In the past, I've demonstrated to readers that I prefer intense work on what are considered by most in the iron sports to be limited amounts of volume and frequency.
I am guilty as charged!
For many who begin lifting weights as a teenager, or in my case, at the age of twelve, enthusiasm is high, the desire to what one hopes is immediate improvement is high, and the absolute certainty that one has to do "everything," or at least as much as possible, to progress is definitely present.
Like most, I began like a house on fire, and while my commitment and unwavering focus have never changed, not even almost five decades later, I learned that for me and for most, doing too much is a lot worse than doing too little.
A recurring theme in my writings has been a remains that the foundation of successful training must be hard work. I don't care how that hard work is defined, but it's a lot like that very well-known and oft-repeated statement about the legal system and pornography: "I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it."
Some define hard work by the number of sets they complete in any specific workout. Others name it as the number of workouts per week. Still others call it total volume or tonnage, yet few would agree with my admonition that any of the parameters related to volume or amount remain secondary to actually showing up and working truly hard on whatever exercises are chosen in a particular workout. Again, I may not be able to define it but I know it when I see it.
If one is truly working hard -- let's term it "as hard as possible" at least within the context of a specific workout -- common sense then dictates that one is not going to do "a lot of" hard work. A lot of hard work is the equivalent of manual labor, and this is a conversation that becomes almost dangerous around some enthusiasts.
Olympic lifters for the past number of decades have seen high volume and high frequency as hard work and that is the end of that conversation. The context of training doesn't really matter, if you're an Olympic weightlifter, you have to do a lot of work and do it a lot of times within any week or defined period of time. If you don't, you're not truly training hard.
Does this approach work?
Absolutely, if you are one of the many foreign lifters who consistently wins world or Olympic titles, but I'm not sure that our lifters, and this is said with the utmost respect for the time and effort each one does put into the sport in order to improve, can say the same. Even the Olympic Training Center, designed to provide an atmosphere that is supposed to allow for nothing but training for selected athletes so that they can focus completely on preparations for a world championships or Olympic Games, has failed to produce the projected results.
In powerlifting circles, only someone who has had his head in the sand for the past fifteen years of so could deny that the type of program advocated by Louie Simmons and his many associates (and it's out of ignorance that I note only Dave Tate and Jim Wendler as those who seem to espouse some, if not all, of Louie's theories as I am sure there are many others who are just as well known) seems to be the basis of an inordinate number of powerlifting routines. To those in the sport, the results and records that this philosophy has produced justify its rightful place as the way to go, and many would also turn around and state that it should also be applied to Olympic-style weightlifting.
Many successful strength coaches, meaning coaches who work with collegiate and professional teams that manage to keep their injury rate under some semblance of control and win more than they lose, tend to do a little bit of everything in their weight rooms. You would be hard-pressed to find any coach at the upper levels who is a one hundred percent advocate of one specific training system. It's a mix and match approach for in season, winter preparation, spring ball, and summer camp preparation when talking about football, for example.
Examination of any of the strength programs at the levels we are referring to will reveal different "things" being used at different times of the year, and one would find it impossible to pigeonhole any of these man or women as an XYZ type person, for example. There may be a basic underlying philosophy, but most, if not all of the time, there will be as much from outside of that system as there is from inside it.
For many decades there was infighting among the coaches and athletes who used weight training as a means to improve athletic performance, and also, of course, among the various factions of the iron or lifting sports. Powerlifting of weightlifting? Bodybuilding and tissue enhancement or pure speed movements in the weight room? The reader could compile a list of antagonistic positions that could fill a whole book. In the mid to late nineties, most strength coaches at least, and a number of athletes from the lifting sports, realized that it was more productive to look at the various philosophies and search out the common threads of success rather than the obvious or even subtle differences in approach.
Not surprisingly, hard work, highly intense work, and training hard on a consistent basis, as well as supplying the various factors needed to support effective training, like adequate nutrition and recovery, truly covered all the bases. It wasn't volume or frequency or absolute weight or any of the other bandied about factors that for years dominated conversations. The cornerstone of any successful program was hard work done consistently -- and a program design that allowed hard work to, in fact, be done consistently. Illness, injury, and any other interruption of consistent, hard training hindered progress or success.
Returning to common sense, it's obvious, if only to me, that hard work -- truly hard work -- and "a lot of" hard work are and remain mutually exclusive.
If you're training very often or attempting to do a lot in every workout, you're not truly training as hard as possible because the body isn't a machine, there is a breaking point.
Some who advocate high volume and frequency work will state that there is a waxing and waning of intensity and load so that one can continue to progress over time. They also might want to consider that a more efficient way of arriving at the same place is to work much harder, but within the confines of volume and frequency that allow for continuous hard work and subsequent and simultaneous recovery.
Perhaps this abbreviated alternative is something to consider for now.
Enjoy Your Lifting!