Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Guest Blog #3: Vijay Panchia - A Perspective of Training Volume

A Perspective on Training Volume - Vijay Panchia 

[Guest Blog #3] 
In this article I will discuss training volume for resistance exercise. Commonly volume is discussed from the point of view of goals such maximum strength and hypertrophy, or the never ending argument between high volume proponents and HIT advocates. I work with mostly high school boys and baby boomers. I do not train the elite, so when doing a needs assessment, my success is seldom based on new and exciting developments in power lifting periodization but passing on the my subjective experience of meaningful workout. It is an art of deciphering the mental minefield of my client and providing them progressive measurable results using methods they can understand, relate to and perform intensely and sustainably. Quality is the name of game, as opposed to quantity or intensity though these things are variables. This requires an eclectic approach of different philosophies.


How much quality can I get out of someone?

When I train someone I look at a few different things. Perfect technique, how intensely I can have someone perform the various techniques, how much skill development is needed and how this fits with someone’s lifestyle. Following this forward I then look at whether they are getting progressive results. I abide by the idea that less is more. The least I need to do to get someone to be motivated, stay motivated and to be able to perform quality.
I definitely believe that a single sets of exercise performed to momentary muscular failure(MMF) is enough to create a meaningful adaption from an exercise. HIT Jedis rejoice!!! And progressive linear results are definitely possible. This style of training has worked at beginner level, all the way through to elite level athletes. An example of the success of such a program can be seen in the only undefeated NFL team in history, the 1972 Miami Dolphins. By training in this fashion it possible to stimulate both fast twitch and slow switch fibres without exposing a trainee to maximal load. Research conducted by McMaster University in Canada as shown there to be no difference in hypertrophy between heavier loads and lighter loads when to trained to MMF.  I don’t advocate this as the only method you should use but rather method that should be understood. Much truth can be found in the simplest examples of training.
For some working with at a high intensity either in term of 1RM% or to MMF is mentally or systemically too demanding. This can be because someone is adverse to the idea of working hard or their lifestyle it quite hectic and working maximally is too taxing to make gains. Often I find that trainees lack comfort controlling the body either due to poor mobility or other tissue restrictions when trying to work at high intensity. Observations made by many, including Carolina Panthers strength and conditioning coach, Joe Kenn, is that many sporting injuries are the results of having not enough rough and tumble play during childhood. From this we can conclude that currently Western man is not in the same state as when the initial research on single set training was conducted by Arthur Jones. Progressive resistance is possible by using greater total volume with shorter sets and brief rest in between or with multiple sets with lighter weights. By doing this you are exposing the client to a high volume with enough time in between sets to concentrate on form and provide perfect reps. With lighter weights you can make up for the lighter weights with greater volume. The volume can make up for the lack of intensity to a point as there seems to be a point of significantly diminishing returns from light loads. Arthur Jones had the idea that it was optimal to train with 70% of 1RM which if you use the traditional percentage model the equivalent to 12RM. 

For some this 70% of 1rm will be represent a different RM due to what Jones referred to as neural efficiency.  To increase volume I typically use a model of doubling the volume of a predicted RM for total volume, which I learnt from Wake Forest University strength and conditioning coach, Ethan Reeve. It comes from his model of training called Density Training. This is not to be confused with the Charles Staley’s Escalating Density Training(which is definitely an interesting protocol for maximising volume). An example of this would instead of performing a 10RM(75% of 1RM) you double the volume to 20 reps and perform 4 sets of five, with a set being performed every 3 minutes. This is also a great way to break up standard HIT training which can be quite draining on the mind and nervous system. This is an oversimplification of Mr Reeves’s work and I recommend you looking into it further especially those who have ambitions of working with athletes.
HIT Training using only a single set is not always appropriate and will not work even for those with the right mind and body. A great example of this would be with the bench press and military press. The bench press despite its popularity amongst the entire male population of gym goers is quite a technical lift initially and requires a larger volume to be competent at it. This is as opposed to a well designed chest press where correct technique is much easier to teach and attain mastery.  For a teenage boy I use a strategy of one session of four sets with a goal of 40 reps total. Each set is performed to MMF or close to MMF. A second session of 3 work sets of five with a heavy but sub maximal load. This allows for sufficient practice of the technique and introduces working with a relatively heavy weight. Some lifts are even more technical so it more difficult to maintain form for high repetition sets. An example of such a lift is the bent press. I think it is a fabulous exercise for external rotators and has been a vital part of my shoulder rehabilitation. As it is quite technical to perform I use 3-5 reps for multiple sets. Arthur Jones’s barbell program from the Nautilus Bulletin also uses multiple sets.

