As a bodybuilder moves past the beginning stages, one of the ways he makes his workout more intense is to add more exercises and, consequently, more sets. If a bodybuilder was training his chest with 3 sets of bench presses and 3 sets of incline presses and then adds 3 sets of flyes to his chest routine, he has now increased the workload for his chest. His chest muscles will adapt to this advanced workload by increasing in size.
Of course, there is a definite limit to how much workload or volume a muscle can take. To attempt to get bigger by adding more and more sets is foolish. After the intermediate stage, a bodybuilder will be better served by learning to increase the intensity of a workout as opposed to adding more sets to his workout. “Harder, not longer”, is the mantra espoused by advanced bodybuilders everywhere.
However, there are ways in which an increased volume can place more stress on a muscle to make it grow. Advanced bodybuilders whose muscles have become accustomed to performing a particular number of sets will need to change something in order to get those muscles growing again.
They can train heavier and possibly cut back on the number of sets. They can also keep their poundages the same but add more volume, thus increasing the total workload on the muscle.
Although the high intensity advocates warn that overtraining is sure to result whenever volume increases, history and experience show that there is more than one way to skin a cat or to make a muscle grow.
10 Sets Of 10
Training intensity and volume are believed to be inversely related. If the intensity of a workout goes up, training volume must simultaneously fall. As Mike Mentzer has repeatedly preached in his sermons on training intensity, “You can train hard or you can train long but you can’t do both.”
However, despite the prevailing attitude about intensity and duration, it is possible to make a workout more intense
by adding more volume. More sets can equate to more work for a muscle. More work can be interpreted as greater intensity even though each set is not being taken to absolute failure.
One popular training method of increasing intensity by adding more volume is called “10 Sets of 10”. This technique involves using one exercise (preferably a heavy, basic exercise such as squats, bench presses, etc) and performing 10 sets of this movement for 10 repetitions each set.
Obviously, the volume of the rest of the workout for this bodypart must be cut down or overtraining will result. If you normally do 4-5 sets of squats and decide to double that amount, the number of sets for the rest of your leg workout will have to be reduced or eliminated to account for the extra workload.
When using this training technique, the intensity of the workout will come from the total workload imposed on the muscles and not from the intensity of each set.
If each set was taken to failure, it would be impossible to perform all ten sets without first reducing the resistance or the number of reps. Each set must be worked hard but within limits. Total failure is not necessary and will, in fact, prevent you from finishing the workout.
If You Were Going To Use The 10 Sets Of 10 Training Method, Here Are Some Guidelines To Follow:
First, choose the right weight. The poundage should be moderately heavy but not so heavy that you will reach failure before doing all 10 sets. Since you will be performing 10 sets of 10 repetitions with this weight, choosing a weight that barely allows you to do 10 reps is obviously going to be too heavy. You would never be able to complete more than 2-3 sets before the reps begin to go down or the muscles completely fail.
Since there is no exact formula for determining the correct weight on a particular exercise for 10 sets of 10 reps, you’ll just have to use your best judgment. Choose a weight in which performing 10 repetitions would be relatively easy. This weight shouldn’t be extremely light but one in which you can easily handle and still feel the muscles working.
If, for example, you normally use 315 pounds for 10 reps of squats, you may want to reduce the weight to 275 pounds when attempting to do 10 sets of 10 reps on squats. Even this weight may be too heavy. You won’t really know for sure until you try.
When using this training technique, it should be very difficult to complete all ten sets. If performed correctly, the last 5 sets should be progressively more difficult to complete all ten repetitions.
If you can do all 10 sets with out really struggling on the last few sets, the weight is too light and you need to go heavier.
All ten sets should be done without a spotter. Your goal is to completely exhaust a muscle group by bombing it with both high sets and high reps. This high volume training program will shock the muscles into responding and it is a great technique for a stubborn bodypart that will not grow following your current routine.
My Experience With The 10 Sets Program
I used a program similar to the 10 Sets of 10 for my leg routine. In 1996, I was squatting heavy in an attempt to build up the size of my thighs. Beginning in January, I pushed myself every workout to use heavier weights on both leg presses and squats. By April of that year, my knees started to rebel from all the abuse I was putting my legs through.
My quadriceps tendon on both legs was becoming progressively inflamed from all the heavy training I was imposing on my legs (and knees) each week. At first, my knees would ache for 2-3 days. Then after another month or two of heavy training, my quadriceps tendon would be inflamed for 5 days following an intense workout. It got to the point where they would just start to feel good when it was time to work them again.
At this point I knew a cut back on the intensity was necessary because my knees were getting worse each week. However, I didn’t want to stop training my legs heavy because I still wanted to build more size.
I read an article in a bodybuilding magazine that explained the 10 Sets Routine. The author stated that in this routine, you would do only one exercise per bodypart but you would do 10 sets for that exercise. However, the author did not suggest doing 10 reps for each set on this routine. Instead, he outlined a more progressive program where the resistance would be increased each week.
