monday conditioning and lifting

A full Monday. I was stoked to see this morning’s workout at CrossFit Asheville. Back to a more simple and direct program? Maybe so. In the meantime, I’ll take today.

CFA WOD: Hang Cleans, Double Unders, and 8 min AMRAP of burpees and running

Hang Cleans: 5 x 45 / 5 x 75 / 5 x 95 / 5 x 115 / 5 x 135 (PR) / 5 x 145 (PR). A 25 lb. PR.

Push Jerk: 5 x 135. (After finishing the Hang Cleans at 135, I decided to do a set of split jerks at 135, because I could. It was fun).

Double Unders: 4 x 1 minute Max Reps w/ 1 min rests. Amazingly, I was able to string together some DUs today. Maximum number in a row: 8. I’ll take it!

AMRAP: 8 minutes of 200 meter run and 12 burpees. Result: 3 full rounds and 1 run. I went a few seconds long. I was SLOW. SLOW. Feeling totally deconditioned. Did I mention I was moving like molasses in the fridge? Plus, I was hacking up goo balls from my lungs. I am totally NOT well yet. It’s been almost 2 weeks with a nasty respiratory/sinus bug. I hope this clears up soon.

Lifting at Asheville Strength and Conditioning

After breakfast, and working on my stuff for a few hours, and lunch, and more work, I made it over to ASC to get some work on the gym done, hoping also to get in a quick session of squats and shoulder press. I assembled the squat racks and weight stands, sweating in the growing heat. Then did some quick squats. I only did one set of shoulder press.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 20 lbs DBs x 10.

Squats: 10 x 45 / 5 x 135 / 3 x 185 / 3 x 195 / 3 x 200 / 3 x 205. Volume: 3,480.

Analysis: these squats felt like shit. I did the 135 and the 185 as High Bar squats. But overall, I was feeling pretty weak here. On paper, my 5 rep max for squats is 210. But it felt impossible to imagine that today. I didn’t even feel like doing an additional set of 3, at 210 or any other weight. Volume wise this session was about 500 lbs less than the total of my last serious squat session (a week ago Friday). This calculation seems consistent with my gut impression that I wasn’t able to accomplish as much work today as I was this past Friday. It’s high time I charted out the curve of squat volume again as I did a few weeks ago, and considered more carefully the frequency of my training here.

A word or two about the term “volume” as used in this blog

In this blog I somewhat idiosyncratically use the term “volume” as a shorthand for what other weightlifting writers would call “work” or “volume of load.” I hope that this doesn’t confuse anyone. I track my workout volume out of curiosity, as a way of roughly comparing the “intensity” of various lifting sessions I accomplish, knowing that most of these sessions take place within reasonably comparable time frames, and that almost all of them reflect some variation of the low-rep scheme training methods that are more popular in powerlifting or olympic lifting as opposed to bodybuilding or weight training.

In most American weightlifting literature, the term “volume” is used only as a means of quantifying the amount of exercises that are done; when others write about “volume” it doesn’t reflect the weights that are used. Sometimes no number is given for volume at all, as in the use of relative or qualitative terms like, “high volume” or “low volume”; but if there is a number it is denominated in “reps.” Workouts are said to be “high volume” if they have a comparatively high number of reps. “Low volume” workouts have fewer reps. Thus, the term “volume” comes into play, for example, when comparing weight training methods of powerlifters as differentiated from the methods of bodybuilders. In conventional terms the former use “low volume” training sessions and the latter use “high volume” training sessions.

When I do much lower rep workouts (what other writers call low volume workouts) I do expect to see the volume of load number be lower than when I do much higher rep workouts. And thus, it is the case that volume of load (or what I call “volume”) does tend to track volume in the conventional sense of the term.

But again, I don’t find the conventional use of the term very helpful.

If I tell you I did 15 reps of the back squat, you’re going to ask me what weight I used. Why is that? If it wasn’t a relatively heavy weight you’ll call me a pussy, that’s why. On the other hand, if I tell you I did 250 back squats, you’re going to assume I must mean air squats, or used a kid’s bar (and you’ll probably be right). Because nobody (or at least, nobody who looks like me) can do 250 heavy back squats in one session. On the one hand, you could say that this just proves that there’s a rough, theoretical expectation that what is traditionally called “volume” tracks with “volume of load.” Or, you could point out that for anyone to make sense of what you really mean when you say “low volume” or “high volume,” you have to do more than quantify this in terms of reps.

This conventional system of terminology never made much sense to me, because, for instance, it doesn’t really let me compare the relative training value of two of my own “low volume” workouts. So this is one of the main reasons I always report “volume” not as reps (implying some rep scheme or another) but as volume of load, i.e. reps x weight.

Now, none of what I’ve written here so far takes account of the idea of “power.” Greg Glassman of CrossFit makes a big deal about what he calls both “intensity” and “power,” which is volume of load, or work, divided by time. If a CrossFitter does 36 back squats at 95 in 3:00 minutes flat, he or she is said to have produced more power and to have worked out much more intensely than a powerlifter who does 9 squats at 380, but over the course of 20 minutes. The absurdity of this comparison should be immediately apparent to all. Once again, we return to the observation that the two different workouts offer completely different neuromuscular stimuli. A high power workout is a good way to elicit conditioning, weight-loss, puking, and/or a rush of happy neurotranmitters. But power and intensity, as CrossFit defines them, are completely different animals than strength. The fact that many male CrossFitters could easily accomplish 36 squat reps at 95 does not at all let us know how many of these skinny boys could squat even one rep at 380, let alone 9. Power is clearly not everything. Being metabolically well conditioned but comparatively weak may be sexy, but it will not help you lift a volkswagon beetle off of an old lady after a traffic accident.

Of course, in principle it does make sense to differentiate between different training styles, especially between those that use low rep schemes versus those that use high rep schemes. This is because we know that there are far different neuromuscular effects elicited by 36 back squats done at 95 lbs, versus 18 squats done at 190, versus 9 squats done at 380. And yet, these all have the same “volume of load,” i.e. the same amount of work has been done, the same amount of weight has been moved. So a critic might point out to me that volume really isn’t that reliable or useful a number.

There may be truth in that. But one of the uses of this number that I have discovered for myself is in predicting my needs for recovery. In general, I find that my “volume” calculations are pretty good predictors of the difficulty of the recovery I will face (i.e. the amount of DOMS, the amount of rest needed, the amount of food I’ll want to eat). Training methods being kept more or less constant, when I significantly increase my volume of load above whatever “curve” my linear or sine-like progressions have been following, I’ll be more sore and stiff than usual over the next few days.

And so, my own preference is to compare my lifting sessions using the term “volume” in reference to the total volume of load lifted in any given movement, in any one training session (or measured over any arbitrary period of time). Since my training methods do not wildly vary, this provides an interesting way for tracking my progress, planning my workouts, and looking at potential neuromuscular effects. I am not under the mistaken impression that any two different workouts using the same movement that happen to have identical volume of load will produce comparable neuromuscular effects. I just wanted to make this clear in case any snarky reader comes along some day and says, hey, you’re an idiot for computing your so-called “volume” after squatting.

Well, whatever dude. I may be an idiot but this particular issue is the least of my worries.


  1. Rather short post, Matt. Not very verbose…something wrong with you?

Let me know what you think...