What Is Volume?
When it comes to weight training, volume is simply the total amount of work you do in a given session. This total amount of work is derived from a few things: the amount of weight you use on the bar, the number of repetitions you do and, the number of working sets of the exercise.
Together, you get a nice little volume equation: (volume = weight x reps x sets). That is it! That is essentially how your training volume (total amount of work you have done) is represented. Pretty simple stuff! But the question is: how do we use this volume equation to maximise our training for optimal LONG-TERM size and strength gains?
High Volume Versus Low Volume Training
In terms of developing size and strength, how you manipulate training volume will play a huge role in how successful this size and strength development process occurs. When you are looking to build up maximum levels of MUSCLE STRENGTH, then training with low volume is usually the best training path to take. Low volume in this case usually means training with very high intensities (this is with heavy weight, usually in the 85-100% 1 rep max range), low working sets and, low rep ranges. As you can see from the volume equation (volume = weight x reps x sets), if weight goes up, but the number of working sets AND reps are significantly reduced, then your total training volume naturally goes down. This is high-intensity training, and when it comes to developing maximum levels of strength, this is usually the best way. Conversely, if you are looking at developing maximum levels of MUSCLE MASS, then high-volume training is the the universally accepted way to go. This means, lowering the weight (typically working between 75-85% ranges of your 1 rep max) and working with a higher number of work sets and reps. Looking at the volume equation (volume = weight x reps x sets), if your weight is moderate, but you increase BOTH the sets and reps, then your training volume is significantly higher. This is high-volume, low-intensity training, and when it comes to developing maximum levels of muscle tissue, this is usually the best way of planning your training.
Should You Avoid High-Volume Training?
If you are not a professional bodybuilder then frequently I hear people saying: ‘O, you should stay away from high-volume because it’s bad for recovery, the weight is usually too light during your training, it’s lacks progressive overload and, you risk total burn out’. Well, I have to disagree with all of this. Yes, high-volume training tends to get a bad reputation these days outside of elite bodybuilding circles, but really, it shouldn’t! If you ask me, I think everyone who is lifting regularly with the intention of wanting to build up some quality size and strength should be incorporating frequent high-volume days into their training program.
“High-volume training tends to get a bad reputation these days.”
High-volume training tends to be frequently misunderstood when it comes to it’s use for the building of size and strength. Often when someone performs high-volume, they usually use very low weights (far below 75% of their 1RM), combined with high sets and reps. Ok, this IS high-volume training, but it’s not the sort of high-volume training that is optimal for your size and strength development. Moreover, people will tend to perform these high-volume sessions 5/6/7 days per week. Ouch, that is a lot of volume! Where is your high-intensity work? The combination of this type of high-volume training is WHY high-volume training gets a negative reputation in the first place.
Firstly, high-volume training doesn’t mean using only very light weights relative to what you actually are used to. You still have to challenge yourself for more growth over time! Simply massively bumping up the sets and reps and reducing the weight so much, is not the most optimal use of high-volume training. What will happen is that you will simply be ‘going through the motions’. Yes, you will be doing a lot of work, but none of that work will be challenging you or get you to push yourself more over time. DON’T THINK: yes, no more heavy weights with high volume! Secondly, high-volume training HAS to be cycled. If you are utilising high-volume training effectively then you will not be able to go ‘full out’ 5/6/7 days per week, sufficiently recover in time and, continue to grow. You just can’t! As you progress over time and utilise a combination of more weight, more reps and more sets, then your body will need more recovery from this. This is why the best programs have you cycle high-volume, with high-intensity sessions on a regular basis. It just keeps everything moving along smoothly in terms of growth and recovery.
“You still have to challenge yourself for more growth over time!”
