Understanding Training Volume: One of the Most Important Variables for Making Progress

In my last post, I discussed the bodies desire for homeostasis. I began to touch upon the importance of disrupting homeostasis briefly and yet at the same time encouraging it. In this post we are going to focus even more on the disruption of homeostasis by discussing the idea of training volume, or as I will often refer to it as simply volume. 
 


Volume is the measure of total work performed during a training session and one of the most important things to monitor as it pertains to any training. 
 
The first thing I want to touch upon is how to find the volume. In regards to strength training the equation for volume is V = S*R*W or Volume = (Sets)*(Repetitions per Set)*(Weight). If two of these variables stay the same and one of them increases then the overall volume increases. However, sometimes there might be trade-offs. Say for instance you use heavier weight but must then perform lower reps. Well as a result volume may decrease or stay the same. 
 
To get stronger, you must always consider how to manipulate your workouts so that volume gradually increases not just from session to session, but over the week as a whole. Sometimes this means doing more workouts that week or increasing one of the three variables of the equation. However, at the same time volume will not always increase linearly. Due to this wave-like effect of progress, this is why the workouts have been broken into phases. 
 
At HPI we typically structure our programs into components of different phases, about four weeks at a time. By the fourth week of a phase, many of our clients should have the attained their highest volume accumulated over the phase. Then once we start a new phase, you may find the weight increases, the reps drop, and as a result, the volume drops. This drop in volume is by design. Manipulating volume in such a way will ensure steady progress as well as continue to promote recovery so that you do not burn out. The ultimate idea is two steps forward one step backward, but know you are still progressing.
 
With this being said, I would now like to address the endurance oriented readers. Calculation of total volume for the endurance athletes is a tad easier. It comes down to your total mileage for the week. It is also important to take into account heart rate and duration of these workouts. You do not want to have a high volume/intense session of endurance training preceded by high volume/intense lifting session. Such recklessness in the schedule may end up causing overtraining and leave your system fried. 
 
If you know you may have two high volume sessions coming up, I would encourage you to give yourself a minimum of 2 days between these two sessions. This does not mean you cannot run or lift during these two days; it does mean you should monitor your volume as well as your perceived exertion, not letting yourself go over a 6/10. This means you should feel like you are challenging your system but if you sweat it should be more of a glisten instead of a drench.
 
By monitoring volume, and making sure that over time it is gradually creeping upwards, you should find yourself progressing towards your goals volumes. 
 
As mentioned volume is one way, we manipulate homeostasis to do our bidding. I hope you have a better understanding of why it is so important to monitor. Stay tuned for other posts that explore the other methods we utilize to optimize progress. 

- Dave Howington

The Rocking Chair of Homeostasis: The Key to Training Progress

The human body is remarkable. One aspect that does not cease to amaze me is the body's ability to adapt. Think about the smell, for instance; we've all experienced those rank odors that just are not appealing to the nose. After a while, whether we want it to or not we grow used to the smell. 

Pepe.jpg

This ability to adapt is both a good and bad aspect in regards to training. To some extent we want the adaptation to occur because, well this is how we improve. However, this adaptation is something we must also battle against because if our body stops adapting due to lack of appropriate stimuli, then we will not improve or grow. This adaptation is called homeostasis, and because of it, if we want to see results we have to treat our body as if we are in a dating relationship with it. Hear me out. 

Good relationships are like a rocking chair. Have you ever sat in a rocking chair? What happens when you rock too far back? If you have tried this, there is always the feeling that the rocking chair may slip right out from under you. Have you ever leaned too far forward? You are no longer comfortable and may even feel some cramping take the place of said comfort. If you've ever been in a dating relationship where you rocked too far back you find your significant other may not be all too pleased and start writing you off. If you push too far forward and do not give any space, you may find your significant other acting aloof feeling overcrowded. With this in mind let's explore what homeostasis is and what it does. 

 

Homeostasis is the bodies desire to keep everything balanced and is the primary driver as to why adaptation occurs. Stress of any kind disrupts homeostasis by presenting a stimulus that forces the body to respond by bolstering itself up making sure that next time the stressor hits it will not be caught off guard. The body's desire for homeostasis and its response to when homeostasis is disrupted is how we grow. 

However, if we continually do the same thing all the time eventually the body no longer perceives what we are doing as a stressor, and the adaptation either slows down substantially or in some cases stops occurring. 

We want homeostasis to occur, and at the same time, we want to disrupt homeostasis. As a result, different strategies have to be employed. We must understand the functions of the autonomic nervous system as well as periodization. In all honesty, understanding how the balance of disrupting and encouraging homeostasis is the foundation of fitness. Fitness professionals, myself included, are continually trying to figure out how to go about manipulating homeostasis for best results. I will do my best in this post to help give you the framework for the disruption strategy.

