How to Plan Volume and Intensity for Varied Training Adaptations

   

The governing rule for all strength and conditioning or general performance training programs is the S.A.I.D. principle. 

The S.A.I.D. principle stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.  

Essentially, what this tells us is that the body will adapt and respond based on the specific physical demands we place upon it. Simply put, tell the body what outcome you want, and it will make the physical adaptations.

Want to improve your lower body explosive power? Simple, train for it.

Want to increase your lean muscle mass? Simple, train for it.

Now, knowing that based on the demands you place on the body you can vary your training response, how exactly do you go about programming your volume and intensity?  

  • Volume: This speaks to the total number of reps that are performed in a training session. For example, if you do 10 sets of 5 reps your volume is 50 reps.
  • Intensity: This is the overall physical output and strain on the body during a training session. Intensity is dictated by the amount of weight lifted (% of 1 rep max) and the exercises selected (Olympic or dynamic movements vs. isolation movements).

The first step is to define your training objective. Once you have defined your performance goals, you can begin to lay out your specific training program. For this, I typically use the NSCA’s guidelines for repetitions as my road map. This is a great starting point and allows for a standardized volume and intensity blueprint for you to reach your goal.  

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The NSCA defined rep-per-set breakdown is as follows:

  • Power: 1-5 reps at 75%-90% of your 1 rep max
  • Strength: 6 reps or less at 85% or less of your 1 rep max
  • Hypertrophy: 6-12 reps at 67%-85% of your 1 rep max
  • Muscular Endurance: 12 or more reps at 67% or less of your 1 rep max

Of course, it’s not exactly as cut and dry as the chart above makes it appear. There are many other factors that play a role in producing the physical adaptations you are training for.  

The biggest factor outside of sets and reps is exercise selection. For this, you want to choose movements that will allow you the greatest ‘bang for your buck’ and will keep your results streamlined.

This means if your goal is to increase explosive power, you should not be training with sets much higher than 5 reps. For example, a high school football team during their summer training phase should not be hitting 10 rep squats. Likewise, if you are looking to pack on muscle, there is little need to spend too much time in a muscular endurance rep range.

This whole process is simple. Follow the science and keep it within the training range and exercise selection that fits your goals.

Here is a sample training session for each of the four training adaptations – Explosive Power, Strength Development, Hypertrophy, and Muscular Endurance.

Desired Training Adaptation: Explosive Power

What athlete would benefit from this model of training?

Any speed/power athlete looking to increase their ability to generate force and compete with an elevated level of power. This is a very advanced method of training and should be reserved for well-trained athletes.  

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Sample Training Session: Lower Body Explosive Power

  • A: Power Snatch 2X5 @ 60% (warm up), 2X5 @ 75%, 2X3 @ 80%, 2X3 @ 85%
  • B: Speed Squat 6X3 @ 85%
  • C: Snatch Pull 3X5 @ 90% (use power snatch max)
  • D: BB Step Up 3X5

As you see, the number of exercises is relatively low. This allows for the intensity within each specific movement to be extremely high. When training for explosive power, the volume of work does not have to be large. However, the intensity must be high.

When training for explosive power, it is vital to ensure that you are using proper work-to-rest ratios. This means that between each set you need to allow yourself at least 90 seconds of rest. As your intensity increases, your rest breaks should follow suit.

Desired Training Adaptation: Strength Development

What athlete would benefit from this model of training?

All athletes, from football players to alpine skiers, benefit from strength development. Strength is the bedrock of all athletic performance and should be a focal point of training for all athletes.

That said, the amount of time each athlete spends in the phase needs to vary depending on the athlete’s sport. Football players may spend more time training for strength development than cross country athletes purely based on the individual demands of their sport.  

