What’s up kettlebell fam? We’re here to talk about training volume today. Aside from getting your intensity right (lifting heavy enough), getting your training volume in order is CRITICAL to your results.
Before we start, let’s reflect on a quote here from Pavel’s PlanStrong workshop -
“In science and engineering the solution that meets all the set requirements at a minimal ‘cost’ is called optimal.”
In simple terms, if you are doing the minimal amount for YOU to make progress, then your training is optimal. If you are doing less OR more than is necessary, your approach is suboptimal. More isn’t always better, less isn’t always better, JUST RIGHT is better.
Volume is one of the most important factors in determining whether your body will continue to make adaptations or not.
Let’s define volume in a simple way - the number of lifts performed for a certain skill. If in one month you did 50 squats with 5RM and 100 squats with 8RM then you have a total volume of 150 lifts. (You can also calculate the average intensity of that volume, but that’s for another time.)
In our last long form post we introduced basic principles of training and how CONSISTENCY is the most important component to your success.
You can check that out here if you missed it: https://www.reddit.com/r/kettlebell/comments/ppd56s/its_not_about_the_kettlebell/
Let’s briefly review:
If we assume Eric Helms is right (he probably is) now that you’ve developed a consistent habit of training you need to start manipulating the variables of volume and intensity.
This is where most programs fall apart because 99% of coaches and athletes couldn’t tell you how much volume is in their plan or what the average intensity of that volume is. They are just picking exercises, throwing in sets and reps that are supposedly related to the goal and then doing more sets/reps or more weight until they “deload”.
Most plans are designed by the creator basically saying:
“This exercise gud”
“3 sets of 10-12 = muscles”
“Let’s add weight week after week”
All of this is fine for beginners. All you need to do is lift and lift often. You could literally just pick machines at random in the gym and work hard and you’ll put on muscle.
That works until it doesn’t.
At some point you need to get a grasp on HOW MUCH work you are doing and how that work is changing week over week, month over month. You need to PERSONALIZE training volume to your unique stresses and training experience.
Reflect on the following:
“The optimal load and optimal interval between loads are determined EMPIRICALLY.”
This means by use of information derived from observation, experiment and experience NOT theory.
In our case, we can use MATH to determine volume, it’s movements, and it’s average intensity. This means volume is objective so you simply need to find the amount that works for you!
To circle back to the first point - why 99% of programs are crap...it's because there is no attention paid to these variables and CERTAINLY no empirical approach to determining those variables. It's a classic case of if you give a room of monkeys a typewriter and enough time they'll produce Shakespeare. Except in this case it's producing muscle.
Monthly Volume - Too Cold, Too Hot, Just Right
First let’s talk about volume ranges, how much is enough and how much is too much. Below you will see charts with the ranges we use for training volume.
Ok cool, so now you know how much to do in a month. Now how do we make changes to it over time? Enter volume dynamics (the movement/changes).
MOST programs follow either a fixed volume or linear volume approach. Here are the volume movements of some common strength programs.
In this plan the volume is never changing week to week on the main lifts. You are just increasing weight week over week. (Which, again, is a perfectly fine strategy in the beginning)
5/3/1 has a little more movement to it's volume for a main lift but this pattern just repeats over and over again.
Classic Linear Style
This graph shows a relatively traditional linear style. In this case more volume (either reps or sets) is added each week.
As you can see these graphs either don't move at all, don't move much, or only move in one direction. Even still that doesn't give us any indication as to how much volume is being performed.
Enter Wave Training
There is a growing body of evidence that undulating or nonlinear periodization (NLP) can be more effective at producing gains in strength (perhaps with the exception of total newbs). If you want to nerd out on that just go read this article: https://www.strongerbyscience.com/periodization-data/
In our system, we use a version of NLP called wave training. The volume of training moves in peaks and valleys with nearly random fluctuations over time. Given a long enough period of training, there will be no discernible pattern in the movements of training volume, even when the load being used is increasing! This randomness creates novelty and unpredictability for the nervous system which must then maintain a constant state of preparedness for whatever demands might be placed on the body.
These fluctuations also eliminate the need for deloading. The easier training week is BUILT IN with a reduction in volume but NOT intensity.
Here's what this looks like:
Another advantage to this type of training is that you will be exposed to ALL combinations of volume/intensity
—High / High
—High / Medium
—High Volume / Low intensity
—Medium / High
—Medium / Medium
—Low / High
—Low / Medium
—Low / Low
What does this look like over the long term?
This graph shows the monthly training volume for THREE YEARS of my training. You'll note that zoomed out this far there is no identifiable pattern...
And another example from one of our students who swings 56kg with one hand for up to 200 reps in a session:
Volume Dynamics (Session)
Here are simple guidelines we use to determine the volume load for an exercise in a single session. This applies to lifts at 70% 1RM or HIGHER.
10-20 minimal volume
20-30 “optimal” volume
30-50 maximal volume
If you have 30-50 lifts to do for the day, you should split them into 2 or more series separated by a different exercise.
For lifts between 50% and 70% 1RM
How can you apply it to your own training?
-Pick one lift
-Select a number from the monthly volume guidelines (we suggest starting at the low end, usually 150)
-Pick one of the wave charts from above and distribute that volume accordingly
-Take the weekly volume and split it into however many sessions you want to train that lift
-Do this for 1-3 months and you should be able to lift more weight or the same weight for more reps!
If that seems like a lot of work, don’t worry, we’ve created a few basic plans for you at our website.
If the basic plans are comprehensive enough for your needs we can create a customized plan that encompass up to 24 MOVEMENTS all at once.
You can check all that out in our Reddit bio.
In the meantime, hit me with your questions, criticisms, or whatever. We know the system works!
TLDR - Give your training volume random fluctuations at a level sufficient enough to stimulate adaptation and you will get better results.