There are basically three variables involved in training: volume, frequency, and intensity. Pick two to manipulate in order to meet your body’s demands for recovery.
- Frequency: How many times a day or week you plan on training.
- Intensity: This can be two things – the actual load on the bar or how difficult the set was (often defined by something like RPE: rate of perceived exertion).Z
- Volume: Your total workload per training session. Basically, it’s the amount of exercises, sets, and reps you do in a workout.
Emphasize Two, Back Off on One
The body has a limited degree of reserves to draw from. When these get tapped out, progress will grind to a halt. This will vary from person to person, which is why some people can grow by training three times a week with little volume and heavy weights, and others need a totally different style. So decide if you want to…
- Train more frequently – Work out most days a week
- Train with high intensity – Go heavy or do hard sets close to failure (or both)
- Train with high volume – Use a high amount of sets, reps, and exercises
Pick two of the options you enjoy the most and down-regulate the third. If you love being in the gym daily and like training balls-out, then keep your volume on the low side. If going to the gym daily doesn’t appeal to you, find some middle ground and train 3-4 times a week.
From there decide if you want to train with a lot of volume, if you want to train really heavy, or train with a high degree of RPE per set. If your training frequency is somewhere in the middle then push either the volume high with a lower degree of intensity, or push the intensity high with lower volume. Without recovery from the training stimulus, you can’t grow. There’s no way around this.
Avoid the Point of Diminishing Returns
All of these variables have a point of diminishing returns. People often get in the mindset of “If 8 sets are good, then 12 sets will be great!” Then progress stalls and, believe it or not, they think they need to do more! Same for adding weight to the bar or the number of training sessions per week.
Once you get these all dialed in and progress is happening, don’t screw around with believing that there’s a more optimal way. Progress at 5% is better than no progress or regression. And at times, 5% progression is pretty damn good.