Training Hierarchy: Quality > (Intensity or Volume)

“First move well. Then move often” – Gray Cook

In training, Quality always reigns supreme while the prioritization of volume and intensity depends heavily on desired outcomes. Quality consists of many components. Some of these components include coordination (kinetic linking), range of motion, consistency, mental focus, and technique. Intensity in the context of this conversation can refer to the weight of load, speed of movement, power output, heart rate, and rate of perceived exertion. Volume simply describes how much or how many, whether counting reps, yards, minutes, or miles. I will save the volume vs intensity discussion for another post and focus here on why quality comes first.

Earn the Right

Quality of training should dictate and often limit the level of intensity and total volume in training, regardless of the goals for which the training occurs. Athletes and coaches frequently dismiss this concept because of ego, pressure to achieve, and impatience. Satisfying short term wants by inappropriately accelerating volume and intensity sacrifices both safety and long term performance potential, like a third world nation being handed advanced technology without having experienced the educational and industrial revolutions needed to develop it organically. An athlete must earn the right to train heavily, powerfully, and in high quantities by first demonstrating command the movement, without compensation. This requires patience and practice, two things that do not come naturally to today’s youth, egotistical athletes, or coaches with a “win now” mentality. Unfortunately, it typically takes an avoidable injury to force these folks to reengineer their training approach. A foolhardy approach by a motivated athlete is understandable while a foolhardy approach by a coach is irresponsible.

Consistency over Time

Contrary to popular belief, volume and intensity are not the primary driving force behind reaching genetic potential – It is frequency. Taking it one step further, frequency of high quality training leads to fulfillment of an athlete’s true potential. As previously mentioned, patience and practice are collaborative keys to long term athletic success (in fact, they are keys to long term success in almost everything).  Put in high quality work day in and day out and you will ultimately surpass those who rush into crushing themselves with volume and intensity with little regard for the importance of consistent high quality training. It becomes much easier to ramp up volume and intensity once you have ingrained respectable movement patterns. Replacing consistency over time with high doses of volume and intensity yields short term results, but with the eventual costs of experiencing an injury, a premature plateau, and sometimes even an egomaniacal meltdown (like an athlete I witnessed yesterday try to substitute three months of frequent nutritional and physical effort with one day of an insanely high volume body building after being upset over his body composition results).

In Closing

It is tough to stay short winded on a concept that warrants (and has many) entire publications emphasizing and supporting its extreme importance in training for athletic development and fitness. Examples are abound of what can go awry when athletes and coaches dismiss training quality in favor of more weight, miles, minutes, reps, etc. Sacrificing quality in competition is inevitable but sacrificing quality in training is inexcusable. Check your ego, be patient, put in high quality practice consistently over time, and laugh your way to athletic success while your peers impatiently inflate their own egos only to burst, hopefully picking up the pieces and rebuilding with a better approach to training.