If you have ever spent any time in the gym you will see people argue which is best, High Volume/Low Intensity training or High Intensity/Low Volume training. They try to point out which one is best for building muscle by citing their favorite bodybuilder that may use the method they believe in.
For starters, regardless of training method, you can’t use professional bodybuilders as an example of how successful one is over the other. Several reasons are that top bodybuilders are genetically gifted. Almost doesn’t matter what method they use (and they probably have used both over their careers) they would still get better results than you and I.
Second reason is that to get to the top, you are a walking medicine cabinet and petri dish. A concoction of drugs to help you get even further than where you already are.
So making an argument for your method by using them as an example is nonsense…
So what is High Volume/Low Intensity Training and High Intensity/Low Volume training?
High Volume/Low Intensity
There are several variations to this. But for most people it means performing a high number of sets (Volume) with a weight that can easily be controlled (Intensity). You do not go to failure, you burn your muscles out via sets not via reps.
Advantages to this training method is that you are less prone to joint and muscle injuries since the weights you are using are well within your control. You can also train longer primarily because you are performing more sets. You can train the same body part more frequently for the same reasons, you are not destroying the muscle.
High Intensity/Low Volume
As the name implies, this means using moderate to heavy weight to absolute failure. This can be one set to failure or up to three sets to failure for each exercise. A total burn of the muscle via weight/high reps (Intensity).
This method keeps your gym time at a minimum. By the same token, it puts a lot of stress on the joints plus mental fatigue having to psyche yourself up for each failure set.
So which is right for me?
It depends on many factors such as age, years training, gym time allotment, etc.
Before I give my opinion I always say ‘based on my 42 years of gym experience’ not to boast but rather say that I have seen a lot, heard a lot, and done a lot over those years.
Both methods, in my opinion work. Just too many successful examples of both methods either drug induced or naturally to say one is more superior to the other.
I will say however, that depending on age and years lifting, one method may be better than the other.
Initially, when starting to train, Low Intensity/Low Volume should be done by everyone just to get the muscles to start growing but more importantly, to strengthen your joints via ligaments and tendons.
After one or two years of this, and believe me, most people will make great progress from this, depending on age, you can try one of those methods.
If you are young, 20’s to early 30’s, I think there is good reason to go High Intensity/Low Volume training (good amount of weight for multiple sets of failure). At that age, your hormone production is still high and breaking down the muscles severely will not matter since you will be able to recover quickly and build good muscle mass.
As you age however, in your 40’s and beyond, and you have already been training for a decade or more, and especially if you have been using the High Intensity/Low Volume method, your joints have undergone a tremendous amount of punishment. Your hormone production is also lower thus extending recovery time and muscle repair.
This is when you should consider and start the High Volume/Low Intensity type training. It is a lot more passive on the joints.
I find it amusing seeing young personal trainers (PT) with a client who has not trained in decades, in their 40’s and training them with each set to failure. At first the client thinks they have a great PT because they can hardly move for several days afterwards. That’s what its all about right, No Pain No Gain…..WRONG!
You are training to improve your quality of life, feel good and look good. You are not training to see how quickly you will need a knee brace or have shoulder surgery! This is not a sprint, working out is a life long marathon.
Add duration for a twist…
Now I have been using High Volume/Low Intensity training with a couple of twists. First I like to incorporate 4X routines into my work outs. This is the ultimate in High Volume/Low Intensity work outs. All the older guys in the gym that I have turned on to this thank me and hate me because it kills you but the weights performed are well within your limits.
The other thing I have incorporated is duration time during the set. This means a light weight for x number of reps with each rep done at a very slow pace, usually a 2 second contraction and 4 second relaxation per rep. So the amount of time that the muscle is ‘feeling’ the weight is greatly extended. It almost may be considered a safe approach to High Intensity training because the muscles are almost going to failure but the huge difference is that you are using much lighter weight.
So try both methods, see which one works the best for you but hopefully you take my advice based on how long you have been training and your age to gravitate to what I recommend and you too can become…Fit Forlife!