To understand how to choose the right training programme for you, you need to consider three key things: Volume, Intensity and Frequency. These three things form the foundations of any training programme and go hand in hand; each affecting one another. Once you understand their roles you’ll be able to make more personal decisions when it comes to selecting a training programme or even creating one for yourself that you can sustain.
Volume is the weight and total number of sets and reps performed in a workout/ week. Volume = Weight x Sets x Reps. Higher volume training has been proven to support with building muscle over lower volume training. Now it doesn’t mean that you need to do as much as possible in a workout because two things will happen, you’ll plateau very quick and you’re more likely to fall into an ‘overtrained’ state; where you simply burn out. When you’re considering the volume aspect of your training remember this quote by Helms: “Do enough to progress, not as much as possible. Increase when plateaued if you’re recovering well.” It can be that simple when considering the volume of your training. As you get fitter your volume can increase so aim to increase your volume over a period of weeks to keep you progressing and seeing results. One thing you need to be aware of with volume is if you increase the weight you lift, you’re increasing your volume so you don’t need to always increase the amount of reps or sets you perform.
Intensity is the amount of weight you lift. If you think intensity is more ‘intense’ with heavier weights. So low intensity training means training using lighter weights whereas high intensity uses heavier weights. If you’re goal is to build muscle then intensity should be a progressive element in your training, if you’re getting stronger you’re adding more muscle. If you’re goal is to lose body fat and maintain muscle then you should still be aiming to increase the intensity of your training. This will allow you to preserve more muscle and will require a lot of energy, therefore burning a lot of calories. Now lighter weight training still has its place, as long as the volume is still high you’ll still be able to build muscle. It also allows you to take a back off from heavier weights when you’re more prone to injuries. Use varied intensities in your training to get the best of both but try to make sure you’re progressing.
Are you training at the right intensity?
You can use how you feel to know if you’re training at the right intensity. This is known as the rate of perceived exertion or RPE. The higher up the RPE scale the harder you’re working to lift a weight or perform a set. I think of RPE as how many reps I’ve got left in the tank. If for example I had 2 reps left in me then I would say it was an RPE8 whereas if I was maxing out and really grinding out my final rep it would be RPE10; 10 being it was to failure and anything before was somewhat easier. It is a very good habit to rate your sets and workouts, this way you can work on areas that need improving and plan ahead for your next workout in terms of weight and reps you’ll aim for. Remember, it’s always good to have a plan. Inside my free Training Essential Cheat Sheet you start using the RPE scale this to assess your training intensity.
Frequency is all about how your volume and intensity is spread across your week; It is how ‘frequent’ you do something. If you train a certain muscle (considering volume and intensity) several days a week then you have a high training frequency for that muscle group. Alternatively, if you train a muscle group once a week then it is trained at low frequently because you’re not working out that particular ‘frequently’. Frequency is about balancing out your volume and intensity in a way that allows you to train a muscle group several days a week. If you train at super-high volume then your training frequency should be lowered otherwise you risk burning out. If you train at a high intensity all of the time it’s just not sustainable. Likewise if you train at a high volume and high intensity you’ll burn out because you need to consider that heavy weight training is very stressful on your body. When you consider training frequency consider your rest too. Everything around the volume and intensity will affect how frequent you can train a muscle group. In my free Training Essentials Cheat Sheet you can find some questions to consider how frequently you can train a muscle group.
Consider each of these 3 training essentials when you next choose a training programme or think about how you’re going to create a programme that you can stick to.