Unproductive Training Volume: How Your Gym Sessions Are a Waste of Time
Training capacity has become a trending topic in the fitness realm. Whether it’s striving for muscle growth or shedding fat, volume holds a pivotal role. However, its calculation, often simplified to (sets x reps x weight), does not encapsulate its complexity. Our main focus here is on unproductive training volume, referred to as junk volume.
Junk volume refers to all training that does not align with the intended workout goals. Not only is it a time sink, but it can hinder progress, diverting the body’s resources towards recovery rather than adaptation.
Rethinking Volume: Beyond (Sets x Reps x Weight)
Before delving into junk volume, it’s essential to understand that volume encompasses more than the simplistic (sets x reps x weight) formula that has prevailed for years. The notion that progression and gains hinge solely on progressive overload and increased volume over time is, indeed, a partial truth. To comprehend volume’s true essence, a deeper exploration is necessary.
The surface level may affirm this, but it’s an incomplete narrative. Deciphering the true essence of volume necessitates a more thorough analysis.
Tailoring Volume to Specific Stimuli
Executing 5 sets of 10 reps with a 40-pound dumbbell and 4 sets of 20 reps with a 25-pound dumbbell both culminate in “2000 lbs of volume.” However, the muscle stimulation from these scenarios vastly differs, discrediting the efficacy of (sets x reps x weight) as a reliable progression metric.
Each specific stimulus within a workout session calls for tailored volume calculation.
Varying Muscle Stresses: Shortened vs. Lengthened
Furthermore, each exercise induces unique physiological stresses. For instance, a Triceps Rope Pressdown and a Triceps Rope Overhead Extension engage the triceps differently. The former emphasizes the shortened position, while the latter primarily targets the lengthened position.
Although the sets, reps, and weights may remain constant, the stimulus variance on the triceps is evident.
Targeting muscles in their lengthened state significantly promotes mechanical damage, conducive to hypertrophy training but not the ideal approach for metabolic training.
Additionally, the range of motion plays a pivotal role, especially in exercises such as the Squat and Dumbbell Lateral Raises, which exert significant resistance in specific movements and negligible resistance in others.
Consequently, uniformly applying the (sets x reps x weight) formula to distinct exercises lacks coherence.
Impacts of Tempo and Rest on Stimulation
Finally, tempo and rest intervals profoundly influence the resultant stimulation. Modifying exercise tempo and intervening rest periods alters the achieved stimulus.
A Squat performed at a (3-0-1-0) tempo vastly differs from one executed at a (4-1-1-0) tempo. The additional second in the eccentric phase and a bottom pause significantly transforms quadriceps and gluteal stimulation.
This element is overlooked in the traditional volume equation.
Similarly, stimulus variation arises when comparing sets with 30-second rest intervals to those with 3-minute rests.This comprehensive insight amplifies our understanding of volume, laying the groundwork for delving into junk volume.
Identifying Ineffectual Volume
When we talk about junk volume, we’re referring to all the sets and repetitions that do not contribute to our progress towards our objectives. This entails training in surplus of what we can recuperate from, and training that does not align with the stimulus we are aiming for.
When discussing training, we typically categorize it into three phases: hypertrophy, metabolic, and neurological. Each category of training comprises various stimuli that can result in metabolic, hypertrophy, and neurological effects.
For example, in neurological training, we consider coordination, our capacity to contract and the force with which we can contract our muscles, nervous system function, and so forth.
Instead of simply calculating the total volume, we should measure the volume that contributes to the types of stimuli we are aiming for, in relation to the goals we are pursuing.
Put simply, junk volume represents all the work that does not align with our goals. For neurological training, this could be work that falls below a certain intensity necessary for adaptation. Work that is approximately 80% below your rating of perceived exertion (RPE), will seldom contribute to neurological goals.
While this holds true for neurological stimuli, it may not necessarily be applicable to other forms of training. In neurological or strength training, striving for maximum output is crucial.
