T Nation

Intensity and Volume

I’m confused by this statement. You said that he is upping the intensity with this workout and there isn’t much volume. I would think he might be putting in a large amount of volume with the drop sets? I would also think he has very low intensity with this workout? Do you mind clarifying what you mean by intensity and volume? I feel like I have a different understanding of what those two are.

Intensity= average weight lifted in a workout
Volume= total weight lifted in a workout

This cleared up your view for me a little. I guess we have the same definition of intensity and volume.

Ha, if it’s cleared up, cool. But I think they’re a little different. It does get a little tricky depending on the context of the training plan.

In a “bodybuilding” workout, intensity deals with how close to muscular failure you take a given set. So a set done to failure follow by rest-pause followed by two drop sets is much higher intensity than a set that leaves two reps in the tank. In a strength-focused workout, intensity would measure % of a given rep max.

Volume is always a measure of sets and reps, regardless of load. Three exercises done 5x10 each is higher volume (150 total reps) than five exercises done 3x6 each (90 total reps).

“Total weight lifted in a workout” would be ‘tonnage’, which is basically volume that does factor load. A 3x10 using 115 for each set is higher tonnage (3450 total work done) than a 3x3 workout using 315 for each set (2835 total work done).

Hope that all made sense and didn’t make things more confusing. It’s the terminology I originally learned and have used since, but there’s a chance meanings have shifted over time.

1 Like

Ok. Let’s say lifter a. Does 5x10 with 100 lbs
Lifter b. Does 5x6 with 200 lbs
Who would you say had more volume?

My understanding is lifter b. had more volume. You are saying lifter a.?

I have never heard a coach in weight training of any kind suggest a lifter needing to increase “tonnage”

3x10 using 115 and a tonnage of 3450 is more volume than 3x5 using 315 and a tonnage of 4725?

A lifter that has progressed from 3x10 with 185lbs up to 3x10 with 225lbs has not increased their training volume?

In a bodybuilding workout a lifter that does leg extensions with 150 for 3 sets of failure, lets say 20-18-15. Has a higher intensity workout over a lifter that does 5 sets of 2 reps with 315 on the squat? And for arguements sake, let’s say the lifter who is performing the squat has more reps in the tank after every set.

I’ve always thought of it as: lifter a has done more volume, whereas lifter b had more intensity.

Lifter b had higher intensity as well. He had more volume and intensity

yeah that’s what I said - lifter b had higher intensity.

Lifter A had more volume because he did more reps. In my mind volume = reps; intensity = % of 1RM

For awhile, to regular gym-rat dudes, Intensity meant how close to failure you took the set. And those dudes took every set to failure. So they could have intense workouts. Like HIT. I used to know a great poster on another board called “Intenseman.”

These days, Intensity is % of 1 rep max. So 100% intensity is all out for 1. Now it’s useful to relate to other lifters, and how much weight you are lifting realative to them, When comparing programs or whatever.

But the terms are not unified yet. Not everyone is on the same page, 100%.

Louie Simmons talks about tonnage all the time. But he calls it volume.

Right. Volume is tonnage.

Volume= total weight lifted in a workout
Intensity=average weight lifted in a workout

For an individual assessing their own workout it is often volume= sets and reps. Because they will typically lift more tonnage over a course of workout when they are doing multiple sets for multiple reps based off their 1rm. But, it is only the partial true definition of volume in a workout. Volume= sets × reps × load
Intensity= tonnage ÷ total reps

This allows people to compare their intensity and volume with others.

You cannot measure a workout intensity based on how close a lifter brings himself to failure on each set. You can’t place a numerical value on that and track it.

What would be a lifters workout intensity be if he took each set to a couple of reps before failure? Medium intensity? Haha. Medium to heavy intensity? Workout intensity is a measurement, it is tonnage ÷ total reps. Or volume ÷ total reps. Because volume is total weight lifted or tonnage.

Google RPE.

Disclaimer: I don’t go that deep into analysing my workouts.

