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Jay Cutler's High Volume Training

I’ve debated posting about this, because I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested, but I’ve decided, “Ah, what the hell.”

I got on Jay Cutler’s email list early in the year and he puts out some interesting info. I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but a 4x Mr. Olympia probably knows way more than I do. For those who don’t know, he promotes a high volume training method and some of the sample workouts he sends out can be way over 20 sets for a single muscle group. He’s got a couple e-books, one being, “Jay Cutler’s Guide to High Volume Training.” I was curious how he would actually set up a full training block, rather than just individual workouts, so when it went on sale, I picked it up.

I train 5 days/week, so went off that routine. Basically, you have 3 weeks where the sets stay consistent, but the exercise selection/order switches each week. Week four is a deload and then the weeks 5-7 repeat the same exercises rotation and 1-3, but add a set or two here and there. Week 8 is another deload, then you’d start back at week 1. All exercises are done in an 8-12 rep range.

Going in, I was worried that the volume would be crazy, but while it was maybe a bit higher than a lot of other programs, it wasn’t insanely off. The number of sets from the first block totaled 102 for the week, or an average of 17/body part. It peaked in the second block at 122 sets, or 20.3 sets/body part.

I believe a study by Radaelli et al and another by Shoenfeld showed increased hypertrophy up to 45 sets/week. That’s just two studies and there’s always caveats, such as trained vs untrained participants, study length, etc. I’ve also seen/heard that 10-20 is probably a good range, long term, which seems reasonable. This is just to show that even the peak average of 20.3 sets/body part isn’t that excessive.

I also compared it to Clay Hyght’s A Tried and True Bodybuilding Program Template, from this site. It’s 5 day set up has a 94 sets/week or an average of 15.7 sets/body part (not including calves and forearms), which is right in that “sweet spot,” but also not too far off of Jay Cutler’s first block numbers. The big difference is Jay Cutler’s program has 4 more sets for arms and 4 for hams in the first block and 10 mores sets for arms, 7 more for hams, and 5 more for shoulders than Clay’s in the second block. Chest, back, and quads are actually pretty similar.

Then when you compare it to the advanced program Arnold’s Encyclopedia of bodybuilding, it’s like 1/3 of the volume.

I’m not sure if I have a point for this post, other than I thought it was interesting, so figured someone else might as well…

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Cool info.

Can you give us one sample workout so we can see the balance of “big” lifts to “small” lifts?

Do you take PED’s, like Jay does? If not I wouldn’t be doing any program recommended by a Pro bodybuilder.

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I was thinking the same thing. If you’re gonna work like the big dogs, gotta eat, sleep, and pin like the big dogs :joy:


Here’s the chest workout from week 2:

Incline BB bench 4 sets 8-12 reps
Decline DB bench 4 sets 8-12 reps
Flys 4 sets 8-12 reps
Dips 3 sets 8-12 reps

When you come back to it in week 6, the sets go up to 5, 4, 4, 4. So, two extra sets.

The back work out from week 3 is:

Wide grip pull downs
T-bar rows
Smith machine bent over rows
Seated narrow grip cable rows
Double hand machine rows
Straight arm cable rope pull downs

3 sets of each for 8-12 reps.

In week 7, the sets go up to 4 for the first three exercises and stays at 3 for the last three.

This are just two examples. The exercises change each week.


I don’t.

It’s a bit of a blanket statement to say you won’t do a program set up by a pro unless you also take PEDs. While Jay says he trained with a high volume set up, with increasing sets and deload weeks, he doesn’t say this program is exactly what he did. In fact he says he always did 2 a days when he was competing.

The volume, while maybe on the high end, is not much, if at all above what is possible given the research and what often recommended for naturals. One range I’ve heard is a weekly rep range of 80-200 reps per muscle group per week. With an average of 10 rep sets, 20 sets gives you 200 total for the week. So on the high end, yes. Absurdly high, no.

