Few Words on Volume

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

I was reading a thread that was about me on the internet yesterday and this topic was mentioned. Surprisingly, the thread was overwhelmingly positive in regard to the information about the way in which PPS does things.  This was a nice change of pace from the usual negativity.

 

One of things mentioned was that it seems that we are low volume and high intensity.  This is not necessarily wrong, but I think it is a good topic to discuss.  I think there is a lot of misinformation out there on the importance of volume as well.

 

First off how are we defining volume?  There are certain definitions of volume out there that I believe are quite useless.  One of those is total tonnage.  I do not feel that the total tonnage lifted in training tells us anything about the training session itself.

 

I view training from a behavioral learning/motor control lens.  I feel this includes all parts of the human including both psychological and physical.  If we just view training as a program of sets and reps, we can miss the piece about the human going through it.  The unpredictability of training also decreases the emphasis that should be placed on the program at the expense of the person in front of the coach.

 

There is a certain amount of practice required to develop a skill.  Someone cannot just squat one time per month and win a world championship.  I care about number of lifts in training for this reason.  But what lifts do I care about?

 

Do I care about how many reps are taken with the empty bar?  I want them to warmup with the empty bar, but I am not including this in the tracked volume of the session.  With the research out there, it seems as if sets completed from RPE 6 to RPE 10 have benefits towards increasing strength.

 

I include all lifts within these ranges as the total number of lifts per session, per week, per month, and so on.  In a max effort session, the lifter usually gets around 2 to 4 repetitions above 90% of 1RM.  They are warming up with singles and the singles previous to these attempts are most likely below the RPE 6 threshold.  Even if it was not, it is not really volume that I care about on this given day.  This is not an exact science, so an extra rep is not going to be a big deal if I miss it.

 

The goal of max effort is to build absolute strength.  I care about the singles at or near failure here.  This context redefines volume for me on this given day. I only want to count the reps that are useful to the goal that we are trying to achieve in the gym.

 

If a lifter hits a true RPE 10 on week 1, week 2 we will use a percentage of that number for a sets and reps.  This may look like:

 

Wide Stance Box Squat, 80% of last week, 1 set of 4-5 reps

 

I choose 80% because it is the average intensity that the majority of the repetitions were performed in the Soviet System.  Also, from the times we ran a more linear program, most lifters could execute 80% of 1RM for 4-5 reps.  This just so happens to be the same number of repetitions the lifter executed at higher intensities the week prior.  On max effort day we get 2-4 reps at the same RPEs.

 

The closer you are to RPE 6, the more volume you need.  The closer you are to an RPE 10, the less volume you need.  This is a general rule that I tend to follow.  Both days usually have some kind of backdown work.

 

I will say in many cases coaches just throw the kitchen sink at the lifter.  The lowest volume should be utilized to get results.  This is true on any program.  Throwing insanely high volumes at a lifter will ensure a stimulus is being achieved and will lead to short term results.  This will not work in the long term.

 

This backdown work that we perform is usually between 65% of 1RM and 80% of 1RM.  This may be the same variation we maxed out on or a different one that we are working on the technical breakdowns seen in the max work.  The percentage is taken from the max work of that day.

 

The number of lifts for backdowns is usually between 8 and 15, with some wiggle room to go higher depending on the variation used and the person.  We are getting between 10 and 20 reps of work between an RPE 7 and RPE 10.  If your program reads 5 sets of 4 reps at RPE 7, we have done similar volumes.

 

However, we get singles between RPE 9.5 and RPE 10.  Our specificity is higher.  Out of those 20 reps we are getting 2 to 4 reps between an RPE 8.5 and RPE 10.  Due to our intensity, we have a larger recovery cost.  This recovery is actually more psychological than physical.

 

Due to this greater recovery cost our frequency is limited to 1-2 times per week.  A program performing a 5×4 at RPE 7 will not have a huge recovery cost.  These programs allow the lifters to utilize a higher frequency if they so choose.

 

Many DUP programs may have 3 days where all of the lifts are performed.  It would be very difficult to do this with max singles thrown in there.  The fact that the RPEs are lower, the frequency and the volume can increase to drive results.

 

Lifters have limited time in the gym.  I prefer max singles due to the efficiency of training sessions.  When I first started coaching, training sessions would take 2-3 hours to complete.  Now they are completed in 1-1.5 hours and we are much stronger now than we were then.  This allows more time to get stuff done outside of the gym and more recovery time.

 

We can’t just max out every day in the gym.  Although this is literally what I have been doing for the last few months.  I know this is not the best program to be doing, but I wanted to, and I don’t care what is best.  I have been having a lot of fun training and looking forward to sessions.

 

My progress stalled pretty heavily and even went backwards some, but I still do not care.  I can’t emphasize enough that I am having fun training and right now, that is all that I want.  I am not weaker from training.  I am also not a good lifter.  I am not winning a world championship anytime soon (my goal is just to outlive everyone else to win).  If I stay consistent and keep training, I will adapt and get stronger no matter what I do.

 

That brings me to my next topic here, it takes time to adapt to a change in stimulus.  If you are coming from a high volume program to a conjugate style training program, you will see a dip in performance in the beginning. Your workload is dropping, this is common.  Also, your psychological pieces are not used to being challenged as frequently as they will be with a higher intense program.

 

I have had many lifters freak out the second a max effort lift is under their all-time best.  The process is not linear.  We are just looking to beat old PRs on variations by 5lbs in each wave.  Lifters are instructed to leave 5 to 10lbs on the bar each week.  On the 3rd week of a wave they can go full send.  In a perfect world we are really only maxing out 1 time per month.  However, sometimes what you think will be a good weight gets heavy fast.  When this happens the following week is sets and reps without max effort anyways, so at most lifters are truly maxing 2 times per month.  The other days there is 5-10lbs left for the following week.  The deadlift is rotated between max effort and dynamic effort/rep work every other week.

 

Since we cannot max out every day (do as I say not as I do), we need to use lighter days.  On these lighter days I look for an RPE 7 intensity, but we get as many as 15 sets of both squats and deadlifts done on the same day (30 sets total), and usually as low as 20 sets.  In these cases the reps per set for squats would be 2 and deadlifts 1 to 2.

 

If we use rep work the reps for squats will be between 20 to 30 and the reps for deadlifts between 10 and 20.  This is done on day 4 in the program.  We do dynamic bench work/rep work before pulls on day 3.  On these days bench press volume is between 25 and 35 reps.

 

These numbers are only including the working weight sets.  I used to include all warmups in my total number of lifts.  When we ran a more Sheiko style of programming, average number of lifts for a lifter would be between 150 and 200 lifts per week.  This included all warmups.

 

Now the average is between 100 and 130 lifts, not including warmups.  If we included warmups, our total number of lifts would be near the lower end of how we did it before.  Our average intensity is higher now, so volume needs to be a little lower.  With that said, it is not as high as you would think since only 7-10% of the total number of lifts are above 90% of 1RM.  The majority of our work is between 65% to 80% of 1RM.  This lowers the average quite a bit.

 

The problem with the lower intensity is that it requires more work, which requires more time.  This is a luxury many lifters do not have.  It also fails to train the psychological pieces of the sport.  I would argue the psychological may be more important than the physical.

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