Power Volume Training
This is a method of training I came up with a few years ago when I wrote an article by the same name for Iron Man Magazine. I wanted to design something that would be easy to understand, and would be effective for most everyone who tried it, especially for lifters who had been training for some time and had reached their limits in regards to recent strength and power gains. I also wanted something that would appeal to the muscle-building crowd (a large percentage of Iron Man’s readers).
What I came up with was what I termed Power Volume Training (PVT for short). I thought it was a catchy name for both a method of training and for the title of an article. Also, the title of the training fit exactly with what was involved—a high-volume routine focusing on a lot of power training. Of course, probably the best name would have been Power/Strength Volume training—but that doesn’t have such a good ring to it.
Before writing the article, I wanted to make sure it worked. Lucky for me, I had just started lifting with some guys who wanted to enter powerlifting meets. (For the couple of years before this, I had been training by myself and hadn’t been that interested in training other people. For years, I had worked as a trainer and taught weight training at the local college. I had burned out at one point, and only wanted to focus on my writing and my own lifting.)
But I needed some test subjects for my new training methodology. One of the guys I started working with hadn’t lifted in a number of years. I started him out with just some light workouts. After a couple of weeks, however, it was time to test his bench press. He maxed out at 220 pounds. Two months later, after using Power Volume Training, he maxed out at 325 pounds. A gain of 105 pounds in only a couple months is pretty darn good, even if he was just getting back into training. Still, it was more than he had ever done before, even when he had worked out steadily for over a year.
Evolution of PVT
At the time of designing this program, I had just come to understand the importance of all of the advanced strength methods I discussed in the last part of this series. I wanted something to put these things to work.
I also wanted something that wouldn’t just work in a textbook, so I thought about some of the better methods of training I had always used. And the two best had to be Bill Starr’s classic heavy/light/medium system (much of which the workouts in Parts Two, Three, and Four are based on) and the Westside Barbell approach. They both, however, had their shortcomings. With Starr’s approach, I found myself gaining muscle and getting stronger, but I was always getting slower—something which isn’t good for advanced powerlifters who are trying to stay competitive in a lower weight class—and my progress would stale after about six weeks on the program. Of course, that’s a problem with most every program ever developed, so I didn’t think much of it. I would just switch to another program, get the gains rolling again, then switch back to a Bill Starr-style program after a couple of months.
With the Westside program, I got stronger on the different lifts I trained, and I got a lot faster, but my classical lifts (the ones I was trying to increase) just didn’t go up that much. Westside’s programs are designed especially for lifters who wear a lot of different equipment at powerlifting meets (double ply squat suits and bench shirts, etc.). That’s perfectly fine if that’s what you’re into, but I always enjoyed training and competing raw (sans equipment), so I think this was the reason my classical lifts lacked gains in strength under the Westside system.
PVT takes advantage of both style of training—using both synaptic facilitation and conjugate training together—allowing a lot of variety plus plenty of time spent on the lift you’re trying to increase.
Putting the Program to Work
First we’re going to lay down the “parameters” of Power Volume Training. This system is not set in stone, so there’s no specific program I can write down for you, then tell you to go out and do it. You have to use your brain a little for this one. Since it isn’t set in stone, you can change things to suit your needs and goals. Several “rules” need to be observed, however. Let’s look at these parameters.
1. Train each lift at least three days a week on a heavy, light, medium program. Once you reach a highly advanced level you can increase this to four days a week, utilizing two light days instead of just one.
2. You will need to keep up with your “workload” on each day for each major lift—at least periodically. Anyone who has tried Bill Starr’s system will know what I’m talking about. If you don’t calculate your workload, and are not accustomed to using such a system, then it is very easy to start doing too much work (leading to overtraining) on the light and medium days.
3. The first day of the week is the “heavy” day, sometimes referred to as the “maximal effort” day. On this day, you will work up to a max of 5 reps, 3 reps, or 1 repetition on a particular exercise (or exercises, if doing a full body workout—my preferred method). The more advanced you are, the more frequently you need to rotate exercises, and the more exercises you need in your arsenal. Every five to six weeks, you will max out on the exercise you are trying to increase—bench press, squat, deadlift, etc.. The exception to this method of rotating exercises is very advanced powerlifters or Olympic lifters who have garnered the best gains throughout their careers by training almost exclusively on the classical lifts. This lifter would do better to rotate different repetition ranges and periodically rotate different exercises.
4. The second day of the week is the “light” day. On this day you will utilize 35-45% (when using bands) of your maximum weight on an exercise for 8 sets of 2-3 repetitions. If you lift without bands then increase the weight to around 50%. It doesn’t matter how sore you are from your first workout. Just train. Remember, these should be “explosive” reps.
5. The third day of the week is the “medium” day. On this day you will use around 70% for 10 sets of 2 reps. If you are using bands, then the weight should be a little less. Once you have done the program for some time, then you can take a couple of singles at a slightly heavier weight. Just make sure the workload doesn’t approach your heavy day, and you are still able to maintain speed on the singles.
6. Each session should involve some type of assistance work. The assistance work will vary according to the day. The more compound movements should fall on the heavy and medium days. The exercises that require you to use less weight should fall on the light days.
