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Concurrent Training: Balancing Aesthetics and Strength in Your Training-Part 4: Training Volume and

Just a heads up, this is the most involved post of the series. Make sure you're able to dedicate a few quiet moments to reading this post if you want to really absorb it.


We know that overall training volume (sets x reps x weight, also known as tonnage) is one of THE most important variables to consider when designing an effective training program. It is important to remember that training intensity (in this case, % 1RM) also has a large effect on progress. If you use tonnage as your method for calculating volume, training intensity is accounted for in this metric, rather than being a separate variable to track. Therefore, we can quantify that tonnage is a main predictor of adaptation (progress).

18-35% of muscular development is due to relative training intensity, or the percent of your max that you are lifting. In fact, research shows significant benefits to muscle hypertrophy with training intensities of 95% and higher, marking heavy sets of 2 or 3 reps as advantageous for both powerlifters looking to increase 1RM and bodybuilders looking to increase muscle size and development. The other 65% of muscular development is due to things like volume manipulation, cellular swelling, and exercise variation, among others.

When designing an individual training program, there are several things to keep in mind with regards to volume, intensity, and periodization:

  • Make sure to train in a variety of rep ranges, ensuring consistent progression of various goals, as well as adequate CNS and muscle recovery.

  • Frequency-Increasing the weekly training frequency of each lift or major muscle group is a great way to add varying rep ranges to a lifter's training. The next post will detail examples of how to incorporate varying rep ranges across a microcycle (training week). See part 3 for more on frequency.

  • Intensity-For bodybuilding or hypertrophy goals, training at 60-90% of 1RM is ideal. For powerlifting and absolute strength goals, training between 80-100% of 1RM is ideal. Training in varying rep ranges will also allow a lifter to train at varying intensities within a micro (training week) or mesocycle (training block).

  • Rep Range-As a general rule of thumb, rep range should be determined by the number of muscles involved. The more muscle groups involved in an exercise (i.e. heavy compounds), the lower the rep range should be. Exercises with less muscles/muscle groups involved can and should generally be trained in the higher rep ranges. There is certainly some overlap here, but some general guidelines:

  • Heavy compounds and competition specific lifts (Squat, bench, deadlift, etc): 1 or more reps per set

  • Accessory compound movements (rows, presses, etc): 6 or more reps per set

  • Isolation exercises: 8 or more reps

  • BFR (Blood Flow Restriction) training can be a great way to add frequency with very minimal joint and muscle stress, making it very easy to recover from. BFR is typically performed at 20-30% of 1RM, making it somewhat of an exception to the intensity generalization.

  • Volume-More sets have been shown to lead to greater strength and hypertrophy than single sets, due to an increase in neural efficiency and increased muscle fiber recruitment.

  • Max Recoverable Volume--as much as you can handle without becoming unsustainable or causing injury. If training volume is too high, a lifter will not be able to recover well enough to train efficiently, which can cause burnout, lack of motivation, or injury, all of which may result in the lifter being unable to adhere to the intended training program and schedule. Adherence (consistency) is the most important factor in whether or not a lifter makes progress. If you write the "best" training program in the world, but a lifter is unable to adhere to it because of schedule, lack of recovery, injury, or any other reason, it ultimately will not result in progress.

  • A caveat to this point: the newer to training for strength a lifter is, the smaller amount of volume necessary to ensure progress. Take advantage of this. Do the least amount of volume possible to make consistent progress. Newer lifters can often increase tonnage simply by linearly adding weight to the bar each week. As training age increases, strength gains will not come as quickly and easily, and an increase in volume will be both harder to come by and necessary to provoke continued progress. If you start off training with incredibly high volume, you leave yourself no room to grow before you run into that unsustainable factor. Always think about the bigger picture.

  • More advanced lifters will likely need volume manipulated over the course of their macrocycle to periodically re-sensitize them to the stimulus. This is another reason why having a long term plan is so important.

To close out this post, I'd like to insert an excerpt from a fantastic article my coach, Brian Minor, wrote for Juggernaut Training Systems.

In the final post in the series, I'll recap some of the benefits to training concurrently for strength and aesthetics, as well as provide sources and further reading for the information discussed in this series. I'll also show you how to build a training session and provide an example workout.

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