Journal of Strength: Training the Ageless Athlete (aka: High-Frequency, High-Volume Lifting)
Journal of Strength
Monday, November 17, 2014
Today I did something that—to some lifters, at least—might seem rather odd. I performed a full-body workout of whatever I felt like doing, for relatively moderate to high reps. I had no idea what I was going to do, with the lone exception of the first exercise, until I actually started training.
This might seem even more odd for those of you who read this blog regularly, which includes me often praising—rather highly, I might add—the benefits of high-frequency training for multiple sets of low reps.
And here’s the thing: I actually think the kind of workout I did today can be highly effective, for a certain segment of the lifting population, at least.
First, a little backtracking is in order.
Last week I mentioned that I have been training using a regular program of high-set singles for the past few weeks. I also mentioned in a previous post that I have been having some pain and numbness in my left hand and arm from a pinched nerve in my neck. Well, the last few days—in addition to being sick—the pain in my arm and neck had increased dramatically, so I knew that it was time for a change.
I decided for the next several weeks I would perform a high-frequency, high-volume, low-intensity training program where I will train my entire body every day at each training session. I will work out 5 to 6 days each week, basically just taking a day off whenever I feel as if I need it.
I first discovered how beneficial this program could be about 8 years ago from the strength-training guru—and my mentor, though I have never met him—Bill Starr. At the time, I was coming off of neck surgery for a couple of herniated disks. It was almost six months after the surgery before I could train, and when I did train, I couldn’t resume my ultra-heavy training that I had done for the decade previously. (Now, let me add that, unfortunately, I attempted some very heavy training at first, which only resulted in unnecessary injuries, because I trained too heavy, too quickly.) I was familiar with Starr’s theories on training for the older athlete, which basically involves full-body workouts performed 5 to 6 days each week for fairly high reps, and, so, I thought I would give it a shot. Although not “old” by any stretch of the imagination, my body needed the break until I could recover more fully. (I must add that during this time I first started experimenting with bodyweight-only training during some sessions, as well, and found that it could be quite effective.)
I was surprised with the results I was getting at the time, and it cemented my belief that high-frequency training was the most effective all-around way to train, but that it didn’t have to necessarily be performed for multiple sets of high-reps. It could, in fact, work well with both high-volume and high-frequency.
I must caution something here: this training is probably best done by those who have trained for many years, and have a keen understanding of how training affects their bodies. This is one reason that this kind of training works well for the older athlete—the older athlete understands his body very well.
The fact is that it’s simply harder for novice or intermediate lifters—or even some advanced lifters—to train using high-volume and high-frequency. High-frequency, high-intensity programs (with low volume) and high-volume, high-intensity programs (with low frequency) are simply much easier for the average lifter to understand/control.
I will perform this new program for the next 4 to 6 weeks, at which time I will go back to heavier training—assuming the pain I’m having abates. I am also fully aware that, at some point, I will need to perform this kind of training for the remainder of my life—which may not be for another 10 or even 20 years down the road—because this is the best form of lifting for the older athlete. It’s great for focusing on the muscles without overloading the joints, tendons, and ligaments.
Tonight, here’s the workout I ended up performing:
- Deadlifts: 4 sets of 20 to 30 reps with 135 pounds
- Bench Presses: 1 set of 50 reps with 110 pounds (warm-up)
- Dumbbell Bench Presses: 3 sets of 20 to 25 reps with 50 pounds
- Dumbbell Pullovers: 3 sets of 15 reps with 40 pounds
- Dumbbell Shrugs (seated): 3 sets of 20 reps with 50 pounds
- Barbell Curls: 3 sets of 20 reps with 55 pounds
- 2 sets of Hanging Leg Raises for 10 reps
One of the keys is to not feel overly tired at the end of each session. This will allow you to train with the frequency you need. You may (or perhaps should) be a little sore the day following each workout, but it should be slight.
The workout I did may not seem as if it was much, but the key is to string a lot of workouts such as this one back-to-back-to-back. Tomorrow I will probably perform something along the lines of lunges, overhead presses, dips, forearm curls, and calf raises. The day after that it may be squats, chins, dumbbell rows, pullovers and presses, and push-ups.
When I feel tired, I’ll take the day off.
And when I feel like pushing it “balls-to-the-wall”, I’ll do that, too.
You get the drift. Doing this consistently, day-after-day, not missing a workout, can add up to some nice gains in the course of a couple of months.
Now, about that doing whatever you feel like thing: for guys such as myself who have been training for 20-plus years (and have spent much of that time doing full-body workouts), this kind of training is ideal. I know my body. It tells me what I should—and shouldn’t—do during training. I know when to back-off, and I know when to push it harder. I know when I can do 5 sets of high-rep deadlifts, and when I should only do 1 set, but this isn’t for everyone. Most of you need to be on a specific program, knowing exactly what exercises you will do on each training day.
 Also, the Nativity Fast has just begun for us “Eastern Christians”, which means that, until Christmas, I will primarily subside on a vegan diet of relatively low calories. This will necessitate some lighter training, as well.
 For some lifters—those of you who I have referred to in the past as “low-volume lifters”—this may actually be too much. My ex-training partner—and dear ol’ friend—Puddin’ (search for past blog posts if you would like to read some exploits) would do just fine, for instance, with about half of this volume. In fact, I have a feeling that he would gain muscle rapidly.