Volume is the driver of strength training. Not only that, but volume is the driver of all training. You know how I get better at skydiving? Moar skydiving! Want to build more muscle? Moar volume!
Volume is the foundation that you build all the levels above upon, as well as the mortar that goes between the bricks. While certainly not the only important metric in strength training—you can’t increase volume indefinitely, and to do so would be ignoring the other directions you can make progress in—it is immeasurably important to your progress.
The surprising truth about training volume is that most people don’t do enough of it, and most people can handle much, much more than they currently do. Don’t believe me? Add up your daily volume from your past five workouts and find the average. (Don’t have a training log? Shame on you.) My money says the over-under is 8,000 pounds and I’ll take the under.
I’ve been precisely tracking training for myself and every member of The Movement Minneapolis for over four years, and have over 500,000 rows of valuable data. Sifting through this confirms a pattern that experienced coaches will find familiar – the people who make the most progress are moving about 15,000 pounds per workout with an average weekly volume of 50,000 to 60,000 pounds.
At the risk of oversimplifying: want more strength gains and better physique improvements in less time? Do more volume.
Yes, the intensity (the absolute or relative weight you’re lifting) with which you lift matters, as does the density (pounds per minute), but both my data and the body of scientific evidence available points to the same conclusion: neither matters as much as total volume.
Greg Nuckols discussed this phenomenon in his episode of Evil Sugar Radio. The Russians’ blunt tool to solve training problems is more volume. Based on results, this tactic seems to be working for them.
Three years ago, I took on a personal challenge to lift a million pounds of volume over the course of one month. I wrote about that experience here.
My challenge to you is to take on Million Pound November yourself. As a gym, The Movement Minneapolis has created a team challenge. Teams of members from the gym will be attacking this challenge collectively, pooling their volume to reach a total of a million or more by the end of the month.
Accomplishing this task alone is no small feat and is not for beginner or even intermediate lifters. You need both a solid foundation of strength, as well as a keen understanding of your own physiology so that you reap rewards from the challenge instead of it leaving you worse off than before.
For a bit of perspective, if you train three times per week for a total of 12 workouts, you would have to perform 83,333 pounds of volume per workout. Most people average 8,000. Training twenty times still means 50,000 pounds per workout. Training daily with occasional breaks leaves you with a more reasonable per-session volume.
Here are a few suggestions of ways to tackle #MilPndNov:
- By yourself, for the truly daring, and those who are ready for the challenge.
- In a small team of two or three training partners as a realistic and achievable goal, as well as a target on which to focus a month of training together.
- In a larger team of eight to 10 people, be they local or spread across the globe, to stay accountable and chip away together at a mountainous achievement.
No matter how you tackle it, the #MilPndNov will net you several rewards:
- Setting a habit of consistently getting to the gym and putting in the work.
- By and large, more volume equals more results. If you put in the work, your body will respond and adapt. You’ll like what happens.
A few guidelines are in order, but this isn’t a strict challenge and you’re welcome to interpret as you see fit:
- The main drivers of training volume are the big, compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, ballistics such as swings, rows, pull-ups, and pressing. Heavy partials can massively inflate your training volume, and certainly have your place, but would skew the data. Stick to whatever variations test best for you, but don’t try to game the system by just doing partials just to rack up volume. You’re just cheating yourself. Or do, I don’t really care.
- Be reasonable with how you count your bodyweight exercises. Unless it’s in a handstand, you’re not pushing full bodyweight in a pushup, so estimate and adjust accordingly.
- You are the only one who stands to gain or lose here, so keep it easy and stay in a eustress state (i.e., don’t push through lifts that feel awful). Pushing to hit an external number might feed your ego, but it’ll break your body.
Throughout the month, I will provide resources to help you stay on track, keep you inspired and motivated, and also throw out the occasional door prize to keep it fun. And possibly a million pound meme or two.