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A New Look At Old School Volume Training

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Old school volume training was popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This new approach focuses on volume training for natural bodybuilders.

Bodybuilding Volume TrainingOld school volume training. Remember the good old days when you would flip open a bodybuilding magazine, see a crazy-long routine by Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronnie Coleman, and think that by following it you would get massive.

How wrong we were. Yes we. I’ve made the same mistakes you have.

I’m sure you’re familiar with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s near-endless volume training routine. You know how it goes…hit each body part twice a week, hammering out 25 to 30 sets per major body parts during each training session. Hmm…that’s only 50-60 sets for pecs, quads, etc., per week.

Or how about Tom Platz? His leg workouts were some of the most brutal trials in the history of the sport. Tom would perform 33 to 47 sets on leg days (yes you read that correctly). These totals included 8-12 heavy squat sets.

But volume workouts like these are not for natural bodybuilders. Sure, volume can work for some natural trainees, but overall, old school volume routines are useless for the average Joe hardgainer.

Unless, of course, you bring a new school solution to an old school training method.

Generally, it is best for a natural bodybuilder to keep their workouts under an hour. More is not better. So, if you want to try a volume-style routine, but you know you need to keep your workouts short, there’s one training technique you need to remember…

A New Approach to Volume Training

Rest-pause

Rest-pause is the practice of limiting rest between sets. A rest-paused set will take an already fatigued muscle, and overload it again and again, never letting the muscle fully recover. By limiting the amount of rest between sets, a trainee can squeeze in a greater volume of sets in a one-hour workout.

But there is another term you need to know about before we explore what a rest-paused volume routine looks like. This term is controlled fatigue.

Controlled fatigue simply means that you are resting only long enough between sets to allow most (or some) of the fatigue toxins in the muscle to dissipate. By doing so, you regain a portion of your strength, and can hammer out more reps while a muscle is still “tired.”

Have you heard the phrase, kick him while he’s down? That’s what you’ll be doing with controlled fatigue and rest-pause sets: kicking a muscle while it’s down.

I recommend three approaches to rest-paused training. Breathing rest, limited timed rest, and expanding timed rest. Let me explain what each of these terms means, and how you might best utilize them in a workout.

Controlled Fatigue Bodybuilding Sets

Breathing Rest

Breathing rest is the easiest method of performing rest-pause sets. There is no clock watching involved. After you complete a set, simply take 10 to 15 deep, prolonged breaths before starting another set.

You’ll find that on some exercises, you can live with shorter rest periods between sets. These sets may require only 10 deep breaths before attacking the bar again. But many exercises, such as bench presses or squats, require rest periods of 15 deep breaths.

You can also expand the rest period to 20, 25 or 30 deep breaths, depending on your current physical condition and training needs.

Limited Timed Rest

A limited timed rest period is similar to a breathing rest period. The only difference is that during a limited timed rest, you watch the clock between sets, instead of counting breaths.

A limited timed rest period can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Again, this depends on your conditioning, and training goals and needs.

As I stated before, this rest period may be longer for bench presses, squats, etc.

Expanding Timed Rest

In expanding timed rest, the more rest-paused sets you do back to back, the longer the rest period becomes between sets.

Let’s say you want to crush out 5 sets on the bench press using rest-pause between each set. You want to leave the gym with such an insane muscle pump that it will hurt to cross your arms the next day!

Utilizing expanding timed rest, your 5 sets would look like this…

  • Set 1. 185 pounds x 8 reps
  • Rest Period = 30 seconds
  • Set 2. 185 pounds x 4 reps
  • Rest Period = 30 seconds
  • Set 3. 185 pounds x 3 reps
  • Rest Period = 60 seconds
  • Set 4. 185 pounds x 3 reps
  • Rest Period = 90 seconds
  • Set 5. 185 pounds x 4 reps

Please understand that the rest periods used in this example are arbitrary. The rest patterns could also have been:

  • 30 seconds, 60, 90, 120
  • 30 seconds, 30, 60, 60
  • 30 seconds, 30, 45, 60

How you rest between sets isn’t important. Generally, knowing how long to rest comes with the experience of knowing how fatigued you get deep into rest-paused sets.