There are 5 key strategies to employ to disrupt stress. In this post I will highlight a couple, but throughout the series I will go more in depth regarding each. These strategies are:

  1. Volume - The total amount work performed
  2. Intensity - The heaviness of the weight used.
  3. Variation - Different, but similar exercises used.
  4. Density - How much work you do in the time allotted.
  5. Frequency - How often you work.

Without going too far down the rabbit trail each of these are interrelated, however, they can only be manipulated their own way, which I will talk about in coming posts.

So these are strategies to disrupt homeostasis, however, recovery must be taken into account. During moments of recovery, this is where our body adapts the most. However, we mustn't recover all the time. Otherwise, this ends up being pointless. Although to give recovery the respect it deserves requires it's own post, which I will talk about later. 

I hope you are starting to see how our bodies must be treated with the thought of balance. Just like the rocking chair of relationships so also must we treat homeostasis as a rocking chair. Push too far with training and our body may become overtrained, but pull too far back and we will not present enough stimulus for our body to adapt. 

 

So where is the balance? How do we stay comfortable in the rocking chair known as training and our body's response? These are subjects I will discuss in coming posts.
 

Stop Jumping to Outrageously High Boxes, Seriously, Stop It

When I think of JJ Watt I think of two things. One of the most dominant defensive players in NFL History, and a really high box jump.

About a year ago JJ Watt jumped to the top of an impressive 61 inch box. It looked something like the video below.

I mean who doesn't want to be as athletic as Watt? The guy is an animal. In response of seeing this video we all of a sudden had a flourish of people want to jump this high. Because if JJ Watt is athletic, and can jump to really high boxes, really high box jumps must make me athletic. As a result we get many videos much like this. (Look away if your squeamish)

First off, I'd like to point out that JJ Watt used actual boxes, and they were slightly cushioned. Never, ever, ever, should anyone use bumper plates to jump to high boxes.

Here's the thing; not only are high boxes dangerous in the sense of wiping out, but they also are not as effective of a tool of training athleticism as you might think. They can actually be an okay sign of a good athlete; I mean, you won't see someone make a high box that has no athletic ability, but they really have no place in a gym or in training.

One thing that happens in performing high box jumps is an athlete never really gets to true triple extension, nor true triple flexion for that matter. 

Triple extension is one of the key foundations of power production and as a result, athleticism. It is the extension of the hip, knee, and ankle all at the same time. Look at an elite sprinter when they are pushing off, or better yet, check out this picture of 8th wonder of the world: Michael Jordan.

Or one of, if not the fastest man in history; Usain Bolt, look at his plant leg.

Bottom line, triple extension needs to be trained for power development. It's the foundation of power production and I could find picture after picture of top athletes in a plethora of sports at some point or another utilizing triple extension to create massive amounts of power.

If we were to watch again, we can scroll back up to JJ's box jump he has to bring his legs up so fast to actually land the jump that his hips never really get into full extension.

Second is triple flexion. If triple extension is the extension of your ankles, knees, and hips, then I think we can guess what triple flexion is. 

The key with triple flexion is that it's the landing, it's the body absorbing the force of gravity. And this is crucial. When we get hurt it is usually when our body is absorbing force or transitioning from force absorption to force reproduction. For that reason it's imperative to absorb force properly.

One key thing to keep in mind is that in order to keep the back healthy we  don't want the spine to be part of that force absorbing chain. In some instances it is inevitable, but of even more importance is that we shouldn't allow that to happen in our training. We can't always control what happens in the game of play, but we can control our training. And the better our body becomes at absorbing force the right way during training, the more prepared it will be in doing so during a game, when, let's be honest, we could careless about using proper mechanics.

The other danger that happens comes when we repeatedly subject our low back to such force, over time it will lead to issues. It is not always acute, but make no mistake, the damages we put on our body now will be paid for eventually.

Let's look at the kind of force absorption that our body goes through during the performance of really high box jumps. 

 

Look at that guys low back. The thing is, even a respectively high box jump can do that. 

I hope I'm making some sense here. Most of us, if we're being honest really don't need to jump higher than a "24 inch box. Very few of us may go up to "30. Make no mistake, if we start losing triple extension and triple flexion we are losing an aspect of power training that should not be ignored.

All this to say, I love box jumps, I love them as a teaching tool for power training when used properly.

If you have any question about whether your box is too high take a look at your landing. As I've learned from Mike Boyle, "you're landing should look like your jump". If you're hips are lower on your landing than on your loading phase of the jump than you're box is too high, and perhaps your ego is as well. Check your ego at the door, and lower the box. Your back will thank me, and depending on what kind of boxes you have you're shins will thank me too.

- Dave