Volume is the most commonly tracked metric amongst powerlifters, and while on the surface it’s a very straightforward metric, it’s actually very nuanced and can give you a crucial picture of how your lifting is progressing (or not).
How do you program volumes that consider your own abilities and training background? How do you know what volumes lead to overtraining? How do you plan volume properly to peak for competition? As with all metrics, there’s a big hairy asterisk that needs to be appended whenever we talk about what a metric “should be” or “what’s best”.
Let’s look at some volume scenarios that will underscore the idea that NOT ALL VOLUME IS CREATED EQUAL.
Let’s review the two concepts from our last article on overloading your volume:
The scenarios below will describe 4 different ways volume can be accumulated.
We look at ‘weekly volume’ because weekly volume totals have more of an impact on long term training fatigue and recovery than a one-off training session.
In each scenario, the bar graph represents total weekly volume. The line graph represents your baseline volume. Therefore, if you do volume below that line, it’s volume accumulated lower than your average. If you do volume above that line, it’s volume accumulated higher than your average. The color of the bar graph represents relative intensity.
Result: A challenging week of training based on closeness to fatigue (Heavy zone), yet recoverable due to relation with baseline (-33%). You would be able to stack several weeks of training together like this, but should consider increasing overall weekly volumes as part of your progressive overload strategy.
Result: An easy week of training based on being far away from fatigue (light zone). Reps were likely higher due to spiking above baseline (50% above), but done within manageable recovery zone. If you continue to do weeks like this, it might lead to de-training effects only because you’re accumulating volume without much effort. From here, you should look to maintain overall volumes and see how you respond by tweaking the relative intensity to heavier zones. This looks like an ‘intro week’ to a block of training that will progress in difficulty.
Result: A challenging week of training based on volume completed close to fatigue (Heavy zone), but likely not recoverable due to relation with baseline (+50%). You will probably survive a week or two of training like this, but you won’t be able to repeat these types of weeks over and over again. You’ll either need to return closer to your baseline or adjust relative intensity.
Result: This is an easy week of training where relative intensity (de-load) and total volume (-50% from baseline) won’t yield any stress-adaptation response. You are either de-loading or on holiday, and if you stay within this volume scenario a de-training effect will occur.
I’m sure at this point there are several opinions on what the best volume prescription is.
There is no magical number where you get bonus points – mostly because everyone is different. Further, you could argue that either of these volume scenarios above would be beneficial based on the context and goals of training.
In the most simple terms, you’ll want to train a combination of ‘harder’ and easier’ weeks, but you have to place those weeks of training within the broader macro-cycle, knowing when to push and when to pull back. This is the art and science of periodization.
But let’s be practical: one of the primary considerations in determining your optimal volume is the type of training phase you’re currently implementing, and the subsequent adaptations you’rewanting to achieve.
This brings us to our next article where we discuss how to program your volume based on the type of training phase.
If you’re an online powerlifting coach, understanding the context around your athletes’ training volumes will help you to continue personalizing their training programs.
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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 enthusiast with a career high 300kg equipped bench and 227.5kg raw bench.
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