Explanation of Volume vs Intensity

Could someone explain what it means to have a workout geared more towards instensity versus volume and vice versa…

Intensity is how heavy the weight is relative to your 1RM. Your goals will dictate which you should focus on.

CT had a good article on intensity, volume, and a couple other aspects that a workout can be based on.

Incase chimera’s post doesn’t make it really clear- as he doesn’t explain how to two relate to each other, I’ll have a stab at it-

As chimera said, Intensity relates to what percentage of your 1rm you’re lifting- the higher the percentage, the higher the intensity. Of course, as the intensity is upped, the number of reps that you can complete (per set) consequently drops.

Volume, in my understanding, refers to the total weight lifted or total number of reps (over how ever many sets)… so it usually follows that the intensity would be lower, but as you will see in this example, it’s not quite that simple…

Here’s a real simple example-

You’re doing curls, you choose 20kg DB’s and all you can manage is 5 reps for 4 sets- Because you haven’t managed to get out many reps per set the intensity is quite high- as you are obviously lifting a fair percentage of your 1rm.
Total volume= 20(kg)x 5 (reps) x 4 (sets)= 400kg

To increase volume, you could do one of two things (or both)- decrease the weight, and do more reps per set. Or keep the weight the same but add more sets.
Total volume- 10kg x (15 reps) x 4 (sets)= 600kg
or
total volume- 20kg x 5(reps) x 6 (sets)= 600kg.

Note that in reality it’s not this simple- because volume/intensity needs to be balanced to allow for proper recovery-
in fact, in the example I gave, although the total volume is the same between the two (600kg) I could guarantee that the 20kg 5x6 would be much harder to recover from- because the intensity is high. It’s a balancing act.

As chimera said, it will depend on your goals as to which your workouts will be focused more on-
and it changes with each individual movement/muscle, too- for the sake of argument, say your goal is hypertrophy, the overall volume for your calves would/could/should be much higher than, say, your chest.
And of course each individual will respond differently, too.
And if that wasn’t enough, you also have to throw considerations for frequency into the mix.

I hope this was clear enough/helpful.

intensity is also based on how present you are within the lift, moving a weight up and down is much different then focusing on the lift, lifting with the muscle you are training, contracting and squeezing the muscle you are training.

additionally, intensity isn’t just then that, your emphasis can vary, sometimes your not as focused on the finite subtleties of movement, sometimes you are surviving, killing, leaving it all in the gym. sometimes intensity is “i’m moving this big fucking weight.”

guys like Arnold and Ronnie trained w/ volume and intensity, guys like Dorian trained w/ less volume but absolute intensity. Dorian fried his CNS w/ brief intense bombardment, imagine a few warm up sets and then 1-2 absolute working sets to failure and beyond failure.

remember: moving an object up and down w/out connecting the brain/being to it, w/out thought, this is not intense.

i’m throwing it against the wall, so to speak, hope some of it sticks.

[quote]czar14 wrote:
CT had a good article on intensity, volume, and a couple other aspects that a workout can be based on.

[/quote]

This is probably the best article on T-Nation.

LOL. LOLOL. So intensity is %1RM, huh? Except for cyrusseven, no one has a fucking clue around here so far.

And now we need an article to teach you what intensity is??? LOL.

Here’s a question for you noobs:

Whats more intense? 12 reps with your 12RM or 6 reps with your 6RM or 3 reps with your 3RM.

Geez, get off your high horse. The common terminology for % 1rm is intensity. It should really be % 1rm, but it is what it is. So nobody’s wrong.

You know, I’ve noticed that posts starting with “LOL” tend to have a low accuracy rate.

Tribunaldude, you are using the word in the sense of guys saying, “Whoah dude, that was like way intense! I like totally, you know, intensed-out on that.”

Or in the sense of HIT guys (who are using it the same way.)

But not in the sense that those more conversant with exercise science, and not in the HIT camp, use the term.

