What is the straight dope on low-volume workouts?

I found this at exrx.net.

It basically says you should do one set for every workout and fail at around 8-12 reps.

As I never heard anyone who works out praise this routine (they usually say you need to do more than just one set) I’m asking you.

What’s the SD?

Erm, you may want to double check your link…

Aw crap. :smack:

Here, low- volume training.

There is lots of controversy in weight training, so you will probably not find a hard factual answer.

This approach was popularized by Arthur Jones (incorrectly called Author in the article you linked) when he was pitching Nautilus machines, which he invented. The key to the one-set workout is to go to momentary muscular failure–the point to which you cannot do another rep in good form. This can be a very effective routine, depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Most serious bodybuilders do more than one set.

[anecdotal evidence]I did this for many years (a trainer at my club called it the “executive routine” since you don’t spend hours and hours working out). I developed a lot of strength, but I plateaued. Several years ago I had a friend who became a competitive bodybuilder, and she suggested I start doing three sets of each exercise. Contrary to some recommendations, she said add weight on each set, rather than reducing it. I climbed out of my plateau doing this.

I believe this may have something to do with the two types of muscle fibers . Humans can develop either type of fiber, although you’re strongly disposed genetically. I think that in doing multiple sets I was building endurance, which in turn gave the muscle the stamina to work harder when it went back to doing a single set.

One-set workouts can be beneficial, but it is very difficult mentally to maintain that level of intensity throughout a workout. The difference between a successful set and a wasted one is usually that one last rep that you squeeze out, or don’t.

If you’re just trying to develop general muscular fitness and good muscle tone, then a one-set workout is a very efficient use of your time.

You hit a plateau because you were doing the same routine for years. Keep up anything that long and it’ll stop working.

Anyway, the sort of training that you’re describing is called high intensity training, or HIT for short. It was popularized by Mike Mentzer, who may have been the most absolutely batshit-insane bodybuilder ever to walk the planet. If you’re looking for a better source, check out the works of Ellington Darden. I’ll try to post some links later.

That is why I want to try it. While I’m not an executive, I still don’t have a lot of time. I’m just suspicious of something that is contrary to everything I’ve heard about bodybuilding so far, but not suspicious enough to dismiss it all together.

If I don’t get definitive proof that it sucks, I’ll probably try it. I’m not looking to become a world class bodybuilder anyway.

If I don’t get definitive proof that it sucks, I’ll probably try it.

Trust me, some guy somewhere has gotten big doing any damn thing you can imagine. One of the common mistakes that I see people making is not bothering to track their results. Measure your arms, legs, waist, etc. Keep a training log book and note the weights you’re using. Find your one rep maximum of each exercise and after a month on the program, go back and measure everything again.

If you’re new to training, you’ll probably make some pretty good gains for the first few months, but don’t expect that same level of progress once you finally get in shape. Reevaluate your training on a regular basis and adjust. Keep it fun.

OK, so one set to failure. Like daffyduck said, it works, just like everything else does. I did that for a while back when I was starting out, and made some gains. But then I hit a plateau, and had to change it up to make some progress. Now, I’d never go with that protocol again, and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for someone who’s just starting out.

There are three big reasons why I wouldn’t train like this today. I’m not a bodybuilder by any means–I’m in this for strength and injury prevention. First, training to failure requires to use light weights and high volumes, which doesn’t make sense for my goals. Second, training to true failure is very highly taxing on the nervous system, which is not good for when you’re planning on lifting more. Thirdly, it’s almost impossible to maintain good form while going to failure. That’s OK for some isolation exercises, but good form is paramount when you’re dealing with compound (i.e., multiple joint) lifts.

That third reason is also why I wouldn’t recommend this to another beginner. No matter what your eventual goals are, you need to start out by learning the motions properly so that you don’t have to unlearn your mistakes later. That simply requires repetition, which translates into high volume and light weights.

If you’re curious, I found a couple articles you should check out. Here’s an interview with Ellington Darden, the man who invented the term and is probably the biggest advocate of it today. Note that what he’s describing is not just one set to failure of a bunch of exercises, but a much more structured program.

You should also read this article by Ian King, who can credibly claim to have invented modern strength training for athletic performance. Naturally, his thoughts are worth reading.

For the record, I get a great workout in about 2-3 hours per week, and I’m not doing anything like this.

I have to disagree with this. Finding your true 1RM is stressful enough that no one who doesn’t need it should do so. I’d recommend instead finding your 5RM and monitoring that for progress.

I’d recommend instead finding your 5RM and monitoring that for progress.

In the case of a beginner, I have to agree with you. Play safe boys and girls.

My training guru, Ian King, makes what I consider a very good point in this interview:

“The bodybuilding/fitness industry is a unique phenomenon. Can you imagine a facility called “Joe’s Dental Center” where there are a hundred dentists’ chairs and members of the public paid $10 per session to operate on themselves? Or “Downtown Legal Center” which provided a row of tables equipped for self-use? Most people hire dentists, doctors, lawyers etc. to provide professional advice to get it right. Yet the majority of gym users feel they can design their own workouts - no wonder there is a low success rate!”

IMHO, if you really want to train for results (most train to meet emotional needs) and go beyond the dilettante level, you’ll need to seriously educate yourself and in the beginning, that means devoting more time to learning about training than the actual time you spend training. I’ve been training for an hour at a time twice a day every other day for the last three years. That’s about 28 hours a month and I still spend about 30 hrs a month reading about training. I’m not saying that you have to do what I do to have any success, but the more you know, the better your results will be and the less likely you will be to injure yourself or waste your time. I see plenty of guys at my gym working as hard or even harder than I do, yet only a handful of us are making any real progress.

So what are you doing? If you don’t mind sharing.

This sounds good. Where do you recommend I start?

Right now I’m going through the structural phase listed over here. I’m building back up after a couple months of not being able to train regularly (damn job), so I’m avoiding the advanced techniques for now, but plan to include them in my next three week cycle. If you’re not familiar with the lifts involved, you’ll need to spend some time learning them before starting something like this–squatting, deadlifting and even benching with poor form can injure you seriously.

T-Nation is the place to start. Share your goals, and we’ll point you towards specific advice.