Volume Training & Science For Maximizing Your Strength & Muscle Gains


"Any fool can create a program that is so demanding that it would virtually kill the toughest Marine or hardiest of elite athletes, but not any fool can create a tough program that produces progress without unnecessary pain.”

~ Dr. Mel C. Siff ~

As much as I encourage the basics in training, of equal importance is understanding how to properly organize a training plan so you are able to break through plateaus and make consistent gains in size, strength, speed & performance.

After a while, you will hit a wall in your training program if you simply push for "hard workouts" without a plan and without science.

After spending a large part of 2012 prepping for my Navy SEAL Challenge my workouts were high in volume, frequency and focused on work capacity and mental toughness. Getting stronger in the squat, bench and deadlift were not a priority for the 6 months leading up to my 20X Challenge.

Although I did use the big 3 powerlifts frequently, I did not see how being able to deadlift 600 lbs instead of 500 lbs would give me the edge during a 12 hr challenge. Instead, I was able to deadlift over 500 lbs and run 5 miles right after a deadlift session. Then I would come home and go through a barbell and bodyweight circuit for 10 minutes.

The long span (6 months) of high volume training that I went through proved to me how the body AND mind can thrive on a high volume of training, even in your mid 30s. 

This style of training certainly goes against the typical recommendation of training 3 x week that you see so often recommended among the 5 million fitness gurus who fear that your T Levels will drop if you train beyond this 3 x weekly workout regime.

When I program 3 x week it's NOT because I fear someone can't handle 4 or 5 x weekly training. My concern is people do not want dedicate more than 3 x week training for themselves. In addition, 3 x week training has proven to be VERY effective because of all the recovery you get both mentally and physically.

When I am only training 3 x week, mentally I am telling myself that I MUST make each training session count. If someone trains 5 days a week, they start to coast because they know they'll be back tomorrow and the next day. If you're training, you need to make each session count.

On average, in my mid 30s, I was training 5 days a week, often times 6 days a week as I prepped for The 20X SEAL Challenge.

The workouts were a blend of 3 - 4 aggressive strength sessions combined with 2 - 3 conditioning & durability sessions. My appetite went UP, I ate MORE and still leaned out AND lost weight. I went from about 222 down to 208. Training sessions often lasted 1 hour because of all the running and rucking I did, and at least once a week, if not twice, training lasted 90 minutes or slightly more. I needed the volume to prep for the 12 hour challenge. Specificity is a must. Sometimes I would train in the morning and again in the afternoon to prepare the mind and body.

Contrary to popular belief, my T levels didn't go down as I trained more than 3 x week, beyond 45 minutes per workout. I began leaving a 275 lb bar loaded in my garage and used GTG (Grease The Groove) with the Deadlift on average 3 x week. I would finish upper body workouts with a few sets of squats often times building up to 315 for sets of 3 - 5 reps. This is called "Easy Strength". You don't get kill it, you just get in the work. Just enough to stimulate, not annihilate.

I trained my body AND my mind to tolerate a higher volume of squats and deadlifts by using them with less volume and intensity yet the frequency was increased. It also taught me a lesson in strength. I started to recall how the strongest guys were never grinding reps. They always made the big lifts look clean. That being said, sometimes, intensity can back fire on you.

While prepping for The SEALFit Challenge, I pushed the volume of training up and up and up until I felt like I was on the brink of over training and then I backed off with 3 - 4 workouts a week for 2 - 3 weeks. During this "back off" phase, I reduced the volume of training by approximately 1/3 yet still trained heavy & aggressive. It was similar to what you see inside Gladiator STRONG along with regular running.

This style of preiodization is what we call accumulation, intensification and then realization.

The realization phase can also become a super compensation phase, where the body rebounds thanks to the extra rest and you end up making BIG gains in size, strength & work capacity.

The realization phase is what led me up to the Navy SEAL Challenge in my best shape ever, not just physically but also mentally. As Louie Simmons says, Any idiot can squat, bench, clean and curl but it takes science to create consistent results.

I learned through personal experience, after a while, performing only 5 x 5 programs and slight variations without science will stop you dead in your tracks. 5 x 5 will work for a beginner and intermediate but after years & years in training, your body will need more than 5 x 5 or the 3 x 10 common sets and reps.

In addition, if you are consistently under-trained and never push your body beyond the norms, your body will adapt and never feel uncomfortable enough to grow stronger or build more muscle. When it comes to training and life, comfort is the very thing that stops ALL progress.

This truth in preparing for this 12 hour challenge hit me HARD back when I began my prep for the SEALFit Challenge. I was often times training 3 or 4 x week before my commitment to this challenge, but most of those workouts were lasting approximately 35 minutes on average.

Those 35 minute workouts were NOT pushing my body outside of my comfort zone. They were hard. They were intense. But they were NOT pushing me to new and higher grounds.

What about you? Are you stuck in the same ol', same ol'?

I bet you are. After The SEALFit Challenge passed my body was on the brink of over training, or, very likely, I WAS over trained, I just didn't realize it as my mind was so dead set on NOT quitting during the 12 hours. I FEARED being unprepared for The 20X Challenge. In turn, I was obsessed about taking any workout I could come up with and challenging myself.

I found old training plans from a bunch of Tier 1 operators and DID them!

I would go through entire training sessions wearing a 40 lb vest. It didn't matter if I was deadlifting or performing calisthenics or running, the vest stayed ON.

I would wake up in the morning, have 2 glasses of water, then go to my garage and perform a bodyweight circuit for 10 minutes to start my day.

