Power Volume Training is a system that I came up with a few years ago, and wrote an article about it in the November, 2004 issue of Ironman. Since that time, this is the one program that I have used more than any other when training someone who is solely interested in maximal strength—powerlifters, for instance. Although mainly geared toward building strength, it’s also a great means of building muscle mass, especially when you have been performing workouts with higher reps. (It would be a great form of training, for instance, after a couple months of Staggered Volume Training.)
Power Volume Training works by incorporating 4 distinct methods of training into one week of workouts. The methods used are:
- Dynamic lifting
- Very heavy training—max singles, doubles, and triples; and never more than five reps
- Partial reps
- Frequent training
Like a lot of good methods of strength building, the parameters of this program aren’t set in stone. However, there are a few ground rules that you must observe. They are:
- Train each lift up to three times a week on a heavy/light/medium system of training. (Highly advanced lifters can train up to four times a week, but we’ll save that for another post.)
- Keep track of your workload on each lift—keep a training log and calculate your total poundage lifted. Without keeping a training log, it’s too easy to slip into overtraining. You need it to make sure you’re not doing too much work on your light and medium days. When I say "heavy" I'm talking about total workload being performed on that day. This is important—without keeping track of their workload, many well-intentioned lifters will start performing too much total volume.
- The first day of the week is your “heavy” day. Here you will work up to a max set of low reps (between 1 and 5) on 2 exercises—one for your upper body and one for your lower body. You will regularly rotate exercises to keep your body from adapting and to keep the strength coming. The more advanced you are, the more exercises you need in your arsenal and the more frequently you need to rotate them. (This training day would be very similar to the "maximal effort" day used by Westside Barbell Club. Westside training was my inspiration for Power Volume Training—I just wanted something that used full-body workouts and would be more conducive to "raw" lifters.)
- The second day of the week is your “light” day. Here you will use 50% of your maximum weight on two core exercises (one for upper body; one for lower body) for 8 sets of 2 to 3 reps.
- The third workout day of the week is your “medium” day. You will use 70% of your one-rep max on your core exercises for 8 to 10 sets of 2 to 3 reps.
- Each session also incorporates various assistance exercises. These are used to keep your lifts moving up and to build mass in parts of your body that need a little extra work. Heavy and medium days will involve assistance exercises of the more “compound” variety. Light days will see you using exercises that limit you to less weight.
Sample Beginning Program
Here is sample week worth of training. Remember: you rotate from your core exercises every week or two, but the week below will give you a good indication of how things work.
Monday: Heavy Day
1) Incline Bench Presses (core upper body exercise): 135x5 reps, 175x3, 225x3, 245x3, 270x3, 290x3, 290x3, 300x3 (barely able to get the last rep), 305x2 (missed the 3rd rep)
Total workload for lift: 5,800 pounds
2) Lying Triceps Extensions: 135x 2 sets x 8 reps
3) Close Grip Chins: bodyweight x 2 sets x 8 reps
4) Bottom-Position Squats (core lower body exercise): 135x5 reps, 225x3, 275x3, 315x3, 365x3, 405x3 (hard lift, barely got the last rep), 425 x1 (failed on the second rep)
Total workload for lift: 5,855 pounds
5) Hanging Leg Raises: 3 x 20 reps
Wednesday: Light Day
1) Flat Bench Presses: 150 x 8 sets x 2 reps
Total workload for lift: 2,400 pounds
2) Bench Dips: bodyweight x 2 sets x 15 reps
3) Sumo Deadlifts: 225 x 8 sets x 2 reps
Total workload for lift: 3,600 pounds
Friday: Medium Day
1) Flat Bench Presses: 225 x 8 sets x 2 reps
Total workload for lift: 3,600 pounds
2) Parallel-Bar Dips: bodyweight+45lb plate x 2 sets x 10 reps
3) Wide Grip Chins: bodyweight x 3 sets x 10 reps
4) Olympic Style Squats: 275 x 8 sets x 2 reps
Total workload for lift: 4,448 pounds
Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of this program:
- If this is your first time training on such a heavy weight and high-volume system, stick with the same core exercises for 3 weeks. If you are a more advanced lifter, rotate exercises at least every 2 weeks. Also, if you are a "raw" lifter, then you probably don't need as many exercises to rotate from. For instance, in order to increase my squats and deadlifts, I would routinely rotate from bottom-position squats, regular squats, deadlifts, and sumo deadlifts. That's all that I really need in order to make progress.
- Don’t worry as much about calculating workload on your assistance exercises unless the assistance lifts you are doing are compound movements and more damaging to your nervous system.
- After a couple of months of training, take a “down” week. On this down week, do reps instead of max lifts on your heavy days, and cut out your light day altogether.