Cumulative Fatigue – the Real Secret of Fast Muscle Growth

Fast muscle growth – is it really possible? If you ask most people who try working out for a few months without actually achieving anything, fast muscle growth is just hype.

If you focus part of your workouts on this kind of training you will experience very fat muscle growth, especially if you haven’t been training in this way before. As strength coach Charles Poliquin likes to say, the best workout is the one you haven’t been doing.

What he means is that we adapt to a certain kind of training so changing something in the workout every few weeks or months ensures continued progress.

Fast Muscle Growth with Cumulative Fatigue?

I first heard the term cumulative fatigue from my friend Rusty Moore, author of the Visual Impact Muscle Building workout. What this technique means is to gradually exhaust the muscle more and more throughout the workout by using relatively short rest periods.

Both bodybuilders and athletes use this kind of training to grow muscle fast. In fact, cumulative fatigue training was one of Vince Gironda’s (pictured below to the right) favorite techniques. He practically implemented it in almost all of the workout routines he created, including 6 sets of 6 reps, 8 sets of 8 reps and 10 sets of 10 reps – all done with relatively small rest periods.

Charles Poliquin (in the picture to the left) introduced this kind of training with what he called German volume training. This was essentially a workout of 10 sets of 10 reps of a single exercise with less than a minute of rest.

How to Train for Fast Muscle Growth

  • Mind muscle connection – focus your mind on the muscle. Imagine it contracting and relaxing while you are lifting.
  • Short rest periods – rest between 15 and 60 seconds. You will eventually get fitter and be able to rest less, even if 15 seconds seem too little time at first. And when you are able to rest less while lifting the same amount of weight, you’ll be bigger.
  • First sets set the tone – with this kind of training the first set or two might feel too easy, but it just sets the tone for the series of sets. Think of cumulative fatigue training as one giant set done by doing a few smaller sets with very small rest periods.

The Big Picture

I just want to make this point clear, when it comes to fast muscle growth or any muscle growth, in the long run you got to get stronger. So whatever workout you are doing, if you want to get more muscle, you have to work with increasingly more challenging workouts.

Probably the best workout that features a phase focused on fast muscle growth through cumulative fatigue is Visual Impact Muscle Building. Visual Impact is a balanced workout focused on both size and strength gains.  to dramatically changing their body.

36 thoughts on “Cumulative Fatigue – the Real Secret of Fast Muscle Growth”

  1. Yavor,

    Visual Impact is a great program. What I like about it is that it stresses cumulative fatigue in Phase 1 and density training in Phases 2 and 3 which helps harden the muscles to add definition. I haven’t seen another program which incorporates this.


  2. Alykhan, thanks for stopping by man. There are many workouts, but what I like about Rusty’s program is that it’s not dogmatic. It’s not just train for strength or just train with high volume for size. It takes the best of both worlds – bodybuilding and strength training.

  3. Hi Yavor,
    I’ve got a question about failure. I’m a 400m runner (6`4″ 80kg). With my strength training, if I’m doing 5 x 5 with 4 mins rest, does failing actually make you stronger if you’re doing it twice a week? Is the only reason you don’t fail so you can train more often and so get the volume in? So if I can only get to the gym twice a week, do I want to fail if my goal is to get stronger?

    Also, my deadlift is about 80kg and bench is 55 – are these numbers too small for doing strength training – should I still be on the beginner’s workout?


  4. Hey Tom, I’ll answer your second question first. I’m guessing you are a young guy still in his teenage years. So you definitely have time to improve. That being said, yes your numbers are very low. You could stay on a beginner’s workout for as long as it gives quick results (meaning you get stronger from workout to workout. Which you should).

    You should be able to reach 2-2.5 x body weight deadlift and 1.25-1.5 x body weight bench press. Right now your lifts are far far away from the capabilities of your body. To start seeing athletic gains from doing strength training, you simply need to (and will) get much much stronger.

    Failing on the last set of an exercise is fine. The most important thing is effort. If you are doing 5×5 with equal weight, the workout usually looks like this:

    set 1 5 reps
    set 2 4 reps (you simply can’t lift 5)
    set 3 3 reps
    set 4 2 reps
    set 5 2 reps

    Next workout

    set 1 5 reps (don’t try for 6)
    set 2 4 reps (you simply can’t lift 5)
    set 3 4 reps <– improvement
    set 4 3 reps <– improvement
    set 5 3 reps <– improvement

    when you do 5 reps on all 5 sets, increase the weight with smallest possible increment.


    Here's another variation.

    Set 1 5 reps (light)
    set 2 5 reps (moderate)
    set 3 5 reps (work set)
    set 4 5 reps (can't do 6)
    set 5 4 reps

    When you can do sets 3,4 and 5 for 5 reps, you increase the weight with the smallest increment. Note that sets 1 and 2 are just warm up sets in which you practice the move in this variation.

