Volume, intensity, frequency. The basics of proper programming in strength training. Obviously, if your program doesn’t deliver results you expect, then you screwed up in one of these three. Of course, assuming that you already made training resistance progressively harder over time. Seems that people nowadays have no idea how to find right and, importantly, proper balance between volume, intensity and frequency. So if these three strength training variables are so important, then how can you mix them right? This article will explain you how. But at first you need brief overview of what volume, intensity and frequency are.
In couple of words, training volume is amount of work done. It can be measured in different ways. For example, training volume can be estimated in total reps per exercise, in total amount of sets per training session, in total amount of weight lifted in exercise per training session, in total amount of sets or reps per day or per week, or per year etc. Proper training volume is regulated by recovery ability of the person and his/her goal. If your goal is pure strength or sparing strength and muscle during calorie deficit, then you need less volume. If your goal is to build muscle, then you definitely need more (and some individuals grow only if you add even more volume than that). Most of bodybuilding routines nowadays are plain old high-volume training.
Training intensity, in layman terms, is how hard you train. In words that are more scientific, it is the percentage of your 1 repetition maximum. The closer your working weight to 1RM – the harder you work, the higher the intensity, the less reps you will be able to perform in set, the more time you’ll need to fully recover between sets, the less total sets you’ll be able to perform etc. Intensity is very important in gaining strength as well as in building muscle, as well as in sparring muscle during calorie restriction diet. It should be kept pretty high if your goal is pure strength and/or getting ripped. However, if your goal is building as much muscle as possible you need a bit lower intensity to allow more volume.
Training frequency is how often you perform certain move, practice certain exercise or train certain muscle. Frequency can be high and low. High frequency means at least 3 times per week, but usually even more. Low frequency is no more than 2 times per week but usually even less. Well, there’s no hard rule on this but in my opinion such classification is not far from the truth. Frequency is great for neural adaptation. This means that it’s great for building strength and skill. Also it’s pretty good for building muscle as you get stronger faster while adding more total volume. For fat loss it’s probably not the most important variable.
How to Mix Them Properly?
As you can see from picture above, training volume, intensity and frequency are mutually exclusive variables. The more you increase one of them – the less should be two other. This means that if you increase the volume, then your intensity and frequency should go down for you to be able to progress. As well as if you increase frequency, then intensity and volume should go down. You got the idea.
Why is it so? The answer is recovery. To progress you need to recover between training sessions. In other words, if you don’t do more reps or sets, or perform harder exercises, or lift heavier weight, etc. from session to session (or at least several sessions per month if you’re at intermediate level), then you’re probably not recovering between them. In such case you need to decrease one of the variables (or all of them) and see how you doing. You will probably need to do this until you find the right amount of each variable individually for you. One tip: if you need to lower one of these training variables, I would go with volume first and intensity and frequency second.
In my experience, most of the people progress nicely on low volume high frequency programs. On the other hand, high volume low frequency mid intensity programs work with much less success. And by the way, the same goes for deloading. I would rather do less reps or less sets with heavy weight to deload than the same set-rep scheme with lighter weight. It seems former actually refreshes you, while latter makes you weaker. But that’s just experience.
Well, when you’ve found out what volume/intensity/frequency mix is optimal for you to recover and progress, you can experiment with variables to get different results. You can lower the intensity, increase the volume and frequency and see what this will do for you. For example, instead of bench pressing once a week do hundreds of push-ups every day. Or you can increase intensity and lower volume and frequency. For example, instead of squatting moderately 2-3 times a week do a heavy max effort session once every 10 days and see what this will do for you. Of course, you need to understand one thing: you need to find a “sweet spot” in volume/intensity/frequency mix. How do you know whether you’ve found it? Easy. You should progress to heavier exercises, more weight, do more reps and/or sets etc. That’s how you know it.
Strength training programming isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty basic in nature. You need to understand several things and you’ll be able to reach you goals. And training volume, intensity and frequency are those things. If your program doesn’t work, you should check these training variables (or let someone else do this dirty job). Simple as that. Thanks for reading. You would do me a favor if you share my stuff to your friends. Feel free to contact me through firstname.lastname@example.org.
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