My training partner and I decided to give this routine a try. My knees couldn’t stand the prospect of going any heavier anyway so I thought I would just increase the total workload instead by adding volume instead of poundage. We decided to use squats as the basic movement for our 10 sets routine.
We began each leg workout by riding a stationary exercise bike for 6 minutes to warm up the knees. After this initial warm-up, we did two sets on the leg press exercise for 12-15 reps. The leg press exercise uses many of the same muscle groups as the squat so it’s a perfect beginning exercise before moving onto the target exercise.
When we finally began squatting, we would first do a few warm-up sets to get our bodies accustomed to the movement. We used 135 pounds for 12 reps for our first set. On our second set, we squatted with 225 pounds for 10 reps. For our final warm-up set, we did 315 pounds for 8 reps. Now we were ready to begin the real workout.
We decided that 365 pounds was going to be the weight we would use on our first week of the program. Since we were required to do 10 sets of 5 repetitions on our first workout, we picked a weight that we could do 10 reps with on the squat and used that poundage for 10 sets of 5 reps.
Here Is The Plan We Put Together For Our Cycle Of 10 Sets Of Squats
Week 1 – 365 pounds for 5 reps for 10 sets
Week 2 – 385 pounds for 4 reps for 10 sets
Week 3 – 405 pounds for 3 reps for 10 sets
Week 4 – 385 pounds for 5 reps for 10 sets
Week 5 – 405 pounds for 4 reps for 10 sets
Week 6 – 425 pounds for 3 reps for 10 sets
Week 7 – 405 pounds for 6 reps for 10 sets
This routine was deceptively brutal. When we attempted 365 pounds for 10 sets of 5 reps on our first week, it seemed at first to be too easy. After all, we were accustomed to using well over 400 pounds during our standard workouts. 365 pounds was still a warm-up weight for us.
After several sets of squats, I began to think I made a mistake estimating how much weight to use… until we got to the sixth set. The last 4-5 sets were very tough to get through as the total workload was beginning to take its toll.
We soon discovered that doing 10 sets of squats with a heavy weight (even if the reps were limited) was extremely hard. It became as much a mental workout as a physical one. After all, the prospect of getting under a heavy barbell ten consecutive times would break the will of any normal person!
It helped to have a training partner who was going through the same torture as I was. Another mental technique I used to make the workout easier to overcome was to bring a piece of paper and a pen with me to the squat rack.
Every time my partner and I completed a set, I would draw a line on the piece of paper. This helped me to keep track of how many sets I had left. I soon learned to take each set one at a time. Thinking about how tough set number eight was going to be when I was only on the third set was not helpful in getting through this self-imposed torture.
Thankfully, the results were well worth the hard work. I took measurements of my legs before and after starting the 10 sets program to accurately record the results. I was overjoyed to find out that at the end of the seven week program, my legs had grown almost 2 inches!
That’s an amazing gain, especially in less than two months. So much for the argument that the only way to grow is through more intensity with less volume.
The reason this routine works is that intensity is gradually being increased through a progressive workload. The way to determine the total workload is to multiply the resistance used by the sets performed by the number of reps deployed.
Resistance x Sets x Reps = Total Workload
The Formula For Determining The Total Workload Of A Training Session Looks Like This:
Using this formula for the 10 Sets Program that I used for my legs, you can see that the workload was gradually increased over the seven week program. Similar to the cycling principle, the workload was increased overall but not every week. Instead, the workload was cycled to allow for recuperation as a means of greater gains at the end of the cycle.
Week 1 – 365 lbs x 5 reps x 10 sets = 18,250 lbs.
Week 2 – 385 lbs x 4 reps x 10 sets = 15,400 lbs.
Week 3 – 405 lbs x 3 reps x 10 sets = 12,150 lbs.
Week 4 – 385 lbs x 5 reps x 10 sets = 19,250 lbs.
Week 5 – 405 lbs x 4 reps x 10 sets = 16,200 lbs.
Week 6 – 425 lbs x 3 reps x 10 sets = 12,750 lbs.
Week 7 – 405 lbs x 6 reps x 10 sets = 24,300 lbs.
I have found that using a high volume approach like this is great for shocking muscles that are stubborn and will not respond to the traditional means of training. The leg routine listed above was extremely intense and could not be followed continuously without risking injury or burn-out.
At the most, this type of high volume shock program should be used 2-3 times per year with several months in between using this training method.
About the Author
John Hansen, creator of the MP6 Natural Bodybuilding Program, is a competitive natural bodybuilder who has won the first Natural Mr. Olympia title and is a three time Natural Mr. Universe winner. John has appeared in various magazine covers and contributes material to various online and traditional magazines, including IRONMAN Magazine, where he has a monthly column.
It should be mentioned that at 49 years old, John Hansen also won the 2012 Natural Mr. Universe in the Professional Masters division; 20 years after winning his first Natural Mr. Universe title in 1992! You can follow John through his several websites including:
- And his YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/naturalolympia.
To contact John, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org