  5. Ok thanks, Yavor. Yes I’m nearly 18. When Rusty talks about not failing while strength training because it sends “negative feedback” to your muscles, is he talking about only in explosive movements? So when you recommend not failing while doing pull ups to get better at doing the skill, is that purely so that you can get the volume in? Otherwise, won’t you get stronger at pull ups (or renegade rows for example) if you DO fail?

  6. Cumulative fatigue is a great way to grow for most but for some reason I don’t get the results like others … maybe I’m doing something wrong? I seem to get better results low volume, heavy lifting!
    Could be a number of factors perhaps like my age(47), vegetarian diet, eat low amount of calories most of the time so I guess more times in deficit than surplus …maybe all of this doesn’t set me up for cumulative fatigue ..any suggestions?

  7. Ray, I don’t know why it doesn’t work with you. Have you tried the mind muscle connection method with very low rest periods? For example 6×6 or 8 sets of 8 the same exercise. But with only 15 to 30 secs of rest and with a focus on contracting and relaxing the working muscle (as opposed to just lifting the weight). Here is a video of Arnold doing the mind-muscle connection on the bench press

    Note how this is different from say a powerlifter doing a bench press. Here the focus is on the pecs only. With this kind of training the muscle is visibly larger within days – for example chest and shoulders are very receptive to this.

    I don’t think it is the age thing or the diet.

    The heavy low rep training is fool proof. It works in the long run when you start pushing heavy weights.

  8. Tom, volume is crucial when training complex moves such as pullups or renegade rows. Lets say you can do only 5 pullups. If you train to failure, your workout will be like this:

    5 reps, 4 reps, 3 reps, 2 reps, 2 reps. Total of 16 reps only! But you can do instead 10 sets of 3 reps not to failure. that’s twice as much reps.

    Complex multi joint movements are best not done to failure. When you fail, you only fry one of the muscle groups BUT at the same time you are unable to train anymore leaving the remaining muscle groups not fully trained.

    Getting stronger is a “skill.” The skill of contracting your muscles very very hard.

    Have in mind however, that failure training is necessary when doing isolation exercises for moderate to high reps. But don’t train to failure on multi joint low-rep exercises.

  9. The shot of ‘wolvie’ up top – a lot of people don’t realise that he’s actually holding some heavy bags of sand during that photo shoot.
    It’s a great technique to utilise under heavy down-lights to get that vascular look. Try it some time 🙂

  10. Clint, yeah man, they use all sorts of dirty tricks. Overhead lighting, make up, pumping dumbbells between ALL takes, etc..That being said, Jackman is big in real life too.

    Edit: here it is from Wolverine himself:

    'This guy came over with sandbags and I'm pretty sure (for) a couple of those shots I was standing with sandbags in my hands - which are very heavy and pump your arms up quite a lot...


  11. Nice article. Anything that mentions Vince Gironda gets my vote. I recently was doing 6×6 with just one deep breath between sets and it works!I think the approach of alternating between a routine like this, then building your strength is a good one.


  12. What about training one day with low reps and big weights,and the next day: same excersize but with half the weight and high reps?

  13. Alex, it will work, if you know what you are doing. The big picture is what counts – getting stronger over time.

  14. Of course, I am progressively loading more weights on the both heavy and light days.But i have never put on mind that i should do the light workouts only with isolated exercise.Gironda says that every man have its own number of muscles fibers and we cannot make them more.But we can make more and bigger capillaries therefore bigger muscles.That’s why we should train one day for strength and the very next day to pump the muscles with blood.

  15. You are forgetting that these men used steroids to achieve these amazing results. Using steroids is an absolute requirement in any short term powerlifting program if you want to achieve superhuman goals.

  16. Hi guys, What about the Adonis Index program? Isn’t it for achieving the same type of visually aesthetic body that these other programs like Visual Impact and Hollywood Physique are promoting? I’ve noticed that it doesn’t get mentioned that much.

  17. Hey Yavor, I’m 23 years old, and i want to build muscle using the VI program. I’m a college student who unfortunately doesn’t have access to a kitchen so i’m unable to make my own meals. I only have access to the Cafeteria(Meal Plan) and eating out off campus(I have a car). My question is if you had to keep it real simple, doing Phase 1, how many meals should I aim for in a day? I’m 5’5 and between 130-140 lbs.

  18. Michael, 3 meals or 4 if you are hungry. Muscle is built mainly by pushing hard in the gym. You can gain weight fast by eating but that weight is not all muscle but mostly fat. So Eat normally so you aren’t hungry and push HARD.

  19. Yavor, wich workout system do you prefer: The Hollywood Physique or Visual Impact Muscle Building. I have read the VI but couldn’t find the HF for free. Is it very diferent from the VI? I have’t been in the weight room for the last two months. I was very overtrained from a lot of dieting and often training. Now I am looking for a workout system that will help me put on some muscle on my upper body. I understand that I have to train like phase 1 in Visual Impact. But I wonder if The Hollywood Physique is something much more better. It is very clear to me that as long as I eat well and lift progressively more weight I will put on muscle, but it is not exactly that simple:)

  20. Alex, both are excellent. Btw, the “free” mentality is not really fair to the trainers (real people and also my friends) that put their hard work(sleepless nights, sacrifices, etc) into these programs.

