The Trials of Volume

Posted by George Corbo on October 30, 2021

Fitness classes today have become more and more arenas of survival, with long workouts, high repetitions and exhaustion being a daily requirement.

Add onto the fire training communities that encourage this like Hiit, Boot Camps, CrossFit and the fuel of daily beautifully edited Influencer videos on Instagram showing nothing but training for hours on end.

The perception of a good workout has changed entirely by the masses - even with a shortage of experience and as a result, fitness businesses are giving people what they want - knowing well it’s not what leads to true Fitness and results.

Volume is a tool that has to be kept in check for a number of reasons. Too much volume can lead to adrenal fatigue, it can force the body to break down the muscle you’ve built for fuel, it can lead to an increase in cortisol levels and it can completely neglect metabolic pathways that are essential to being a well rounded fit individual.

There are other considerations that need to be taken into account - especially when it comes to strength.

Recently I discovered I had been in a strength routine that blinded me from my own progress and again reinforced the need to measure Volume.

I’ve been in a gym training consistently for 12 years. Like anyone, I’ve built my warmup sets around certain weight jumps based on what I feel is appropriate for the goals of the day and my maxes on that lift.

Take a Back Squat day for example. Let’s say I’m working up to a heavy set of three or I’m finding a heavy set of 5 and then staying there for 5 sets.

Well - my usual warm up consists of these weights.

Barbell - 135lbs - 225lbs - 275lbs - 315lbs - 345lbs

By that point I know where I’m at for the day and can plan accordingly.

The issue here is that I became so used to these jumps that over the years as I got stronger - I ignored the fact that each jump comes with a significant increase in overall Volume. (or total weight lifted).

As I started to become more busy in my days and not have the time to do my usual 2 hour plus sessions in the gym - I started to modify these sets to speed things up. 

135 - 225 - 315 - 365 - 405

To my surprise 405 was not nearly as hard as it was in the past with my usual build up to the same weight. 

So I started to push it in little ways. I used a 55lb barbell instead and went 145 - 235 - 325 - 415. 

And again - 415 felt good, even for sets of 3.

I was surprised and realized that I had been downplaying the significance of the overall Volume in my warmup sets.

The addition of smaller jumps increased the total amount of weight moved in the session, even at low repetitions to a point that it made the heavier weights that much harder by the time I got there.

Even if I was only doing sets of 3-5 on the way up - it was clearly taxing on my central nervous system and body before I even reached my work sets or max because some of the top sets I’ve listed here were a struggle on a regular basis.

I tried this with my Bench Press as well, and Deadlift. There were significant differences in these lifts - probably more as a result of my warmups but I noticed similar results. I was able to hit heavier sets with ease.

After all these years - I hadn’t thought to jump quicker to heavier weight and test the waters to see where my Strength was at. It turns out I was a lot stronger than I thought and my routine was holding me back - mentally and physically.

Embarrassing as it was to realize this - I quickly discussed it with a friend. We both laughed at the irony of a coach who always talks shit about high Volume training, ignoring his own high volume tendencies in Strength.

This isn’t to say that you should add a lot more weight and reach your working sets faster. It’s just to say - challenge your routine, test the waters and be aware that more isn’t always better and sometimes it’s downright stupid.

George Corbo
George Corbo


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