Volume Training

Crank up your workout and turn up your muscle-building gains.

Imagine it’s 1979 and you want to do pullups. Already hanging from the bar is Roy Callendar, third in the previous year’s Mr. Olympia. You’d better hope he lets you work in, because he’s not moving on for another hour or so. And 25 sets at the pullup bar are just the beginning. Callendar’s back routines typically consisted of 85 sets, and his entire back/biceps/forearms workout could last six hours! All his body parts went through similar endurance sessions. Callendar is an extreme example of volume training, but his success illustrates that more is sometimes better. With proper nutrition and enough rest between workouts, volume training can lead to more voluminous muscles.

In the beginning, which is to say the first half of the 20th century, bodybuilders trained their entire physiques in every workout. By necessity, they couldn’t do many sets per body part per workout until split routines divided their workload. When routines were broken up, volume climbed. It peaked in the late ’70s and early ’80s with Callendar, Casey Viator (third in the 1982 Olympia), and Johnny Fuller. All three top pros did in excess of 40 sets in each body-part routine. 

Nobody sprints through an ultramarathon. Likewise, there is a limit to how long most people can maintain even moderate intensity when they’re grinding  through around 1,000 reps per quad workout, as Viator did. Boredom and complacency can set in. Your body’s energy and hormonal levels will lag. So let’s acknowledge that ultramarathon workouts are incredible feats. Clearly, some bodybuilders have had great success with them. But let’s also move on to a more realistic and effective style of volume training. For that, we look to four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler.


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