Training hard? How to maximise your returns.


In a time-short world, to ensure we make the most of our training, maximise the return on our effort, and appreciate the limits of what can be achieved, it’s important to understand the three main variables governing every training programme or training cycle: Volume, Frequency and Intensity.

V+F+I explained
  • Volume: the number of repetitions, sets and exercises of a specific body part or similar base movement in a workout
  • Frequency: the number of repeat workouts in a week on a specific body part or movement
  • Intensity: the load placed on the body, usually measured by a percentage of your 1 rep max (%1RM)

Any training regime will incorporate these three variables, but there is one important rule; at any single time in a training cycle you can operate at the greatest magnitude in 2 of the 3. Never try to operate at maximum intensity in each of them simultaneously. If you do, you will place your nervous system under too much stress, which can lead to overtraining and is ultimately counterproductive.

Three classic training combos

High Volume + High Frequency + Low Intensity

The focus is performing a high amount of sets, reps and exercises for a movement or body part, regularly performed every week, so the loads must be low intensity (50-60% of your 1RM). This training block is great for beginners, to build up technique in lifts such as the squat and deadlift. This combo allows a lot of practise for a movement. Not solely for beginners, some advanced athletes would also benefit.

High Volume + Low Frequency + High Intensity

The focus is performing a high amount of sets, reps and exercises for a specific body part or movement, such as the deadlift, with very high loads (+85% of your 1RM). Perform these workouts once a week in a training cycle – hence low frequency. This can be a great mechanism for peaking your top end strength.

Low Volume + High Frequency + High Intensity

The focus in this training cycle may be performing a lot of the same movements, like squats, every week, each with high loads (+85% of your 1RM). However, in each workout you may only be performing a single working set, so the total work done (volume) in each given workout is low.

Understanding these core training variables allows you to plan each training cycle as effectively as possible to maximize your growth and minimise any potential risk of injury. Each of the above systems have merit and can help every individual develop their fitness at any stage. Exploring each will allow you to consistently improve, helping you avoid any ‘plateaus’, so, for example, if you did reach a strength plateau, switching up your training cycle would be a great method for utilising different variables to yield further growth.

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Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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