Why measuring your workout is important – Training parameters

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

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Alright, in the introductory article of this series, we made it clear that you need a sustainable, individual plan of action, which you can stick to in the long term and make progress.

We also learned that a workout has 3 main variables, or in other words, parameters.

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This is exactly what I’m going to talk about in this first article!

Intensity, volume and density

And so, the different ratios of intensity, volume and density trigger different energy systems which in turn yield different end results (adaptations).

But what are intensity, volume and density exactly?

1. Intensity

Intensity is a measure of how close we get to our maximum strength capabilities.

In other words, intensity increases or decreases the closer or further we get to and from our maximum strength capabilities.

To make it easier, here’s a chart:

training intensity

On the chart we also see that training in different intensity ranges leads to different results, such as muscle and strength gaining, but I’ll talk about this later on.

For now it’s enough to know that our first parameter intensity, is simply a measure for how close you get to your maximum strength capabilities.

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That is the definition of training intensity, no matter what anyone tells you.

Some people run 5 miles and say “Man, that was intense!” but it’s not really intense.

A 5 mile run is of low-intensity but long in duration. On the contrary, an intense run would be for example, a 60 meter sprint.

Know the difference.

2. Volume

Next up, we have volume. Volume is a characteristic of the workload, that measures the total amount of weight lifted.

For bodyweight exercises, the volume is measured in jumps, reps, etc.

And so for example, if we do 1 set of 10 repetitions, using a weight of 150 lbs on the exercise “Barbell bench press”, then the total volume for that SET will be 1500 lbs (Sets * reps * weight = Volume).

We can measure the volume of a set, exercise, workout, or even a whole sequence of workouts!

3. Density

Last but not least, we have our third parameter, density.

Density expresses the total volume, referred to the time needed for its completion, including rest times.

For example, let’s take 3 sets of 10 repetitions with 150 lbs, on the exercise “Incline barbell bench press”.

That would be a volume of 4500 lbs for the exercise (3 sets * 10 reps * 150 lbs = 4500 lbs)

Given that we do all 3 sets for a total of 3 minutes (20 secs per set + 1 minute of rest between sets), that would make for a density of 1500 lbs/minute.

The more weight we lift and the less time we take to do so, the more density we create in a workout

Density = Volume : Total completion time

Here is the density chart:

workout density

Again, we can measure the density of a set, exercise, workout or a sequence of workouts even.

Now that we know these 3 parameters, we can conclude that with every increase in intensity, volume decreases and vice versa- With every increase in volume, intensity decreases.

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Why is that? Well, because a heavier weight (more intensity) means less repetitions (Volume).

If you do 5 repetitions with 100 kg that is a volume of 500 kg. But if you do 10 repetitions with 70 kg, that is a volume of 700 kg.

Then again, those are 2 different types of stimulus, which simply means different end results.

But how do we measure intensity?

Alright, I know. We learned the following:

  • Volume = Sets * reps * weight used
  • Density = Volume : Total completion time

But what is the formula for intensity?

Well, here’s for something practical – Two methods to measure your maximum strength capabilities:

1. One repetition maximum (1RM)


The 1RM is basically the weight you can lift for one single repetition until failure, for a given exercise.

So, if you barbell squat 100 kg for 1 rep and fail to do a second repetition, your 1RM on the exercise “Barbell squat” is 100 kg.

Those 100 kg would be 100% intensity for you, for that exercise.

70 kg then would be 70% intensity, and so on.

NOTE – The one repetition maximum must only be used for COMPOUND movements. Attempting a 1RM on exercises like lat pulldowns or tricep pushdowns would be inadequate and may lead to injury.

Compound movements are exercises that engage more than 1 joint and muscle group, such as the big 3- Bench, squats, deadlifts.

How to test 1RM

Note- If you’re a beginner, you don’t need to test 1RM! It may lead to injuries.

As already mentioned, testing your maximum strength capabilities (100% intensity) can be harmful, if done the wrong way and on the wrong exercises.

So, here are the exact execution steps to take, when attempting a 1RM:

1. Do a good warm up- 5 minutes of low-paced cardio to get the blood
flowing freely throughout the entire body

2. Get each joint through its range of motion and gently stretch the
muscles to feel them better

3. Load the bar with a very light weight, that allows you to complete 5-10
repetitions easily at the lower levels of intensity

4. Rest 1 minute

5. On the second set, use a slightly heavier weight that allows you to do
5-8 repetitions easily

6. Rest 90 seconds

7. On the third set, estimate a heavier weight that will allow you to do 3-
5 repetitions

8. Rest for 2 minutes

9. On the fourth set, estimate a weight that will allow you to do 2-3

10. Rest for 3 minutes

11. Add load – 10-20 lbs more than the 2-3 rep set for upper body and 20-
40 lbs for lower body

12. Go ahead and attempt 1RM

13. If successful, rest for 3-4 minutes and add load again, if unsuccessful,
decrease load slightly, rest for 2-4 minutes and attempt 1RM again

14. Keep increasing and/or decreasing, until you can execute a
challenging set of 1 repetition done with proper exercise execution

2. Repeated maximum (xRM)

Yes, as I said, free weight, compound movements are the best choice when testing maximum strength capabilities.

But what about dumbbell and cable exercises?

Well, for those, we have the Repeated maximum.

The repeated maximum is the weight used to do an X number of repetitions on an exercise, until failure.

And so, if you do 8 repetitions and fail to do a 9th repetition with 70 kg on the exercise “Cable rows”, then your 8RM for that exercise would be 70 kg.

As mentioned, DO use this method to test your maximum strength capabilities on cable and dumbbell exercises like pushdowns, pulldowns and lateral raises.


Okay, slowly but surely we start getting familiar with the fundaments of a workout.

We learned that each workout has 3 main parameters- Intensity, volume and density.

The different ratios of those parameters trigger different energy systems, which in turn, lead to different adaptations (end results).

For the next article, we will be talking about The 3 energy systems of the body and how it provides energy for workouts of different parameters.

Stay tuned!

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