  21. Yes, you are right. It is not fair. But when I browse the net, I find so many trainers and workout systems. How should I know wich of them should I pay for? I can affort to pay 50-100 $, but how can anyone guarantee me that exactly this system will work for me? I have been training fot the past 10 years, and I am still a “skinny-fat”. I have diet down to 72 kg at 182 cm height and still don’t see my abs. If I am sure that The Hollywood Physique will work for me, I will pay fot it without a doubt, but I don’t believe it.Anyway, you are right about the free “mentality”, I will take a message.

  22. Alex, seems like you lack muscle mass for this height. At a lower body weight you will have abs for sure. By the way, the HP is not for your current state. The HP is the real deal, but not for everybody. It is also strict!
    It is for intermediate guys who have gained bit of muscle. With the HP you will get pecs and shoulders (and abs) but no significant muscle mass. It is about the “illusion”

    For you I recommend phase 1 or 2 (my guess is phase 2 will work better for you)of visual impact or my workout program – beginner strength training (link on sidebar)

  23. I think your program is perfect but it is more for beginners.I am not sure if I can recover from a total body workout 3 times a week, and escpecially high rep squats. They are very demanding. I have tried them before, and after a set of 20 reps with 80kg I was lying on the ground.It is true I lack muscles, but I think I am not weak. My deadlift pr was 180 kg 5 months ago.I think my problem is that the last 3 years I have been training only with big weights and 1-3 reps and being constantly on a calorie deficit. What I need right now is muscles on my upper body, especially on my arms and shoulders. Geting stronger is not a priority right now (even thought I can’t put on muscle with light weights).That being said, what is you last advice, Visual Impact phase 1, phase 2 or Begginer strengt training. Thanks!

  24. Alex, do phase 1 then phase 2 then phase 1 again etc. Do only upper body. Deadlifts won’t give you upper body strength.

  25. Hey Yavor,
    Does the grease the groove strategy apply to strength endurance or endurance? Pavel seems to suggest this is the case in this PDF:

    I was wondering what you’d say – I’m particuarly interested in what it’d mean for training for speed endurance with 400m training – ie if we should avoid failure when doing it with weights, doesn’t the same principle apply to running for speed endurance? Feel free to reply to my email if you don’t want to take up too much space if a long answer’s needed!

    Really appreciate your time/wisdom!

  26. What do you think of going to failure on bench and m. press as R. Moore sugests on phase 1. Ones you wrote that it is a bad idea to train to failure on big lifts.

  27. Tom, yes I think it does apply, though I have zero experience with running.

    But yeah – do short sprints and stop before failure (failure here is a decrease in speed). Then rest fully (a few minutes) and repeat as many times as possible, as often ass possible, as fresh as possible.

  28. Yavor,

    For Visual Impact phase 1, is it better to start out doing the Flat bench press or the incline? Rusty has the workout setup for you to do Flat bench but said we could substitute incline if upper chest is a weak point. thanks

  29. Michael, if you are relatively new to training, start with flat bench as it allows you to use more weight. If you are intermediate, do incline.

  30. Charles Poliquin did NOT introduce cumulative fatigue training, he took it from Vince Gironda, not the other way around, lol. Vince created it and Charles later expanded on it. I’ve trained CFT for years and have made the best gains of my life on it. I’ll give you a run-down as I’m an “old timer lifter” with 20+ years under my lifting belt and there seems to be a LOT of confusion when it comes to CFT.

    START with 60% of your one rep max and do 6 work sets of 6 reps with only one minute of rest between sets. LESS rest, actually, considering you need to take 5-10 seconds of that one minute rest to set up for the next set. NEVER train to failure until the very last set. And accentuate the negative stroke of each rep (2-3 second negative stroke, 1 second positive) because the negative stroke is literally what actually causes micro fiber muscle tears causing the muscle to grow larger, NOT the positive stroke. The positive stroke is what builds strength, the negative builds size. That is biological FACT.

    want a routine? here’s a great one:

    -day one-
    Bench Press
    Rows or Chins
    Standing Military Press
    *all 6×6

    -day two-
    Barbell Squat
    Close-Grip Bench Press
    Barbell Curl
    *all 6×6

    Do the above on an every-other-day split, or a two on/one off/two on/two off split for best results. And do DEEP Squats, not that to-parallel only crap. DEEP Squats (below parallel) activate the hamstrings and calves so that no deadlifting is required for a total leg exercise. After over 20 years of lifting I’m still surprised at how many people still don’t understand hamstring and calf activation during Squats AFTER thighs break below parallel. Do deep squats and you do not need any other lower body exercise unless you are a contest bodybuilder.

    There ya go – enjoy the mad gainz!

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