If you want to run faster or throw harder, one of the most important aspects you have to evaluate in your training program is volume. Volume can be anything from the number of repetitions you’re lifting, how many swings you take off a batting tee, or the amount of distance you’re running. You would be surprised how little volume is required, especially if your intensity (i.e. speed or weight) is high. For example, I trained 400 meter Olympic sprinters, and they rarely ran more than 100 meters in one sprint. Furthermore, their total track workouts rarely exceeded 800 meters, just 2 laps!
But isn’t more distance better? After all, it should get your “cardio” up, and improve that mythical “aerobic base”. Wrong; these longer distances and higher volumes establish slower movement patterns because as the number of repetitions increases, your speed must decrease. For example, let’s start with weightlifting and the traditional prescriptions of 3 sets of 10 reps. Why not perform 6 sets of 5 reps? While the total volume is the same, the repetitions per set are lower to allow a higher intensity, which in this case is more weight. The sets of 5 repetitions also allow a much greater focus on quality movement patterns.
These lower volumes of training are also crucial in running. Long distance jogging doesn’t emphasize the knee drive essential for longer stride lengths and greater force production, which are the foundation of faster sprinting (see Sparta Point 6/8/11). So rather than running a mile, which is 1600 meters, you can sprint 16 lengths of 100 meters to get the same volume, just higher intensity and likely a higher execution. Swimmers, you are not exempt from these guidelines.
So we have reviewed the first key to volume; minimizing set duration to maximize quality and intensity. The second key is choosing the total volume, keeping in mind the relation to your sport. If you’re not an intermittent sport athlete (soccer, hockey, basketball), you’re one of the few anaerobic sports with higher volumes. But even these sports entail so much distance in practices/games that training should always seek to limit volume to avoid overuse injuries and improve more glaring weaknesses like speed (see Sparta Point 7/21/10).
Perhaps more amusing is the volume training in power sports like baseball, football, and volleyball. If you throw a baseball 90 miles an hour and sprint on base paths 90 feet long, why would you jog? If you play on a volleyball court that is 15 by 30 feet, why do you run long shuttles or laps around the track?
If you’re using volume as a “flush run”, to recover from soreness or a game, perform more active movements that promote flexibility (see Sparta Point 6/30/10). If you’re running a mile for mental toughness, have a pushup competition or push a sled like the video below.
We use the force plate to analyze the effects of volume on athletes, and we see a marked reduction in in the RATE of force production after prolonged running and throwing. This decreased performance and injury risk is due to nervous system fatigue (see Sparta Point 10/8/09). So monitoring volume is probably the most important aspect to ensure you’re getting more powerful. The best place to start is to begin measuring your volume on everything, and don’t mistake difficult work for high quality.
If you’re not tracking volume because it is just a warm-up or cool down, should you even be doing it?
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