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Sample Training Session: Upper Body Strength Emphasis

  • A1: Push Press 2X8 (warm up), 5X5
  • B1: Bench Press 2X6 @ 75%, 2X6 @ 82.5%, 3X4 @ 85%
  • C1: Chin Ups 4X8
  • C2: DB Incline Press 4X6
  • D1: Shoulder Press 3X8
  • D2: Weighted Dips 3X8
  • D3: BB Bicep Curls 3X8

With strength development, the volume of work can be elevated when compared to explosive power. In the above training program, you see movements that are done in a super-set or monster-set layout. When doing this, choose opposing muscle groups that allow for one muscle group to recover while the other is trained.  

When you are training for strength development, you want 2-3 focus lifts which are your foundational movements. In the training session above, we have selected the Push Press and Bench Press as our focus lifts. In these lifts, we will not super-set, and we will focus on having high intensity and an appropriate work-to-rest ratio.  

It is important to mention that with the exception of the bicep curls, every movement is a multi-joint movement. This allows for greater strength development because you are not incorporating any muscle isolation movements.  

Desired Training Adaptation: Hypertrophy

What athlete would benefit from this model of training?

For most non-endurance based athletes some level of hypertrophy is vital. That said, unless you are new to the weight room, you do not want to spend too much time training for this adaptation. Now, if you are simply looking to get ready for pool season…hypertrophy is your best friend.  

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Sample Training Session: Upper Body

  • A1: DB Bench Press 4X10
  • A2: TRX High Row 4X12
  • B1: DB Row 4X10 each side
  • B2: MB Push Up 4X12
  • C1: Arnold Press 3X12
  • C2: Pull Ups 3X8-12
  • D1: Hammer Curls 3X12
  • D2: Skull Crushers 3X12
  • D3: Lateral Raises 3X12
  • E1: DB Curl to Press 3X10 each side
  • E2: TRX Tricep Press 3X12

When training for hypertrophy, volume should be through the roof and intensity is greatly lowered when compared to strength development and explosive power training.  

For most movement in a hypertrophy program, percentages are not assigned because the number of reps are very high. To elicit the training response, we will use movements that are not often tested. That said, you can absolutely use the bench press and the squat as a method to stimulate hypertrophy.

Desired Training Adaptation: Muscular Endurance

What athlete would benefit from this model of training?

This style of training is ideal for endurance-based athletes competing in cross country, cycling, or triathlons. In addition, this method can be a great way to introduce a new lifter to the weight room because it provides great stability, volume, and time under tension which can be valuable teaching tools.  

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Sample Training Session: Lower Body Muscular Endurance and Stability

  • A1: DB Step Ups 3X15 each leg
  • A2: Front Plank 3X60 seconds
  • B1: BB RDL 3X12
  • B2: Pallov Press 3X15 each side
  • C1: BW Squat Jumps 3X15
  • C2: Dead Bugs 3X10 each side
  • D1: Monster Walks 3X20 each side
  • D2: MB Side Toss 3X15 each side

With muscular endurance, you will see that the volume is extremely high and the intensity is very low. This allows the body to execute the movements with proficiency through the elevated volume.

In addition, you will also see that I have paired each movement with some form of core stability training. With this style of training being fitted for an endurance athlete, it is imperative that they have stability through their torso in order for them to maintain movement efficiency while participating in their endurance-based sport.  

Desired Adaptation: Intensity or Volume?

Now that we have defined each of the four major training adaptations, let’s look at the relationship of intensity and volume for each training adaptation.

  • Explosive Power:  High Low
  • Strength Development:  High Moderate
  • Hypertrophy:  Moderate High
  • Muscular Endurance:  Low High

As stated earlier in this article, choose your training goal and follow the science. Remember, as the S.A.I.D. principal states, the body will do what we tell it to do. Training for varied adaptations can be extremely simple if you are disciplined and stick to a regimented training program that attacks your specific desired adaptations.  

About The Author

Rob Van Valkenburgh joins the TrainHeroic blog with 10 years experience in the strength game. Having coached elite athletes in both the private sector and the Division 1 collegiate setting, Rob believes that strength has to be the foundation of all athletic movement and that athletes of all levels deserve a comprehensive strength program. Rob writes regularly on his own website FootballStrengthCoach.com where here shares short form articles, training tips & programs, and other items related to strength and performance for football.

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