How else does technique relate to volume? When prescribing exercise a rep needs to be able to be repeated in the same fashion so that training results can be compared and a more accurate picture of the work being done by the trainee can be understood. This is fundamental to knowing what works with your client. If a rep is performed in a very slow cadence as opposed to a jerky fashion, the total time of tension on the muscles is longer. If I pause at the bottom of a bench press it becomes much harder to raise a weight than if I bounce it off my chest. My preference is for a controlled rep especially for the negative/eccentric portion of a movement in most cases though I definitely use a variety of cadences. 
The cadence will help dictate the type of set/rep scheme that is appropriate.
I touched on briefly that lifestyle dictates that standard single set HIT can be draining and can be made up with multiple sub maximal sets with shorts rest. Another option is working with multiple sets to failure with a lighter load relative to what you have been using. While with the heavier weight consistent progress can become too hard to recover from so by working with a lighter load it is possible to make great gains. Research has shown that is possible to make gains and get sufficient recovery from as many 8 sets to failure. An example of a program such a program which I had great success with is the “beginner” lat specialization program by Pavel Tsatsouline. In this program 12 sets of chins are performed with for different grips. After working on weighted chins I hit a plateau. This program provided ample stimulation for growth and recovery. Overtime is program would become too much volume however for brief periods like the 6 weeks recommended by the man himself this provides a great alternative. 

For adaption, intensity is needed. However as I have said many sets can be used or only one. A workout does not require only mean one style of progression is used. What will dictate overall what a session involves is the length of the whole workout. It seems that humans have a concentration span of about 45 minutes and it is common believe that working out over an hour it the point of diminishing returns and can even be counterproductive. In Marty Gallagher’s opus, The Purposeful Primitive, he gives many different models of training as employed by the greatest lifters in history. Aside from Bill Pearl, it can be said that these workouts were all relatively brief. Bill Pearl, applied a model of extreme high volume. He had said in the past that he was unable to make gains on brief workouts like HIT. And like wise  Dr Ken Leistner said that he was unable to workout in the same fashion as Mr Pearl. From what I can see Bill Pearl was an extreme exception, and even workouts he prescribes for beginners pale in comparison when compared with the volume he uses. His genetics and consistent training have allowed him to extend himself well past what other can or should do.  I also think it makes sense to increase volume over seeking out greater and greater poundage the heavier training becomes. 

I earlier mentioned passing on a subjective experience. This is a somewhat more difficult thing to measure as it is something that cannot be understood by numbers. As a coach or trainer it is possible to get an understanding of the intensity of a workout from observation of the trainee.  Expression on their face, breathing, degradation of form are all useful tools to determine volume. As a trainer you should be able to assess and correct issues of breathe, technique and even cue someone to have a “soft” face.  When teaching another human, understanding that life is equal parts the subjective and the objective is of greatest importance.  Once these things have been addressed one’s ability to maintain these things can be assessed which is an art as much as anything. He have to able to assess how we are going to get the most quality out of someone. A single protocol to MMF, many sub maximal sets, 5x5 etc This is where I coach needs to display emotional intelligence. I recommend seeking out a great coach to learn from for this reason. This is powerful learning. My first exposure to a gym it was single sets HIT and I got dismal results. Some years later I was reintroduced to it my mentor Steve Maxwell. The difference in results was astonishing. Steve himself was fortunate to learn from some of the best in this area of training who themselves had connections to earliest systems of modern barbell training and the pre-steroid era. 

I will briefly speak on periodization, which is simply the planning of the training in regards to long term goals. There are many models, Westside, block,wave, linear, density, undulating etc. All these systems work. I see things from a mostly linear point of view in that even if someone hits a plateau it is simply a hurdle to jump over. As one gets closer to their genetic potential, gains come slower. Sometimes it simply a matter of taking two steps back before taking three steps forward. The cycling of this process is what can be observed in most systems of periodization. Relating back the rest of the article, how exactly to strategize around an issue is something for you to assess based on your observation, training records and the trainees feedback.  

Another model of volume found in Zatsiosky and Kraemer’s text Science and Practice of Strength Training which you can find is the staple of load/intensity vs volume based a percentage model. Kraemer in particular is seen as having contrasting point of views to single sets advocates. Regardless of whether you don’t agree with things he says, much like if you don’t agree with HIT, you need to understand to perceive that there is more than one way to do things. Kraemer was/is in the pursuit of truth.  This rant only begins to scratch the surface of the different ideas behind implementing progressive resistance programs. To poorly paraphrase a former school teacher of former Cincinnati Bengals strength and conditioning coach, founder of Hammer Strength and one of Arthur Jones’s top men, Kim wood, “....information is not to necessarily change ones view, but to weigh and consider”. When you train someone, pay attention to what you see before yourself. Think, philosophise, remember your own experiences with the iron, and bring it all together to help enlighten yourself and those you train. Rather than lifeless numbers, understand the process as an organic process. Simple but not simple minded.

Vijay can be contacted at the Body Dharma Facebook group.  Also, check out Vijay's other Guest Blog on Yoga HERE

Notes and Links
The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results - Ellington Darden, PhD


Dr Ken Leistner squats 405 pounds fro 23 reps

DVD set featuring a lecture from Ethan Reeve on Density Training.

Official Website of Bill Pearl

Free download of Arthur Jones's Nautilus Bulletins

A Concise Guide to Doggcrapp Training

Steve Maxwell - High-Intensity or High Volume?
( http://maxwellsc.com/blog.cfm?blogID=145 )

A Practical Approach To Strength Training, 4th Ed by Matt Brzycki

Pavel's Beyond Bodybuilding

Serious Strength Requires Serious Training - Ken Maine (Head S&C Coach, Michigan State University)
( http://www.coachad.com/pages/Powerline-Serious-Strength-Requires-Serious-Training.php )


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