Dr. Mike Israetel also talks about MRV or maximal recoverable volume, which is different for everybody. Coincidently, he also promotes increasing sets through a macro cycle, reaching MRV, then deloading. He’s also spoken of it being around 20 sets.

Lastly, exercise selection matters. For example, for quads, doing 5 or 6 sets of squats every week may burn you out, but if you squat one week, front squat the next, then hack squat and follow that with no squaring during the deload week, it’ manageable.

I got some of my best results following a program recommended by a pro bodybuilder while being natural.

Different strokes.


I think is akin to saying don’t bother studying unless you’re at Harvard. I’m not trying to start an Internet fight, but I think this “he does drugs so his advice holds no merit” has gotten incredibly overblown.

There’s also an automatic volume difference when my squat session is 275 for 4x10 (and that’s being crazy generous to me) and Jay’s is 455 for 4x10; so the PED-user got more volume without me having to change the program.


For sure. I started lifting before the internet was anything like it is and most of my programs were base around what the pros were doing. Heck, my first training book, not counting an old York book from the 60s/70s was Arnold’s Encyclopedia and I studied that thing. Looking back, there are things I could have done better, but I don’t regret any of that training.

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I thought the exact same thing. I’m right in that same squat range and figured it’s not even comparable to someone lifting twice as much.

I’ve also heard this in the context of powerlifting and differences in training between male and female lifters. Female lifters can generally lift the same weight, relative to their 1RM, for more sets than male lifters, because the absolute weight is lower.


Yes it is a bit of a blanket statement, but it still rings true for the main. I will clarify a little. In my teens and mid twenties I like many guys trained the same way as the pro’s in the magazines(no internet back then). It definitely does work for a while, but eventually I ended up overtraining, getting overuse injuries. Admittedly deload weeks were never mentioned, unless you lifted for sports, or powerlifting, so I will give Jay and you some credit for that, it will definitely help in your favor.
I also agree with you on the level of frequency and volume in the programs in Arnold’s book. There’s enough work in his routine to kill a bull elephant. Articles have been written, in Ironman magazine by Arnold’s contemporaries and training partners, when they were off cycle they trained with a lot less frequency and volume, kept a couple of reps in the tank for each set, 3-4 days a week, never more than 2 days in a row without a rest day. Most articles in other magazines gave you the impression he always trained 6 days a week.

I used to read a lot of Jay’s articles in MD about training and he definitely knows what he’s talking about regarding how to do an exercise to maximise stimulation of a targeted muscle group, eg doing pullovers for back or for chest. I was really impressed with his knowledge.

What I take issue with Pro’s advice (not Jay specifically), they almost always only have a couple of years training naturally before hoping on the gear. Some get on it from the get go. Even if they have trained naturally most don’t even remember what they did to get results. They also downplay how much of their ability to train high volume is due to the drugs. Come of the drugs for long enough and a lot of your size, strength and recovery ability disappears.
Add steroids and the rules pertaining to a natural bodybuilder don’t matter anymore.
You can train huge amounts of volume or frequency and still recover, from anything bar a traumatic injury like a muscle tear, before you want to train that area again.
I trained for 27 years before touching gear, so I know the difference, and its like night and day.

There comes a time if you train for long enough, that you stop doing other people’s routines and learn what works for you as an individual. You might have to increase your sets for some body parts to get enough stimulation, or increase frequency.
Some muscles will respond with barely any work, depending or your genetic strong points. Just don’t neglect your weak parts.

I’ve seen you train and you are a serious beast, very impressed(you are on a different level to me, definitely much better genetics for strength). I trained like you, when I was natty but my joints inevitably would start to get injured, and or I got exhausted and overtrained, sore and stiff all the time.
Give me a decent cycle of roids and even if I tweek something in training I would be fine, by the time I scheduled to train that body part again.

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Nicely put and there really isn’t anything I’d argue with what you said. I haven’t used gear, so I won’t even try to sound like I know the difference.

