Volume Step-Loading and Isolation/Conditioning

Hey coach,

currently doing your recommended Volume Step loading program (Get Bigger and Stronger: The Step Loading Method) and been wondering if I could add one/two isolation exercises or even add 1 or 2 days dedicated to a couple of isolation exercises or conditioning on top of your recommended vanity movement.

according to your recommended template, we should limit our exercises to 1 vanity movement, meaning I could either choose a chest/shoulder exercise or biceps/triceps exercise right?
would it be against the concept and aim of this program to do both?

What about conditioning? I’m currently opting for short conditioning workouts on my “rest days”. like a couple of hill sprints, complexes or sled pushed (20-30mins max).

it’d look like this:

WORKOUT A: DAYS 1 & 3

  • A. Squat variation
  • B. Bench press variation
  • C. Horizontal row variation (I like the Pendlay row shown below)
  • D. Vanity movement (single-joint exercise for one muscle you want to emphasize)strong text
    I. Chest Isolation (2-3 x 12-15, maybe mtor)
    II. Triceps (2-3 x 22-15, maybe mtor)

WORKOUT B: DAYS 2 & 4

  • A. Hinge variation (a deadlift or an Olympic lift)

  • B. Overhead press variation

  • C. Vertical pull variation

  • D. Vanity movement (single-joint exercise for one muscle you want to emphasize)
    I. Lateral Raises 2-3 x 12-15
    II. biceps 2-3 x 12-15 (maybe even mtor or comparable alternatives)

  • Monday: Workout A, first session

  • Tuesday: conditioning
  • Wednesday: Workout B, first session
  • Thursday: conditioning
  • Friday: Workout A, second session
  • Saturday: Workout B, second session
  • Sunday: Rest

any advice is much appreciated

Here’s the thing with conditioning work. And keep in mind that I am NOT against conditioning work, far from it.

But it CAN easily decrease your gains from your lifting workouts via central fatigue (this refers to a decrease in the excitatory drive that activate muscle fibers, it is not related to a feeling of being fatigued).

While both strength and endurance/conditioning work create central fatigue, contrary to what a lot would believe, endurance work causes a lot more central fatigue than lifting work. Central fatigue is more influenced by duration then intensity of action.

In the case of lifting, central fatigue can increase throughout the workout, especially when you rest periods are too short or you hit failure too often or do a lot of volume (especially using veyr high reps) but it typically subsides a few hours after the session has ended.

In the case of endurance/conditioning work it can linger for 2-3 days.

Why is that important? Because central fatigue leads to a weaker excitatory drive to the muscles. And this means that it becomes harder, even impossible, to recruit the fast-twitch fibers maximally. Even with explosive work, heavy weights or going to failure, you will get incomplete fast-twitch fibers recruitment when you have enough central fatigue.

For hypertrophy (and strength) this means that a workout done with central fatigue accumulation will be suboptimal, it will lead to less growth and strength stimulation.

That’s why OFF days should be OFF days.

I personally prefer to perform the conditioning work after the lifting workout (either at the tail end of it, or as a later 2nd session). Even if that leads to more central fatigue for the workout total, it doesn’t matter because your lifting/hypertrophy stimulation is already done.

If you use your OFF days to do hard conditioning/endurance work instead of resting, you WILL make the workouts less effective. How much? It depends on the conditioning work you are doing, it could range for minimal impact to very significant.

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I’ll be courageous and support everything CT wrote. I started the same program last week after running Best Damn Strength. After going hard six days a week on the last program, I thought a 60lb 4km ruck sack walk on the “off” days of this program would be a good idea. It wasn’t–I felt run down all weekend. From here on in, my energies will go into the four weekly sessions with maybe an extra vanity movement on Friday and Saturday since they’re lower stress days.

oh I know exactly what youre talking about as I crashed 2 weeks ago like never before. I had been going with the EOD concept for a while and didnt want to change the program when I started to do more conditioning stuff for fat loss. it went pretty nice for while. I definitely got more ripped whilst maintaining both strength and muscle but man did I crash after like 6 weeks of having 4 lifting days (+ additional conditioning on 2 of those 4 days) + 2 dedicated conditioning days.

pretty stupid to go that route considering I have been following CT’s programs for years but after a year of no gym due to rona it was pretty hard to not go extreme.

I learned the hard way now.

I very much appreciate this. any recommendations in terms of isolation exercises. would you rather add a 2nd one on those hard sessions or the lower stress sessions or don’t do it at all?

Why don’t you try it without the 2nd movement for a few weeks first?

Hi Christian,

do you advise this method in “cutting fase”?

Thanks!

Well, any approach based on a type of progressive overload with a fixed time progression (like this plan) will not work great for when you are in a caloric deficit, trying to lose fat.

The reason is that when you reduce calories (and also when you lose fat) you:

1 Recover more slowly from your workouts
2. Gain less strength and size from your workouts (sometimes you will not gain anything)

A plan like the step-loading one where you have a weekly progression to follow might not work because while in a caloric deficit you might not be gaining enough muscle in a week (because of the deficit and the fat loss) to respect the speed of the progression.

While you should still try to progress in weight or reps (or both) when cutting you just cannot predict how fact you will progress. What is more likely to happen while on a deficit is that some exercises will progress just fine, others will progress SUPER slowly and others (typically presses) might get weaker even if you are not losing muscle.

This makes it impossible to really follow a fixed progression model, simply try to improve over time.

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I can attest to that. I’m almost done repeating your men’s physique program for the second time which (correct me if I’m mistaken) is based on a fixed weight progression model.

I was able to lift up to 15 kg’s more on all squat variations doing the program for the second time. However my rowing and/or pressing variations only got up by 5 kg or so. Bench press and overhead press were the weakest in terms of weight progression.

I think what you wrote here is very valuable, especially for people who tend to believe they are losing muscle, just because they are not able to push more weight on certain movements. While in reality even just one or 2 extra reps added to the next workout can still be considered ‘progression’.

I read your article on T-Nation https://www.t-nation.com/training/right-way-to-train-for-fat-loss-bodybuilding-weight-loss/

Compounds 3-4 sets, 5-8 reps (linear periodization?)
Isolation 2-3 sets, 10-20 reps

Split upper/lower 4 weekly lifting.

Am I right?

That sounds like a good place to start …from what I read fron articles and using programs

even in 1B and type 3 individuals geting worse .,and lead to overtraining/overreaching