What the Hell is Volume Overload Progression exactly


Most of us when we think about volume, we think about more sets, more reps and Arnold:

arnold and colombu large chests

Well there is nothing wrong with that but the thing is most lifters especially self-made “gurus” throw this term around haphazardly without even knowing what it truly means.

So what the hell is volume? It’s not simply about increasing sets, reps etc. – but those are indeed a great part of it. Volume is actually the poundage you have lifted multiplied by the total number of times you repeatedly lifted that weight in a given training session.

Volume = lbs x reps x sets

Now let’s say you are lifting 100 pounds for the flat bench as your major lift for chest and you are doing it for 4 sets for 15 reps each.

100 x 15 x 4 = 6000

So there you go, the total volume for your workout is 6000 pounds. So the right way to progress would be to gradually increase that “volume”.

Now how can you increase that VOLUME gradually?

This can be done 2 ways: either you add more sets or reps to the same weight lifted or you lift gradually increasing poundage but maintain the number of sets and reps and in some instances you do both.

Keep in mind as well the principle of reps and sets: The more poundage, the lesser the reps you can do with it therefore the more sets required for you to do to keep up the overload or simply put, to keep up with the volume.

So why do you think most powerlifters would tend to do at least 5 sets? That is not because they care about increasing volume but because they are training with huge poundage’s that they can only do for 5 reps or less. Obviously powerlifters are more interested with Intensity not on volume per se but that is a story for another day.

Simply put that total pound you end up with for the day with your basic move/moves for the certain body part you are training specifically is your “volume”. For this I don’t consider counting the extra isolation movements unless your program specifically treats them as its major lifts and lacks compound moves whatsoever.

So for this scenario 6000 pounds is usually pretty good, one can try to add more weight in the equation but albeit slowly if your goal is to maintain the reps and the sets since a huge jump in weight will make you do less reps and lesser reps means lesser volume.

Just an example, lets say you jumped from 100 lbs straight to 120 lbs in the next session and since your haven’t adapted yet you were only able to do 10 reps, which isn’t half bad but just to stay on topic – your goal is to increase your volume gradually – with which doing ten reps for 4 sets with 120 pounds will only net you 4800 lbs worth of volume for the day – to catch up you would need to add one more set to just make it back to 6000. In that case you just made 2 steps forward but brought yourself 2 steps back as far as volume is concerned.

Pros of volume-oriented progression:

As we can see the pros of volume oriented training is that it will force you to take one step at a time. You simply cannot put your pride in the driver-seat; you would really need to take every step gradually. This takes discipline but in the long run this will do wonders for your development. You will be able to monitor your progress more accurately and you will be able to give your body an ample amount of time to adapt to your program.

Cons – Volume training is not always reliable

With that being said volume-oriented training is not perfect. For one, the scenario above jumping to 120 pounds and being able to do 10 reps for 4 sets is a step back as far as volume is concerned but in reality yes you did way less volume but you have actually given your body a huge worth of growth stimulus.

Volume-oriented training will disregard other factors – HUGE factors that play great roles in stimulating growth and development like CNS stimulation, amount of effort, intensity, cadence of reps, negative accentuation, etc. Having a mindset exclusively oriented with volume will lead you to not take into consideration most if not all of these factors.

What if you took fewer reps which lead to lower volume but that is because you applied negative accentuations which lead to greater effort but since you were only able to do 6-8 reps which sucks in terms of volume. Another scenario is the example above: 120 pounds for 10 reps for 4 sets might be a 1200 pound step back in volume but it has served as a great CNS stimulus and completing ten *clean* reps with 120 pounds will target different sets of muscle fibers that you would have otherwise skipped have you stayed within the 15 rep zone specifically your fast twitch muscle fibres which are bigger than your slower type 2 fibers.

Not to mention that the 8-10 rep range is optimal for hypertrophy but in terms of volume – jumping to this level can look really bad even if it’s a good thing and at the same time a really stupid program can look very pristine provided that your total volume looks nice .

But that is not to mention that one cannot maintain volume progression and at the same time keep within an optimal rep range and it only takes common sense but then again this is not your priority if you are in a volume-oriented training.

Although there are things that I don’t like about volume-training it is still a very effective tool nonetheless just keep in mind those volume progressions is a good sign all things being equal. And besides it would not hurt to be on a volume overload progression for a few months if you already spend years doing another program especially if you have been doing low reps for a long time, volume-oriented training might just be the thing for you. Eat your eggs, A-lifters!

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