Research suggests that, in order to gain strength and size, you have to overload your muscle and push it beyond its present capacity. From this theory of what is called the overload principle, we know that intensity is the key to gaining muscle.
Mike Mentzer once said you can either train intense or train long. The two do not coincide. Mentzer trained for a total of 20-40 minutes, 3-4 days a week and had one of the best bodies ever.
Mentzer is not the only one to understand the genius behind this theory. Guys like Ken Leistner, Kevin Tolbert, Dorian Yates (6x Mr. OLympia) and Lee Haney (8x Mr. Olympia) understood this theory and actually applied it.
I conclude that one set to absolute failure is not only all that it takes, but is the most optimal.
Dorian Yates followed this philosophy and trained for one set to absolute and complete failure in all of his workouts.
Intensity in one set provides the stimulus to grow but any more intensity sets will actually provide more damage than good. Therefore, intensity is only half the battle. Recuperation is the other half. Insufficient recuperation impedes intensity and insufficient intensity impedes muscle growth. Dorian Yates had this to say about rest: “Rest periods between sets are as long as I feel is required. Many bodybuilders think training is 50% aerobic and 50% anaerobic. That is a mistake. They don’t rest enough between sets; their body is not able to regenerate enough energy to exhaust that muscle to absolute fatigue, which is the point at which optimal muscle growth begins.”
Dorian Yates was all about intensity for one set to provide the proper stimulus for growth and then rested adequately. “I perform a set with 100% energy to 100% failure–then beyond, to 100% fatigue–and I won’t do another set until I feel that the muscles have recuperated 100%, however long that takes. For example, when I take squats or leg presses to total fatigue, I know from experience that it’s likely to be at least five or six minutes before I’ll be able to even think about what my address or name is, let alone do another set.”
This should begin to shed some light on how intense and crazy his sets were when referring to one all-out-to-failure set. It was a life-sucking, flesh-frying torture that forced him to insert a rest day both before and after just so he’d have enough intensity to get through. This left him with a schedule that looked like:
Day 1- Delotids, Traps, Triceps, Abs Day 2- Back, Rear Deltoids Day 3- Off Day 4- Chest, Biceps, Abs Day 5- Off Day 6- Quads, Hams, Calves Day 7- Off
Try this routine out. You’ll notice how much more intensity you’ll have in the gym, which will result in the best of gains.
Check out this video of Dorian Yates training Chris Cormier to push through to complete failure:
Check out this video of Dorian Yates training Mark Dugdale to push through to complete failure on the bench press: