Before we get into junk volume; let's quickly discuss what "volume" means when talking about a training program.
Volume is one of many variables considered when putting together a strength and conditioning program. Other training variables include frequency, mode, duration, etc.
Volume is typically defined as [sets x reps x load] for a given exercise or exercise session. Manipulating any of those 3 parameters would change the volume of any exercise or training session.
In most training programs, the volume may be expressed as the number of sets for a given muscle group or exercise. For example, you are doing a program that prescribes 12 sets of quads a week. That may be broken down into 6 sets of quads during Tuesday's workout and another 6 sets in Friday's workout.
The question that most folks have when reading a program is - what counts as a set?
Does your first set of empty bar back squats count as a set? How about your first, second, and third warm-ups with 135#, 185#, and then 225#?
The definition of junk volume may differ from person to person, but here is the simplest definition I could come up with:
Junk volume: any sets or reps that are below the stimulating threshold for strength or hypertrophy adaptations but take up time and energy during a training session.
Let's take that squat example again. Say my working weight for the day is 315# for 3 sets of 5, and my max is 405#.
My warm-up for a workout like that would typically look like this:
Bar x 10-15 reps
135# x 3-5 reps
185# x 3-5 reps
225# x 3 reps
275# x 2 reps
If I feel sticky or slow, I may do another single rep at 275 or heavier, if I feel good just right to 315# for my work sets.
I feel that this is a good warm-up strategy for me and most folks I work with. It is relatively low volume and low load (as far as % max goes) and I am not doing any more than I need to. These warm-up sets serve one purpose: get me warm for my ACTUAL work sets at 315#.
Doing 10 reps at 135, 185, or 225 wouldn't serve any purpose for me during these warm-ups aside from fatiguing me for my actual work sets. Any reps above what I mentioned above would be considered junk volume for that workout.
Here's another example from my most recent leg workout.
1) 4 x 15 second Treadmill Incline Sprints @ 10.0 speed
2) 1 x 3 Back Squat @ RPE 7, 2 x 3 Back Squats at 80% of the top set for the day
3) 2 x 6 Barbell RDL, RPE 7
4) 3 x 8 reps/leg DB Walking Lunges, RPE 7
5) 3 x 8 Seated Hamstring Curls, RPE 7
By the time I get to exercise number 5, it is safe to say I am plenty warmed up. At this point in my workout, I do not need any warm-up sets for hamstring curls. I can jump right into my work sets. If, however, I am doing a high RPE set or lower volume that requires a higher load I may do 1 set of 4-6 reps just to get used to the machine but most of the time I jump right in. Doing 2-3 warm-ups of 8 reps of hamstring curls at that point in the workout would definitely be junk volume.
Make sure you are plenty warmed up without doing too much
Most programs (all of my programs) only list or count work sets towards the weekly volume; so a 2 x 6 Barbell RDL means 2 work sets at a given RPE or load
Limit junk volume to save time in your workouts and save your energy for the actual work sets
Doing light sets of exercises to practice a movement for the sake of technical proficiency is definitely worthwhile if you are new to an exercise. Don't stress about doing extra volume at light weights if you're trying to get better at squats, snatches, deadlifts, or any other highly technical exercise. If this exercise is new for you, you just may want to take into account the extra volume of technique work as it is still fatiguing and may affect your work sets.
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