I’m actually in my 27th year of training right now, so I know exactly what you mean about not doing other people’s programs and finding what works for you. It’s been a long time since I’ve done one straight through without changing anything.

I don’t compete and I’m at the stage/age where I’m going to do what I enjoy. It might be high volume now, low volume in 6 months, or powerlifting, high frequency, or whatever I feel like.

I picked up Jay’s book out of curiosity more than any deep seated belief in his methods. In fact, the increasing sets over time and repeating exercises every 4 weeks doesn’t really fit with me right now, but not because I think there’s anything wrong with them. With work and a family, I need to autoregulate more than a set plan. For example, when the program called for deadlifts in the second block, I was having an off day on not feeling it. The problem is, it was the only time I’d see them as the first exercise for another 4 weeks. Normally, I’d just work up to a lower weight or skip them, knowing I’ll see them again the next week.

That’s one thing I like about the Tried and True Bodybuilding article. I look at it as more of a guideline and base to work off. If I want to do more one day and less another, I do it. I can also pick the exercises I know work for me.

I think what I took away from Jay’s book was that I was expecting something with a crazy amount of volume, that I’d look at and just dismiss right off. What I found was a program I do believe is doable for natural lifters, with a volume that isn’t contrary to recent research, and a sensible progression and deload built in. It’s very much something I would have been all over 15 years ago, when I was in my 20’s and didn’t have kids.

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Not sure about Jay’s program but just wanted to add that I also cut my teeth on Arnie’s book. I remember the shoulder session was so brutal that I couldn’t pick up the bottle of water I had with me afterwards.

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The other day I decided to kill my shoulders extra good in the gym, after went to use the cable stack and it was set to the highest point, maybe 1ft over head. I couldn’t reach up to get it and eventually gave up and left the gym :joy:

So much volume my arms fall off is fun.

So much intensity my elbows hurt is fun too.

Neither one is sustainable for me for very long. But if I sometimes lift like Cutler and sometimes lift like Dante and in the middle I lift like me, I do OK.


The DC stuff was fun when I did it. A lot of fun. I tried getting back into it and just couldn’t get my head into it for some reason. It’s one of those things I’m not really sure why I haven’t revisited.

The “natties can’t train like the pros” thinking is a way to sell articles. If you want to state that all people are different, and some can tolerate and do better with more or lesser volume (ignoring all other relevant variables), then IMO you’d be making much more sense and more on the money.

When I started training, and even years in, I was so conscious of not overtraining, keeping volume in check,… all that “you can train hard or your can train long, but not both” that was in every magazine and every forum at the time.

When I started competing and spending more time with other top natural pros, I realized that I had been short changing myself. No one at the top of the game trains with low volume, or god forbid HIT methods. I began training at 19, started competing at 35, and revamped all my training after that show to a more “oh my god you can’t do that routine, its for a guy on steeeeeeroidzzz!” type of plan. I packed on 8 solid, contest stage lbs the next 2-3 years doing everything that the online experts (or even those obviously using PEDs but needing so sell articles) said that I shouldn’t do.

I learned and borrowed a ton from Yates. I also learned and borrowed a ton from Cutler. Anyone who thinks they must only listen to one or the other extreme is shooting themself in the foot.



I’m going to remind you again for how much value the book you could write would have. Fully understand that you might now have the time and the inclination but I feel like it made sense to highlight this truth at least once more.

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Kind of reminds me a conversation I heard on a bodybuilding podcast last night.

Interviewer: You look great man! Those arms are exploding!

Guest: Thanks!

Interviewer: How much do you train arms?

Guest: Hardly ever. Directly? I haven’t in years.

Interviewer: That’s incredible. I bet people don’t believe you.

Guest: It’s true. I don’t think it’s necessary.

Interviewer: Interesting. Have you always trained that way - to get those arms?

Guest: Well, no. When I started I trained a TON of arms. All day every day.

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