Programming Volume and Intensity for Beginner to Advanced 

Apr 14, 2022 | Uncategorized

As we progress in our training and get more time under our belts, programming also needs to progress to suit a lifter’s changing needs. There are several variables that we can manipulate with programming, the big ones being volume and intensity.

First, let’s dive into the differences in volume and intensity and how they impact our training.


Volume is how much work we do in a session. This includes the number of sets and reps you complete for a specific exercise.

There are a couple of benefits to volume work throughout your training. The first reason is the physiological adaptations it allows your body to make. This means growing more muscle mass. The more mass you can pack onto your frame, the stronger you are going to be.

The second is practicing more reps. When the weight is lighter and we are able to perform more sets and reps, we can practice technique changes and drill them into our movement pattern.



The second major component is intensity.

There are a number of ways to define intensity. The most common one in powerlifting is by the percentage of your 1 rep max.

Other definitions revolve around the intensity of efforts such as Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) or Reps In Reserve (RIR). These methods help to quantify the intensity and can also be used as a mutual language between coach and athlete to make sure everyone is on the same page with programmed intensity.

The intensity in training is used to help neurological adaptations required to perform at max capacity.

Now with a better understanding of volume vs intensity, we can get into differences in programming for different levels.



Novice lifters tend to need more volume in their training. The main reason for this is most novice lifters need to increase muscle mass as they don’t have the adequate muscle to move the heavyweights they want to move.  More muscle will enable a lifter to hit heavier weight later on.

Volume work will build the capacity for strength. Novice lifters also tend to tolerate higher volume programming more easily so they can be given more accessory or bodybuilding type work.

Because novice lifters have so much more room for improvement in their lifts, they tend to see more transfer of strength from variations such as tempo, pause, SSB, etc.

An example looking at three months of programming would be two-volume blocks followed by a  strength block.



Advanced lifters tend to need less volume work compared to novice lifters. When looking at a three-month period of the program, there might be one volume block followed by two strength blocks.

One of the biggest differences between novice and advanced lifters, is advanced lifters need more high-intensity competition-specific work.

These lifters have already put in the years laying a foundation and building a solid amount of muscle mass. Their number one priority is to be a better powerlifter. In order to elicit the same strength gains, they spend more time doing their competition-specific lifts to continue to improve physiological and neurological adaptations.

A simple way to look at beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifters is the level of competition-specific work they need.

I haven’t touched too much on intermediate lifters but they tend to fall somewhere in between novice and advanced as far as programming.

Keep in mind if you see advanced lifters on Instagram doing lots of high intensity (RPE 8-9) competition-specific lifts regularly, they have likely already laid a solid base through years of volume/bodybuilding training. If you are a novice to the intermediate lifter, you cannot copy their training and expect to get a similar result.


Natural vs Enhanced

I think it’s important to touch on this as it’s often not spoken about openly. This comes entirely from a coaching and programming perspective.

Enhanced lifters will tend to have an easier time building muscle mass with lower levels of volume. They are also able to hold onto adaptations (both physiological and neurological) for a longer period of time compared to natural lifters. This means they can get away with less volume leading to competition.

Natural lifters on the other hand sometimes need higher volume going into a competition to hold onto adaptations and skills required to complete a maximal lift.

If you have any questions about your own lifting or programming, feel free to send an email at  natalie@nemesisperformance.com.au.

If you are a beginner lifter and not sure where to start, check out Nemesis Performance’s Beginner Powerlifting Program.