Volume training is a far super approach to high-intensity training. It produces faster results, reduces the chances of injuries, and spares your central nervous system.
1. The Tonnage of HIT Workouts is Too Small
The classic high-intensity method (HIT) calls for one working set to ultimate failure after a few warm-ups.
The work set can be extended beyond failure with drop sets, negatives, or assistance from a training partner.
This technique can cause a great deal of pain and suffering but does not trigger as much growth as one may think because the overall workload/lifting tonnage is too small.
What is lifting tonnage?
It’s the total amount of lifted weight. If you perform 3 sets of 10 with 100lbs, the tonnage from that lift amounts to 30×100=3000lbs/1363.5kg.
The tonnage of a HIT workout is significantly smaller than that of a standard volume approach.
For example, if you do 1 set of 12 lat pulldowns with 170lbs to absolute failure as required by HIT, your tonnage would be 12×170 = 2040lbs.
Meanwhile, if you drop the load to 150lbs and go for 3 sets of 12 without reaching failure, the tonnage goes to 36×150=5400lbs (2x+).
Contrary to popular belief, the second case would trigger more growth because the engaged muscles are doing more work. The fact that the high-intensity method brings the muscle to failure and “beyond” cannot compensate for the lighter workload.
Consequently, volume training allows you to go further without reaching failure.
2. HIT Training Is Infrequent and Causes Harmful De-adaptation
The high-intensity approach calls for fewer training sessions. Many of its proponents train a body part once a week and sometimes even once every 10 days.
This is an inferior approach because the extra muscle protein synthesis triggered by a workout drops to baseline levels in a few days. Or in simpler words – the muscle is no longer in “build mode”.
In addition, the gap between the workouts is long enough to cause de-adaptation (the training effect from the previous workouts is slowly but surely going away).
Soreness proves this perfectly. If you train a body part infrequently, you’re sore after every workout precisely because the trained body part has been in a state of rest for too long.
The soreness that you get is an indication of that. Conversely, if you train more frequently, you experience less soreness because the muscle does not have time to enter the de-adaptation phase.
Yet the HIT professors convince themselves that they need extra time to recover precisely because of the insane soreness that they’re getting. That’s flawed thinking.
Another downside of this tactic is that the body does not have a chance to improve its recovery abilities. As a result, the work capacity of the lifter suffers.
Frequent volume training does the exact opposite – it increases your recovering abilities and prepares the body for more work. You become better at doing more. And that’s a good thing because sooner or later you will reach a plateau. To overcome it, you will have to do more work rather than less. Preparing your body for that moment helps.
The defenders of HIT will quickly say that volume causes regression by imposing a high demand on the lifter. That’s true. If your volume is too high, you can burn out. But when a routine is properly calibrated, that shouldn’t happen.
Ideally, you want to be hitting a muscle as soon as it’s ready to handle more – not 5 days later.
3. High-intensity Training is Harder on The Mind Than It is On the Muscle
The fact that high-intensity practitioners are vomiting at the end of a set or a workout does not mean that they’ve worked their muscles harder than the volume guys.
A lot of the stress behind that outcome comes from the drained adrenal glands and the persistent overclocking of the CNS needed to bring every movement to total exhaustion rather than from the damage inflicted on the musculature.
This is also the reason why HIT practitioners insist on extended rest periods – it’s not for the muscle but for the mind.
Contrariwise, conservative volume training spares the nervous system because the degree of overclocking is lower. Of course, there’s still CNS stress, but it’s substantially smaller than that caused by training to absolute failure.
4. HIT = Short Time Under Tension
Consider the following situation:
Person A decides to train his lats HIT style and does one set of chin-ups to total failure. Then, his training partner grabs his glutes and pushes him up to help him get a few extra “money reps”. The total volume amounts to 10 regular reps (the last one a little shaky) + 4 assisted reps = 14 repetitions.
