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Weight Training Volume

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What is Weight Training Volume and How You Can Use it to Your Advantage

Weight Training Volume

Weight training volume is the amount of work you perform during each workout. Each rep your perform adds to the total workout volume.

In the periodization model the period of high volume is called the hypertrophy phase. Muscle hypertrophy means the muscle cells grow larger. If your goal is to create a stimulus to gain muscle you should perform high volume training.

The word hypertrophy may be misleading to some because high training volume is also best to lose body weight, tone up, get lean, and burn fat.

You can have the best training program with high or low volume and if your food intake is not consistent with your goals you will not accomplish them. This is yet another reason why nutrition is so crucial.

The low volume of the periodization model is the strength phase. Remember, the periodization model is the best way to make constant gains without plateau. Even if you are obese, your training program should mix high volume and low volume periods throughout your training.


How to Determine Basic Weight Training Volume

The classic formula used to determine weight training volume is to multiply sets x reps x weight.

This very basic formula allows you to see exactly why high volume is more work. For example, if you lifted 300 pounds for 5 reps and 3 sets, your weight training volume would be 4500 pounds.

This may sound like a lot of work, but this is an example of an exercise during a low volume phase. If you lifted 150 pounds for 15 reps and 3 sets, your weight training volume would be 6750 pounds. This is half the weight of the previous set but as you can see the volume is 33% higher.

Weight Training Volume Formula


Why the Basic Formula for Weight Training Volume is Limited

The basic formula used to determine training volume has a major flaw. The scientific definition of work is work = force x distance.

By Omitting Distance You Can See How the Classic Training Volume Formula is Flawed
For example, it would be easy for some to perform 3 sets of 20 reps of calf raises with 300 pounds. If you calculated training volume using the classic formula, the training volume would be 18,000 pounds. It would however be easy for very few to perform 3 sets of 20 back squats with 300 pounds. According to the classic weight training volume formula, the volume would be the same as 3 sets of calf raises.

Instead of Using a Complex Formula You can Just Use Simple Logic
To determine your actual training volume would be very difficult. From the previous example you can see that all exercises will not contribute equally to overall training volume. Multi joint, compound exercises which move the weight a significant distance have a greater effect of training volume because they are obviously more work. These exercises include bench presses, squats, pull ups, clean and press, and more.

Yet Another Reason the Basic Formula is Limited
It doesn’t take into account time under tension. If you perform a set of 10 reps in 10 seconds it would be less work than if you perform a set of 10 reps in 30 seconds.


Time Under Tension: The Real Training Volume Indicator

If you want to simplify the idea of training volume look no further than time under tension. Time under tension is exactly what it sounds like, the amount of time your muscles are working.

Here is an Example of the Effects of Time Under Tension
You know you can bench press 100 pounds around 10 times. The training volume for this set would be 1,000 pounds using the classic formula. You performed the 10 reps 1.5 seconds each for a 15 second set.

If you lifted the weight 5 seconds per rep and only performed 6 reps of 100 pounds the classic training volume formula would say your volume was 600 pounds. The volume is lower than the first set even though your muscles worked for twice as long.

Which of the 2 previous examples do you think would be higher volume?
The second example was higher in volume due to longer time under tension. This just goes to show that the classic formula is very limited.


If You Want to Have the Most Effective High Volume Workouts Here is the Easy Way

Calculating weight training volume is something which is more suited for a supercomputer or biomechanical super genius than you.

Remember, high volume training is the phase of periodization which everybody except for people with strength and power goals should be in for the majority of the macrocycle (training year).

Perform Multi-joint, Compound Exercises with Large Muscle Groups
If you have goals of significant muscle gain, toning, weight loss, or mass gain spend most of your time on the main exercises. Isolation exercises are good for building a specific muscle, but they are not the best way to have high training volume.

Perform Exercises Under Complete Control
The longer the muscles are contracting, the more work you will do during a workout. This does not mean you have to perform exercises using a specific tempo, but there should be no jerking weights around using “uncle mo” momentum. You should make sure to feel your muscles work for each of the 3 phases of any repetition, concentric, eccentric and isometric.

Rest as Little as Possible in Between Sets
Some people like spending endless hours in the gym. If you are one of the people who want to get in and get out, rest as little as possible in between sets. By resting less you can increase your weight training volume by packing more exercises each training session. You can apply techniques such as supersets, tri-sets and giant sets to allow you to rest less during your high training volume workouts.

Information on Weight Training Splits, Weight Training Set Structure, and Weight Training Sets and Reps

See Also:

Author Profile: Mike Behnken

Mike Behnken is a personal trainer who holds multiple NASM certifications and a MS in Exercise Science. Mike loves fitness, travel, and photography among many other interests.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his or her own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ask The Trainer.

Comments (3)

  1. jim says:

    I like the article, but I don’t think I quite understand one part. If I bench press 100 pounds at 30 reps this equals 3000 pounds volume. Will I be able to lift 300 pounds for 10 reps since it equals the same volume? If so, how long would it take?

    • AskTheTrainer.com says:

      Not quite understanding your question, however, you are correct regarding your calculations as both equal the same volume. The amount of volume depends on the individuals current level of strength. For example, one person may not be able to bench 300 pounds for 10 reps because of limitations in their strength so they would instead bench less weight but for more reps to get the same volume as the stronger individual. Over time that person can, however, work up to using heavier weights to achieve the same volume. As far as how long it will take, depends totally on the individual and their progress in the gym.

  2. Alan Koger says:

    Very informative article Mike,

    I like how you actually talk about the limitations of the volume formula as well as the time under tension.

    I agree that you should not be at the gym for 3 hours like some people do. You should get your workout in and get out. Performing one set of an exercise and then resting for 10 minutes to talk to somebody is not efficient.

    I’ve always seen my best results when finishing my workouts right around an hour or less.

    As far as the limitations go of weight training volume, I believe it is best for newcomers to weight training to write it down. For the more experienced they understand how much weight they’re putting up.

    However with beginners I believe it’s a great way to keep track of their results and help them progress through the early stages regardless of where the volume is coming from.

    Although the results may seem a little skewed, due to the fact that certain body parts can handle different weights, I think that it can be a great motivator for a beginner.

    Great article!

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Post Category: Exercise, Weight Training