Often times you will hear the phrase “Numbers don’t matter!”
And while that may be true for things like your body weight, the numbers behind a workout are of crucial importance when it comes to structuring your training, according to your goals.
Generally, we can measure a workout by 3 parameters- Intensity, volume and density.
Different ratios of those 3 parameters will result in different kinds of adaptations of the organism and hence, different end results.
“Resistance training is an effective tool for stimulating muscle hypertrophy and improving strength. By manipulating acute training variables (i.e., exercise selection and order, intensity, volume, and duration, frequency, and rest intervals) US National library of medicine” 1
So, let us define these parameters of the workload, to help you understand what they actually are.
Intensity is a characteristic of the workload, which shows how much strain we endure.
So, basically, intensity increases or decreases, the closer or further we get to and from our maximum strength capabilities, respectively.
To say it with simple words…
…The more weight (resistance) we use, the more intense the exercise is.
So, if you ever hear someone say “Man, that was intense!” after a 3-hour cross run, well, be sure they certainly don’t know the actual definition of intensity.
A good example of an intense running exercise would be a 100-meter sprint.
Our second parameter of the workload, volume, is a characteristic that shows the total amount of weight lifted, in kilograms or pounds.
For non-weight exercises, it can be measured in steps, jumps, etc.
We can measure the volume of a set, exercise or even a whole workout.
So, for example, if you complete one set of 10 repetitions, using 150 lbs. on the exercise “Barbell squats”, that would be a total volume for that SET of 1500 lbs.-
150 lbs. times 10 repetitions, equals 1500 lbs. 3 sets of 10 repetitions with the same weight would be a total volume for the exercise of 4500 lbs. Etcetera.
The third and last parameter of the workload is its density.
Density is basically the total volume of a set, exercise or a workout, referred to the TOTAL time needed for its completion, including the rest times.
So, let’s take the exercise given as an example of measuring volume: Barbell squats, completed in 3 sets of 10 repetitions with 150 lbs.
As we already cleared out, that would be a total volume of 4500 lbs. for the whole exercise.
If these 3 sets take us a total of 3 minutes to complete, considering each set takes 20 seconds and we rest 1 minute in-between, that makes up for a density of that exercise of 1500 lbs. per minute- 4500 lbs. total volume, divided by 3 minutes total required for completion, equals 1500 lbs./minute.
Knowing this, we can conclude that every increase in intensity, decreases the volume and vice versa, every increase in volume, decreases intensity.
For example, if you lift 200 lbs. 5 times, that would make for a pretty intense set, but a volume of 1000 lbs.
However, if you lift 150 lbs. 10 times, that would make for a volume of 1500 lbs.
We know you might hate math, but here are the formulas for measuring volume and density-
- Weight × repetitions × sets = Volume
- Volume ÷ Total completion time= Density
..But how can we measure intensity?
Measuring maximum strength capabilities
Well, there is no formula when it comes to measuring intensity, but below, we will give you two practical methods to do so.
One repetition maximum (1RM) and repeated maximum (xRM)
One repetition maximum (1RM)
“The one repetition maximum (1RM) test is considered the gold standard for assessing muscle strength in non-laboratory situations. US National library of medicine” 2
The one repetition maximum is a method, used to define 100% intensity.
It is essentially, the weight you can move for one SINGLE repetition, until failure.
That is to say that if you do 1 repetition and fail to do a 2nd one, using 160 lbs. on the exercise “Flat barbell bench press”, then that 160 lbs. would be 100% intensity for you for that exercise.
Note: The 1RM method is ONLY used for COMPOUND barbell exercises, such as- Squat, bench and deadlift.
Compound exercises are movements that involve more than 1 joint and muscle.
Repeated maximum (xRM)
The repeated maximum is a weight, which you can lift for a given number of repetitions (x), until failure.
This method is what you have to use, if you want to find out your maximum strength capabilities for dumbbell, cable and machine movements.
That is to say that it would be highly inadequate to use the one repetition maximum for, say, the exercise “Dumbbell lateral raise”.
So, let’s say that you complete 8 repetitions and fail to do a 9th repetition, using 120 lbs. on the exercise “Vertical lat pulldowns”.
That would mean that your 8RM for that exercise, would be 120 pounds.
Why you need this
Now, after reading this, you might be thinking “This doesn’t make sense.
Why do I need it?” or, the total opposite, it could be one of your “Eurica!” moments.
Regardless of how you feel about this, let us repeat something, which we mentioned in the beginning.
The different ratios of Intensity : Volume : Density, WILL trigger different energy mechanisms in the human body and will therefore produce different outcomes and end results, such as muscle growth, muscle shaping/toning, cardio-respiratory improvements, etc.
So, there must be optimal parameter ratios, depending on what our goals are.
But before we talk about that, we will give you some insights and valuable information, regarding those exact energy systems in the human body.