In my opinion, you just gotta pick something simple and stick with it. Strength development doesn’t have to be complicated or particularly difficult. No, you don’t need to follow a grueling Smolov Jr. Squat cycle that calls for heavy sets 4 days a week. Ultimately, the goal of every program is to deliver a stimulus somewhere between the minimum effective dose and overtraining. With that said, as an athlete becomes more trained, the minimum amount of work needed becomes greater and greater. When you think about it that way, you realize that there is a lot of room for error. As long as you are consistent, it doesn’t take much lifting to gain strength. Conversely, it takes a lot of exercising to over-train yourself. A program is followed because it is set up to deliver a known intensity of training stimulus, followed by a short period of recovery to allow for the body to adapt to the training demands placed on it. The most common way to manage a training program is tracking volume.
What is volume, and how is it distributed in programs?
To keep it simple, volume can be considered the amount of repetitions performed during a workout. For example, let’s consider what a program for someone may look like on a squatting day. Day 1 of squats might call for 5 sets of 8 reps at 60%. To gradually, and methodically, increase the training volume, week 2 would call for 5 sets of 10 at the same weight. Week 3 would then call for 5 sets of 12 at the same weight. Now, back up and consider the overall volume. Week 1 introduced 40 repetitions at a certain intensity (weight used). Week 2 and 3 totaled 50 and 60 reps respectively. Unfortunately, managing volume doesn’t stop there. We then have to consider the accessory work on weaker areas. Do you see how we gradually and methodically demanded a little bit more of the body each week? It really is that simple. If the lower back is identified as a limiting factor in a squat, that volume also has to be managed. One way we could fit it in would be to do 3 sets of 10 in week 1, 4 sets of 10 in week 2, 5 sets of 10 in week 3. Do you see what this does to the overall volume for the training day? It won’t be long before you’re looking at performing anywhere from 500-800 reps in a given week.
Additionally, we can control the intensity of exercises performed. It turns out that doing sets at various intensities is more beneficial for strength gains than doing all sets at the same weight. Usually, intensity is something that is based off of a percentage of your 1 rep max, but we will get into those details in another blog post. There are lots of different ways that you can leverage varying intensities into your program, with training volume being one of them. Next week, we will discuss loading as a measure of intensity. Each training program will alter these variables in order to deliver adaptation, so you can, in this case, get stronger.