For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, forgive my long delay in posts. I have been going through some personal stuff the last couple of months—some of which I may write about at some point—and have found it difficult to write things for this blog. Hopefully this post will be the first in many to come over the next month or two.
High-Volume, Low-Frequency Training for the Ultimate in Mass-Building
Dennis Du Breuil’s “Ultimate Bulk and Power” Rules
Most of what I write on this blog deals with more of my recent training tactics—and the stuff I’ve written about the most recently revolves around my recent training strategies. One problem I’ve always had as a writer on strength-training and muscle-building is that I’ve always—or almost always—been the kind of writer that has trouble writing about training other than what I was currently doing at the time.
When I first started writing for Iron Man magazine over 20 years ago, I wrote about high-volume, high-intensity, low-frequency training since that is the kind of training that I was doing at the time. In the late ‘90s, early ‘00s, I switched over to all-out power training, and my writing switched to the same stuff. (I must add here that, at the time, no one was writing about serious strength training—ultra-low reps, power training with multiple sets of low reps, 5x5 training, 10x3 training, that sort of stuff—in the major magazines other than Bill Starr and myself (nowadays, it’s much more commonplace). Thus, power training became something of a writing boon for me. I had stuff published almost every month for years in both Iron Man and MuscleMag International—sometimes in both mags in the same month.) But I never really forgot my high-volume, low-frequency beginning—and the serious muscle mass that I put on back then—and I have occasionally returned to articles about that kind of training here at Integral Strength, but, for the most part, the writing on this blog has been decidedly power oriented, with the occasional forays into bodyweight-only workouts.
A couple of weeks ago, when I returned from a funeral in my home state of Texas (I live in my adopted home state of Alabama), my oldest son Matthew—who is 15, and my workout partner these days—suggested to me that we perform what he calls “old-school” (for me, they’re not really “old-school”) bodybuilding routines: ultra-intense, high-volume, relatively low-frequency workouts with the sole intent of packing on as much muscle as possible and “for looking good” (to use his nomenclature). I have almost always had us train with full-body workouts or two-way splits of one sort or another, but he has always listened to me regale him with tales from the early to late ‘90s when I trained one-bodypart-per-day and with the sort of intensity that would have envied the Golden Eagle himself. He has also heard my claims that I once packed on 20 to 25 pounds of mass in 2 to 3 weeks using such a routine, and other tales of yore (for him) that seem well-nigh impossible.
So I relented.
And we have been enjoying some of the best workouts over the last two weeks that we have ever had while training together. And, for me, it has brought back memories of training from years’ past, and it has awakened training knowledge—gleamed from such ‘90s luminaries as Greg Zulak, Don Ross, Gene Mozee, and, hell, even Mike Mentzer—that I haven’t applied in many-a-year.
And I decided it was time to once again write stuff using this dormant knowledge.
I was also quite surprised when I finally got on my blog today—I haven’t looked at it in about 2 months—and found a comment from an occasional commenter, Alexander Nilsson, who asked for something on the very same topic. (Odd how synchronous life can sometimes be.)
One more word of note before we actually get started on the nuts-and-bolts of our mass-building rules: There are some things that I know now that I wish I would have known 20 to 25 years ago—this series of articles will include my acquired knowledge as well as what I learned in the past.
Dennis Du Breuil’s “Ultimate Bulk and Power” Rules
For this article, I’m going to use the mass-building “rules” of Dennis Du Breuil as a springboard for discussing many of my thoughts and theories on high-volume, low-frequency muscle-building. Du Breuil’s “rules” are a good starting point for this series of articles. Du Breuil—for those of you unfamiliar—wrote an article for Iron Man magazine in 1976 entitled “The Ultimate Bulk and Power Theory” that laid out his thoughts on the best practices to build muscle mass. I have never read that article. Instead, I became familiar with Du Breuil’s theories via the May, 1994 issue of MuscleMag International, in an article written by Greg Zulak that was (aptly) named “Your Way to Ultimate Bulk and Power”. Zulak outlined Du Breuil’s various rules of muscle-building, along with his own thoughts on the matter. I’m going to pretty much do the same here by outlining Du Breuil’s and Zulak’s theories, along with my personal two cents worth.
Rule 1: There is a strong relationship between increased blood circulation and muscle growth. Some of you may be reading this and thinking that it means “the more of a pump you get in a muscle, the more it will grow,” but this isn’t exactly what Du Breuil was getting at. This is how Zulak explained it: “The better the blood circulation to a muscle, Du Breuil theorized, and the easier it pumps, the better the muscle will grow. And it will recover better because the blood can carry away fatigue products and bring nutrition in.” In other words, it’s not just the pump, but how easy and quickly a muscle gets a pump that will determine muscle growth. It is also predicated upon how easy and quickly a muscle pumps using traditional training that will determine muscle growth. After all, anyone can get a decent pump with really high-rep training, but this doesn’t mean that ultra-high rep training is the best for muscle growth.
