Volume: Why It REALLY Matters

Summary

  1. Volume is the equation of sets x the reps x weight lifted.
  2. Volume manipulation is needed in order to maximize muscle size and strength over time.
  3. Our body responds to volume for long term changes. Weight lifted and rest periods only produce short term adaptations for a given event.

Whenever We Think of Volume What Do We Think Of?

  1. Volume on your music playing device.
  2. Volume on the TV.
  3. How MUCH there is of something within the confines of a given space.

But what does this mean in regards to training?

Think about it this way…

The Leading Indicator

It is the leading driving force to MOST of the mechanisms to us adapting to training overtime.

In regards to strength training, volume is this equation.

Sets x Reps x Weight Lifted

So if someone is lifting 100lbs for 3 sets of 10 this person performed 3000lbs worth of volume from that session.The volume of work is the greatest measuring tool of our muscular skeletal system either getting stronger or weaker overtime! This will also be the metric we must take into account when looking at one’s week to week accumulation of fatigue induced through exercise. If volume stays too high for too long the fatigue will become too great and we will see a drastic reduction in performance. If volume is taken too low for too long then performance will suffer despite being well rested. The key is to time it properly so that you maintain fitness and reduce fatigue. This is a variable that is widely based on the individual. But this video may demonstrate this concept for you visual learners.

 

 

 

Relevance To Most Of The Weight Lifters Of The World!

Lifter A and Lifter B Are Looking To Get Stronger

Lifter A does a traditional style we see in training. They pyramid their sets and reps down overtime and emphasize weight lifted as they progress through the month. Assuming his/her 1RM is 400lbs. This is called “linear periodization” where overtime the emphasis is placed on increasing intensity through a training block. Intensity in this case means weight lifted.

Week 1: 5×5 @300 lbs (75%1RM) 7500lbs of volume

Week 2: 4×4 @320 (80%)  5120 lbs of volume

Week 3: 3×3@340lbs (85%) 3060lbs of volume

Week 4: 3×2 @360 (90%) 2160lbs of volume

Lifter A went from a volume of 7500lbs and they then trickled down to 2160lbs. Which is less than 1/2 of the volume they had from the beginning of the month. Over the span of a month the total lbs lifted is 17840 pounds. This is NOT a bad strategy as long as it is applied appropriately. But, from a volume perspective…it has clearly gone down by almost half. When you are preparing an athlete for a specific one day event…like power lifting, this is an important tool to get someone ready for that day. If someone is in an off season type of setting, is this the best method for them? I’ll let you be the judge.

Lifter B Will Be Mindful Of This And Address Volume Over Weight Lifted

Week 1: 5×5 @300lbs (75%) 7500lbs of volume

Week 2: 5×3@320 (80%) 4800 lbs of volume

Week 3: 6×4@ 300 (75%) 7200 lbs of volume

Week 4: 6×3 @340 (85) 6120 lbs of volume

Lifter B is lifting 7500lbs week one. And from there it stays steady throughout the month and you total 25620 pounds in the squat over the span of 4 weeks. If someone has a goal of getting stronger…this concept is a MUST for long term progress. Volume must improve overtime.

We Can All Relate To A

How often have we seen subject A? Subject A by all intensive purposes WILL lift more weight in the short term than lifter B. It makes sense on paper. They’re lifting 90% of their 1RM. Therefore he/she is more primed for a 1 rep maximum lift. This is a great way to prep a lifter to do this. But, the kicker is… Lifter A continues to try this method. If it worked once it must work again right? They are slowly diminishing their volume of work. The body does not measure maintaining muscle and strength on the weight lifted. It measures long term muscular strength and growth based upon volume.

Patience

After awhile Lifter B will soar past A as B continues to increase the amount of work they perform. While Lifter A is stuck on the idea of lifting heavier and heavier weights. The key word is patience. Lifter B demonstrates superior patience. They realize that Rome is not built in a day. And they increase their volume over time and prime their muscles more for when the time comes to perform a training block like Lifter A. Muscle mass is the huge X factor needed to be stronger overtime. Why are bigger people more likely going to lift more than smaller people? They have more muscle mass!

Think of our muscles like a box. The bigger box may not have as much stuff at the moment as the smaller box. But the bigger box has an ability to store more things and therefore more motor units. More motor units = a greater potential to be strong.

Weight Lifted Still Is Important Though!

When it comes to getting stronger. Weight lifted is important and is the main variable in volume that changes overtime. But, we still need to be spending most of our working sets within the 60-85% of our 1 rep max in order to see the best strength gains over time. Simply doing 30 sets of 5 of 30% of our 1 rep max will not do the trick. So the total body of work is as important as it is, we still need a level of exertion to the body for it be forced to change. In order for someone to increase volume overtime the 1 rep maximum should be increased.[1] Adding sets and reps will have a limiting factor since type 1 muscle fibers…the fibers responsible for lifting heavy things, won’t have an opportunity to grow.

 

Situations Where We Want To Drop Volume

There are two major scenarios where you want to program in lower volume.

  1. Prepping an athlete for an event. If you keep someone’s volume too high they are unable to be ready for the bout of exercise due to the fatigue generated.
  2. Training programs need to have programmed times of lower volume. Similar to the previous point. You need to have bouts of lower volume every ~3-6 weeks of training to diminish fatigue so you can make progress for the long term.

Novices Shall Not Worry

Let’s note though that people who are new to strength training probably will not need to track their volume too close. The reason being that when you first start strength training you are going to make large strides in strength in a short period of time. The coveted “noob gains” if you may. Although I always advocate keeping tabs on progress, I would not stress the volume component early on. Make sure you’re consistently getting to the gym first before you start tracking metrics like volume.

Summary

This is a topic that has had books written on it. A blog post is no place to TRULY grasp every facet of volume training. Remember that the volume component is the true measure of strength over time. Without volume we will stagnate down the path. I will cover more topics on this as we go along. But having the meat and potatoes down behind relevant strength metrics makes for a more informed lifter…which in turn makes for a better lifter overall.

 

Mike


  1. Thiago Lasevicius, Carlos Ugrinowitsch, Brad Jon Schoenfeld, Hamilton Roschel, Lucas Duarte Tavares, Eduardo Oliveira De Souza, Gilberto Laurentino & Valmor Tricoli (2018) Effects of different intensities of resistance training with equated volume load on muscle strength and hypertrophy, European Journal of Sport Science, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2018.1450898