The previous posters were correct.

Gee, Bill…exercise science? HIT? Are we arguing the “exercise science” textbook definition of intensity or what intensity is supposed to mean from a bodybuilding standpoint? As in perceived intensity of effort or percentage of max effort (or whatever you cool kids are calling it these days)

Or perhaps us harmless totally un-jacked blokes working the moderate rep ranges for strength gains – seem to have been training totally "NON-intense"ly in that case.

[quote]Bill Roberts wrote:
You know, I’ve noticed that posts starting with “LOL” tend to have a low accuracy rate.

Tribunaldude, you are using the word in the sense of guys saying, “Whoah dude, that was like way intense! I like totally, you know, intensed-out on that.”

Or in the sense of HIT guys (who are using it the same way.)

But not in the sense that those more conversant with exercise science, and not in the HIT camp, use the term.

The previous posters were correct.

[/quote]

Here’s another example of a low intensity leg press. Check out the skinny black dude psyching himself up with “woaaah dude, I am sooo intense, yeaaahh” before executing GASP 8 reps

If you truly believe that %1RM is what defines intensity from a BB standpoint, Bill then I finally understand whats going on around here.

[quote]tribunaldude wrote:
LOL. LOLOL. So intensity is %1RM, huh? Except for cyrusseven, no one has a fucking clue around here so far.

And now we need an article to teach you what intensity is??? LOL.

Here’s a question for you noobs:

Whats more intense? 12 reps with your 12RM or 6 reps with your 6RM or 3 reps with your 3RM.

[/quote]

1000 reps with your 1RM. Now thats intense

The original “volume vs. intensity” debate as it pertains to bodybuilding was (to the best of my knowledge):

Lots of non-failure sets (“volume”, and yes, I’m aware of the fact that you can do a lot of sets to failure as well.) vs. very few sets to failure and beyond (“intense” training/HIT/whatever).

While Bill and co are correct in that “intensity” is actually defined as %1RM in weight-training, that is not really the meaning it originally had in that debate.

OP, personally, if I didn’t know what to do or what’s important in this game and what’s not, I’d read the threads referenced in the “Best of T-Nation” stickies. hinthint

European lifters do something similar (not exactly but…) – called PITT system. You rerack the weight at the end of each rep, pause a couple of breaths and try to do 12-15 reps with your 6-8RM.

[quote]phishfood1128 wrote:
tribunaldude wrote:
LOL. LOLOL. So intensity is %1RM, huh? Except for cyrusseven, no one has a fucking clue around here so far.

And now we need an article to teach you what intensity is??? LOL.

Here’s a question for you noobs:

Whats more intense? 12 reps with your 12RM or 6 reps with your 6RM or 3 reps with your 3RM.

1000 reps with your 1RM. Now thats intense[/quote]

[quote]tribunaldude wrote:
Gee, Bill…exercise science? HIT? Are we arguing the “exercise science” textbook definition of intensity or what intensity is supposed to mean from a bodybuilding standpoint? As in perceived intensity of effort or percentage of max effort (or whatever you cool kids are calling it these days)

Or perhaps us harmless totally un-jacked blokes working the moderate rep ranges for strength gains – seem to have been training totally "NON-intense"ly in that case.[/quote]

As I said, you are using the term in the “Whoah dude, that was like way intense!” sense.

You can use words however you want, but going and telling everyone else they are wrong when they are using it completely correctly is a mistake.

Btw, I noticed just now that an edit I had done in my first post, which addressed the OP’s question, has now disappeared. So I’ll try again.

While it’s often said that you can’t have high intensity and high volume at the same time, to a large extent actually it is possible to have both. For example, the 3rd and 4th workouts of the week in a Smolov Jr routine are 8x4 at 80% 1RM and 10x3 at 85% 1RM, respectively. High volume and fairly high percent 1RM.

However, the example also shows a limitation, as no one would recommend doing such routines for very many months on end.

