In one of last week's articles, The Beast Evolves, Coach Thibaudeau shocked the world with his physical transformation.

Before: 230 pounds, 18% bodyfat.
After: 204 pounds, 5% bodyfat. The pics were taken 14 weeks apart. Oh yeah, and I got a little haircut along the way!

Part of his evolution was due to a training program he developed called OVT or Optimized Volume Training. Previously, this program was only available to those that read the T-mag forum, but now he's making this updated version available to everyone. Fire up the printer; this could be the next big thing in bodybuilding!

Around 1995, the bodybuilding world was introduced to a new form of hypertrophy training: German Volume Training. That article was written by an up-and-coming star in the strength and conditioning community (Charles Poliquin) and it really changed the way people trained to gain mass. The premise was relatively simple: pick a few exercises and do ten sets of ten reps. It was simple and effective.

However, the program had some weaknesses, some of which were pointed out in TC's "German Volume Training 2000" article here at T-mag. A few of those weaknesses were:

  • Possible overuse injuries from such a high volume of the same exercises.
  • Very high level of boredom. (Call me crazy, but for me to stay motivated I must have at least some fun in the gym!)

Not enough emphasis on some muscles and some muscle functions. With GVT you couldn't use many exercises because the sheer volume would be too much! As a result, muscle imbalances could develop.

This final problem is new: GVT neglects strength. In fact, I've known several athletes who actually got weaker on GVT, even if they gained a lot of mass. The reason is that super high volume coupled with low intensity causes mostly non-functional hypertrophy and doesn't require an intense neuromotor involvement.

It was this last weakness that got me thinking, experimenting and tinkering. That's how I came up with a variation of volume training that will increase strength and functional hypertrophy alike. Enter Optimized Volume Training!

The Overview

For OVT, I kept the basic premise of doing 100 total reps per muscle group. This is a time-proven approach. However, the distribution of those reps is vastly different from the original GVT program.

First difference: Every set is in fact a superset of two exercises working the same muscle group. The first exercise in the superset is a big compound movement (e.g. bench press, squat, deadlift, row, even clean or snatch) and it's done for five reps using as much weight as possible. The second exercise in the superset is an isolation movement for the main muscle being worked in the first exercise. This second exercise is also done for five reps, but with a small load and a very slow tempo.

Second difference: While in GVT all ten sets were of the same exercise, we'll employ two different supersets per muscle, each superset being performed five times (50 total reps per superset). This will allow us to use four different exercises for a muscle group, which should take care of boredom and imbalances.

Third difference: In the original program, the prescribed rest interval is sixty seconds. Since we want to be able to lift a bit more weight we're going to take 2 minutes in OVT, but there's no rest between exercises in the same superset.

Fourth difference: Rather than perform all sets with the same weight, as is the case with GVT, you do use as much weight as possible and adjust the load after each set (plus or minus 5 to 10 pounds, depending on the ease/difficulty of the preceding set).

Don't worry if you don't grasp all of that right now. I'll provide a complete sample program below!

Training Split

Because of the high demands of the program, each body part is only worked once per week. The following split is to be used:

  • Day 1  Chest and back
  • Day 2  Legs and abs
  • Day 3  Off
  • Day 4  Biceps and triceps
  • Day 5  Off
  • Day 6  Anterior/medial deltoid and rear deltoid
  • Day 7  Off

While exercise selection can vary according to your preferences, the following has been proven very effective:

Day 1 – Chest and Back

  Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Bench press 5 5 201 None
A2 Flat dumbbell flies 5 5 602 2 min.
B1 Incline bench press 5 5 201 None
B2 Incline dumbbell flies 5 5 602 2 min.
C1 Lat pulldown 5 5 201 None
C2 1 arm rowing 5 5 602 2 min.
D1 Bent-over barbell rowing 5 5 201 None
D2 Seated cable rowing 5 5 602 2 min.

