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How Much Volume Should I be Doing?


When I start working with a relatively new athlete (3 years of training or less), two of their most common concerns are that they have hit a “plateau”, or that they want to get stronger but are afraid of “overtraining.” The topic that will be discussed in this article is a concept I like to call “smart volume” for relatively new athletes.
One of the greatest benefits of being a new lifter is that you can pretty much blow your nose and it will make you stronger on one lift or another: the newer you are, the more often you should see an increase in your rep maxes every month. This concept seems to be lost on many beginners, however, and I feel that books like Starting Strength have contributed to it. While the book has introduced many males and females to squats, deadlifts and presses (even if the squat/deadlift form directions are a bit off), it has also introduced them to the concept of “overtraining”. Some of my newer clients are so afraid of overtraining that the idea of squatting more than one day a week makes have a panic attack.

Here is an example of the starting strength beginner program:

The Original Starting Strength Novice Program
Workout A
3×5 Squat
3×5 Bench Press
1×5 Deadlift

Workout B
3×5 Squat
3×5 Press
5×3 Power cleans

Workouts A and B alternate on 3 non-consecutive days per week.

While I understand the benefit of starting slow for someone who has never lifted before, there are people out there that are on their third or fourth cycle of this, and are wondering why they haven’t PR’d their deadlift in over a year. HINT: a 180lb male who thinks his strength has plateaued because his deadlift hasn’t increased in over a year has not actually plateaued, he is just not eating enough or is not doing enough volume. Volume is the name of the game for beginners, volume volume volume. The above Starting Strength workout will keep you so far from overtraining it is not even funny: you will barely leave the realm of warm-up after a while. If you are a 150lb female and you are having trouble adding 5-10lbs to your 140lb squat every 2-3 months, there are serious problems with your programming, and I would usually attribute it to a lack of volume.



When you are new, and your eating is on point, you can literally work your ass off at least four times a week, and you should have no problem recovering. This is where I want to discuss the concept of “smart volume”. When I say smart volume, I don’t mean doing the Filthy Fifty WOD to get yourself stronger, which is just silly. I am talking about doing high amounts of sets, with high amounts of reps under HEAVY weight. Not only will this make you stronger, it will stimulate muscle, tendon and joint strength. Volume should be the goal for all new athletes (I would argue that 4-5 years of training or less), regardless of the sport you compete in. This goes for Olympic lifters too: It can take a very long time for new Olympic lifters to hone their technique for snatch and clean & jerk, and as such, you will not be getting very strong from just doing those two lifts in your training. Instead, those two lifts can be considered your technique work, while all of the assistance work you do after (squats, presses, RDLs, high pulls) will be where you gain your main strength. 

 

As I mentioned previously, I find it a little ridiculous that new athletes want to know what lifters like Klokov, Shaw or Misha are currently doing with their programming, and then try to copy it. Why would you follow the same programming that a world-class athlete is currently doing, when you have ignored what they have done on their path to be world-class? You are putting the cart before the horse, and ignoring all the volume they have performed in their beginning stages. Constantly focusing on sets of 2-3 reps for a couple of sets is not going to contribute nearly as much to your strength as heavy, heavy volume will. Not only will your muscle and tendon strength increase, you will be able to better feel out the weights when performing 4-7 sets of 5 or more reps, and build confidence when you are able to muscle through lifts as you get fatigued.
This is a huge reason why I love training for Strongman: there could be close to 200 different events that a show promoter can put in a show, and as such, you have to practice to be good at everything at all times. I know that sounds dangerously close to the “constantly varied” training model, but it rings true nonetheless. Not only do you need to practice everything at all times, you need to be strongly proficient for reps, not just for singles. Our events usually boil down to 2 methods: How many times can you lift this in 60 seconds, and how far or quickly can you carry this with a 90 second time limit. Occasionally there are “last man standing” events, but those aren’t as prominent as the 2 I previously mentioned.
If you are a new lifter, and you are still following a 3×5 model for all your lifts (sometimes even doing as little as 1×5) week in and week out, you should consider adding some serious volume to your training. My training partner Matt Falk is a perfect example of this: he took his deadlift from 515 to 660 in a little over a year by deadlifting in various ways as much as 4 times a week. It really goes to show that some of the claims coming out of Westside Barbell (workouts that last longer than an hour are a waste of time, or deadlifting more than once a week will impede your deadlift progress) are not all they are cracked up to be. I promise you that adding smart volume to your programming will do nothing but benefit your lifts, muscle mass, and overall confidence under heavy weights. Try it out yourself to see how it works for you, and contact us if you want to know different ways you can implement it.
How has adding more volume changed your training progress? Let us know on Facebook.



18 thoughts on “How Much Volume Should I be Doing?

  1. is that a rep set scheme or a set rep scheme u guys use? thanks.

  2. Hey mr.morrison..

    I love your blog sir!! I am an 18 year old power lifter still in high school. I eat big. Obviously, I am aware of the detrimental effect of alcohol…but how bad can it be?

    I am going to drink most weekends…a lot. You know, living life. How much can this effect my gains?

    I appreciate it
    Thanks for your time
    Bobby

  3. Brother(s) and sister(s) in the Church of Iron,
    I am currently on the Texas Method and making more gains than I can handle in my squat/bench…but deadlift, having always been my strongest lift, is lagging behind. If I were to implement this volume training, would you advise I do it on monday (the “volume” day) or on a wednesday, the “recovery” day? Thanks for the consideration!

