I’ve written before about how people screw up bulking by doing it backwards. Basically, you shouldn’t forcefeed yourself to try to gain more muscle; you should increase your training volume to the point that you NEED to eat more food to recover, which in turn creates more muscle. However, inevitably, when I bring up this point, the question is asked of HOW to increase volume. Sadly, most folks settle on the most obvious and easiest answer; just do more sets and reps. This is uncreative and ineffective thinking. It’s the most basic way to address the issue and, as we’ve observed time and again, taking the easiest path in training inevitably results in the least amount of progress. Just slapping some more sets and reps onto your training is going to have minimal impact; the 2 less obvious yet more effective means of upping volume are through adding assistance work and conditioning.
No, not all at once
So why do we use these 2 things to increase volume? Because thinking reasonably, if your core program structure has been working up until this point, simply adding to it for the sake of more volume is nonsensical. The core structure’s job is to get us stronger, whereas the increased volume’s function is to get us bigger (along with improve work capacity and stuff, but you get where I’m going). Altering the core structure is most likely going to alter the results it generates, and that’s unnecessary if one is simply engaging in a higher volume training phase for the sake of accumulation. Of course, if your core structure ISN’T working, feel free to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Onto the methods, regarding assistance work, I must once again reiterate that we’re not adding reps and sets to pre-existing assistance work; we are adding assistance work PROPER. If you normally bench and then incline bench for assistance work, now you’re going to bench, do incline bench, and do DIPS for assistance work. If you’ve been neglecting isolation work, now is the time to throw it in. You get where I’m going with this. The benefits to this approach are many. As already stated, we leave a working program in its place, so we continue to progress from the system. Additionally, we now start training additional angles and weak areas that were previously neglected, which is another avenue to get stronger. Yes, conventional wisdom tells us “don’t just add thing into a program”, but keep in mind we aren’t mindlessly adding into the program; we are intentionally accumulating a greater amount of volume and mindfully eating enough to recover.
There are many ways to sneak in additional work without having to endure 3 hour long training sessions. Of course, the best thing you can do to prevent that situation is to not be a fat slob with a 120 bpm resting heart rate and a bloodtype of ragu, but I also understand that even the fittest of us only have so much time to train. This is where work between sets becomes invaluable. In between all of your benching, do some band pull aparts, chins or rows. Do your ab work between warm-ups on squats. Work sub-maximally, so that you don’t interfere with your recovery between sets, and you’ll amass a substantial amount of volume without affecting your strength. Giant sets are another fantastic way to accumulate a lot of volume in a short amount of time. Chain together 3 movements, rolling from one to the other to the other. Make logical selections that compliment each other, like going from bench to chins to band pull aparts. Or feel free to go full on bodybuilder mode and roll from close grip bench to skull crushers to tricep kickbacks. In either case, you rest for 90 seconds, start the whole thing over, and generate a huge amount of volume.
Another thing to keep in mind regarding creativity; not all work needs to occur during the workout proper. Extra volume is extra volume. An effective way to get in more volume with minimal impact to your key lifts is to get in the extra work OUTSIDE of the workout. Hit your workout in the morning, and then later in the day throw in 100 band pull aparts, or a max set of chins and dips, or some GHRs, or some ab work, etc etc, you get the point. Run a training phase where you do this everyday and you end up accumulating a ton of volume over the span of a month, with minimal negative effect on your lifting. Make sure you ease yourself into this type of training. If you go from 0 to 100 chins a day, you will blow out your elbows by day 12.
Although some folks can do it in 1 rep
Finally, the most overlooked and neglected avenue available to trainees looking to increase volume is conditioning. My regular readers have already seen me lament the lack of conditioning in most programming, but to summarize; no one likes to do conditioning because it makes you feel like you are dying. HOWEVER, consider this; conditioning IS a form of accumulating volume. It may not seem obvious, but when you are pushing the prowler and your lungs are trying to escape through your esophagus, you are accumulating volume in your entire posterior chain. When you run a 15 minute conditioning circuit of kettlebell swings, dips and chins, those are tons of reps of those movements that are added to the volume you have performed. EMOM drills, tabata, medleys, etc etc, it’s all extra volume. And, of course, not only do you get to add more volume to your training, but you get the myriad of benefits associated with improved conditioning. You’d honestly be a sucker NOT to do more of it.
There are creative and intelligent ways to add volume to your training, and the people that figure those ways out are going to have advantages over those that always pick the easiest way. Good luck, and feel free to ask any questions.