
This is the most important meal of the day. You need to intake lots of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats here to break the fast and jumpstart your day. Make sure youe at within 30 minutes of waking.

3) Your Pre and Post Workout nutrition needs to be spot on.
This is perhaps the most important thing you need to take home here. You need to have a protein source and a large carbohydrate source both before and after your workout. While your pre workout meal should consist more of a combination of slow and fast digesting carbohydrates an hour before your workout, you need to have a fast digesting protein source and fast digesting carbohydrate source directly after your workout.


3) Recovery

As I said earlier, if you don’t go back to the gym stronger than the last time you worked out, you are simply wasting your time. Elevations in strength and your physique need to be progressive. Any kind of stagnation indicates a flaw in your training method, nutrition method, or recovery method. You need to find out how long it takes for you to recover, but use the amount of energy you have and the total weights as a guide. Depending upon the intensity that you train with, you need to make sure that you take at least 72 hours between body parts. If you are training very intensely as I suggested above where each workout is some form of a hellish, brutal mentality, you need to take more time off. Listen to your body here and everyone is unique. Please do not follow the general magazines on this principle. If you are not taking any performance enhancing drugs, what Jay Cutler’s body needs for rest and what you do are two entirely different animals. Make sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep is your form of recovery- think of it as recharging the batteries. Your car can’t run without gas- this is your form of gas. What I like to do in terms of training, is make sure I take off from the gym the day after I perform a hellish routine in the gym when I reach failure, as defined above.

A sample routine I do would be:

Monday- Off
Tuesday- Hellish Chest and Legs Routine
Wednesday- Off
Thursday- Abs; Sprints
Friday- Hellish Back and Shoulders Routine
Saturday- Off
Sunday- Abs; Sprints

It doesn’t seem like it’s much training with weights, but those two sessions are so brutal and taxing on my body and central nervous system, that any more would simply be counterproductive to my goals and objectives.




A sample routine would look like the following:


5 minute bike ride
Plenty of warm-up sets consisting of weighted lunges and push-ups

The following consists of absolutely no rest in between sets:
Back Squats- 315 pounds for 10 reps; 225 pounds for 10 reps; 135 pounds for 10 reps
Flat Bench Press- 230 pounds for 10 reps; 185 pounds for 10 reps; 145 pounds for 10 reps
Back Squats- 225 pounds for 25 reps
Flat Bench Press- 185 pounds for 25 reps
Deadlifts- 315 pounds for 10 reps; 225 pounds for 10 reps; 135 pounds for 10 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press- 90 pounds for 8 reps; 70 pounds for 8 reps; 50 pounds for 8 reps; 30 pounds for 8 reps
Deadlifts- 225 pounds for 25 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press to Dumbbell Flyes- 30 pounds to Absolute Failure
Wall Sit- To Failure
Push-Ups- To Failure

Plenty of cool-down sets consisting of leg extension, leg curls, and machine chest press
5 minute bike ride

As you can see, this routine is nothing short of exhausting and allows my body to go to complete failure. There is no way that my body can recover any shorter than 7 days from when I perform this. Sometimes it takes 10 days. You need to listen to your body and understand when it’s ready by monitoring your energy levels and your physical readiness. Remember to take ample time off from the gym. You grow outside the gym, not inside it. If you are not coming into the gym stronger than you did last time, you are simply wasting your time!

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