Learning From The Best

If there is one thing we can all learn from the Russians, that is they were way ahead of the curve when it came to weightlifting. They just figured it out! The way they approached their weightlifting and how they programmed it into their daily routines, it just worked wonders for them.

The only problem was, their stuff was so advanced that very few people could truly understand what they were actually going on about. If you were not a professional coach or weightlifter at the time, then you were likely outside of the ‘know all the secrets’ weightlifting rings because the training methodology was just pretty complex. Not to mention, you would probably need to understand Russian to be able to decipher it all!

Anyways, the good thing is, you don’t need to dive into this deep Russian history of weightlifting to be able to benefit from awesome size and strength gains. Most of the weightlifting theory, although interesting to read about, was primarily developed and applied for professional lifters in mind. So not all of it is actually relevant to us. However, amongst all the complexity, there are actually some fantastic training principles that we can take and apply to today to our training to maximize our size and strength gains. Yes, I know what you are thinking: why is this relevant to me? I am not a professional Russian weightlifter! True, but the beauty of the Russian approach was that they had actually cracked the secret to long-term size and strength progress. It’s just a shame that most coaches these days pass it off as nothing more than ‘theory for the Olympic weightlifters’.

Russians Believed In Both Intensity And Volume Training

So Russian weightlifting theory was a big thing. They had written so much stuff over weightlifting that it would take you a VERY long time to truly understand it. I mean after all, there have been a tremendous amount of books written over the subject. But for you, you want to be actually in the gym making gains than sitting hours reading through this complicated theory! Well, the good news is you don’t need to. But, there is some stuff that is absolutely a must know-about for your own training if you want to make optimal long-term gains in size and strength.

“There is some stuff that is absolutely a must know-about”.

The Russians believed in training for both intensity and volume for long-term progress. It was just not going to work doing one or the other. They both work together. Without one, the other suffers (at least in the long-term). So really, if you want long-term gains, you do it the Russian way: training for intensity AND volume. Pretty simple! But, not enough people utilize both in their training, or, they do, but they don’t do both regularly enough. The reasons for this are simply the whole idea of: if you want more muscle, you train like a bodybuilder (high reps, medium weight) and if you want more strength, you train like a powerlifter (low reps, high weight). The problem is, most people are not interested in being bodybuilders or powerlifters, but they do want to develop more strength, more size and improve body composition. But the thing is, this polarized way of thinking about training just doesn’t work in the long-term. What the Russians figured out, was that you need to start combining BOTH volume and intensity in your training to drive BOTH size and strength increases in the long-term. If you start polarizing everything, then your training falls apart and you hit constant plateaus.

Volume And Intensity: Both For The Long-Term

In my experience, I see very few people who are interested in size and strength development, applying the Russian principles to their training. In other words, I see very few people utilizing both volume and intensity training in their routines. It is usually one or the other. Some people are just not convinced that you need both. In the short-term, yes, you can get away with one or the other. But I can promise every single one of you, in the long-term, polarized weight training will just hold you back. It’s not a surprise that most people who follow a particular program with a fixed number of sets/reps/weight ranges always come across a point where they just can’t move further forward in their progress. It simply comes because there is no clear management of volume and intensity training.

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  • When you train at high intensities (high weight, low reps), you target neuromuscular efficiency rather than muscle size.
  • This leads to an increase in motor neuron recruitment (from A to C) as well as an increase in ‘communication efficiency’ between the motor neurons and the muscles themselves (red wobbly lines) as well as improved communication between the motor neurons themselves (green wobbly lines).
  • The muscle size DOES NOT CHANGE THAT MUCH (B to D)
  • You get stronger!

The reason why you need both volume and intensity training is because one does complement the other. If one lacks in development, then over time, it pulls the other skill back. The Russians knew this and were able to do something about it. Honestly, I guess that’s why they made awesome progress and became some of the world’s greatest and strongest weightlifters. It would nice to borrow some of that progress, right?

