Volume, while theoretically a simple metric to calculate, does have some intricacies that can cause a powerlifter to make mistakes .
Most often, mistakes lead to overtraining, injury, or burnout. Avoiding these outcomes should be avoided at all costs. However, what's not so is when these outcomes may be lingering around the corner.
That's why we've put together a list of three 'High Risk Metrics ' (HRMs for short) that will help you avoid catastrophe.
Each of the HRMs below include training "well above" your baseline combined with some other metrics. For definition purposes, take "well above" to mean weekly volume exceeding 20% of baseline.
You want to increase your tolerance for handling more volume. To do t his, you must train above your baseline. A higher tolerance for volume allows you to handle greater intensities across more work. As such, strength increases.
However, there comes a point of diminishing returns where you simply won't be able to push your work capacity above your baseline week-in and week-out forever. It's impossible to linearly increase your volume by the same measure and continue to realize positive results. The further you train above baseline, the more recovery is challenged, and each week above baseline will result in you being less and less recovered for the next week of training .
During this phase of training , the peak intensities are rising above 90% -- these are considered your 'high priority lifts' because they have the most degree of specializat ion. For these higher priority lifts, you want to ensure that your recoverabilit y doesn 't become an issue. Therefore, volumes are set below baseline (10% to 50% below). You can still train in the medium and heavy intensity zones (sometimes black) since fatigue is managed through lower than average volume prescriptions .
At some point, you will need to return to baseline to recover and focus on other qualities of training. There is no fixed number of weeks above baseline you can train before you should drop volume. The key is to collect the training data, measure the training weeks above baseli ne, monitor fatigue, and determine your optimal length of training.
You may be able to handle more weeks of training above baseline if your relative intensity zones are quite low. However, when you are training with high relative intensity zones AND well above your baseline it means that recovery is being challenged in the most number of ways possible .
Remember, relative intensity is a measure of how close you are working to fatigue when accumulating your volume. If a runner was accumulating 10 miles of volume, a low relative intensity would be walking ; a high relative intensity would be sprint ing.
There are cases of athletes handling most their training volume in the heavy zone. Training in the heavy zone is not a bad thing. What you need to manage is how far above your baseline you're training within that zone, and how many weeks you maintain that level.
In addressing this High Risk Metrics, there are 2 key scientific principles that we must understand:
Peripheral Adaptations: These are adaptations that create cellular reactions within the muscle, such as increasing muscle size. For example: 4 sets of 70 @ 55-60% (low average intensities). When we train peripheral adaptations, fatigue is relatively short-lived. The fatigue we experience takes the form of muscle soreness, and we can recover quite quickly from it.
Neural Adaptations: These are adaptations that happen at the level of the brain, such as increasing strength. For example: 5 sets of 4 @ 80 -82.5% (moderate average intensities).
When we train neural adaptations , fatigue is long-lasting. Furthermore, it can take form in less-than obvious ways, such as overall sluggishness or lack of sleep quality . These are harder to identify than muscle soreness, and require greater recovery periods .
Typically , doing higher rep ranges will spike your volume above your baseline quite easily (peripheral adaptat ions). This is because most powerlifters train in a moderate or low rep range.
However, we must not misrepresent the type of volume that is being accumulated here. If the reps are high, and the intensity is low, this might be easier volume to recover from even though you're training above baseline.
We need to be cautious of the reverse: when rep ranges are moderate and average intensities are moderate to high. In this case, we are creating neural fatigue, which requires greater periods of recovery t ime.
Therefore, if your average intensities are rising week after week (especially over 80%) and you're also training above baseline for these weeks, then you'll want to be attuned to signs of excess fatigue.
If you're making these mistakes, or if you need help with any of your metrics, we'd love to chat and help out!
At MyStrengthBook we've worked with hundreds of athletes and accounts for nearly every case imaginable to make sure you get the most accurate and useful volume prescriptions possible...all with nearly zero work on your part.
See you in the NEXT ARTICLE where we give you a single pro tip for sustainable training.
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