Building a Workout Routine: Understanding Training Volume, Intensity and Frequency

Building a workout routine is not rocket science, but you have to make sure you understand a few principles before making your own.

In this article, we will teach you how to make a realistic and sustainable workout plan that matches your goals.

Most people are often obsessed by looking for the most optimal workout routine. The program that you will find on the internet should be a template so you can adjust it based on your goal and fitness level.

1. Adherence

Before going into details, keep in mind that there is nothing impressive about building a workout routine that is not sustainable. Our optimal workout plan is usually not practical. So make sure that every time you're looking at a program, you're taking your time frame, schedule and fitness level in consideration.

What is a training volume? It's basically the number of reps you're doing for a certain muscle group (excluding light warmups).

Therefore, we can have this formula: Volume = sets x reps x weight

You will often hear people talk about low volume and high volume trainings. Associating low volume training with powerlifters who want to get stronger and high volume trainings with bodybuilders who want to get bigger. However, a low volume training doesn't necessarily mean you won't get bigger and vice versa.

Strength and hypertrophy have a linear relationship to volume. Thus, the more volume you have the bigger and stronger you will get. However, there is such thing as too much volume, often called as overreaching/overtraining where more is not always better. It's also highly recommended to lower your training volume if you're not feeling your best. It would lower the risk of injury and allow you to get some room to recover.

What is intensity? It's how heavy you're lifting.

It's often measured based on your one rep max (1RM). Once you know your one rep max for a certain movement, you can then measure your intensity on scale from 1 to 10. Your muscles need enough intensity in order to grow and get stronger, this is called progressive overload.

When you increase the intensity, the number of reps you will perform will decrease and your volume will be lower. So you need to adjust based on your goals. Here is a rule of thumb:

  • Train for strength: 2/3 of total volume in the 1-6 RM range
  • Train for hypertrophy: 2/3 of total volume in the 6-12 RM range

Once you've performed a low volume, high intensity workout your CNS (Central Nervous System) will need to recover and it usually take 48 hours. Therefore, it's highly recommended to have a lower intensity, lower volume workout the next day so you can recover.

Here’s a plan for men that includes these principles:

And for women:

What is frequency? It's how often you train a certain muscle group.

You've probably been taught to train one muscle group per day, which would usually result in each muscle group trained once a week. However, research has shown that you would get more results by training a muscle group up to 3 times a week.

If you remember what we said about volume earlier, more volume will lead you to more growth. The only thing you have to keep in mind is to let your muscles recover 48 hours between each workouts (avoid overlaps).

Building your workout routine is all about setting realistic and achievable goals.

Here's what we've learned:

  • There is no perfect workout routine.
  • Adherence: make your workout routine sustainable.
  • Volume: change your volume based on your goal and your energy level.
  • Intensity: make sure you're lifting heavy enough to make your muscle grow.
  • Frequency: train your muscle group more than once a week.

Consistency is what makes progress rather than perfection.

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Creating @gymaholic - Athlete and fitness coach. I help people move, feel and live better.

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