Today I’ll tell you about a huge mistake I made when I first started training.
I focused too much on increasing my 1-5 rep max on the compound exercises.
This is the worst way to gain muscle mass and it led to me not making much progress in my first 2 years of training:
One of the big mistakes I made is that I focused too much on increasing the weight on the bar instead of increasing training volume.
When you increase volume rather than weight on the bar, you got so many variables to increase.
You can increase reps, sets and training frequency.
In other words, when your strength plateaus (which it always does when you follow low volume strength programs), you can increase reps, sets and training frequency to compensate.
This is important because as a skinny-fat guy chances are that your natural strength levels are very low and you don’t respond well to training.
Your genetic strength potential is not high enough to achieve a muscular physique by focusing on 1-5 rep max strength.
Why? Because your genetic strength potential is largely determined by the sizes of your bones and your ability to eat a very high amount of Calories to recover from hard training (without getting fat).
When you follow a strength program such as starting strength or stronglifts 5×5, you either stall all the time or barely see any visible changes in your body.
As a result, you have to focus on increasing as many variables as possible to make optimal progress. (Similarly to diversifying your investment portfolio).
By having several methods of progression to play around with, you can simply switch method when one doesn’t work.
E.g. when you can’t add weight to the bar you simply increase reps, sets or training frequency.
This allows for much smoother strength progress and also leads to a much bigger total workload done per workout.
A bigger total workload leads to more muscle gains since training volume is the main driver of growth.
The other benefit is that by training more often and with a higher volume, you are able to use a bigger variety of exercises.
By using a bigger variety of exercises, you’re able to emphasize all the muscle fibers in each muscle and that leads to maximum growth of each muscle group. This makes a huge difference visually.
The bottom line is that you can gain a huge amount of muscle mass without increasing your 1-5 rep max strength.
And that’s great news for you if your genetic strength potential is on the lower end of the spectrum.
Below, I will show you a photo of how I looked when I lifted heavy weights vs. after years of high volume training:
The crazy thing is that in the 2 photos above I’m around the same bodyweight (205-210 LBS) and all my 1-5 rep maxes on the big compound lifts either remained the same or slightly decreased!
After my strength plateaued at around a 155 LBS shoulder press and 400 LBS deadlift in my 2nd and 3rd year of training I moved to high volume training and made muscle gains for over 6 years focusing on volume.
My measurements on the chest, shoulders and arms are way bigger while the waist and hips are much smaller.
The only difference is that I trained more often and with much more volume.
If this isn’t proof that volume is the driver of growth then I don’t know what is.
I just wish I had done that sooner because I had plateaued for over 2 years and I was so brainwashed into increasing my strength as the only way to get bigger that I didn’t make the switch into high volume training until much later.
I got to that 155 LBS shoulder press and 400 LBS deadlift with most of my training time spent plateauing and then bulking up and forcing extra reps out at the end of each set with bad technique which led to minor injuries. (I was lucky I never got a major injury).
I could not achieve smooth progress with any of my compound lifts no matter how I trained because my training volume was too low.
The only way I could somewhat compensate for this is by eating a huge amount of food to recover faster, but that lead to excess fat gain which then required me to cut down after — and then I would lose a lot of the strength and mass I had gained.
After several years of training and getting strong this way I still looked like I didn’t even lift and to this day, I still get skinny-fat guys emailing me nearly everyday that they did strength programs for years without any visible results.
If I had switched to high volume training from the get go (especially with bodyweight exercises), I would have gained the same amount of strength but also all the muscle I wanted to come with it — all while reducing risk of injury.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer