It Is Not All About Volume

Written By: Kevin Cann


There are so many things that go into getting stronger and writing a good program.  However, I feel all too often there is a major focus on only one of them, volume.


Now, we can’t deny the importance of volume to getting stronger.  There needs to be an adequate amount of volume in order for the lifter to improve.  However, we can’t just keep adding volume every week.


Your body doesn’t work on a 7-day cycle.  It doesn’t even know what 7 days is.  A week being 7 days is a manmade calendar event.  It isn’t like on Sunday your body goes “I am adapted and ready for more volume.”


I would argue that load management is the most important aspect of training.  Volume is definitely a part of this.  We want to vary low, medium, and high load days to keep the athlete as healthy as possible and to continually push progress.


One thing about a Sheiko program is it never gets too far away from volume baseline.  This is either up or down.  There are none of these sharp spikes in volumes.  I think too often coaches are looking for “overreaching” Overreaching is basically the step before overtraining.  Many believe that if you do this effectively and follow it with a deload something magical happens to the athlete and they get stronger.


To be honest, I am not sure overreaching is a thing.  Even if it was, how would we know for sure we are achieving it?  If we are using a large spike in volume, we need to be careful as we can actually increase injury risk.  If our 7-day volume average exceeds our average per week for a month we increase the risk.  This doesn’t mean they will get hurt, but the risk increases and is the risk worth the reward?


One thing we need to keep in mind with volume is that it needs to be specific to the sport.  When I am talking about volume, I am talking about volume in the competition lifts and their variations.  The majority of the volume in a program should come from these exercises.


Technique should not be put aside to add more volume.  I take that back.  There are times that we need to accept technique for what it is and start driving volumes.  This is for a lifter that is competitive at the national level with a chance of placing.


This should not be done with beginners or those that are just part of the middle of the pack.  Beginners will get stronger no matter what.  We need to make sure they exit the period of beginner gains with solid technique.  This sets them up for continued success.


Same rules apply to the middle of the pack.  If you want to continue to improve to eventually place, technique needs to be an important aspect of training.  This ensures that you can continue to increase your total.


Getting stronger in shitty positions will limit your ceiling with the amount of weight you can lift. Think about it logically, if you deadlift with the chest too far in front of the bar, wouldn’t you lift more if you used your legs more?  I would argue yes.  It may not happen at first, but over time you will.


Every lifter, regardless of skill level, should be assessing weaknesses and attacking them in training. They should spend as much time as possible doing this.  If you aren’t competing for 6 months, take a few months to do this.


This doesn’t mean that you have to lift light.  Find a variation that targets a weakness and basically treat that lift as your comp lift. Need to improve leg strength in the squat?  Use some wide stance variations.


I know people reading this will be like wide stance squats?  Aren’t close stance squats better for quad development?  I use a lot of close stance squats as well, but find the wide stance help the lifter remain more upright in the squat, which is often blamed on weak quads.


Trying to make sense of this, I think this is what it is.  We know wide stance squats target the glutes more.  However, it doesn’t show it hits the quads anymore or any less than other stance widths.


Some research suggests that the hamstrings stiffen up and this allows the glutes to assist the quads in knee extension and vice versa.  Perhaps the glutes getting stronger allows them to better assist the quads?    Perhaps the glutes play a bigger role to keeping the athlete more upright in the squat? Perhaps the wide stance teaches the lifter to keep the hips under the bar more because if pitching happens with a high bar wide stance you will fall over.


Once you plan the variations to target weaknesses literally treat them like your competition lift. Knees cave in with wide stance squats, use wide stance pause halfway up squats.  Drive these weaknesses until the lifter is able to handle typical training weights in this altered position.


As the competition draws near, make it more specific.  I actually drop the frequency during the times that we are using variations and add volume in accessories.  Typically the lifter is not a skilled at these variations, so I am treating them as if they were a beginner.  This also helps keep volume down a bit in the offseason.


One thing to keep in mind with us is we always train heavy.  Effort is always high in the comp lifts and their variations.  I used to use higher volumes with the lifters, but this led to lower weights being used and typically lower RPEs on the top sets.


What I found with this that the lifters struggled when it was time to lift heavier.  This struggle was either psychological, technical, or both. Technique under heavy weights is a bit different than with lighter weights.


We do much more lifting at 90% or higher than most.  Often, my lifters are taking these weights for heavy sets of 1 to 3 reps.  I do not let them grind out reps.  It should be an RPE 9/9.5 at most and technique breakdown has to be very minimum.  I find that doing this over time their technique with heavier weights gets better as well as their confidence.  If I can, we will take those numbers on variations.


In order to do this, we see a drop in overall volume.  However, like I said earlier, volume is very important.  As a competition draws near and we increase the frequency of the comp lifts, our volumes increase quite a bit.


The squat volume I keep around the same, but the majority of reps are comp squats.  The added frequency of bench and deadlifts adds quite a bit to total tonnage and the deadlifts work the same muscles as the squat.  I use the squat volume to drive deadlift volume in the offseason, but deadlift volume to drive more squat volume in a meet prep.


After pushing squat variations for a bit, once the lifter gets back into their comp stance the weights start flying up.  This is where the added squat volume tends to come from.  This is where we use volume to drive progress at competitions.


I think too often lifters and coaches attempt to drive volumes year-round.  This can only last for so long.  Dropping frequency allows for some deconditioning to higher volumes to occur.  This way when we bring it back in there is more of a benefit.


I think volumes matter most by what the athlete is used to doing.  Following the ACWR we can lower average baseline volumes for a period of time, then we can blast volumes appropriately beyond that baseline and peak or a meet.  After we peak volumes, we have a lighter load week, test 17-20 days out and taper from there.


Then we assess and do it all over again.

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