So how do volume and intensity complement each other exactly? Well, firstly what you need to know is that the Russians believed that for progress, you needed to improve BOTH the efficiency of your nervous system and the size of the muscles themselves (hypertrophy). Without improving both of these qualities, your size and strength progress would stall somewhere down the road, and pretty fast. When it came to the nervous system, this is basically just the communication of your motor neurons with your muscles. In other words, if your motor neurons work optimally, then your muscles work more efficiently at producing force (you get stronger!). No need for the tricky scientific details! When it came to muscle size, this just meant an increase in the number of muscle proteins and size of muscle fibers to give a larger muscle. Again, no need for the tricky scientific details! Obviously, both processes are completely differentiated, but the Russians found that they highly complemented each other.

“You needed to improve BOTH the efficiency of your nervous system and the size of the muscles themselves”.

Given these two processes, it was obvious why volume and intensity training together was so important for long-term development. With volume training (the Russians called it: repeated or submaximal effort training, just simply a sub-maximal weight usually 70-80% of your 1RM for a greater number of reps, usually 5-10), you would get a good amount of mechanical work and protein degradation: in other words, all the lovely processes that stimulate maximum muscle size/hypertrophy. So, it was essential to have this volume work in your routine. With regards to intensity (Russians called it here: maximal effort, considered training here around 90% of your 1RM, never really above), the higher weights lifted would target neuromuscular adaptation. In other words, working with heavier weights at lower reps would give your motor neurons a nice little intense workout (muscles work more efficiently). So for the Russians, both maximal effort and repeated effort training were extremely important in stimulating both muscle size and increased neuromuscular efficiency that together, would produce the long-term progress in size and strength that these awesome Russian weightlifters enjoyed. The good thing is, these principles are actually not difficult to implement into your own training for long-term gains.

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  • With volume (medium weight, highish reps), you target muscle size preferentially (A to C). But, there is not much change in motor efficiency (B to C)

 

The Russians were definitely onto something when it came to long-term success. I would go as far as saying: they figured out the secret recipe to ultimate size and strength gains. Although their stuff was difficult to understand and follow, once you broke it down, it was fundamentally pretty basic: two simple principles that were combined together to produce ultimate long-term size and strength gains.

It is pretty logical to understand why maximal effort (intensity) and repeated effort (volume) training together works so well when combined regularly in a training program. If you think about it, if you always train at high intensities, yes, you will improve the efficiency at which your muscles work at (produce force), you will become stronger. But what happens if you only train at high intensities without also stimulating muscle size (Hypertrophy)? You do reach a point for a given quantity of muscle in which you have maxed out its full force production capabilities: strength stalls. The only way to stimulate then your further strength increases is to incorporate volume training into your program (a bigger muscle gives you more potential!). Conversely, if you only perform submaximal training (high volume), then yes, you will increase the size of your muscles, but without stressing and improving it’s force production capabilities (the neuromuscular properties), it will never be able to handle higher weights. Over time then, the only way to further increase volume for more size, is to increase the reps/sets. But as you know, this can lead to lots of recovery issues, injuries and just highly inefficient training (thus inhibiting your potential size development). By incorporating intensity training, that larger muscle will be better at producing force, and you will be able to handle more volume without having to increase the sets/reps (you know, the whole volume: reps x sets x weight). Well, the Russians really did know this stuff!

This Is Not Only For The Russian Giants!

If you are looking for long-term gains in size and strength, then the Russian way gives you the answer: volume and intensity training together is a must in your program. The Russians were not wrong when they trained this way. It worked, and it worked extremely well! It’s the only way to efficiently, optimally and over the long-term make the awesome size and strength gains you always wanted to make. Although I can understand why people might not be convinced! After all, anything over Russian weightlifting theory tends to be over Russian Olympic weightlifters that were super strong, super massive and super intimating, not everyone’s ambition! But, the principles used are actually just as important to our training, as it was to theirs. More people just need to use them. When it comes to long-term gains in size and strength, nothing beats the Russian way for optimal training: regular volume and intensity training together in your routine is a must for the best results. No next month’s edition of muscle magazine will beat what the Russians knew!

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  • By incorporating both volume and intensity into your training (by way of some form of non-linear periodisation – undulating/conjugate), you will notice much better long-term gains in size and strength (less plateaus!).
  • By just training either for volume or intensity, you risk being limited by one or the other in the long-term, leading to a lot of lost and stalled progress.