If you have been training for any length of time with more “generic” bodybuilding programs, then you know this rule to be true. Your muscles that pump quickly using a moderate number of sets (6 to 10) combined with a moderate number of reps (8 to 12) grow with relative ease.
Rule 2: Work a small area of the body and then rest for at least 20 minutes. Here is what Zulak had to say about this rule (which is pretty interesting if you have a knowledge of the ‘70s bodybuilding culture): “When Du Breuil wrote his article, Arthur Jones of Nautilus fame was considered the authority on muscle growth. Nautilus machines were the hottest ticket going, and Mike Mentzer, whose heavy-duty system was based on Nautilus principles, was just making a name for himself. Arthur Jones insisted that the whole body must be treated as a unit. He said the best way to build a lot of muscle was to work the whole body in a single workout, and to train very fast, going from one set to the next with very little rest, until the whole body was covered. However, many people discovered that such routines were actually better for conditioning than building size. Endurance was improved, sure, but the muscles were not worked as hard as possible because the cardiovascular system gave out first before the muscles were worked to failure.
“Du Breuil totally disagreed with Jones.”
Now, to be honest, I think that both kind of programs build muscle, but for different reasons. (If you want to read my thoughts on full-body workouts and how they build muscle growth, there are plenty of articles here on my blog, or stuff of mine you can find on other sites.) However, you have to use Du Breuil’s method when utilizing high-volume and low-frequency.
Du Breuil, for what it’s worth, advocated training on double, or even triple, split programs in order to achieve the end result. In other words, his trainees would train chest, wait an hour or so, train shoulders, wait at least an hour or longer, and train arms, and so on and so forth.
That is, obviously, impractical for the majority of bodybuilders. (Hell, it’s impractical for me—for the most part—and I have a home gym replete with almost everything a hardcore ‘builder could ask for.)
The solution lies in training muscle groups that are very close to one another in order to keep blood flow localized. Your split may look something like this:
Day One: chest and shoulders
Day Two: quads, hamstrings, calves
Day Three: back
Day Four: biceps and triceps
Day Five: Off
If you prefer to train more consecutive days in a row, then you could just train one-bodypart-per-day, and rarely, if ever, take a day off. Here’s the example of a split with this kind of training in mind:
Day One: Chest
Day Two: Shoulders
Day Three: Triceps
Day Four: Legs
Day Five: Back
Day Six: Biceps
Day Seven: Repeat (take a day off whenever you feel as if you need one)
Of course, in the above scenario, you do have to train each muscle group with extreme intensity (we’ll get to more of that in a little bit), but I have actually come to believe that the more days you can train in a row, the better. I have often gone 7 or 8 days before taking a day off, and it didn’t matter what kind of training program I was following, whether it was Bulgarian training for extreme strength and power or Du Brueil’s style of blood-volume training.
And I’m not crazy in thinking this—or, at least, not alone. Top trainers such as Scott Abel and Christian Thibaudeau believe the same thing.
Rule 3: Work as hard as possible on every rep. Du Brueil believed that most bodybuilders simply didn’t train hard enough—not just on every set, but on every rep. He believed that the harder that you made every rep of every set, the better the results. Here’s what Du Brueil had to say in his original article: “First, very few bodybuilders work as hard as they should for maximum gains. It takes brutally hard workouts to produce the fast, superior gains we’re talking about. And, second, most bodybuilders have no idea what really hard work is.”
When training relatively infrequently, I agree wholeheartedly with him. Once you are a few sets into a workout, it’s important that each set is pushed to the maximum. You can do this with such intensity techniques as rest-pause training, strip sets (or drop sets, as they are often called), super-sets, tri-sets, and pre-exhaustion training, among others.
Now, I don’t believe, typically, in using any of these intensity techniques in the first exercise of the program. As I’ve said before, elsewhere, “it’s best to do less early, so you can do more later on.” I recommend beginning with one exercise of straight sets, preferably a large, compound movement, then you would move on to the more intense stuff. Here would be an example of a typical chest workout:
Incline Bench Presses: 5 sets of 8 -10 reps (Only the last set should be all-out, where it’s hard, or impossible, to get the final rep. At this point, your chest muscles will be neurally “primed” for the intense sets that follow.)
Incline Dumbbell Flyes: 3 sets of 16 to 20 reps (For these, you will use a rest-pause technique. Perform about 6 to 8 reps, until you almost reach failure, rest a few seconds and crank out a few more reps. Repeat this rest-pause technique until you get somewhere close to 20 reps. The last couple of rest-pause “sets” should be until all-out failure.)
Wide-Grip Dips supersetted with Flat Bench Flyes: 3 supersets of 6 to 8 reps on the dips and 12 to 16 reps on the flyes
Cross-Bench Pullovers: 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps—each set taken to momentarily muscular failure
In the next installment, I’ll discuss the remainder of Du Brueil’s rules, and hopefully have some pretty cool input of my own on the topic. Until then, eat big, train big, and, in the case of these workouts, rest big.