Training Principles – Volume & Intensity

Hey Folks!

I didn't necessarily intend for this to become a "theme", but there are just a lot of things that work well as "principles" to approach training that, as I've learned over the years, make sense once you know them, but weren't so obvious until you did (at least for me).  ​So with that said, today's post shouldn't be as long a read, but it's something important to keep in mind when approaching your training. 

This was originally going to be "volume VS. Intensity", as that's what we'll more or less be delineating, but sometimes they can be difficult to tell apart from each other.  We're going to unpack when it's a good idea to increase your volume, when it's a bad idea to do so, and how intensity plays in as well.  You can think of it as a Mendels table

Sudbury, Fitness, Training, Coach, Personal Trainer

Let's dive in a little deeper on each of these sections...

High Volume & Low Intensity:

This is where a lot of your endurance work, monostructural work, and flexibility and mobility work should live.  You can't force flexibility.  You can ignore it and suffer the consequences (which doesn't help), or you can encourage it along.  But ultimately, flexibility and mobility are things that need to be slowly chipped away at.  For clarification, we're calling flexibility the pliability of muscle and tendon (skin and fascia would be in there too), and mobility the function of the joints.  Trying to force these tissues to give is a recipe for injury.  Some sports massage, self massage, foam rolling, etc. can help for sure - other times you might need a more subtle approach, where less is more (a la MELT, Yoga/Neuro Tune-up, Yin yoga, etc.).

Before endurance athletes get upset about being in this quadrant, (though the very experienced ones probably aren't upset at all), we'll keep in mind that the boundaries are not set in stone, but that you are likely not a unique snowflake that somehow fits WAY outside those boundaries.  Pushing the intensity on a marathon is a great way to bonk (AKA "hit the wall", or "run out of gas").  I've heard someone mention on a practice marathon that they made it through the first 30km in 3 hours, and then took another 3 hours to finish the last 12.2km.  That's a situation where a little less intensity during those first 3 hours, would have helped a lot in the last ​half of that run.  Too much intensity means you bump out of using the oxidative pathway, and you use too much of the anaerobic, lactic pathway - which causes an environment in the muscles that does not promote the ability to continue contracting efficiently.  Elite endurance athletes, through extensive training, are able to bump that threshold up more and more, but not by constantly exceeding it.  Dial back the intensity on your endurance work and you might just get better all around (you'll likely find you recover better too!). 

Low Volume & High Intensity:

This is where a LOT of our work comes in.  This also exists on a HUGE gradient.  A single weightlifting movement is VERY high intensity, and VERY low volume.  Fran is high intensity low volume.  These exist in areas where we work HARD, and then less hard, or (if we're lucky) we get full on rest between efforts.  This is our strength training (ex. barbell work), stamina work (tabata work, intervals, most WODs), and Power and speed (sprints, weightlifting).  A 1RM deadlift will smoke your central nervous system (you'll feel tired afterwards), but your muscles won't actually be THAT sore (versus, say a 10 or 20 rep max).  Being sore isn't the goal, though it happens sometimes.  It isn't the enemy, it should just be treated as information for us to respond to.  We can dive into neurological strength versus muscular strength another time.

Low Volume & Low intensity:

Talkin' 'bout practice!  Cartwheels, single skips, turkish get-ups, Kettlebell arm bars, ladder drills, Jumping and landing drills/mechanics work, bosu ball work.  All that fun stuff is something you use to practice.  They're usually things we aren't very good at, or that using a heavy load defeats the purpose of.  This is important for acquiring new skills, cleaning up technique, or just plain, old, deliberate practice.  Many new clients will live in this area for months before they truly access higher intensity areas (which is a good thing!)

You can fit these things in between sets of your strength work, while you're warming up or cooling down, etc. These things can make a big difference, and are very easy to overlook. ​​

High Volume & High Intensity:

This is game day.  This is competition day.  This is NOT. EVERY. DAY.  Ideally these days should be planned out well in advance, and training adjusted to accommodate them.  It isn't about these days never happening.  We need these days every so often (depending on the person and their goals).  But trying to train in this area every day is too much and WILL result in injury, or poor movement patterns (which will eventually lead to injury).  Be safe, be smart, and plan your exposures to these kinds of days/situations with the help of a qualified coach (for your strength & conditioning as well as for your specific sport, ideally).  

This is where smashing more volume, and feeling like you always need to be doing MORE isn't necessarily the answer.  Sometimes the answer is to put your energy into your flexbility, your stability, or maybe even just sleeping more or eating better.  Sometimes it's using the extra time to work on skills, and some low intensity cardiovascular endurance work.  Smashing your face into a wall multiple times a day isn't going to make you any prettier, that's for sure.  So let's smash it delicately, deliberately and with the help of an expert 😉  Well... maybe not smash, but... condition, haha.

Stay Healthy, Friends!
Dr. Adam Ball​