1 Like

It’s one way to measure a workout’s “work” and track progress. Tony Gentilcore discussed it, Rippetoe discusses it here with regard to the Texas Method, Dan Trink laid out a way to use it here, Dan John briefly talked about tonnage here.

[quote]Ok. Let’s say lifter a. Does 5x10 with 100 lbs
Lifter b. Does 5x6 with 200 lbs
Who would you say had more volume?[/quote]
Lifter A did more volume. Load is not a factor when determining volume.

Correct. The total sets and reps stayed the same, so the volume remained the same. 3x10 is the same volume as 3x10 and 10x3 and 5x6 and 1x30. Volume doesn’t live in a vacuum, so load and intensity are relevant to the results of the overall program, but if you’re looking at volume, you only need to know the sets and reps.

There’s no numerical value (other than the optional RPE, like DT said), but for decades, intensity in bodybuilding was measured by how close the lifter gets to muscular failure on a given set. Leaving reps in the tank is lower intensity, hitting failure is higher intensity, using intensity-boosters like forced reps, rest-pause, or drop sets to train past muscular failure increases the set’s intensity even further.

Depending on how many reps were left in the tank, yes. Doing 6 reps with an 8-rep max weight would be considered moderate intensity. Doing 3 reps with an 8-rep max weight would be considered low intensity.

The volume and intensity issue is why we categorize Dorian Yates’ chest workouts (with 3-4 exercises, 6 total sets, and rest-pause, negatives, and forced reps) as low volume/high intensity, and Arnold’s chest workouts (with 4-5 exercises, 16-20 total sets, and going “only” to muscular failure) as high volume with relatively lower intensity. We absolutely don’t need to know the load they’re using to know volume and intensity.

But, again, the muddy part is that when we’re talking about strength-focused training (Westside, 5/3/1, etc.), intensity is measurable because that type of training generally doesn’t involve muscular failure and instead requires weights at varying percentages of a rep max.

1 Like

RPE is still pretty “new,” right? When did that start being used?

I have to agree with dt, Sometimes this level of analysis seems like too much.

Other times it can lead to real “light bulb moments.”

For instance, I decided I needed a bigger and stronger back. Unscientifically I decided to up the weights on my worksets, lower the reps and then use a couple drops sets do more reps. Results really sucked.

Using jargon, I was able to talk to other lifters and find out where I went wrong. Too much intensity to recover from. Not enough volume to grow on. Crazy drop sets after failure made it impossible to regulate tonnage from session to session.

[quote=“FlatsFarmer, post:22, topic:217903”]
RPE is still pretty “new,” right? When did that start being used?[/quote]
It’s based on research from the 1980s.

Oh, for sure. Monitoring things to that level (volume, intensity, tonnage, whatever) totally isn’t “necessary” for results. I wasn’t trying to make it seem like it was mandatory to notate every variable like a scientist.

Plenty of guys back in the day did some of this, some of that, didn’t work, try that other thing, like it, keep doing that. The terminology and labels are relatively less important than the work itself, but if you have a handle on what they are, how they work, and how to manipulate them, they’re tools to fine-tune your programming.

1 Like

I still think that I have the most scientifically sound system for strength training: Strain and Burn. Lift something so heavy you have to really strain, then lift something so many times it burns.

All the volume, intensity or whatever falls pretty simply into place with that there system.


This stuff comes easy to some guys. They just sort of know how to do it.

The hard part is explaining it to jokers like me, who don’t get it.

we love ya anyway, ya big spaz

That is a valid approach. But, when talking to professionals or coaches, or listening to them because you enjoy the lifestyle. Or, in research, it is important to understand and have a common understanding on what is being discussed. Intensity in weight training is not “how close to failure you get” by definition. It is the average weight lifted in a workout.

Volume can have some wiggle room, I suppose. Because normally an individual will have more tonnage with higher amounts of sets and reps. But, to discuss just sets and reps leaves room for some other variables to come into play. For instance if an individual does 5 sets of 15 reps with just a bar in the squat and is capable of squatting 405, that workout isn’t a heavy volume day. If you take that same lifter and do 5 sets of 15 with 225, it is a high volume day.