Volume, intensity, and frequency are the basics of proper programming in strength training and in powerlifting.
Let’s take a closer look at what they are precisely and how to manipulate them to get better results from our efforts in the gym.
The weight on the bar – or more accurately, the effort required to move it – will determine the vast majority of your training effect. Volume will determine the magnitude of that effect.M. Tuscherer
Training intensity is crucial; if you don’t program this variable the right way, training volume & frequency will become useless.
But what is training intensity in the strength & conditioning, powerlifting, and powerbuilding world?
Training intensity does not relate to your attitude when you’re in the gym, but it is the percentage of your one-repetition maximum (1RM).
Practical example: your 1RM squat is 200lbs; if you do 5 sets of 5 reps with 150lbs, you are training at 75%.
How heavy you’re feeling this 75% of 1RM doesn’t affect training intensity; 75% will remain 75% even if that day you’re feeling particularly weak or strong.
Maybe the outcome will change, but the intensity is still 75%.
Training intensity changes during the program; it will become higher or lower based on the phase we are dealing with (periodization & phase potentiation concept).
If we always train at 65% of 1RM, we can have very high training volume and frequency, but our 1RM will not increase as much as if we changed the intensity in the right way during the program.
It’s now easy to understand how important it is to change training intensity during a strength program.
It should go from 60-65% at higher training volume, to 80-90% at a much lower volume, since the intensity is very high.
If we change this variable the right way, we will increase our hypertrophy and general preparedness in the first phase, and our actual real strength in the second.
If we don’t change training intensity and we always train at 65% of 1RM or at 90% of 1RM, we will increase muscle mass or 1RM strength, but not optimally.
We need to train muscle mass and pure strength, and we do so by alternating heavier mesocycles with lighter mesocycles, for example.
For a whole mesocycle, we can work in the 60 to 70% range; for a second mesocycle, we can increase the intensity to 80 to 85%, and finally – for a peaking phase – we can rise to an even higher intensity of 90% or above.
This exact type of progression is a very often used form of block periodization, in which we focus on hypertrophy in the first phase, strength in the second, and max strength (1RM) in the last.
Also, we can undulate the intensity in the same mesocycle and even at a microcycle level (weekly).
By doing so, we can alternate a more substantial session with a lighter session.
The opportunities are endless, and we can also use many different strength training methods.
Strength and hypertrophy are related, despite what many gym users think. For this reason, we often use a phase potentiation approach in which a strength phase comes right after a hypertrophy phase.
A training program with very high training intensity (80-95%) and very low reps (1-4) targets the nervous system; it’s rate coding and synchronization.
High-load training conditions the nervous system to transmit electrical signals from the brain to muscles, increasing the force those muscles can produce to a greater extent than low-load training.
Instead, a lower training intensity (60-80%) with higher reps (5-10) will generally translate better to muscle hypertrophy, since the overall mechanical tension and time under tension is much higher.
It’s crucial for a powerlifter, PowerBuilder or strongman to use different training intensity during a program, to gain muscle mass and strength optimally.
Training volume is crucial in a strength training program – so powerlifters, strongmen, and even bodybuilders need to know what that is.
Training volume is defined as the total amount of work done. Some people calculate volume differently, but the most general way to go about it is by multiplying sets x reps x weights.
Practical example: if you do 5 sets of 5 reps with 100lbs, your total training volume will be 2500lbs.
The proper training volume depends on your goal; if your goal is pure strength, you need less volume, higher intensities.
If your goal is to build muscle, then you need more volume at moderate weights. And yes, despite what many strength coaches will tell you, you can increase muscle mass even with lighter weights.
Another factor that we have to take into consideration when we talk about training volume is the ability of the person to recover from a certain amount of volume. Every person is different and can handle training volume differently.
This means someone can handle 10 sets of squats per week, others twice as much: it depends on the athlete.
A bodybuilder usually trains the same muscle once a week; this is because many bodybuilders think that a muscle needs a week of recovery time after a workout.
This is not correct; if we can program correctly training volume and training intensity, we can train the same muscle more than once a week.
For a powerlifter, training frequency is vital.
In most cases, he needs to train the same lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) more than once a week to improve his technique.
A powerlifter training program doesn’t focus on a single muscle but movements.
We can easily say that there isn’t a correct number of days you should train a lift.
Every program can be efficient if training volume and intensity are programmed correctly, while frequency is a way for us to distribute the total workload.
For example, if we bench press 4 times a week (high-frequency training), to avoid overtraining, we will have to lower training volume or training intensity (or both) in at least 1 or 2 days of the week.
Training volume, intensity, and frequency are crucial for every training program: from powerlifting to bodybuilding.
You need to be able to manipulate them correctly.
If the intensity is very high, the frequency can be high only if the volume per session is low or moderate.
- Low training volume, low training intensity: you are not training hard enough
- Low training intensity, high training volume: good for hypertrophy, not suitable for strength
- High training intensity, low training volume: good for strength, not ideal for hypertrophy
- High training intensity, high training volume, and high frequency: risk of overtraining
Training volume, intensity, and frequency are concepts that you need to know when it comes to powerlifting and strength training programs.
Being able to change and use these training variables is the key to getting results in the right way, lowering the risk of overtraining and injuries.