And also certainly it’s possible to illustrate a high volume routine that is not permissive of as much intensity. For example, doing a pyramid starting at 10 reps at 50% 1RM and dropping 1 rep and adding 5% RM till working up to say 5 reps at 75% 1RM, with one minute rest inbetween, then following this up after another minute’s rest with 4 sets with an attempted 10 reps each with 30 seconds inbetween can be workable and productive in some instances. It is very high volume: it can easily be about 80 reps or so. It would not be so workable to try 80 reps of an exercise all at high percentage 1RM.

Intensity is the percentage
Intensiveness is the other thing

You guys are arguing over semantics

Intensity can be taken two ways.

In the strength sports circles (power lifting/olympic weightlifting) it basically means what %1RM you train at. The higher your intensity, the closer you train to your %1RM. In strength sports, doing singles at 90-100% is an intense phase. The purpose of this is to get the body used to moving high loads. But training at max “intensity” all the time is a sure fire way to lose technique, and thus have crappy lifts later on, so it must be cycled. It’s not a term used to describe your mental mind set when you train (you should be intense all the time), it is a term used to describe the purpose of a phase in a training cycle. When intensity lowers in a cycle, it doesn’t mean you work less, chances are you work more.

In the bodybuilding circles, the term is less technical and describes more of the mindset a bodybuilder approaches their training. I’m not entirely aware of how bodybuilders periodizes their training cycles, but their end goal is always building as much muscle mass as possible. As a result, they don’t need phases where they work on technique, speed, or getting their body accustomed to doing specific competition movements at high loads. The term Intensity, bears no meaning with respect to how a bodybuilder structures their workout, but relates to their mindset.

And since this is the bodybuilding forum, I would be inclined to give you the second definition, which TribunalDude and Cyruseven75 have described fairly accurately.

If you have questions about the first definition (structuring a workout with varying intensities and volumes) I would address the powerlifting or Olympic lifting forum, depending on your choice of strength sport.

I understand people liking using the word in the HIT way. Aside from the fact that they’ve read it and heard it, it is a natural-seeming word usage.

If wanting to communicate with like-minded people in going on about just how very much one just put into a workout or set, or ought to, it’s natural enough.

However when having a discussion about planning workouts, it’s really mostly a rah-rah word when used that way.

It’s not measurable.

And you can’t tell by looking.

For example, while I would rather not make faces and definitely have no liking for doing so, there are some exercises where I wind up making just as much faces as Arnold did even though there may be still 6 reps to go. So according to the HIT definition of percent momentary maximum strength (which is not an actual measured or measurable thing when it is less than 100%) the “intensity” was not high, since with that many reps still in the tank, my actual strength is probably at least 10% greater.

But there are other exercises where I am in fact putting in extreme effort on the last rep, but there’s not so much faces.

You can’t tell by looking.

You can’t tell in any way, other than that if bar speed remains high then clearly there was reserve strength remaining.

But yet there is no true virtue in aiming to have every set end with an utterly grinding, couldn’t-have-done-one-more-pound rep.

It really is like people talking about putting in “110% effort.”

It is just rah-rah language. Another person could say, Well that’s being a slacker: I put in 150% effort.

Then of course the next guy tops them all with how he always put in 200%, and that’s really how you get hyooge.

It’s a rah-rah word, but not a program-planning word.

In contrast, “intensity” as used in exercise science is a useful program-planning word, as well as a measurable thing.

I have no objection to people using it as a rah-rah word, but only to claims that others are wrong for using the word according to the percent 1RM meaning.

Should be well known by now that some terms mean different things in a bodybuilding context than they do in a scientific context.

Thats why I linked that article I think it does a good job of explaining how the terms are used in both contexts which should help someone who’s new (I assume the OP is new if he’s asking definitions of common terms) not to mention it addresses that intensity in a bodybuilding sense is referred to as intensiveness in exercise science.