Hey Angels and Alphas,
Embarking on a journey into the realm of Olympic weightlifting is like stepping into a universe that demands a diverse skill set—technique, power, strength, and mobility, to name a few.
Two primary metrics—volume and intensity—are essential for anyone who’s serious about progressing in this sport. Both these factors contribute to muscle growth, strength development, and overall athletic performance.
The question often asked is, “Which is more important?” Here, we aim to unravel these concepts, providing you with a holistic perspective that will empower you to control your training process better.
Understanding Training Volume
Training volume refers to the total amount of work done over a specific period, be it an exercise session, a week, or a mesocycle. It is traditionally calculated in terms of the number of repetitions performed, although total tonnage (weight lifted multiplied by the number of repetitions) is also commonly used.
Volume is directly linked to muscle adaptation, growth, and strength development. However, it’s essential to manage volume effectively—too little won’t produce sufficient training stress for improvement, while excessive volume could lead to overtraining and injuries.
Several factors, such as gender, age, training level, recovery capacity, and specific goals, influence what constitutes “optimal” volume for an individual.
What is Training Intensity?
Intensity in weightlifting refers to the quality or tension of training work. Four primary parameters measure this:
Absolute Intensity: The actual average weight lifted irrespective of the athlete’s maximum capacity.
Relative Intensity: This measures the weight lifted as a percentage of an athlete’s one-repetition maximum (1 RM).
Intensity Zones: These are ranges that dictate what type of adaptation you’re targeting—whether it’s muscle endurance, strength, or power.
Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE): This is a subjective measure based on an athlete’s feelings about the difficulty of a given set.
Both absolute and relative intensities are critical for planning and evaluating training, affecting the type of physiological adaptation you’ll experience.
Volume vs. Intensity: How Do They Compare?
1. For Muscle Hypertrophy
If your primary focus is muscle growth, volume tends to have a more significant impact. More sets and reps at moderate intensity (60-80% of 1 RM) can lead to greater muscle hypertrophy.
2. For Strength Development
High-intensity workouts (80-95% of 1 RM) are more effective for building maximal strength, as they prepare the nervous system for handling higher stress loads. However, volume is crucial for muscle and overall strength development.
3. For Power and Speed
Power, particularly important for Olympic lifts like Snatch and Clean & Jerk, is best developed through high-intensity work (above 80% of 1 RM). However, lighter weights (50-70% of 1 RM) lifted at high speed can also be effective.
4. For Technique Improvement
Lower intensities are preferable for honing technique. These allow for more repetitions, providing more practice and facilitating muscle memory.
Striking a Balanced Approach
Choosing between volume and intensity isn’t as simple as determining which is “better.” Instead, an effective training program should be periodized to incorporate different phases that focus on various combinations of volume and intensity, depending on the athlete’s goals and the time until the next competition.
Should You Focus On Intensity Or Volume?
It’s not a question of either/or but rather how to integrate both into a coherent and scientifically-backed training plan. For muscle growth, higher volume is typically more beneficial. Conversely, for increasing maximal strength and power, high-intensity lifts are essential. Therefore, a balanced approach that shifts focus between volume and intensity during different training phases is recommended.
The Bottom Line
An effective Olympic weightlifting program must incorporate a carefully designed blend of volume and intensity.
By understanding how to manipulate these variables smartly, athletes can set themselves up for better performance outcomes, reduced injury risk, and consistent progress across multiple dimensions—strength, power, muscle growth, and technique.