The Big 3

Manipulating the Three Primary Training Variables for Awesome Results and Quick Muscle Mass Gains

by Matthew Sloan

C.S.'s note: While editing this short article of my son's, I resisted the urge to make a few changes.  I will let Matthew's thoughts speak for themselves, and, in the future, he and I will both write a more in-depth article—or a series of articles—on styles of workouts that "work" when the 3 variables are properly manipulated.

Matthew Sloan demonstrates the lean muscle mass he has developed while practicing what he preaches.

     Anyone who is serious about getting real results from training(whether it’s strength or muscle gains), should be following an effective training program.  (As my father has often written—quoting the late, great Vince Gironda: "Are you on a training program, or are you just working out?") There are countless programs out there, and they are all different in their own unique ways, but they all have one thing in common if they are to be effective. All effective training programs manipulate the three main training variables for specific purposes. These three variables would be Volume(the amount of work), Frequency( how often a lift or muscle group is being trained), and Intensity( how much weight is being lifted). All of these variables are important, and should be manipulated, depending on the results one wishes to achieve. So here are some advantages, disadvantages, and differences in each one, and how to correctly implement these three variables for optimal results.
      Let's talk volume first. High volume training is often used by bodybuilders and especially the “pros”. You often see guys in the gym training on a “bro split”( a program in which you train one body part a day, once a week). Guys will come in on Monday, better known as “national chest day”, and completely annihilate their chest by doing anywhere from 20-30 sets. Unfortunately, for natural lifters (especially beginners) this type of training is very ineffective due to the inability to recover, resulting in a very low frequency of training (training a body part or lift once a week). As the great Lee Haney once said, “Stimulate, don't annihilate”.  Inability to recover quick enough is the main disadvantage to high volume training, but what if you could recover quickly from a lot of volume? That question brings us to the effectiveness of high-volume training. High-volume training is very useful—and effective—for those who have high work-capacity or good genetics. Not all of us will have “good genetics” but all of us can increase our work capacity, allowing us to progressively increase the volume of our workouts. This is the key to the variable of volume, it is simply just a “weapon in your arsenal” to progressively overload your muscles. Progressively increase your volume over a span of time, give your body time to recover, remember to stimulate a muscle and not always annihilate it, and you will have the variable of volume mastered.
     The next main training variable is frequency. Frequency goes hand in hand with volume because when one of them is high, the other is usually low. You rarely see a program training high frequency, high volume, and low intensity. Using a high frequency training program is what I personally believe to be the most effective way for most people to train. It is very effective because of one key reason: muscle protein synthesis. Whenever a muscle is stimulated, protein muscle synthesis is “started” and lasts for 48-72 hours. This is very important because muscle simply grows during this process, so wouldn't it be beneficial if your muscles were undergoing muscle protein synthesis all the time? This is possible if you are training a muscle 3-4 times a week, in other words: high-frequency training! It is simply better to stimulate the muscle more frequently rather than “annihilating” a muscle less frequently. 
     The intensity variable is the most difficult variable to master, in my opinion. It is difficult because there is only one way in which you can ensure that you are using the correct amount of weight your program calls for based off of your set/rep scheme. This is by using a percentage-based program (this system uses percentages of your max lifts to determine the amount of weight that should be used).  (C.S.'s note: I generally loathe percentage-based systems—for more on reasons why, search some of my past articles that deal with H-L-M training, or Westside-style workouts.)  This system is effective, but very complicated, and unless you're an advanced lifter, your max lifts can change often (I will do an article purely dedicated to percentage-based training in the future). So what would a high-intensity training program look like? Something such as this: 10 sets of 3 reps with 85-90% of your max, or it could be something such as a double-ramp style of training with the set/rep scheme like this: 2sx5r,3sx4r,4sx3r,5sx2r. Although this style of training is used by almost all powerlifters and strength athletes—predominately in Eastern European countries—it can also be used by bodybuilders if programmed correctly. (My father has multiple articles on Integral Strength about this type of training for bodybuilding.) The primary advantage to correct manipulation of the intensity variable is it allows you to easily overload your muscles. Simply increasing weight used on your lifts every 1-2 workouts is a simple and effective way to progressively overload your muscles. Monitor your intensity and manipulate it in accordance with your volume and frequency, and you will continue to grow and make “all kinds of gains”!


  1. Great article Matthew. ...looking forward to the folllow-up on % based training.

    I have a question and need the integral strength team's input:

    I want to use CS's "Boost Your Total" program from a few years back. Its 2 8-week cycles with the first cycle being a M/W/F plan with each day focusing on one of the 3 power lifts.

    The volume is pretty high but the frequency is low (1x/week)...I love the workouts and don't want to change them but im a frequency junkie. ..
    should I run it as written (3x/week), should I run it 4 days/week (A B C A) then just pick up the follwing week with (B C A B) or run it it Monday-saturday (ABCABC)?

    Would love to hear from all 3 of you guys...

  2. Btw the 2nd half of the program is a 4x/week plan which I would just run as written. ..

  3. Really loved the way it is written, Really good info on Full Body workouts, I am definitely going to follow this program.

  4. Jason,

    Personally, I would run it as written. I, too, am a "frequency junkie", as it is obvious from many of my posts. BUT, I think that my BYT program works because of its use of max-effort training and speed training.

    Here's the thing: when it comes to pure strength training, I don't think frequency is AS important as the "style" of the workout. BYT WORKS because of its reliance on max-effort and speed work, NOT because it is a high-frequency program.

    Here's the other thing. High-frequency programs that work for powerlifting (this would include most Russian or "Eastern-Bloc" programs) rely on sub-max-effort work and steady, NON-explosive repetition work. (Pavel Tsatsouline, for instance, is NOT a fan of dynamic effort workouts.)

    Now, does all of this mean that you SHOULDN'T add an extra day to my BYT program? No. You can certainly experiment, but, if it was me, I would save the experimentation for another, separate, cycle of it.

    Hope this helps.

  5. LOL....too late Sloan. I ran the day 1,2 and 3 consecutively (mon/tue/wed)... So bench, dead and squat. The Bench workout was a lot more volume than I'm used to but it was solid. The deadlift workout was also excellent but between the deads and Good mornings and bent-over rows I was pretty sore the next day. Which the next day I squatted AND it destroyed me. Bottom position squats, 9 sets of DE squats then front squats. VERY sore yesterday.

    Bottom-line I realize there is NO way I could follow this program and not run it M/W/F. Your 100%, with squatting every day, I would simply warm-up to a 1RM. Very high frequency, very low volume and actually very little time-under tension. Having done it off and on for several months I can see now why I am stalling on it. Your BYT is Low frequency/high volume/high intensity and high time under tension....

    the only changes I will add to the M/W/F is Saturday as a pre-hab/pump day. In other words, Foam-rolling, stretching, mobility, calves & abs, and some light high rep upper back/biceps/rear delt work. (face-pulls)

  6. Thank you for your response its amazing how timely yours sons article was. Here is my plan for the remainder of the year:

    *Boost your Total:18-20 weeks
    *Power Rack Training for Beginners and Intermediates: 8 weeks
    *Texas Volume Training 8-10 weeks

    wish me luck!


  7. The beginner to strength training is deluged with programs and methods, most of them claiming to be superior to all the others.
    We also know that we have a better chance of making a basket from the corner if we've had plenty of free throw experience.
    See more: strength training


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