Not all volume is created equal, or is it?
If you have ever read any books on programming and progression, you will see that increasing volume is the key to pretty much everything but if it’s that simple then how come people plateau and seem to hit a wall? That’s what we will go over today.
Beginners have the luxury of constant progress for several reasons but we’re going to focus on two of them today:
1 – The overall % of max loads.
2 – Total recoverable volume.
Now, point one can be explained by simply stating that as a beginner they have no idea what their maximal 1RM is, this means they start with a weight that they can do around 2-3 sets of 12 reps with typically, then just keep working with that weight until they can do more than 12 reps and then they add weight. Pretty simple right.
The second point ties in with this nicely because the amount of weight a beginner is lifting relative to their max has them subjecting their muscles enough to progress, but more importantly enough that they can recover from.
You need to stimulate your muscles adequately so that they will respond and adapt int he time you give them to recover. If you stimulate them too much then it means they will struggle to recover, let alone adapt.
Pretty simple stuff when you think about it. This is where tracking your workouts becomes very important, if you don’t track your workouts then after a certain point you will have no idea if you’re lifting more overall than you did before or not. Especially when it comes to the amount of your 1RM you’re using to stimulate those gains.
As you progress you’re body will be able to recover from more stimulus/volume, but the same rule will apply from above – enough is enough and more isn’t always better.
Let’s run through some numbers so that you can understand where the lading comes in to this.
We will have our imaginary 1RM being 100kg for the ease of the maths.
Below are two set/rep schemes that both yield essentially the same total volume but in different ways.
3×10 @ 70kg = 2100kg total volume. The % of 1RM is 70%
11×2 @ 95kg = 2090kg total volume. The % of 1RM is 95%
Okay, the volume is 10kg difference but that’s nothing to lose sleep over because it’s only an example.
Looking at the two set/rep schemes above you can see one has more reps and the other has more sets. While the stimulus to the muscles would be fairly similar* but which would you be more likely to recover from in the quickest amount of time? Yep, the 3×10.
*Obviously there will be a large difference being in the neurological pathways adaptation when using heavier loads but the muscles still get stimulated regardless, it’s jus the effect on the overall CNS that seems to be majorly different from what I’ve read thus far.
Three sets of ten reps at 70% of your 1RM is far easier to recover from physically,mentally and neurologically than 11×2 at 95%, thus meaning you will be able to train more frequently and amass more total volume and stimulus throughout the course of your training block. Usually for someone past beginner stage 8 weeks is about the right length of time to build volume with a 1 week deload to allow adequate recovery/adaptation.
You won’t to do enough to force your body to adapt and become bigger and stronger, but not so much as it turns in to a battle for survival. While it is true you will be building up a general state of fatigue over a longer period of time, this is where deloads are very useful because they allow total recovery and the much sought after super-compensation to occur, this means progress and new gains in strength and lean muscle tissue.
Remember, enough is enough and more isn’t always better. Especially when it comes to lifting weights.