Cycling Volume in Strength Training
Training volume appears to be one of the factors that play a primary role in inducing muscle development stimulus. And though it is an important one, it needs to be properly combined with intensity and rest times.
When you combine both, to create an effective working volume, you can start playing around with the numbers of sets and reps, to emphasize the development of certain body parts. In this article, we’ll take you through the basics of volume cycling to give you insight on how you can improve your lacking areas.
What Are Volume & Intensity?
Training intensity & training volume are two separate training variables, which have to be very well combined, as we already mentioned.
Intensity (in strength) increases the closer you get to your maximum strength capabilities on a given exercise. For instance, if you can bench press 100 lbs for 1 rep and fail to do a second rep unassisted, 100 lbs represents 100% intensity for you, for that exercise.
Volume on the other hand, represents the total amount (sum) of weight lifted on a given set, exercise or a workout. For example, if we take that same 1 rep set with 100 kg, that would be a volume of 100 kg. Oppositely, if you do 10 repetitions with 100 kg, that would be a volume of 1000 kg (Volume = Weight * Sets * Reps)
What Is The Optimal Training Volume?
When you combine intensity and volume, you get a workload that is challenging and each set takes you within 2-3 reps shy of failure. This is effective volume and should be at the core of your workouts, whether you are training for strength or for bulk muscle growth.
The optimal training volume forms at 12-30 challenging working sets, per muscle group, per week, depending on your level of training. Beginners, for example, can reap benefits with just 5-6 sets per week - but as you progress and reach 15-20 sets, plateaus in development may be reached and even more sets will be required to reach progressive overload (the stimulus for growth).
What is Volume Cycling?
Trying to build up all muscle groups all at once may be a challenging and unsustainable task, because all compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups. For this reason, it often happens that you may not be able to get to peak recovery, especially on your weaker muscle groups.
This is when you can implement the concept of volume cycling, which implies a slight decrease in the volume for already well-developed muscle groups, and an increase for the weaker muscle groups.
Technically, this concept works for bringing up weak body parts, because the minimum volume you can MAINTAIN the well-developed muscle groups at, is about 30% of your minimum effective volume (i.e you can do ~5 sets per muscle group per week and maintain it).
Example Of Training Adjustments
Now, though you will be putting priority on your weaker muscle groups, you should still consider choosing exercises that work WITH your stronger body parts. Those are compound movements that allow you to lift heavy weights, but on top of that, you can also include a good amount of volume with isolated movements.
For instance, if your chest is well developed, but your triceps are lacking, focus more on close grip bench press & triceps dips - this primarily engages the triceps, but also the chest and shoulders.
This is mostly applicable for the upper body, where certain exercises for the bigger muscle groups, may leave the smaller muscle groups exhausted and unable to complete quality volume.
Tips For Bringing Up Lacking Muscle Groups
Manipulating your training variables is one of the most important things about bringing up weaker muscle groups. Besides that, you can view your training split and week as a cycle, where you usually have the most energy and focus at the beginning. For this reason, you can structure your training around the weaker muscle groups by:
Placing them first in the training split
Placing them first in the workout
Furthermore, you can apply volume cycling, place a cooldown on dominant muscle groups and focus on the lacking ones by increasing the weight, sets and repetitions.
To Wrap It Up
Training volume is an essential part of your workout and when combined with intensity, it can create a powerful stimulus for overall muscular development. Nevertheless, sometimes it happens that some muscle groups develop faster than others, leaving lacking muscle groups behind.
This is exactly when you can deload on the well-developed groups and pump up the quality volume in favor of your weaker ones. Ready to achieve aesthetics, and functionality? Go for it!