One axiom I have in my theory as a coach and exercise theorist as that more exercise volume is always better for any fitness goal so long as you can recover from it. I think this is an incontrovertible truth, but it carries an important consequence. There is an implicit limit to how much a person will be able to tolerate at which you will find a point of diminishing returns.
This limit isn’t just theoretical, as a study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning demonstrated. In the study, researchers examined elite Australian football players to determine if changes to their training load would improve their performance. We can assume that we want to train a team to an optimal level, but not push them too far. As such we need to find out what too far means.
As it turns out, too far doesn’t really apply at the team level. The various training volumes only caused a performance swing of less than 10% from the lowest to highest volumes. Although, for the curious, it was the highest volumes that had the best results.
On the individual level, however, there was considerable variation in the response to training volume. And that is to say, the responses were all over the place. When volume increased, performances went up, stayed neutral, or declined. The entire gamut of responses occurred.
Interestingly, in the sprint tests that the participants underwent, the fastest players were the least able to tolerate more volume. This could be explained by saying that the greater volume made the slower players gain more ground in the speed department, thus improving their performance as a result, but the researchers noted that speed actually didn’t correlate to performance, only to training tolerance.
So for those of us who do not play Australian football, we need to convert this study into practical information:
First, in terms of finding your tolerable limits, the researchers determined that speed and anaerobic ability seem relatively unimportant, but aerobic ability is very important. I think this translates across to pretty much every other sport, so keep that in mind.
Next, if you are a competitive athlete, make sure you vary your volume in the season so as not to push it during times of high competition. Remember that competition will contribute to your volume, so if you find you are working at your limits, back off during competition time.
Third, when dealing with teams the training volumes need to be individually designed. I see this mistake constantly, where all athletes are given the same training volume with a general attitude that more is better and often with an emphasis on the anaerobic, especially for combat sports. This method is common, but clearly not the best for any team.
Finally, in the end we need to find our limits and work there if we want to be good athletes. Beyond that we need to find a way to increase our limits if we want to be great.
1. Paul Gastin, et. al., “Influence of Physical Fitness, Age, Experience, and Weekly Training Load on Match Performance in Elite Australian Football,” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(5), 2013
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.