Cambridge’s Leading personal trainers

Your Fitness Training Programme… What Are You Missing? Part 1: Volume

Whether you are a novice in the gym with less than a year’s experience of serious training, or a seasoned pro, the design of your programme is vital in ensuring you are making progress. 

Although an advanced programme will look very different to beginners, there are key concepts which will be relevant throughout your whole life in the gym and we are going to break those down for you. 

We are going to break down and explore in detail:

  1. Volume
  2. Frequency
  3. Intensity
  4. Rest periods & Tempos 
Training Volume

Volume refers to the total amount of work a muscle performs, within a specific time frame, typically looked at either within a single session or a week of training. 

You can calculate volume in different ways:

  • Total sets or reps (across a session or week)
  • Sets x Reps x Load (KG) e.g. 4 x 10 x 50kg = 2,000kg (volume load) 


Manipulating your sets, reps and loads in different ways can change how a session feels but create the same volume load. 

Training frequency, number of sets/reps, load all have a direct impact on training volume. 

Rest time (in length and placement during the workout), exercise selection, exercise order and tempo all have an indirect impact on training volume. 

Let’s look at that further… 

Longer rest periods may result in being able to lift more weight, but it limits the number of sets/reps you can fit into a workout – influencing volume. 

Shorter rest periods reduce recovery time and therefore the weight that can be lifted, but more sets/reps could be complete – influencing volume. 

More weight can be lifted at the start of a session compared to the end – influencing exercise order.

Only performing unilateral exercises (single-arm or single-leg movements) can limit the total session training volume, however are brilliant for reducing/limiting muscular imbalances between right/left sides – influencing exercise selection. 

Increasing the time under tension (TUT) per movement via tempos (e.g. 5s eccentric) limits the amount of weight you can lift – influencing tempo choice. 

However, bashing out loads of reps as fast as possible with poor technique is resulting in you missing out on proper training stimulus for hypertrophy. This point is discussed more in part 4. 

Training volume is arguably the most important factor in determining hypertrophy (muscle growth), research shows. 

Having a suitable amount of volume also directly translates to the amount of practice you get at doing that movement and lifting a certain weight. 

As with anything, the more times you do something, the better you become at it. 

What is an optimal training volume differs from each individual. 

Training age, lifestyle, goal, genetics, stress and sleep quality all need to be considered when working out the best training volume for each person.

This is why we ask questions relating to your whole life at The Barn Bootcamp.

We aren’t just being nosy! We want to make sure we are creating a programme that is as effective as it can be to you as a unique individual. 

Something that is relevant to everyone, however, is applying the principle of progressive overload and for this, we need a minimum amount of training volume to make progress. 

This minimum is determined by training history – previous exposure to training volume. Typically speaking, a beginner will need to be exposed to less volume to experience adaption compared to someone with long training history. 

In those with longer training history, a dose-response relationship exists between training volume and improvements in muscle mass and strength – meaning multiple set routines are a better option than single set routines. 

However, it is important to remember this is not a linear line that keeps going up, with muscle mass and strength continually increasing as training volume increases. 

At this point of increase, the volume becomes counterproductive, where recovery and quality of work becomes compromised and the threshold for effective training has been left. 

Let’s step away from the science for a moment to talk about the lifestyle habits created around training. 

Although a specific goal might be the reason you are exercising e.g. to lose body fat, leading a healthy, active lifestyle should be the overriding goal for everyone. 

Move better.

Feel better. 

Not every session is going to be perfect, just like everything else in life!

Turning up, creating the habit of prioritising yourself and completing a session even if it’s not perfect is still a huge step in the right direction! 

This does not mean pushing yourself to exercise when you need a rest. 

This means realising that some days, showing up and doing what you can is just as, if not more important than a PB lift and should be celebrated!

Now back to science…

If you are looking to increase training volume, you can:

  • Increase load whilst performing the same sets/reps as before 
  • Increase sets/reps at the same load, resulting in more density within a session (more work done in the same amount of time)
  • Increase the frequency you hit a muscle group – e.g. hitting your back 2 x per week, increased to 3 x per week


However, make sure you consider:

  • Are you expecting unrealistic rates of progression so increased volume will result in a drop off in progress?
  • When you increase volume in one area, another one may suffer 
  • Is progress slow due to a weakness/injury? If so, will increasing volume have a positive or negative impact?
  • Could you change exercise order to prioritise key body parts rather than adding more sets/reps?
  • Are you increasing volume when the current technique is poor and there is a lack of tempo indicating a lack of control? 


Do I Need A Deload? 

A deload period is when you continue your current training regime but reduce the volume/intensity or the sessions. 

The reasoning for a deload can differ. 

Sometimes, they are unavoidable deloads due to work commitments or a holiday. 

Sometimes, they are planned to help give the client a chance to recover after an intense period of training without the reversibility effect of not doing any exercise. 

Most beginners will not need a deload period. 

Training three times per week, with 4 rest/active rest days should be enough to provide adequate recovery in most cases. 

Beginners are also in a great position, in that most training stimuli imposed will result in some change. This is a relatively small window where adaptation comes easy, so dropping volume is likely to result in a missed opportunity. 

When deloading, it’s important to pitch it right. 

Dropping volume and intensity too much leave the potential for a reduction in load being lifted when the deload has finished. 

For instance, if you’re working at 100kg x 5 for a deadlift, and drop down to 60kg x 5 for a deload week, getting back up to 100kg might not be possible in your first week back, meaning the deload is having a negative impact on training intensity outside of the prescribed week. 

You can administer a deload in 2 main ways: 

  • Lifting the same load for reduced sets/reps
  • Lifting a slightly reduced load (~10-15%) for the same amount of sets/reps


Speak to one of our trainers at The Barn if you’d like to discuss your training volume and potential of a deload period. 

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