T Nation

Size Results from Volume Progression versus Intensity Progression


Hey Coach,

I just found and took a look at this video:

You may recognize the character onscreen :wink:

Anyway, lately I've been doing a lot of thinking, training, and asking questions. From T-Nation and all the elite guys in the iron game, the consensus seems to be that, if you do not progressively use heavier and heavier weights, you will not achieve greater size. I've seen the results in others and I believe this (and thus training based on this concept).

However, at my gym, there are quite a few natural bodybuilders, who all take after the oldest one, Joe Patton. Joe is in his 30's, about 5'5" at around 205lbs. (He is lean year round with defined abs and nice quad cuts.) He is by no means small. His physique screams 'bodybuilder' with his exaggerated ant-like proportions. He is a natural pro, competing in the IFPA (the pro division of OCB). This is a poor picture of him at last year's Yorton Cup.

He looks way bigger in person. I wish the shot could be more true to life since it's so deceptive.

Anyway, I had a brief chat with him, asking about his numbers since he's obviously achieved a great level of hypertrophy. Upon receiving the question, he seemed a bit confused. After some clarification, his message was that strength is not his primary goal and that he believes in drop-setting EVERYTHING just about. His approach seems to be very high in volume and time under tension.

What can you say about this?

I don't mean to be rude, but I also would like more than a cop-out answer along the lines of "Well he has achieved much hypertrophy in spite of how the body works."

I just want to understand more about how muscle is built and the stimulus required to build it. I see bodybuilders gaining great amounts of muscle, strongmen who are larger than life, but I also see really strong guys who aren't that big... (Neural efficiency obviously being a factor).

Thank you for your thoughts, and I can't wait to see what you had achieved at 234lb in the video previously mentioned!


I've been questioned a lot as well due to the fact that even though I lift what would be considered 'heavy' weights, I do not constantly seek to up my numbers. I focus a lot more on TUT, changing exercise order and selections, and alternating between higher volume (less exercises) and lower volume (more exercises) for bodyparts. This is not how I've always trained, but being "older" (36), my training has evolved over the years due to experimenting with new ideas, as well as having to train around a few injuries. There are many different ways to adequately stress a muscle into an adaptive response.



Doesn't it boil down to myofibrillar v. sarcoplasmic hypertrophy?


You seem to be a good example. I've watched you on the board for a while now. Good contest prep, if I hadn't mentioned it already!

Anyway, the methods in which you describe seem to be so difficult to control progress with. If you're getting mammothly stronger (intensity argument), then there's no doubt muscle is coming on. With your way (which I did for most of my training life, perhaps not ideally) I find it's too hard to tell if you've stimulated an adaptive response or not. Soreness doesn't tell you anything; I trained to be sore for a long time and got nowhere, pretty much. I trained to be exhausted and fatigued by the end of my workout, and that didn't do much over time either.

All huge guys I know are really STRONG. They lift weights that I can't. Training in the manner you discussed never really made me notably stronger, so how would I ever lift those weights? This is my own anecdotal reasoning for believing in the strength=muscle thing.


Well, I forgot who it was who made this argument, but the premise was that you can't just keep getting stronger, and then getting bigger, because at some point, you stop getting stronger, and then what do you do? Obviously the body will become more efficient at a repeated task, and stop yielding gains in actual muscle mass. An alternative argument would be for the huge BBers who are not really very strong for someone their size. Does this mean that they were insanely weak when they first picked up a weight? (Yes, yes, we can make the steroid argument, but let's avoid that for a moment). I'm certainly not the guy to dismiss any arguments, I'm just throwing my thoughts in. I'm sure Thibs will have all sorts of scientific as well as anecdotal info to shed more light on this topic. I can only speak as to how my own training has progressed over the years.



I thought about the not-as-strong pro bodybuilder thing too. I don't really have an argument for it, but I think it would be related to that which I'm trying to uncover.

Dorian Yates changed a lot for me when I saw him train.
BUT! The guys who we claim are big and not strong...who are we talking about? Flex Wheeler? I saw him training in some videos and he's sure as shingles stronger than me.

I'd also like to say I saw Johnnie Jackson deadlift like, 765 for two reps like it was nothing. That's a strong dude. Eric Cressey always comes to mind when I think about strength because he's into the powerlifting side of things, pulling 600 at 170-190lb. He's not very big at all, but he's quite strong. I would like to attribute this to the simple answer "he never ate enough to grow and increased his 1RM neural efficiency quite a bit."


the difference between heavy weights and heavy volume is the difference between flex wheeler and dorian yates. CT made this comparison in an article i found today from 2008. not that either way is easy, its just different hard


Like I said myofibrillar hypertrophy (yates) v. sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (flex wheeler)


Alright, makes some sense as I've heard bits of that argument before.

However, how does one know when 'enough is enough' for stimulating sarcoplasmic hypertrophy? It seems so much simpler with myofibrillar hypertrophy since it contributes to an increase in strength.

In fact, Christian, would you say the majority of your training built you on myofibrillar or sarcoplasmic hypertrophy?


Thib is a former Oly lifter, and most of the time (according to logs) favoured low reps. So I guess the answer is obvious and also clearly seen on his latest avatar.