There are many variables contributing to progression in training. A major variable is the amount of work done. Generally speaking - more (effective) work done = more progress. So, what ways do we have of assessing the amount of work done?
Training ‘volume’ is a term frequently used to quantify the amount of work done per unit of measurement (ie, per exercise, per muscle group, per week etc). Volume is usually calculated by multiplying the amount of sets performed by the amount of repetitions performed in each set. It is most commonly used as a check to ensure that a training programme is balanced, and that enough work is being done to achieve progression in each area.
For example - 3 sets of 10 reps = a volume count of 30. 4 sets of 8 reps = 32. Or, for more complicated rep/set protocols - 1 set of 12 reps + 1 set of 10 reps + 1 x 8 + 1 x 6 = 36.
This is a simple and quick way to review the amount of work done per muscle group. More volume = more gains. But, what if we wanted to know how much more?
If you use ‘volume load’, you take volume and also multiply by the weight lifted for each set: 3 sets of 10 reps @ 60kg = 1800kg. 4 sets of 8 reps @ 65kg = 2080kg. In this example the 4 sets of 8 accumulated an extra 280kg of volume.
With the application of some basic mathematics, we have a simple and practical measure of how much work we
do in the gym. From these numbers we can attempt to answer some questions about our training programme, for example: how to accumulate more volume throughout the session for muscular hypertrophy and the amount of work done within particular muscle groups to avoid excessive overload/unbalanced programming,
Note - volume load does not present the entire picture. It does not entirely mean that ‘x’ amount of sets x reps is better than ‘y’ amount of reps x sets because…’ Other variables should still be considered. However - calculating volume load can be a useful tool to quantify work being done in training and to help inform some training programming decisions. It can be particularly useful for those that are trying to optimise muscular hypertrophy through training.