The idea of getting better is often interpreted as a need for more. More of everything will improve how we operate. But is that really the case?
In weight training, the definition of volume is how much work you do. The total number of reps in an exercise.
The definition of intensity is how hard that exercise is, generally based on the amount of weight or load you lift.
Take Romanian deadlifts as an example. If you do five reps with 100 lbs and increase your reps to 10, you’ve increased the volume. If you keep the reps at five but increase the weight to 150 pounds, you’ve increased the intensity.
You may wonder how these two factors affect your workout?
In the case of the Romanian Deadlift, higher volume and constant load will tend to increase the work your heart and lungs do because of the extra movement and effort over time. That will improve cardiovascular fitness and some strength and muscle endurance. There may be a minimal increase in strength and muscle size.
Inversely, if you increase the weight and keep the reps the same, you’ll gain strength and muscle, especially if the weight is near a maximal 10 rep effort while gaining minimal heart and lung conditioning. It’s a continuum according to each input of volume or intensity.
Volume can be measured in the hours and minutes you train or in finer detail, like the number of sets and repetitions programmed in your workouts. If you do hybrid training with circuits or intervals interspersed with weights, then volume includes this work as well. The volume of training means intensity over time.
In lifting, intensity almost always refers to the weight you lift, in other words, how hard you work to make that one lift. If you do 20 reps, then you have increased the volume substantially, and ultimately your total work will increase if you raise either the weight or the number of reps or sets.
If you do circuits where anaerobic running or movement is required, then the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) or heart rate can be a guide to intensity. RPE is often measured on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is sitting still and 10 is as hard as you can go. This factor is determined by your personal perception of how you are feeling during that effort.
As a general rule, the intensity in relation to heart rate is measured as a percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR). You can estimate your maximum heart rate as 220 minus your age, although this can be inaccurate for some people. You can also do a maximum treadmill session under the supervision of a doctor or exercise physiologist to establish your maximum heart rate.
How vigorous you are working out in relation to your heart rate will depend on how to fit you are. For example, for someone with cardiovascular disease, walking at a moderate pace might produce a heart rate of 70 percent of MHR, whereas someone with reasonable fitness might be able to jog or even run at a good pace and still only be at 70 percent.
For simple cardiovascular fitness training, you should aim for 65 to 75 percent MHR, although fitter people can train at up to 85 percent without getting too far into the anaerobic training zone. In the anaerobic zone, your body uses more oxygen than it can reasonably take in through the lungs to support that level of intensity, and you pay it back in short order with exhaustion.
For high-intensity, anaerobic training you will train at 85 percent MHR and above. This is best done after you have achieved a reasonable level of all-around fitness.
So in answer to the question posed, is volume better than intensity? The honest answer – it depends. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that fitness is whatever you make of it and only you can decide what your measures are going to be.
Just make sure you enjoy it and get from it what you are looking for.
See you on the other side.
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