Picking a Training Method

I have trained in many different gyms across America and Europe, and to tell the truth, I rarely see people training in an ideal manner. What I mean by this is people like to be part of a group. Often environment plays a large role in deciding which method the athlete will choose. If the big boys in the gym follow a high volume workout, then chances are the smaller guys will follow suit. On the flip side, if high intensity is the weapon of choice you will see a gym filled with guys killing each other with endless forced reps during very short training sessions. Personal heroes are the other deciding factor when picking a method. If you think Lee Priest is the best bodybuilder ever and you want to look just like him, chances are you will follow a high volume, fairly low repetition approach. On the other hand, if you think Mike Mentzer was right with his preachings then chances are you will go in twice per week and perform very limited sets. Very rarely do I see an athlete that picks a training method based on their own individual body. Athletes who decide in this manner usually do very well. Every human has a slightly different life situation (job, health, genetic makeup, personality, relationship status), and for that reason they will require a unique program. At DECON our goal is to develop a training plan that suits you as an individual and not just put you into a group. With that being said, I will describe some of the most popular training groups and the advantages and disadvantages that come along with each one.

The high intensity group was initially developed by Mike Mentzer and then later popularized by Dorian Yates. You will see many disciples of the HIT method if you are to visit gyms in the UK and Ireland. The belief with this method is that anabolism is like a light switch. You need to flick the switch and then the growth signal is turned on. Any further sets beyond this point have no real use and will hinder development. The typical HIT session will see a limited number of exercises. Each exercise will have a few warm up sets, which in the HIT disciples mind, serves no purpose except warming up and preparing for the work set. The work set will be an all-out attack going first to failure then usually beyond with forced reps and drops to extend the set. There are benefits to this system. You will not over train your individual muscles. You will gain strength, and if done correctly, your joints will not take the same beating as they would if you did endless sets. Even using lighter weights causes repetitive stress that will wear the joints down. Following this system fully, as with any system you follow 100%, will get you results. You will also quickly learn how to use correct form when performing an exercise, or else you will simply make no results as the muscle will receive far too little stimulation. You can get away with less precise form with high volume training because the sheer volume you will stimulate the muscle, but this is not the case with high intensity training.

Now the negatives of HIT…and there are many. First, most people simply do too little work. Dorian Yates did not use only one working set per exercise until very late in his career. First he used three working sets, then after a few years he used two working sets; he only dropped it to one set for his final couple of years. Nearly every HIT trainer I have come across opts for the one all out set approach, so unless you have a superb mind muscle connection and the ability to truly give a set your full effort, you will not grow. The central nervous system takes a terrible beating with this method. You can easily become over trained while your muscles remain under trained. Muscle tissue recovers within 3 days; this has been proven with countless studies to the point that arguing against it is pointless. With this in mind, the thought that more days between working a body part results in more growth is fatally flawed. Muscle tissue can definitely be stimulated with sub maximal sets. Finally, when you limit your volume, the only method of increasing work load is to increase the weight and make sets more extreme with additional forced reps and so on. The problem with this is there is a point where you're not going to get stronger and you simply cannot make a set more intense. All that is left to increase workload at that point is to increase volume, but instead of increasing volume the athlete will usually continue to push until they develop an injury. In the end, there is only so much you can do in one set. What most HIT trainers fail to grasp is that the body is an adaptive machine, so if they were to go in and do a high volume workout they would become incredibly broken down. This in their mind strengthens the point that any volume over the absolute minimum is over training. Instead, they need to slowly work up to using that amount of volume. This is a process that may take many months, but the body will adapt given enough time.

High volume training is a blanket term used to describe any training method other than HIT. Whether you do three working sets or thirty, the premise behind this kind of training is that cumulative stress on the muscle induces hypertrophy. All, bar a few champions, have followed this type of training method. Unlike HIT, one set won’t make or break the workout, so this reduces mental stress on the trainee. It’s very hard to continually come into the gym ready for an all-out war like is required for HIT; on the other hand, the trainee must be cautious to ensure that he/she is putting in enough effort during the working sets to initiate a growth response. The high volume method allows for self-regulation during a workout. Some days more volume can be used while other days volume may be lower. The only issue is some people are too motivated and may end up performing too many sets leading to under recovery, and if repeated for months on end, could result in true over training. True over training is a difficult condition to achieve, but once you’re in that state it is very hard to recover; time out from the gym will be required. Under stimulation of the muscle group and CNS can also occur. Picking too many isolation exercises will prevent growth because the body needs the CNS stimulation that the large compound exercises provide for maximal growth. Also, if you do too many low effort sets you can prevent growth. It’s akin to running a marathon; yes you can do endless sets, but if you don’t put enough effort in you will end up smaller as the fiber types can change from fast twitch to slow twitch. Slow twitch muscle fibers are not ideal for the athlete desiring large muscles.

The final grouping is what I refer to as scientific training. This method changes based on whatever scientific studies are currently popular. I have seen the trends go from extreme high frequency training of every body part numerous times per week to occlusion training (where the trainee prevents venous return from a muscle by wrapping the limb at its origin). The problem with this method is that studies are often flawed or biased, and let’s be honest, do you think researchers are using highly trained athletes normally for their testing? I would argue no. Training a muscle group daily (as an extreme example) may work just fine if you’re a beginner squatting 50lb, but try training with this method if you have been at this for many years and can squat 500lb for your working sets! It will simply be too much to handle and your body will break down. Paralysis by analysis is the issue with this method; it’s easy to get lost in the science and miss the bigger picture that hard work gets results. Plus, if this week the studies show training a body part twice per week is ideal yet next week a study suggest three times per week is better, many will simply flip flop from program to program. This is a sure fire way to not achieve your goals!

So here’s the part where you expect me to tell you which type of training method is the best… The truth is there is not a single method that works best for all athletes. You need to try different methods, and adjust your program based on variables that life throws at you. If you’re moving to a different house this week you will probably need to decrease your volume because you will be tired from lugging boxes all over the place. If you’re having a week off work and all you need to do is watch the latest season of Sons of Anarchy while eating your meals, then you probably can push the training a little harder than normal! I won’t suggest that it’s easy to know exactly how much you should be doing or when you should push harder or back off because it’s not! I have many times over reached and on a couple of occasions have over trained! I went so far as to put myself into the hospital with rhabdomyolysis (excessive muscle breakdown to the point that the kidneys cannot handle it and you end up needing IV fluids to flush the toxins from the blood!). How could I have prevented this? By having a smart training coach who structured training in a way that allowed for periods of pushing hard followed by periods of deloading (backing off). When you sign up with DECON you can be assured that your coaches have been there and done that when it comes to all aspects of training. We’ll help you figure out what method is best for your body and your specific goals, so you don’t have to waste time and energy trying to wade through all the different approaches in hopes of finding something that works for you. It certainly helps to have experience and knowledge on your side, and that’s what you’ll get with DECON.


Cornelius Parkin
Cornelius Parkin


1 Response

Ryan Mallett
Ryan Mallett

March 11, 2015

Great read. It’s intersting that people who opt for the one set “all out” HIT method don’t do the research to know that Yates dod that later in his career. They’re looking for that magic pill, that magic scheme, where they can do less and get more. They don’t realize life doesn’t work that way.

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