Exercise Strategy: Intensity vs. Volume

Oliver Eehn headshot
Oliver Eehn
Writer, Coach & Trainer
When choosing an exercise plan one first needs to ask how much time can be devoted to exercising. Some may have every good intention to workout six days per week (high volume), but that’s not always practical or realistic.
Intense workout with heavy ropes

While a moderate level of physical activity is recommended every day, a regimented exercise program has to determine the level of intensity vs. volume. You’ll always hear me say, “You can workout hard…You can workout long. But you can’t workout hard AND long.” In a nutshell, the higher the intensity, the lower the volume needs to be. If you prefer to workout with higher volume, then you need to pull back on the intensity.

Some of you still may not understand how to properly gage intensity. To make it easy, if your perform a given exercise movement and you finish the set feeling like it’s an all-out effort to get the last repetition, then the intensity is definitely on the higher side. Conversely, if you can complete the set and feel like you could have performed another ten reps, then the intensity would be very low. Just remember that if you constantly keep the intensity levels too low you probably won’t see the results like you’re hoping for. So be sure to select a resistance level that allows you complete the set with a bit of a strain on the last few reps.

For quite some time, it was believed that low intensity/high volume routines were ideal for weight loss and high intensity/low volume was ideal for muscle building. While that premise mathematically seems sound, that’s not totally true. In short, longer, higher volume routines may burn more calories (more activity), building muscle mass (via high intensity) will increase metabolism, therefore, burn more calories around the clock and not just during activity.

So which is best? The simple answer to that is… The one that works best for YOU! If you’re not sure how to determine that for yourself, try starting out with a lower intensity/higher volume routine for 4 weeks (advisable if you’re just starting out), then change over to a higher intensity/lower volume workout (more advanced). From there evaluate which better agrees with you and then stick with that routine for 6–8 weeks. It should be mentioned that high intensity training will better target the fast twitch, white muscle fibers, which has the greater propensity for hypertrophy (growth). However, the soreness felt will also be substantially more noticeable. In summary, whichever routine you choose to go with, be sure to remain consistent and change it up frequently. If any questions, feel free to contact me anytime.

Speaking of high intensity training, what did you do on Halloween? Check out this video clip for a peek at some mega-high intensity training. Disclaimer: Do not try this at home!

About the Author:
In a business that experiences a great deal of annual turnover, Oliver has remained steadfast through it all with over 20 years in business. Being fed up with all the deception and dishonesty that occurs in the Health/Fitness industry, Oliver set out to offer a no-nonsense approach to sensible wellness without all the hype and false promises that continue to abound. Oliver is a world class personal trainer specializing in custom fitness and workout programs for individuals and small groups. If you want to improve your overall health, lose weight, get into better shape, and look and feel better, contact Oliver today!
Oliver Eehn headshot
Oliver Eehn
Writer, Coach & Trainer


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