Train Heavy or Go Home

By: Scott H. Mendelson
Infinity Fitness
Magazine 7 #2

Strength and muscle gains came a lot easier when I first began training. I recall setting strength records almost on a daily basis. At the same time I was growing big. But you know, it seemed like my size gains stopped about when my strength stalled.

There are three primary methods for soliciting new muscle growth:

  1. Increasing volume of work
  2. Increasing intensity of training
  3. Increasing work in relation to time.

For a long time I followed the consensus that to train harder and grow one should add sets and reps. But –– workouts became marathons and I was over-training. So, I took a long hard look at my iron life and returned to my roots where the pursuit of strength was the key to muscle.

We are all creatures of habit and even obsession. From what I can see, increasing set volume is still the king of bodybuilding program design. Tear those muscles down by adding more sets and reps. Force those muscles to grow by punishing them day in and day out. This traditional approach can work, but not forever. A high volume approach may not be the most productive way to train for hypertrophy gains.

Over-training is the most prolific spoiler of fitness results. The sure-fire way to become overtrained is with consistently high set volumes. The argument between quality and quantity is ever present. Trainees who are successful with consistently high set volumes are either very genetically talented or making use of anabolic substances to raise training capacity.

Bodybuilder Tommie Robertson one arm bicep burl
Tommie Robertson has utilized a number of training modalities. One of his favorite back routines included heavy chins for sets of 4 reps.

So what is high volume? Every individual will have a different threshold for training and pushing yourself to the edge every session is not going to be the best road to take over the long haul. Remember the best workout volume is the one for which you grow but also recover.

One can do the same work in less time or more work in the same time. This is also called density of work. The best way to make things simple? Shorten rest periods and or the overall length of the workout, while maintaining or increasing work volume or intensity.

I find that a density-focused program does wonders for getting leaner. Raising intensity means higher loads and it is the most neglected method for improvement with bodybuilders. For one reason or another many bodybuilders tend to avoid training as heavy as they can. Perhaps bodybuilders feel lifting heavier weights is for athletes or performance oriented trainees.

Let’s set the record straight. Lack of proper intensity is the missing link in most routines of trainees who are failing to improve. Heavy poundages stimulate high threshold motor units and muscle fibers that have the greatest potential for hypertrophy. Why neglect hitting the white fast twitch fibers?

Compromise is a fundamental mechanism used to create positive change. I am not going to ask you to abandon all of your current training methods. I do suggest that you incorporate intense sets when appropriate and consider the work density of your workouts.

Obviously one must use a lower absolute load when using higher rep schemes. The load will largely dictate how many reps can be performed. Why not try upping your poundages for half of your total sets? Experiment with reps between 3-6 for a change, for variety.

I strongly recommend that you use fewer exercises per workout, but rotate them on a more frequent basis. Try doing 4 exercises and 4 sets per exercise for a total of 16 sets. In actuality this volume may be too high for individuals with poor recovery ability.

The first two sets of each exercise utilize heavy poundages while the second two sets can be high rep work. Try a rep scheme of warming-up well, then 4, 4, 8, 10 for four sets respectively.

The second set is likely to be your best set from a strength perspective. Different rep ranges in the third and fourth set are for the sake of variety amongst other things. This approach will enable you to stimulate fibers in a vastly different way than ever before.

Variety can be an essential component needed for growth. Joe Weider always referred to this as Holistic Training to hit all the angles and all the muscle fibers.

Another thing you might try is to implement a fast tempo or training speed for your heavy work. Take advantage of the stretch shortening cycle by rapidly moving loads (under control) through all phases of the exercise. Slower rep speeds are more appropriate for high rep work, which should include a relatively longer eccentric or negative.

Use longer rest periods (2-3 minutes) for the heavy work and something in the area of one to two minutes for the higher rep work. You can gradually cut down on the rest periods by alternating antagonistic muscle groups, for example perform a heavy set of dumbbell bench presses, rest and then do a set of dumbbell rows.

Chris Myers Overall NKY Champ
Chris Myers trains for size and strength. Here he is winning the Northern Kentucky overall.

