When training for strength and muscle gain, volume is one of the most important training variables. Generally, when in an “offseason” block of training, or post-competition, lifters aim to improve their work capacity in order to be able to handle the training volume in their programme.
Work capacity is basically the total amount of work (based around volume, frequency and intensity) that you can do whilst still being able to recover from it. However, it is not simple to just jump straight into a certain amount of work and expect magical effects. It is something that has to be built up and adapted to; there are also a few other factors like cardiovascular fitness and training experience.
It is inevitable that in training periods of high volume and frequency, especially when higher reps are being used, that loads will be lighter. It can be difficult for lifters who are used to linear progression (most people) to see themselves struggling with these lighter loads.
That is understandable but we have to remember the other factors involved!
Your body has been used to heavier loads, lower reps and less volume and is now trying to adapt to (generally) higher reps, less rest time, the additional accessories with a hypertrophy focus as well as other components in a training programme; it isn’t easy!
For example, let us take a lifter with a squat 1RM of 200kg/440lbs. In his competition prep, his top 5×5 was at 85% (of his 1RM) with 170kg/374lbs. That is 4,250kg/9,350lbs of squat volume – those were the only squats of his session though.
Then, a couple of weeks after his competition he is hitting 120kg/264lbs for 4×8, as well as 3×5 paused squats and some bodybuilding-style accessories. He is annoyed with how hard his squats felt and feels disappointed in his work capacity. He shouldn’t, as what he did equates to more overall volume than the 5×5!
Some fast tracks to increasing work capacity faster can be:
- Know a sensible and adequate baseline volume for your training, in order to put yourself in a good starting position
- Make sure cardiovascular fitness is up to scratch; the aerobic system does play a part when it comes to high volume (this doesn’t have to be the treadmill, implement GPP (general physical preparation) routines into your training for example)
- Appropriate recovery protocols, such as mobility and low-stress periods
- Suitable nutritional support, in the form of a calorie surplus and focus on quality sources of food
- Sufficient sleep!
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