One of the wonderful phenomenon that occurs when you begin lifting weights is the drastic change in body composition and strength during the first few months of training. Your muscles grow larger and the weight on the bar increases every time you set foot in the gym. Then, just as you’ve fallen in love with the process and your results, the gain train slows to a crawl. The lassez-faire approach to training that yielded such amazing progress as a beginner just doesn’t seem to work any longer. You can’t just throw weight on the bar and hope for the best. The time has come to get a bit more refined when it comes to your training. Tracking your training load is an important piece of the puzzle if you want to ensure you are getting the right dose response from your hard work. But with all of the different metrics that exist for completing this task, it can be difficult to know which ones are most appropriate. From simply tracking sets and reps to diving deep into bar velocity, each tactic has an appropriate place depending on the goals you wish to achieve.


Tools for Tracking Volume

Two of the most important factors involved in monitoring the workload of a resistance-training program are volume and intensity. Generally, the volume of a session is calculated by multiplying the amount of weight used for an exercise by the number of sets and number of repetitions completed. This calculation yields a value referred to as total volume or tonnage. This is a useful measurement that a lifter can use to track their workload over time early in their lifting career. One can begin to notice trends in how volume is distributed over time and make decisions on the volume of work that should be done going forward.

However, as one becomes better trained, intensity plays an important role in determining the quality of the volume during training. For example, an athlete who can back squat 300 pounds can accumulate 6000 pounds of volume by squatting 120 pounds (40% 1RM) for five sets of ten repetitions. They could also accumulate that volume by squatting 240 pounds (80% 1RM) for five sets of five repetitions. Accumulating that volume with 80% of 1RM will have a drastically different impact on stress, fatigue, and adaptation than doing so with 40% of the athlete’s 1RM.

A more effective strategy that advanced trainees can use may be tracking the relative volume of their training. This involves multiplying the number of sets and repetitions of an exercise by the intensity used, which yields a figure expressed in arbitrary training units (ATU). The intensity to which we relate this volume come from several sources including RPE/RIR (which is explained later), or perhaps the percentage of repetition max that was used. The percentage of repetition max would be the maximum weight that the athlete can theoretically handle for the prescribed number of repetitions compared to the weight that is being used for that day. Reconsidering the theoretical 300 pound back-squatter, a coach might estimate that their athlete can perform a 5RM with a maximum of 260 pounds. Using 240 pounds for the athlete’s working weight will equate to 92% of their 5RM for five sets of five repetitions and thus they will have accumulated a relative volume of 2,300 ATU (5 x 5 x 92).

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