Finding your optimal training volume depends on many factors.
One of the key considerations in determining your volume is based on the type of training phase.
A training phase is typically structured around a particular goal; hypertrophy, strength, competition peaking, or deload.
Let’s examine each of these training phases and how your volume metrics might be reflected.
One quick caveat: In reading the information below, we must understand that a training phase can be structured in more than one way based on the periodization model and individual. By no means are the examples below inclusive of all the different ways to train or structure volume metrics.
Hypertrophy training phases are usually characterized by elevated levels of volume.
We must consider ‘higher volumes’ as it relates to our baseline volume (the average amount of volume you do on a weekly basis over a 1-3 month time period). This is because ‘higher volumes’ is both specific to the context and individual.
Typically, we begin this type of training phase by structuring our weekly volumes slightly below or equal to our baseline volume on week 1, and then increase it to well above our baseline volume over the weeks.
If you don’t know your tolerances for training above your baseline volume, you should aim for 5-10% increases and then monitor signs of fatigue and recoverability as you go.
In this example, the bar graphs represents total weekly volume, and the line graph represents your baseline volume. Over the 4-week time period, this athlete is increasing their volume above their baseline. If you do more volume than what you typically handle on a weekly basis (more than your baseline volume), it will yield a stress-adaptation response related to hypertrophic adaptations.
The colors in the bar graph represent relative intensity This athlete is keeping their relative intensity in the “medium zone” (a ‘recoverable’, but challenging intensity range based on the rep range programmed).
Another way to structure your volume in a hypertrophy phase could be to increase your volume above your baseline by a fixed amount (e.g . 20-25%) for the entire training phase but try to accumulate that volume in ‘harder’ zones of intensity over the weeks.
For example, perhaps you start accumulating 100% of your volume in the light/medium zone on week 1, then 100% medium zone on week 2, and then 50% medium and 50% heavy on week 3.
In this example, the athlete trains at the same volume each week, but manipulates how close they’re working to fatigue each set by a measure of their relative intensity.
Strength phases are usually characterized by moderate amounts of volume with a focus on higher average intensities (75-85% of 1RM).
Typically, we begin these training phases by setting our volumes somewhere in the ballpark of our baseline volume on week 1. This could be slightly below (likely within -10%), equal to, or slightly above (likely within +10%).
The key variable we’re manipulating is intensity. Your intensities are going to be rising, so the purpose of setting your weekly volume around your baseline volume is to manage recoverability, and put a priority on lifting heavier weight.
In this phase of training, average intensities would certainly exceed 75% for most people. There are also opportunities throughout the week where you might have even higher intensities (higher 80% range), but the average would balance out through the additional work.
Relative intensity is an important metric to monitor as well.
Most of the volume accumulated should be a mix between medium and heavy intensity zones. Any volume accumulated in zones lower than “heavy” (red) likely won’t contribute to increases in strength. Additionally, you may have some max intensity zones represented (black) if you’re pushing max reps at a prescribed intensity.
In the example above, this athlete is keeping their volume somewhat consistent; however both their average and peak intensities would be higher and/or increasing from the previous phase of training. Additionally, this athlete is training more frequently in heavier zones of relative intensity, meaning they’re working a bit closer to their fatigue on a per set basis.
This graph shows the same training scenario as just discussed; however, it represents the athlete’s baseline volume. As you can see, the athlete is purposely keeping their volume in and around their baseline volume. The manipulating variable in this training phase is intensity, and volume would never go too far above or below their baseline volume.
Competition peaking phases are usually characterized by low amounts of volume with higher peak intensities.
Typically, these phases are initiated between 4-6 weeks before a competition.
The further away from competition, moderate levels of volume are likely still maintained. However, as the weeks narrow towards the meet, athletes generally plan decreases in volume as it relates to their baseline volume. When those decreases actually happen (4-weeks out versus 2-weeks out) is still a highly individualized scenario.
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 specialization. For these higher priority lifts, you want to ensure that your recoverability doesn’t become an issue. Therefore, volumes are set below baseline (10% to 50% below). Athletes will also train in heavier zones of relative intensity (medium, heavy, and max) since fatigue is managed through lower than average volume prescriptions.
In the example above, volume is steadily decreasing over the 6-week timeframe, while peak intensity is increasing. At the end of week 6 the athlete would expect to compete.
This graph represents the same training scenario described previously, but showing how the weekly volume relates to baseline volume. For the last 4-weeks of training, this athlete is training either at or below their baseline volume.
A deload can be structured as a reduction in volume or intensity, or both .
The important consideration in deciding whether volume or intensity is deloaded is whichever one was being challenged the most throughout the training cycle.
If you were pushing your volume well above your baseline, a deload would require a reduction in volume. In this example, you want to keep your intensities similar, including the relative intensity zones previously trained.
In the above example, week 4 would be the de-load. The average, peak, and relative intensities would mimic the previous weeks of training, but volume would reduce by some measure (50% or more).
If you were training with moderate volumes but higher intensities, a deload would require a reduction in intensity, and possibly relative intensity too. In this example, volume would remain similar.
In the above example, week 4 would be the de-load. The volume remains consistent from the previous weeks of training, but average, peak, and relative intensities would reduce by some measure.
Metrics, in and of themselves, aren’t all that useful. They’re just numbers. A given number on a given day holds little value . How a given number changes over time, how it aligns with the goals of a training cycle is where value and insights usually exist.
If you’re interested in learning about metrics that would cause overtraining then you can check out the following article on High Risk Metrics.
All of the visuals in this article make use of features built directly inside MyStrengthBook, easily surfacing the insights covered here. If you want to start tracking your own training metrics, you can do so on the MyStrengthBook app.
If you don’t want to build your own workout, MyStrengthBook includes a Program Library with programs designed by top athletes and coaches. Sign up for a FREE TRIAL and then download our mobile app on iPhone or Android.
Avi Silverberg is the Co-Founder of MyStrengthBook. He holds a M.Sc in Exercise Science, and has been the Head Coach for Team Canada Powerlifting through 7 World Championship cycles. He’s also a bench press specialist with a career high 300kg equipped bench and 227.5kg raw bench @ 120kg bodyweight.
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