CrossFit gets a lot of hate for its high volume framework. The truth is, though, that CrossFit was neither the first nor even the latest training system to champion oodles of sets and reps. Thanks to the race-the-clock component, though, it is the most brutal.
While I don't recommend anyone go do 1000 burpees for time, high volume training -- within reason -- can be a great way to break out of the 3-sets-of-10-reps funk. Whether you're looking to gain strength or improve your conditioning, there's a type of high volume training for you.
|How you might feel after your first high volume training session.|
Photo courtesy: http://crossfitrc.com/?p=2385
German Volume Training (GVT)
The Germans, circa 1975
Step 1. Pick two exercises. If you're feeling bold, choose a compound set (i.e. chest press and push-up) or a post-exhaust set (i.e. pull-ups and bicep curls). Otherwise, choose opposing movements such as a superset (i.e. bench press and pull-ups) or an alternating set (i.e. overhead press and deadlifts).
Step 2. Choose weights that you're comfortable doing 10 sets of 10 reps. This may take some trial and error. Ideally, you want to stick with the same weights for all 10 sets.
Step 3. Perform 10 sets of 10 reps, alternating between exercises and resting as necessary.
You will likely find that the middle rounds are extremely challenging, but a miraculous second wind at around round 7 will carry you to the finish line. Although it's not a race, 30 minutes is an excellent goal time.
Izumi Tabata, circa 1996
Step 1. Pick one exercise. Push-ups and sprinting work great. (You could do more than one exercise, but it would no longer be high volume.)
Step 2. If using weights, choose them so you can perform at least 15 reps.
Step 3. Set a 20/10 timer (20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest) for 8 rounds (4 minutes total). Perform as many reps as possible every round. Do not conserve energy.
Record your reps each set, and tally them up at the end. Repeat the workout a few weeks later, and attempt to beat your previous score.
Note that technically, a Tabata should be performed at 170% of your VO2max. Depending on the exercise(s) you select, though, it might not be possible to work at that high an intensity. Nevertheless, just because 8 rounds of bicep curls do not constitute a true Tabata, that doesn't mean you won't feel the burn.
As Many Rounds As Possible (AMRAP)
CrossFit, circa 2001
Step 1. Pick three exercises that target opposing movements (like deadlifts, push-ups, and recline rows). It doesn't have to be three exercises, but three works great.
Step 2. Pick a rep scheme. It doesn't have to be 5-10-15, but again, 5-10-15 works great.
Step 3. Choose "light" weights, or stick to bodyweight. You want to be able to perform your sets "unbroken" -- that is, without having to pause between reps to rest.
Step 4. Set the clock for 10 minutes. Perform 5 reps of the first exercise, 10 reps of the second, and 15 reps of the third, all in rapid succession, resting as little as possible while maintaining perfect form. Repeat until the time runs out.
Your score is the number of rounds you complete. Repeat the workout a few weeks later, attempting to beat your score.
A heart rate in the 180's is not uncommon for an AMRAP. As you get more comfortable with it, increase the work duration to 15 minutes, or even 20.
Death by [Insert Exercise]
CrossFit, circa 2001
Step 1. Pick one exercise. It could be anything. CrossFitters love wall balls.
Step 2. Choose a weight that you can do at least 15 reps of.
Step 3. Set a timer to beep on the minute. Perform one rep, then rest the rest of the minute. When the timer beeps, perform two reps, then rest the rest of the minute. Continue adding a rep each successive minute until you can no longer perform the designated number of reps in under a minute.
Your score is the highest number of reps you complete. Repeat the workout a few weeks later, attempting to beat your score.
If the first few minutes of the workout are unbearably boring, start with 5 reps and add a rep each minute from there.
Escalating Density Training (EDT)
Charles Staley, circa 2002
Step 1. Pick two exercises that target opposing movements. (See superset and alternating set in Step 1 of GVT above.)
Step 2. Choose a weight that you can do 10 reps of.
Step 3. Set the clock for 10 minutes. Perform 5 reps of each exercise in rapid succession, resting as little as possible while maintaining perfect form. Continue alternating back and forth, 5 reps of each exercise. When you no longer feel like doing 5 reps of each, switch to 4, then 3, and so on, until the clock strikes zero.
Record your reps as you go, and tally them up at the end. Repeat the workout a few weeks later, and attempt to beat your previous score.
Because you're never going to muscular failure on any of the sets, EDT allows you to do way more reps than you normally would in 10 minutes. For the same reason, it's also a little less painful than the CrossFit schemes. As you get more comfortable with EDT, increase the work duration to 15 minutes, or even 20.