What follows is an example of workouts for one week of training. Remember, things should change every week, but the examples below will help you to further understand what is written above.
This first program is one that incorporates a full-body workout at each session. This is the best type of PVT program for a competitive powerlifter, an athlete who competes in a full-body sport (football, basketball, martial arts, etc.) or any lifter who is looking to make appreciable gains in muscle mass.
· Close-grip Bench Presses—135x5, 175x3, 225x3, 245x3, 270x3, 290x3. 300x3 (barely lifted the weight, but good lift), 305x2 (missed 3rd rep). Workload for lift: 5800.
· Lying Tricep Extensions—135x8repsx2sets.
· Bottom-position Squats—135x5, 225x3, 275x3, 315x3, 365x3, 405x3 (hard lift), 425x1 (couldn’t budge weight from pins on second rep). Workload for lift: 5855.
· Cross-bench pullovers (dumbbell)—100x5repsx2sets.
· Rounded Back Good Mornings—135x10repsx3sets.
· Hanging Leg Raises—3setsx20reps.
Note: Do not worry as much about calculating workload on assistance work, unless the assistance work you are doing is of a very compound nature, and, therefore, more damaging to your nervous system.
· Flat Bench Presses (w/bands)—135x8setsx3reps. Workload for lift: 3240
· Sumo Deadlifts—225x8setsx2reps. Workload for lift: 3600
· Bench Dips—bodyweightx2setsx15reps
· Floor Presses (w/bands)—225x8setsx2reps. Workload for lift: 3600
· Box Squats (w/bands)—275x8setsx2reps. Workload for lift: 4448
· Parallel Bar Dips alternated w/ Wide-grip Chins—bodyweightx3setsx10reps
· Steep Incline Sit-ups—bodyweightx3setsx50reps
For our second program, we’re going to look at an example week of workouts for someone who is trying to bring up a lagging bodypart or someone wanting to specialize on a lift. The sample chosen below is for someone specializing in the bench press. The same kind of workout could be applied to push/pull specialists, squat specialists, power curl lifters, or any lift you might need to bring up.
In this example, I won’t provide workload totals, but I do want you to understand the importance of workloads.
Keep in mind that, when specializing on a bodypart, you still need to do work for your other lifts and your other bodyparts. I have used the type of workout listed below while preparing for a bench only meet, and I trained my other lifts on two days a week, though not as intense as usual. For instance, you could perform your bench workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and perform your lower-body work on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
· Bottom-position Bench Presses—135x5, 175x3, 225x1, 245x1, 275x1, 315x1, 320x1(missed the lift in the middle of the press).
· Board Presses (using a 2 by 4)—205x5, 225x5, 245x5 (hard, but barely got fifth repetition), 250x4 (missed 5th rep).
· Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extensions—40sx2setsx15reps.
· Parallel Bar Dips—bodyweightx2setsx15reps.
· Flat Bench Presses (w/chains)—135x8setsx3reps.
· Bench Dips—bodyweightx3setsx15reps.
· Chins (using alternating grip widths)—bodyweightx5setsx8reps
· Flat Bench Presses (w/bands)—225x8setsx2reps.
· Close-grip Bench Presses—5 progressively heavier singles, using 245, 265, 275, 285, and 295.
· Pullovers and Presses—135x2setsx10reps
· Bent-over Rows (using same grip as what you bench heavy with)—135x2setsx8reps.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your PVT programs. Keep in mind that what I suggest are just that—suggestions. After using the program for some period of time, you will begin to understand what works best for you. You know your body better than anyone else, so pay attention to it and learn when to add or reduce the amount of total work you’re doing throughout the week.
1. After the first week, you don’t have to meticulously calculate your workloads for the major lifts at every workout. Just make sure to do so every so often to make sure you aren’t doing too much work on your light and medium days.
2. Be sure to rotate exercises and/or sets and reps at least every other week. For those who are more advanced, rotate every week. If you have found that a particular exercise is beneficial for bringing up one of your lifts, then feel free to do it an additional week or two, but make sure you rotate the reps. In other words, if you worked up to a max single on the exercise one week, work up to a max triple or set of 5 the next.
3. In addition to rotating your core exercises on your heavy day, make sure you rotate your assistance exercises, as well. After three week of doing a particular movement with the same repetition range, you will start to regress. Variety is very important for not just your core lifts.
4. After a couple of months on the program, feel free to add a second light day on Tuesday (if your heavy day was on Monday). The workload should be less than your Wednesday workout, but not by too much. This extra session will help to aid in synaptic facilitation.
5. Another way you can take advantage of synaptic facilitation is to add some extra sets of flat benches, squats, or deadlifts on your heavy days, after your core exercises for the day. These sets shouldn’t be too taxing. Something like 70% of your max for 6 to 8 sets of 2 to 3 reps should work fine. This is also a good way to add additional muscle mass, if that is your goal.
6. Periodically (every two to three months), don’t be afraid to take a week off from lifting. This will give your body added strength when you start another couple months of training. Just don’t take layoffs more frequently than this, and don’t miss workouts when you haven’t planned them in this manner.
7. If you compete in powerlifting meets, then don’t take a week of rest every couple months. Instead, reserve your off-time for the week leading up to the meet. This will help you to be at your strongest on the day of the contest.