Person B also maxes out at 10 chin-ups in a row but takes the volume approach and does 4 sets of 6 reps or 24 total repetitions without reaching failure or using assistance.
In the second case, the lifter is subjecting the lats to a greater time under tension which in return digs deeper into the muscle than a single set. The more frequent workouts that come with volume training make that discrepancy even greater.
If person A does chin-ups once a week, that’s a weekly chin-up volume of 14 reps.
If person B does chin-ups three times a week for the same number of reps and sets each workout, the weekly volume raises to 3×24=72reps.
72>14…last time I checked.
5. HIT Glorifies Relative Tension…When Absolute Tension is What Matters
A lot of HIT training is based on relative tension a.k.a. how hard something feels. That’s wrong and can actually hinder your progress.
For instance, if you anchor an easy elastic band and begin doing super slow triceps extensions with it, you will quickly experience a burning sensation, and at one point, the movement will become very difficult.
However, since the band offers little overall resistance, you would be stimulating less growth than what you perceive because the absolute tension generated by the muscle would be on the low side despite the excruciating feelings that you may be experiencing.
Mike Mentzer created HIT to battle the ludicrous volume routines promoted by Arnold and his friends. What do you have to say about that?
High volume routines could destroy you when you’re not careful and follow templates designed for professionals. However, Mentzer took everything to the other extreme – from too much work to too little work. Moreover, he built most of his sick physique using volume programs. HIT became a part of his lifting philosophy later in life.
Dorian Yates recommends HIT, and he is one of the greatest!? HIT has to be the ultimate way to train!?
Bodybuilders are attributing too much of their musculature to unique training methodologies.
There is no evidence suggesting that Yates’ “grainy look” is precisely the result of HIT training. More than likely, Yates would have been just as impressive without HIT.
And since we’re talking about IFBB pros, we can’t forget Jay Cutler who built his body with the volume approach. Don’t you think that he would’ve done HIT had he seen some merit in it?
Isn’t training intensity important?
It is of utmost importance but only from the perspective of your one-rep max/total ability.
Volume training will not trigger growth unless the lifted weight is above 70% of your 1RM. In other words, if your projected one repetition maximum on an exercise is around 100kg, doing sets with 40kg will only build endurance. However, once you go above 70% or 70kg in this case, you would be triggering strength and growth adaptations.
The idea of “junk volume” comes from the same notion. Doing sets with a weight that’s too light is considered pointless precisely because the total tension produced by the muscle is too little in relation to its full potential.
Benching 40kg for 20 reps won’t drive adaption when you can do 80kg for 8. Hence that volume is considered junk because it only clogs your CNS with extra stress and keeps you in the gym longer.
Are you familiar with Mark Chaillet? He was a champion powerlifter who did 1 set of 1 rep on the bench, squat and deadlift. Nothing else!? And yet he was huge and super strong. How?
Yes, I’ve read some of Marty Gallagher’s articles on him. Chaillet is a rare specimen. Very few can progress on such low volume. But Chaillet’s training template has nothing to do with the bodybuilding HIT version. He trained with progressively increasing intensity (peaking) but never to failure.
It’s fascinating to read similar stories, but the reality of the situation for most naturals is different.
When you face a plateau, you will have to work harder and do more rather than less in order to reach further. And the only way to accomplish that is to accumulate more volume at a worthwhile intensity.
Training like Chaillet won’t do it, especially if you’re natural. The muscle needs more “voluminization” to grow.
As a natural, you cannot effectively stimulate growth with just 1 work rep even if your life depended on it.
Summary and some extra points
- Volume allows you to train more frequently and drives quicker adaptation.
- Volume at a worthwhile intensity is the only way to break through a plateau.
- Volume creates greater capillary density and increases your work capacity.
- Volume spares your CNS because you’re not training to total failure.
- Volume is harder on the muscle than the mind.
- HIT is too focused on feelings.
- HIT trains the pattern of going to failure.
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