Putting It All Together

I have utilized this method of training on and off for nearly a year now. After some experimentation, I found that I enjoyed performing 3 total exercises per workout, and blasting out 7 total rest-paused sets per exercise. This leaves me with a total volume of 21 sets per training day.

This is old school volume training using new school principles.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Volume TrainingBut, you do not have to use my method. Experiment, and do what works best for your needs. If you like a greater variety, perform 6-7 exercises of 3 rest-paused sets. If you’re somewhere in the middle, perform 4-5 exercises of 4-5 rest-paused sets.

Sample Chest Day Using breathing rest (weight and reps are used for example purposes only)

Bench Press

  • 185 x 9 reps…rack the weight, take 10-15 deep breaths
  • 185 x 4 reps…rack the weight, take 10-15 deep breaths
  • 185 x 3 reps…rack the weight

Weighted Dips w/slow, 4 second negatives

  • 45 x 10 reps…hop off the bars, take 10-15 deep breaths
  • 45 x 4 reps…hop off the bars, take 10-15 deep breaths
  • 45 x 2 reps…hop off the bars, take 10-15 deep breaths

Pec Deck Flyes

  • 100 x 11 reps…rack the weight, take 10-15 deep breaths
  • 100 x 6 reps…rack the weight, take 10-15 deep breaths
  • 100 x 5 reps…rack the weight

Sample Leg Day Using limited timed rest (weight and reps are used for example purposes only)

Squats

  • 225 x 9 reps…rack the weight, rest 90 seconds
  • 225 x 6 reps…rack the weight, rest 90 seconds
  • 225 x 5 reps…rack the weight, rest 90 seconds
  • 225 x 3 reps…rack the weight, rest 90 seconds
  • 225 x 3 reps…rack the weight

Leg Extensions

  • 100 x 12 reps…rack the weight, rest 30 seconds
  • 100 x 6 reps…rack the weight, rest 30 seconds
  • 100 x 5 reps…rack the weight, rest 30 seconds
  • 100 x 5 reps…rack the weight, rest 30 seconds
  • 100 x 4 reps…rack the weight

Romanian Deadlifts

  • 185 x 8 reps…rack the weight, rest 60 seconds
  • 185 x 4 reps…rack the weight, rest 60 seconds
  • 185 x 3 reps…rack the weight, rest 60 seconds
  • 185 x 3 reps…rack the weight, rest 60 seconds
  • 185 x 3 reps…rack the weight

Sample Shoulder Day Using expanding timed rest (weight and reps are used for example purposes only)

Seated Barbell Press

  • 150 x 9 reps…rack the weight, rest 30 seconds
  • 150 x 3 reps…rack the weight, rest 30 seconds
  • 150 x 3 reps…rack the weight, rest 60 seconds
  • 150 x 4 reps…rack the weight, rest 60 seconds
  • 150 x 4 reps…rack the weight, rest 90 seconds
  • 150 x 4 reps…rack the weight, rest 120 seconds
  • 150 x 4 reps…rack the weight

Arnold Press

  • 45’s x 10 reps…rack the weight, rest 30 seconds
  • 45’s x 5 reps…rack the weight, rest 30 seconds
  • 45’s x 5 reps…rack the weight, rest 60 seconds
  • 45’s x 5 reps…rack the weight, rest 60 seconds
  • 45’s x 5 reps…rack the weight, rest 90 seconds
  • 45’s x 6 reps…rack the weight, rest 120 seconds
  • 45’s x 6 reps…rack the weight

Notes and Conclusion

I recommend avoiding training to failure if you use the rest pause method. Of course, “to each is own.” I do not wish to explore the “training to failure” debate in this article. It’s a complex, and heated topic. I will say this though…your muscles will be blasted to oblivion using rest-pause training methods without training to failure.

I would also caution you against performing more then 20-25 total sets per workout, or training longer then an hour. Get in, make your muscles scream, and get out.

Natural workouts don’t have to be boring. There are endless possibilities, even with this single training principle. What you do isn’t the important thing. Find a program that you like and work it! Push for more reps and weight on every set of every workout, and enjoy the process.

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    Average: 2.9 (10 votes)
  • About The Author
    Ian Coleman has written over 150 articles on muscle building and fat loss, and is recognized as one of the most knowledgeable muscle building trainers on the planet.
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