Demystifying Strength Training pt. 4 - Volume... "If it's too loud then you're too old"

This has been a very comprehensive series on strength so far. Last week I discussed the three big principles, and today we're going more in depth with the interplay of volume, intensity, and frequency.

Let's start with volume. Its the amount of work you've done in a session, a week, and even a year. For our purposes we're focusing on the session and week.


Volume can be calculated easily for any one lift. Its Weight x Reps x Sets. So if you did 5 sets of 20 reps with 10lbs you would have 1000 volume. 

As you're building strength it's important to monitor volume with intensity. High volume will help your muscles get bigger, which then creates the potential for them to be stronger. High volume and high intensity isn't inherently bad, neither is low volume, low intensity, nor is everything in the middle. What is bad is the application of the two. I will explain more later.

A big mistake people make is they think of volume as only sets and reps, and they neglect the weight used. The amount of weight on the bar is intensity.


Let's go back to our earlier example using 5sets, 20 reps, and 10lbs. Lets say you did 20lbs of 5 sets for 10 reps. While you're reps per set are cut in half you're intensity has doubled, and you have effectively done just as much volume as before. 

Obviously as poundages get into three figure territory this is going to be different, and volume will decrease a lot more as intensity increases. All I'm trying to show is that you can't ignore either.

Intensity is important, because higher weights get the central nervous system working more effectively. This helps prepare your body to lift heavier and heavier. However, the central nervous systems needs time to recover just like your muscles do. This is why you shouldn't try to go crazy heavy all the time. 

One popular method I like a lot is called "intensity cycling". Basically you start off a training phase at high volume and low intensity. As you work through it volume gets lower and intensity gets higher. Eventually you get to a point where you maybe find a new one rep max. Take a break and then start over again. Usually with a slightly higher intensity than the last time you went through the phase. This helps ensure that you are getting muscle growth through high volume, and more efficient CNS production through high intensity. All the while this type of training innately does good job of managing recovery so that you don't overtrain. 

I hope this is starting to clear up the whole volume/intensity dilemma. Frankly both are needed, but if you're going to err, err towards higher volume. I of course highly recommend intensity cycling. It is a long lasting, and time proven method. However, we can't forget about frequency.

I love frequency when its managed properly. Its a great way to ensure that especially volume can stay relatively high on a weekly basis without needing to necessarily sacrifice intensity or recovery. 

Lets say you do one session of Deadlifts. 200lbs for 10sets of 2 reps. This gives you a volume of 4000. But then you maybe walk away and are exhausted. Now lets do two sessions of Deadlifts, 200lbs each but 5sets of 2 reps. Spread them out so one day is on Monday and the other is on Friday. This puts your weekly volume at 4000lbs, but spaced out you get a little more recovery and even extra practice. 

The recovery is crucial because that is when growth happens, however the frequency is crucial as well because that is how your body becomes even more efficient at performing the movement.

Even though your sport probably won't require you to be an efficient deadlifter, the strength you acquire from training will help you immensely in being a better all around athlete. 

Near the end of the series I'll provide a sample program that takes all of this into account. As boring as it all seems, I can't help but hammer home that strength is absolutely critical in being a better athlete. 

- Dave