Anything below a certain RPE will not contribute toward that type of stimulus. Therefore, excessive work that does not contribute to the desired stimulus simply leads to accumulating a lot of fatigue.
Consequently, it detracts from the total output towards the intended stimulus in that specific workout.
Similarly, once you reach the total amount of output you can recover from in that session, doing anything more only exacerbates the situation. Not only does your intensity decline, but you are surpassing your ability to recover from this strain.
In essence, it results in additional damage for your body to recover from without any added benefits.
On the other hand, we have metabolic stimuli. There are numerous ways and techniques to achieve metabolic effects. For instance, the Incomplete Rest Method, featuring lower RPE combined with reduced rest periods, can be advantageous.
With IRM training, our aim is to induce systemic fatigue rather than fatigue in any specific muscle. By incorporating minimal rest periods and lower RPE, we can swiftly achieve that metabolic effect.
However, similar to neurological training, exceeding the achieved stimulus through additional training would be categorized as junk volume.
Continuing to perform additional sets and repetitions post-achieving the metabolic stimulus simply subjects our body to more recovery demand, needlessly expending energy. It is more effective to return home to rest and refuel at that point.
To further elucidate the concept of junk volume surpassing a certain threshold, we must consider our trainability threshold. Each of us has a specific workload required to achieve any type of stimulus. Once we surpass this threshold, our body will adapt and recover.
Any effort below the threshold of a specific stimulus is insufficient for adaptation, necessitating crossing this threshold for our body to adapt and recover.
This delineates our trainability range, specifically, the disparity between the workload needed for adaptation and our recovery capability. Our aim is to remain within this optimal range, as exceeding it entails surpassing the amount of strain we can recover from.
Subsequently, our body will expend all its energy in an attempt to return to baseline.
Therefore, any work beyond our trainability threshold constitutes junk volume, as it is unproductive and drains our time and energy. It only serves to impede progress, prolonging the duration until we can return to the gym and repeat our workout.
Hence, our perpetual endeavor is to remain within that optimal range.
Variation in Trainability
The range of trainability not only differs from individual to individual, but also based on the stimulus. As we repeatedly practice a certain stimulus, our adaptability improves, causing the trainability range to decrease. The stimulus necessary for adaptation increases, but this doesn’t mean our recovery capacity increases, thus the range becomes narrower.
After extending this range, there comes a point where we need to unload or change the stimulus we train for. Specifically, a stimulus with a lower threshold but still manageable for recovery.
Keeping this in mind, it’s crucial to understand that there is a threshold we must surpass. Anything below this threshold is considered redundant volume. Similarly, exceeding our recovery capacity also falls under redundant volume.
Significance of Every Single Repetition
Every individual repetition and set contributes to our recoverability. Hence, it’s important to have as specific goals as possible to ensure efficient recovery and adaptation.
By designing both our training and nutrition plan as precisely as possible, we can determine when to alter our training. Upon reaching a saturation point for a specific stimulus, we can transition to a different one and return once our body is prepared.
We return to the initial stimulus once its threshold has had enough time to decrease. Stepping away from this stimulus and ceasing intense training will bring the threshold back down.
In the context of redundant volume, it’s crucial to be mindful of not overdoing a particular stimulus and assuming that pushing harder is the solution. Instead, a reduction in a specific type of training with de-loads or transitioning to a different stimulus is one of the most effective ways to maintain continuous progress and avoid plateaus. Once we surpass our recoverability range, we end up hindering ourselves. At that juncture, we impede our progress, and our body expends all its energy trying to return to baseline. It’s important to stay within this sweet spot and avoid relentlessly pursuing more as the better option.
Thank you for perusing our article!
– Terry Asher
After transforming his best friend’s life by assisting him in shedding over 70lbs, reducing him to an impressive 7% body fat, Terry was motivated to become a full-time online trainer, knowing he could replicate this for many others. In 2010, Terry released his own diet and fitness e-book, available for purchase on this website. Let Terry aid in transforming your physique for the better!
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