When you implement high-volume sessions into your program, you need to consider a few things: are you using a reasonable CHALLENGING weight on your working sets and reps? Not too light and not too heavy. Are you increasing the amount of weight for your given rep and set ranges over time? Yes, you don’t always have to increase the weight on your high-volume sessions, you can bump up just the sets and/or reps. But, it becomes counter productive to do just this all the time. You DO NEED to increase the amount of weight you can handle over time in the 75-85% 1RM ranges. Also, are you still cycling this high-volume work with lower rep/set heavy weight work? This ensures sufficient recovery and prevents a ‘compounding effect on recovery’ as a result of too much volume, too frequently. If you can successfully ensure all these things, then high-volume sessions are certainly going to play a HUGE beneficial role in ensuring your maximal size and strength development.
It does not matter what kind of training program you follow, whether it is full body or more split in nature, high-volume training sessions WILL be extremely beneficial in ensuring you make the best progress possible. But, high-volume training sessions are only optimal in the long-term if you 1) are sensible with the weight, sets and rep ranges you work with. More sets and reps over time are a great way to get more volume into your training, but don’t neglect weight. The amount of weight you lift over time for your given rep and set ranges needs to be REASONABLY high (75-85% of 1 RM range).
“High-volume training sessions WILL be extremely beneficial in ensuring you make the best progress possible.”
For instance, say for bench your 1RM is 200lbs. On your high volume training days say you have 6 working sets of 10-12 reps. Your weight for those sets and reps should be between 150lbs (75% of 1RM x 200) and 170lbs (85% of 1RM x 200). You might start off using 150lbs for 6 working sets of 10-12 reps and over the course of a number of months, you will try to increase from 150lbs to say 160lbs for 6 workings sets of 10-12 reps (depending on how you plan your high-intensity days as well). This will ensure that you stay making progress over time on your high-volume sessions. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that high-volume means keeping the weight the same or too light while just bumping up sets and reps for the PUMP. There still needs to be a component of progression (overload) in there! Of course, some high-volume days you might decide to keep with a weight of 150lbs and 10-12 reps and bump up the number of sets to say 8 to add a bit of variety. Your ultimate goal for long-term success however, should always be to keep it CHALLENGING and PROGRESSIVE.
The Benefits Of High-Volume Training Sessions
If you ask me, I love high volume sessions, always have and always will, and definitely think they should be a component in everyones training who are looking for long-term consistent gains in increased size and strength. If I am honest, I really do enjoy high-volume training more over that of high-intensity training. But I still do BOTH for the best results! The greater mechanical stress achieved on the muscle during high-volume work elicits a great feeling! As long as you are utilising high-volume work effectively, there are lots of benefits to adding it into your program: greater emphasis for hypertrophy (increase in muscle size), potential for greater strength gains (possibly because the increased mass gained during your high-volume training, it’s neuromuscular properties can now be stressed during high-intensity work leading to a greater maximum strength ceiling), and, increased work capacity (your ability to do more work over time, and to recover from it in time for your next session). All these benefits are certainly needed to get you moving towards your goals over the LONG-TERM.
Don’t Worry If It’s Too Hard At First: Start Small And Build Up
Some hate high-volume sessions, they become toasted from it. Wiped out, tired, fail to complete the gym session and leave feeling very sore. This is all normal, but it’s also why many people experience these effects. This is why some people say high-volume is just not suitable for natural lifters: it’s just too much work and recovery is terrible on it! The problem is not with high-volume itself, it’s the fact that not many people are conditioned to this sort of training on a regular basis. Either most people spend too much time with high-intensity training or do some sort of high-volume that resembles simply too light a weight and lots of sets and reps. Both situations of which are not going to condition you for true high-volume training. Although everyone I have tested this with gets cooked 30 minutes into the training session, it’s simply a case of building up your work capacity over time, by building your volume up. Not only will true high-volume work give you the ability to do more and handle more over time, it will prepare you better for your high-intensity sessions.
The bottom line: High-volume sessions that are formed using a moderate but challenging and progressive weight, working in a high rep/set range, are invaluable to your training in the LONG-TERM development of size and strength.
Any questions, Ask Away