  4. I absolutely love both yours and Westside Barbell’s training philosophies, that being said, I don’t know if it’s that smart to call them out considering they’ve produced numerous world class power lifters. Clearly they gotta be doing something right… I do agree with your article though, but I think you should differentiate between the sport of strongman and the sport of power lifting. Stick to your bread and butter and let Westside stick to theirs.

  5. I don’t see the problem of calling them out when they offer their geared, half squat powerlifting advice to crossfitters and olympic lifters. They are good at geared powerlifting, but the methods of gear aren’t that appicable to everyone else.

  6. Running through Smolov currently as an athlete with under 2 years of real, lifting ‘training’ – it’s amazing what intelligently programmed volume can do (I went on Smolov because I need 6-8+ weeks to give my shoulder a rest and cut back on all overhead lifting). Great article and I can’t wait to dedicate a few more years to lifting heavy sh#t while lifting big and eating big.

    [I’m a 63-65kg guy and pre-Smolov Base I was HBBS 275-280# and after the first cycle I hit 322# like butter, got to love some battle-tested Russian squats]

  7. I’ve gone from training 3 times a week and occasional strongman sessions to training powerlifting 6x a week, with a 4-5hr strongman session once a week on a lower volume day – nothing but lots of sleep and lots of food. I now have gainz coming out my ears.
    Overtraining is a myth perpetuated by the weak and stupid

  8. As the author stated – don’t look to what the best are doing now, look at what they did before. No one goes to Westside with a 315lb squat and Louie turns them into “world-class” lifters – most, if not everyone, who trained there had years of experience.

    I have another point of contention: By “world class power lifters” do you mean obese powerlifters who rely almost entirely on their suits and poor judging to get their big numbers? Louie is so smug about his 1,000+ lb “squatters” and seems to carry on as if these are the top of the powerlifting game. But how can these guys compare with current greats who compete and display their raw and geared dominance over powerlifting – Malanichev, Belyaev, Konstaninovs, Posdeev, Nikulin, Green, Lilliebridge, Efferding, Nera, Lewis….those are what came to my head first and notice none of them are obese and none use Westside’s methods in a nutshell. This doesn’t even cover the vast catalog of powerlifters who used plain old linear periodization and tons of volume.

  9. if you’re smart about what you drink, you don’t binge on bullshit foods during/after, and you don’t drink to the point where you black out or have severe hangovers, going out and drinking doesn’t have to be that detrimental at all. I would also suggest training balls out and having a fucking massive quality meal the day you plan on going out. I’ve woken up significantly more shredded the day after tying one on several times following this protocol. FRAT!!

  10. I started crossfit about a year ago and love it but I do feel like I should be doing more actual lifting. I mean, we do a strength lift before the actual Metcon which at times had heavy weight in it too so I do get a great workout and have increased strength. but I am a relatively new lifter, 3 years. So would you suggest someone like me who is looking to get stronger do one of the LBEB training programs AND crossfit or would the two just be too much on the body?

  11. hey brandon –

    you mentioned that westside suggests training over an hour is pointless. What length (in hours) do you think is appropriate to train, when training 4x a week?

    Thanks 🙂

    Lindsey

  12. Yet another person who either has not read or cannot grasp the content of “Starting Strength”. Big fucking surprise! I like this blog, but show some integrity by actually giving an accurate representation of someone you pretend to critique.

    According to the actual book and what Mark Rippetoe has taught for years, if you are eating right and getting enough sleep and you are not adding weight to the bar EVERY SINGLE WORKOUT you are supposed to move on to more advanced programming. He does recommend one or two “resets” where you drop the weight 5-10% and try and push back through a plateau, but once you actually stall, he recommends different programming.

    It also should be noted that your example of the program is wrong as well. The frequency and the exercises change according to your ability to continue adding weight to the bar EVERY SINGLE WORKOUT.

    Typically, this happens between 3-9 months, depending on the individuals ability to add weight to the bar EVERY SINGLE WORKOUT.

    The strawman program you present is not Marks’s Starting Strength model and the imaginary trainees you mention are simply suffering from the same inability to read or grasp the content of “Starting Strength” that you are.

  13. I’m a recovering CFer… and sideline powerlift/strongman fan ever since I met Nick Best at the Arnold 3 or 4 years ago. I was blown away by that sport and new I wanted to try something new after I left CF Kids. I’ve been coaching beginner S&C for girls soccer for the last three years, and with my daughter graduating it’s time for me-time. Working through your beginner 4-week program just to do it – then most likely your mass building. I’ve never deadlifted more than 425 and never squatted over 320. Time for a change and better programming.

    Love your blog, your programming, and your attitudes. Thanks in advance for helping with my upcoming PRs

  14. Just DLing 3x/week, using 70-90% 1RM, med-high as per Prilepin, I gained about 10 lbs and 3 inches on each thigh.

    Without other exercises, without assistance, without squats, dropping the deadlifts.

  15. 10 lb overall*

  16. Hey guys, awesome article. What do you think of the Texas method, which has trainees doing a Volume day and an Intensity day, in one week. The volume is something like 5×5 or 8×4, or 5×5 + 2×8, or whatever the trainee needs and an intensity day of, say, 2 heavy triples. Do you think trainees are better off with 2 Volume days, instead? Thanks again, nice article.

  17. Brandon, I have no idea if you will see this or not, but I did a routine just like the one you outlined and my deadlift is weaker than my squat. I squat ATG 475lbs, but can only deadlift 455lbs. Is there a way to do more deadlifts with a template like this?

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