High Volume, or Low Volume Training
Copyright, L.J. Maile, Ph.D.
That really makes low weight, low volume work most appropriate for those just starting out, or for those recovering from heavy work done earlier. Let's consider these two situations. In the first, the athlete is very likely new to powerlifting, being so, will need practice on the basic movements and will need to gain endurance for our sport. It seems obvious, but probably isn't, that endurance demonstrated running, swimming, bicycling, etc. does not necessarily predict a higher capacity to perform repetitions at a given weight. Practice, and gradually increasing capacity at that specific task is more closely related to successful performance. That is not to say that you can remain totally "out of shape" and be a successful powerlifter, but it is not necessary for you to reach the level of conditioning seen in endurance athletes. Light training will allow the powerlifter to develop lifting specific endurance. Dropping the repetitions too low will make for greater strength, but will not develop the fitness baseline needed. The new powerlifter, then, will benefit from light training because they will begin to develop the level of conditioning for more advanced training. The volume, ideally, should increase until it reaches a level that is consistent with the training system the athlete would like to employ as they become more advanced. The added benefit is that weights used are not so heavy, and volume is not so high that the athlete's form degrades. Lifters who have just completed a period of heavy or high volume training are likely to need the time to recover. He or she may have nagging injuries, will most likely have lost some endurance as a function of decreasing repetitions done as the competition approaches, and may well be overtrained (a whole body phenomenon). Dropping the weight, and initially, the volume will allow recovery and regained conditioning. This approach also has benefits that exceed just "taking time off."
|The question that many novice lifters ask is, "how much training is enough?" There are a number of approaches to training that can be used. They may be grouped reflecting four major philospohies: low volume, light weight; low volume, heavy weight; high volume, light weight; and high volume, heavy weight.
Realistically, there are very few practitioners who compete at the elite level training at what could be considered low volume, using low weight. While there are several training systems that avoid maximum weights prior to the competition, and those which involve percentages on some exercises that are light much of the time, each of these approaches tend to include some training on some exercises that are fairly high, e.g. 90% of prior maximum. Even those that emphasize speed exercises performed at low relative percentages usually include accessory work that is very heavy.
Veteran lifters like Wade Hooper know how much volume is perfect for them.
There are a number of powerlifting competitors who practice a low volume, high weight scheme. They may do very few repetitions each week, and of course, very few heavy repetitions prior to a competition. An example of this approach is seen in the training regimen of Jim Williams, former World Record holder in the bench press. If one can believe his reported workouts, he did three heavy reps on the bench press each week. Accessory work was minimal, and relative to his great pressing power, light in percentage. Underlying this approach is the logic that in order to do maximum weight, very little other work must be done. To do so would take away from the capacity to perform the target lift.
On the other end of the continuum are the high volume trainers. Those who train light tend to do multiple exercises, or many sets of each exercise, but not necessarily train to high weight. Examples of this may be seen in those training philosophies that stress baseline, or core work, but little or short duration heavy work prior to a competition. The risks of this type of training system include that it tends not to prepare the athlete for repeated, heavy lifting in the competition itself. The lifter may well have little experience in actually balancing the weight, and/or maintaining form during performance of the lift, even though they may be very conditioned and have great potential strength. Hand in hand with this is the probability that the athlete will have very likely not trained in gear that is appropriately tight to be effective. Tight, well fitting gear tends not to be practical, nor is correct performance possible at light weight. So, taken together, the lifter may enter a competition inexperienced in exactly the movements and with the weights necessary to succeed in that competition. Another risk of high volume training, whether light or heavy, is of overtraining. While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss overtraining at any length, it may be most easily understood as a total body response to insufficient time, or inability to recover. The damage from the high volume training may be too great for adequate recovery between workouts. A number of approaches may adopted to increase the ability to recover, but eventually, most athletes must allow themselves some down time to regain their resources.
A high volume, high weight approach includes many of the risks of the high volume, low weight regimens, but those having to do with overtraining are an even greater potential. Heavy training taxes the body's reserves to an even greater extent than light work, and more quickly. In addition, the risk of injury is greater, partly due to the stressed nature of the lifter's muscle and other body systems, and partly due to the increased probability that the athlete will suffer deteriorating form as the weight and repetitions and/or sets increase. Those who utilize these type approaches usually do so for short periods interspersed with periods in which lower weight is used.
So, what to do? Good question. My lifters use a high volume approach, year round, with variable weight. The variability is between competition training cycles and baseline work. There is an inverse relationship between weight used in accessory work and weight used for the competition lifts. As the weight goes up in the squat, for example, accessory work, such as the leg press decreases, and vica versa. We also practice variability between weeks of the cycle. A heavy week or two may be followed a medium, or even a light week, depending on the athlete's response to the heavy work, and their ability to recover.
So, feel to experiment, to find your capacity to lift heavy weight, and the volume and time that you can do it. Good luck.