Day 2 – Legs and Abs

  Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Front squat 5 5 201 None
A2 Lunges 5 5 602 2 min.
B1 1-leg back extension 5 5 201 None
B2 Leg curl 5 5 602 2 min.
C1 Sumo deadlift 5 5 201 None
C2 Romanian deadlift 5 5 602 2 min.

Abs are done according to individual preferences. If you need some ideas, checkout my ab training article here.

Day 4 – Biceps and Triceps

  Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Barbell curl 5 5 201 None
A2 Dumbbell curl 5 5 602 2 min.
B1 Preacher curl 5 5 201 None
B2 Hammer curl 5 5 602 2 min.
C1 Weighted dips 5 5 201 None
C2 Decline triceps extension 5 5 602 2 min.
D1 Lying triceps extension 5 5 201 None
D2 Cable pressdown 5 5 602 2 min.

Day 6 – Anterior/Medial Deltoid and Posterior Deltoid

  Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Military press 5 5 201 None
A2 Incline lateral raise 5 5 602 2 min.
B1 Alternate dumbbell shoulder press 5 5 201 None
B2 Cable front raise 5 5 602 2 min.
C1 Seated cable row to neck 5 5 201 None
C2 Incline rear delt raise 5 5 602 2 min.

Note: If you're unfamiliar with any of these exercises, just type the name of the movement into the search engine and you'll find a description and probably a photo or two.

Changing the Exercises

Exercise variation is important. For OVT, I recommend using blocks of four weeks of training. Perform the same exercises for four weeks, then choose other exercises and complete another four week block. A complete cycle of OVT lasts eight week, after which you should engage in an easier form of training for one to two weeks to allow for the maximal delayed effect.

Here's the second four week block:

Day 1 – Chest and Back

  Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Low incline dumbbell press 5 5 201 None
A2 Low incline dumbbell flies 5 5 602 2 min.
B1 Weigthed dips 5 5 201 None
B2 Flat dumbbell flies 5 5 602 2 min.
C1 Pullover 5 5 201 None
C2 1 arm cable rowing 5 5 602 2 min.
D1 T-bar rowing 5 5 201 None
D2 Seated cable rowing 5 5 602 2 min.

Day 2 – Legs and Abs

  Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Front squat 5 5 201 None
A2 Step-ups 5 5 602 2 min.
B1 Natural glute-ham raise 5 5 201 None
B2 Leg curl 5 5 602 2 min.
C1 Deadlift 5 5 201 None
C2 1-leg deadlift 5 5 602 2 min.

Day 4 – Biceps and Triceps

  Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 EZ bar curl 5 5 201 None
A2 Zottman curl 5 5 602 2 min.
B1 Preacher curl 5 5 201 None
B2 1 arm cable curl 5 5 602 2 min.
C1 Overhead rope triceps extension 5 5 201 None
C2 1-arm cable triceps pressdown 5 5 602 2 min.
D1 Lying triceps extension 5 5 201 None
D2 Cable pressdown 5 5 602 2 min.

Day 6 – Anterior/Medial Deltoid and Posterior Deltoid

  Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
A1 Push press 5 5 201 None
A2 1-arm lateral raise 5 5 602 2 min.
B1 Standing dumbbell shoulder press 5 5 201 None
B2 Barbell front raise 5 5 602 2 min.
C1 Seated cable row to neck 5 5 201 None
C2 Incline rear delt raise 5 5 602 2 min.

Load Progression

One of the keys to OVT's success is the constant drive to increase the load on the first exercise of all supersets from week to week. This will literally make or break the program! Strive to increase the load but not at the expense of proper form!

For the second exercise of each superset, load progression isn't as important. Its role is mostly to increase training volume and total time under tension (TUT). If you can increase the load in this exercise, great! But as long as you're progressing on the heavy exercise you'll be fine. The important thing is to go as heavy as possible for the first exercise of a superset while using a light, controllable load for the second one.

Conclusion

I firmly believe that a new door has been opened as far as gaining size is concerned. Not only will OVT give you a lot of new muscle, but that new muscle will be functional and you'll have the strength to go with your size!