Planning to become stronger equates to planning to get bigger! Proper planning on the front end of a training endeavor is crucial. Have a plan! Train to break records every week, at least in one lift. Remember that increases in strength will result in new growth.

A long-term strategy using a combination of intensity and traditional hypertrophy work will require specific data tracking. You must document your training records so you can break them during future phases of training. Record keeping is a valuable mechanism for identifying what actually works for you.

Charles Staley has released his latest version of the Myodynamics training software, which is available through my website ( This tool enables you to easily calculated volume, intensity and work density.

I have included a size and strength workout and a recommended supplement stack. If you are interested in body composition improvement, gradually cut your rest periods by ten seconds each week. The sets listed are work sets and of course, you must do warm up sets to prepare yourself for heavy loads and to maximize performance.

Contact me at scott[at] for a free analysis of your current training / nutrition program. Mention Beverly and I’ll send you a free printable version of this workout.

Day 1SetsRepsTempoRest
A.Front squat 44,4,6,62-1-x/4-1-1180/90
B. Step-up2104-1-160
B2. Unilateral Calf Raise284-2-160
C. Cable Wood chop283-1-x45
C2. Cable Crunch283-1-145
D. Floor back ext2124-1-130
Unilateral-one leg at a time, use weak leg first

Day 2SetsRepsTempoRest
A. Wide Grip Pull Up44,4,8,102-1-x/3-1-1180/90
A2.DB Shoulder Press4
B.45 deg incline db curls26-83-2-160
C.Bent over Lateral Raise2124-2-130
D.Forearm curls1-2124-2-130
E. Forearm ext 1-2 124-2-130
Add load to wide grip pulls on heavy sets
Day 3SetsRepsTempoRest
A1. Power Squat*44,4,6,82-1-x/4-1-1180/90
B1.Unilateral lying Ham curl263-2-160
B2.Seated Calf Raise2124-2-160
C1. Good Mornings263-1-145
C2. V ups283-1-145
*Power Squat, wide stance, sitting back, focus on hips and hamstrings.
Day 4SetsRepsTempoRest
A1. Decline Close Grip44,4,6,82-1-x/3-2-1180/90
A2.Decline tri ext44,4,6,82-1-x/3-2-1180/90
B1.1 1/4 DB press26-84-1-160
B2.1 1/4 DB Row26-84-1-160
C1.Incline Fly1-28-103-2-145
C2.T bar row1-28-103-2-145
1¼ press: Lower the bar (or dumbbells) to your chest, then raise it ¼ of the way back up, then back to the chest, and then back up to arm's length; this constitutes one repetition. Complete for the indicated number of reps for each set. ALWAYS employ a competent spotter when performing any bench press variation.

Step-ups: Perform on a low (6-8") step. To keep the stress on the quads, do not allow the non-working leg to rest on the floor at all. Make sure that your working knee stays directly over the middle of the working foot (commonly, as the exerciser fatigues, the knee will begin to wobble from side to side). Complete all reps for first leg, then rest and complete reps for other leg. Refined exercise technique is critical to the success of this movement. Go as slowly as possible, and keep the tension on the quadricep at all times.

Cable Wood Chop: This exercise is performed on a cable unit with the transducer in the top position. Grasp the handle with both hands, and step away from the machine. Using a side stance, pull the handle diagonally from high to low, using only the oblique muscles. Keep the pelvis stabilized throughout the movement, and monitor for leaning forward at the waist. Note: all wood chop exercises can be performed from a seated (on a bench), kneeling, or standing position.

Scott H. Mendelson of has trained with strength expert Charles Staley for several years as a client and intern. Famous Strongman competitor and head strength coach at University Nevada Las Vegas Mark Philippi employed Scott as an intern during the summer months of 2000.

Scott worked directly with the UNLV Rebels football and basketball squads on a daily basis while picking the brain of his World Powerlifting Champion boss.

Dr. Eric Serrano, The Protein working with Scott to improve his skills as a strength coach, emphasizing nutrition, supplementation, and rehabilitation strategies for the elite athlete. Eric’s unique approach enables Scott to see outside of the box and understand the biological situations of individuals and how to address their needs.
To learn more visit

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