If I went out to eat with the family, on the way home I'd have my wife let me out of the car so I can run home the final 2 miles.

If I was about to shower I'd do 50 squats and 50 push ups in the bathroom so I could "earn the right" to take a shower.

Those crazy "workouts" were organized into a e book, The Mental Toughness Workouts. They are inside The Underground Strength Academy or on Amazon HERE.


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7 Responses

  1. Thx for the infos. Very interesting article and subject.
    I guess this is a subject you can disuss for hours on end. And as you said – practically all of us are guilty to fall into a scheme and just train the routine.

    But is that so bad? I guess it’s better to have a thought through routine with intensity than to have nothing to train from.

    I guess it always depends on what you want to achieve. If you want to achieve extraordinary things – you’ve got to train extraordinarly and “shock the body” as big Arnold described it. Nevertheless you need a base and bases are there to be stationary – more or less. For me personally that is running, endurance training and strength training.
    Personally I change the how. You need to run – but you can jog or run high intensity runs or sprint. You can do endurance work X-fit style with high intensity or be a bit more relaxed about it and go cardio. Same goes with strength training.

    So you got to change things every so often. I thing that is very important. Also to keep the motivation up.

    Here’s an example: I trained quite heavy for over a year. Than in the summer I took the training outside and did more gymnastics with rings, handstand walks, rope climbing and stone training. Although I considered myself in good shape for an old man – I was shocked how the exercises completely demolished me. hahaha, …

    Beside gym training I think it is essential to go outside and get that “real world strength”. I think this should be an essential part of every fitness freak.

    Go skating, rock climbing, skiing, jump into the ocean, swim, run, hike and wrestle. Have fun!

    1. Sven, yes bro, you are training according to your goals bro, but, you can break these down into phases with accumulation and intensification phases, it will be nasty!!

      Keep me posted, brutha!

  2. I’ve been upping my intensity while training more, doing it Dan Gable style. I’m training at least 5hrs a day or more, while attempting to drop weight for wrestling. At first I only needed to lose a pound, which was easy…but now that I’m training so much more I’ve been putting on the weight, I don’t know what to do.
    Ever since I’ve been doing this my strength levels have dropped. My clean and jerk was 150lbs at 130lbs, now it’s 130lbs at 136lbs. My weight is actually higher than before, which isn’t good because I need to drop 7 more lbs before I start competing…
    My diets pretty good too, I’ve been drinking 3 protein shakes per day, 3 other forms of lean meat, veggies, fruit and tons of rice. I haven’t had much sugar or fat, so I seriously don’t know what’s up. :p
    So HOW can I lose weight for wrestling without effecting performance?
    P.S. I’m not sure if this comment section is open to questions, but I’d love for you to help me out. I will be stronger than yesterday once again! 😀

    1. Josh sounds like you are stuck in an over trained state bro

      U may have missed the point of the article

      5 hrs is far beyond any program unless U can eat, lift, sleep like the overseas weightlifters and olympic athletes

      U r getting weaker, gaining weight = over trained

      If you’re a wrestler (not sure your age) you need to be either approaching the season OR in college, already competing

      Follow our in season training program at http://WorkoutsThatWIN.com or get our in season wrestling program which is free for members at http://UndergroundInnerCircle.com

  3. Dustin M. says:

    Volume training speaks Volumes. 🙂

    I definitely agree with the fact that a lot of people are NOT pushing themselves hard enough. Just when I thought I was pushing hard—-I realized I could push even harder.

    Volume training in itself can do effin’ wonders for packin’ on size quickly. Personally, I now train 6 days a week compared to the 3-4 days I used to train. On top of that, most of you already know I work in a steel mill. Working in the steel mill is when I realized most people are doing SO MUCH less than what they could do.

    I love to alternate lowerbody days to upperbody days. It seemed to work best for me. On my upperbody days, I’ve been pushing myself to train twice that day. My first workout, I would pair my chest and back, (benches n’ rows/chinups) then by the time I’m done with that workout—I lack the energy to devote strength training to my shoulders/traps/arms. So, one of those days I was pissed and wanted to get a good workout with OH pressing. Several hours later I went back and busted out all kinds of PRs. I learned I could attack my the shoulders and arms with the same intensity and still demolish my PRs. That is what I wanted to do!

    People just gotta listen to their bodies sometimes!
    My bro in law—he squats twice a day 3x a week. On his lunch break, he does one hard set with 400lbs and aims to break his old PR. Then After work, he comes home and does the 2nd section of his workout, more squatting/deadlifts etc.

    Zach didn’t you call that chunking before? Ha!

    1. Dustin, damn bro, love it!!!!

      My “chunking” was a bunch of mini workouts of 5-15 min in length

      Your bro squatting like that reminds me of a story I read, of a guy who would walk into The Dungeon, where Dave Draper trained…. I think the guy was either a mechanic or a bar tender??!!

      Anyway, he would walk in the gym, set a 405 bar on the squat rack, unrack it and walk it to the other end of the gym, on his back, to get in front of a mirror, he would then bang out a set of Squats

      I think it was in the book The NEW Bodybuilding for Old School Results (Book HERE: http://www.amazon.com/New-Bodybuilding-Old-School-Results/dp/0977306305/ref=la_B000APAG9K_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1352432806&sr=1-4)

      COOL stories in there, although not my style of training 🙂

  4. Good article. As always, inspiring and motivating. Thanks, Zach. 🙂

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