What is Training Volume?

Learn how you might go about tracking how much training volume you're performing.

What is training volume? Volume is a measure of the total amount of activity or work that you perform.

If you’re an aerobic athlete, you measure training in units like distance and time.

Resistance training volume usually involves variables like:

  • Reps - A Repetition or rep is performing an exercise once.
  • Sets - A grouping of reps.
  • Weight - How much weight or the load you're lifting.
  • Time - How long you spent training or time under tension per set.
  • Distance traveled - How far you moved yourself or the weight you performed work against.
  • Effort - How hard you’re working, more on this in a minute.

Often we count volume for a single muscle group like the biceps or for a movement pattern like the squat.

Volume has a theoretical sweet spot that moves over time. Depending on things like your genetics, experience and current status (stress, sickness, mood, etc.) there is an amount of volume that will lead you towards your training goals.

Think of the goal you have in mind as “gains”. Gains might be in fitness, health, muscle mass, strength, etc.

  • The right range of volume will lead you towards your gains. This is the goldilocks zone.
  • Too little volume and you might lose gains you’ve made.
  • Too much volume will grind you down and lead long term to losing gains in one way or another.

Now that we know a little about what training volume is, let’s talk about how you can keep track of it.

How Can We Measure Training Volume?

There is no one measure volume to rule them all. (Is the Lord of the Rings reference too old?)

Do warm up sets count for volume? Maybe.

Some track volume for all exercises while others only count "core exercises". One person might track every set, while another excludes warm up sets.

The most important way to track would be consistently.

Volume can be counted on a per session basis or over the course of weeks, months and years. One thing we can agree on is that volume has to adjust over time.

Volume has an inverse relationship to exercise intensity/effort/or load. When you’re lifting heavier weights, by necessity, you have to lower the total amount of volume you’re performing.

You're already familiar with this idea. Think about sports.

In the offseason, athletes train with higher volumes to get into better shape. There aren't any games so your schedule is less stressful and can accomodate more training.

Right before and during the season, things pick up. You’re focused on strength or reaching peak physical shape. Because it is so intense, training uses lower relative volume.

Carry this idea over to your time in the gym.

Some trainees are only concerned with sets and reps.

Sets x Reps = Volume.

When you have a specific goal in mind, you might add one more variable to this to get Volume-Load.

Volume-Load is exercise volume (sets and reps) times the amount of weight at local gravity used.

Sets x Reps x Weight = Volume-Load.

If you've never heard of Volume-Load, it's because some authors use it interchangeably with volume.

Volume-load is a good general measure, but it still can't tell you the whole story on training.

For Example:

  • 2 sets of 30 reps at 100 lbs= a volume load of 6,000 lbs
  • 3 sets of 10 reps at 200 lbs= a volume load of 6,000 lbs
  • 6 sets of 5 reps at 200 lbs= a volume load of 6,000 lbs

If you notice, those routines look very different and focus on different goals. Despite the differences in the sets above, they result in the same volume-load.

For training you want to use a variety of heavy (1-5 rep), medium (6-15) and light weights (15+). Depending on your goals, you want to spend a different amount of time training in each repetition range.

The first example is likely focused on endurance. The second might focus on muscular growth. The third example might focus on strength.

Not all sets are created equal.

There are other factors to consider when measuring volume. Let's talk about two more, effort and body size.

How Other Factors Affect Volume

Effort affects exercise volume.

Some exercises are easier to perform a higher number of sets and reps with than others. Performing 5 squats sounds very doable. 30 squats? Hard pass.

Sets can use lighter relative weights but, feel objectively harder than others.

Ex. 1 set of 2 reps squatting a weight that is about 90% of your max vs. 1 set of 7 reps squatting 80% of your max.

Training with heavier weights is a skill that some excel at. 90% might be a weight that you can perform around 4 reps with. 80% might be a weight that you can normally perform 8 reps with. The second set is potentially 1 rep closer to failure than the first.

You might consider tracking 'hard sets" separately.

Greg Nuckols of Stronger By Science, is one of the first people I know who mentioned the concept of counting the number of hard sets you perform.

Nathan Jones wrote a guest article on Greg's website that can be found here - > (counting the number of "hard sets" you perform in a week)

To summarize, Greg introduced the article mentioning this;

"For strength + size, it’s a simple issue of the number of heavy (80-85ish%+) sets you do, for size + muscular endurance, it’s a matter of the number of relatively light (65% and below) sets you do, and for a blend of the two, it’s just about the number of hard sets you do in the intermediate intensity range."

This concept helps place volume in its proper context.

Your weight, height and how far you or the thing that you are doing work against (dumbbells, barbells, gravity) has to travel (distance) should also be considered.

Ex. If you and someone who is 6” taller than you both squat the same amount of weight, the taller person is actually doing more work. They have to move a larger total distance.

A twice bodyweight squat for someone who is 300 lbs, is much harder than the same for someone who weighs 150 lbs.

Adjust volume over time in line with the current goals of your strength training program.

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Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.