In a recent article in Applied Metabolics, I discussed the training principles that are associated with increased muscular hypertrophy or growth. These factors include training frequency, training intensity level, and volume. That last aspect is the most controversial. Some people say that intensity is everything when it comes to stimulating muscle growth, and a high level of training intensity mandates a minimal training volume. Indeed, if you truly do every set of every exercise to complete muscular failure, your total training volume or the number of sets and repetitions that you do will be limited simply because the muscle fails after a while. I found this to be true for myself. Over 40 years ago, I changed my training from an extremely high volume style that averaged up to 70 sets per muscle group to a high-intensity style of training where I averaged about 4 to 6 sets per muscle group. When I trained using the high volume style, I paced myself to ensure that I could complete all the sets. This doesn't mean that I didn't train hard, but rather that I never did each set to muscular failure, stopping well short of that point. On the high-intensity routine, I did train to complete muscular failure. At times, the weight I used fell out of my hand because of total muscular fatigue. Under such high-intensity conditions, I simply couldn't do more than about 4 to 6 sets per muscle group simply because my muscles were"dead" by that point. Most importantly, however, I made the best gains of my life with that initial high-intensity routine. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger asked me at Gold's Gym, Venice where I was training (and still do) what drugs I was using to gain so much muscle mass. He looked at me quizzically when I told him that I wasn't using any anabolic drugs, which was true.
The debate still continues about what constitutes the ideal volume of training to make the greatest gains in muscular hypertrophy. When I joined Vince's gym in Studio City, California back in 1968, I had been on a higher volume training routine but had fallen into a rut where I was not making any gains at all. Vince Gironda, the owner of the gym, advised me to choose only one exercise per muscle and do 8 sets of 8 repetitions. But the rest time between sets was limited to 15 to 30 seconds. I had previously rested up to 3 minutes between heavy sets. At first, I scoffed at the notion of doing only 8 sets per muscle group, since I had averaged about 20 sets per muscle group until that time. But once I began to actually train on the 8x8 system, I was . . .