Calculate training VOLUME to plan your progress

28 February 2015
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Are you struggling to see progress at the gym? Can't work out why your not getting results? When this starts to happen over a period of time a lot of people will quit, give up, or switch their sessions around so much that progress simply stagnates even more.

So what can we do to address this? Well for me there are 2 things everyone should be doing:

  1. Measure volume
  2. Plan to increase volume every session

So, what is volume?

We all know about reps and sets, and I'd guess that for 99% of people who actually write down their workouts this is what they record, along with the weight lifted, and then try to increase one or more of these over time. But this does not give us a good and accurate view of progress over time, what we need to do is calculate volume.

It is volume that gives us the total mass lifted, either per exercise, or per session. So by calculating this we can accurately monitor and then plan progress. There are several calculations that we can use, in this post I'll go through the simplest method that you can use for better gym planning.

What to record...

First we need to understand what we can record if we're hitting the gym:

  1. Sets, per exercise
  2. Reps, per set, per exercise
  3. Weight, per set, per exercise
  4. Tempo, per rep, per set, per exercise
  5. Session start time
  6. Session end time
  7. Rest time, between sets, per exercise
  8. Rest time, between exercises
  9. Total rest time for the whole session
  10. Exercise start time
  11. Exercise end time

Wait a minute…! I hear you say, yes that is a lot of information to record, and I'm not advocating that you record all of this! I would say that you should definitely be recording the first 3, and that's all we’ll use for now.

Total Exercise Volume

So lets talk simple maths for a moment, and trust me this is simple, anyone can use this! Lets say you're going to record, for each exercise:

  1. Number of sets
  2. Number of reps, for each set
  3. Weight used, on each set

You can use these to calculate volume for each exercise, so in this case volume is the total amount of work completed on the exercise.

The calculations:

  • Volume per set = weight used x number of reps
  • Total exercise Volume = sum of all ''volume per set''

Example: I'm doing chest press, 3 sets of 10 reps, with a decreasing weight: first set using 90kgs, second set using 80kgs, 3rd set using 60kgs. Lets calculate:

  • Set 1: Set volume = 10 x 90 = 900
  • Set 2: Set volume = 10 x 80 = 800
  • Set 3: Set volume = 10 x 60 = 600
  • Total Exercise Volume: = 900 + 800 + 600 = 2,300 kgs of work

So next time I go to the gym and do this exercise, I want to at least equal, if not better, this total exercise volume of 2,300 kgs of work. Even if I change the exercise target reps and sets, I can now plan my next chest press exercise around the volume I achieved last time. For example in my next session I may plan to increase my total volume by lifting the following

  • Set 1: Set volume = 12 x 80 = 960
  • Set 2: Set volume = 12 x 70 = 840
  • Set 3: Set volume = 12 x 60 = 720
  • Total Exercise Volume: = 960 + 840 + 720 = 2,520 kgs of work

So it is easy to see here that even though I’m changing my sets and reps, I’m planning to do more volume for the exercise, and it is this measurement we should be using to show progression.

For me this is the most underused method of planning, and one of the big reasons why most people will fail to progress after their first 4 weeks of training. So start planning your sessions around total volume per exercise, and use this measure of volume to make good progress at the gym

Next time...

I'll continue to look at volume, and show you how we can improve our accuracy in measuring and planning progression at the gym, by looking at introducing time and tempo into our calculations.

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