Functional volume is the requisite amount of repetitions an athlete in the sport of fitness needs to build towards within their training design to match the relatively consistent amount of repetitions required to complete in online qualifiers, Sanctional events, and other various competitions.
To make functional volume more relatable, we will use the annual CrossFit Open as our metric. If we look over the last 5-6 years of the CrossFit Open, the total amount of repetitions for specific movements performed by the elite in the sport have stayed relatively the same. For example:
The repetition ranges above represent the rough range for each of those movements in the CrossFit Open for those at the highest level (a.k.a. highest scores worldwide).
Why is this valuable?
If your goal is to reach the pinnacle in the sport, or get as close as you physically can, your training program will need beacons to aim at for volume accumulation for all movements. For example, if you’ve never done 100 Chest to Bar Pull Ups in a single session without ripping your hands and having massive fatigue/soreness the next day, then you probably need a lot more volume accumulation of that movement to allow you to fully express it when the time comes in the Crossfit Open. Further, in an ideal world, you would be able to do 100 Chest to Bar Pull Ups in one workout, rest 2 days, then do that same workout again accumulating 200 Chest to Bar Pull Ups within 72 hours and walk away from it. A large percentage of competitors in the Crossfit Open do that each year when trying to improve their positioning on the leaderboard. That would be a prime example of the pinnacle at the sport when looking at functional volume requirements. And that was for only 1 movement. Plug-in that same scenario for each of the movements listed above. Then review your current and past training design looking at repetition accumulation to figure out where you currently sit.
If you haven’t or couldn’t complete the scenario mentioned above, then you will need continued touches and builds in volume of those movements until you’ve accumulated enough repetitions on a weekly basis to where your body has dampened each contraction. When the body is able to dampen a contraction, the strain on the system is lessened allowing energy to be preserved for future repetitions. Dampening a contraction does not mean you drop power or lose efficiency, but rather your system has become more efficient at utilizing as little energy as needed to perform the exercise with near perfect execution. There’s a lot more to dampening contractions but that is outside the scope of this blog post.
By understanding the utility behind functional volume we are able to create context on what we need to build towards in repetition accumulation within our training designs. When we have an aim, we can create a plan towards that aim which allows for consistent execution day in, day out. Consistency over time yields results.
How to implement functional volume
Now that we know what functional volume is and why it's valuable, let's discuss how to implement it within a training design.
Here’s our avatar:
If we look at his numbers, he’s fairly balanced structurally, which is a good sign. All of his gymnastic metrics are fairly respectable, but they all could have some upticks especially his “for time” pieces: C2B, T2B, and HSPU. We also see his cyclical aerobic power numbers are a bit low and need some upticks as well: AB and Row tests.
Knowing his goals and his current numbers, we now know what he will need to aim at to reach the competitive level he seeks. For example (biasing the gymnastics and cyclical work):
C2B Test – sub 4:30
T2B Test – sub 4:15
HSPU Test – sub 2:45
RMU AMRAP – 20+
2k Row – sub 6:42
10 min AB – 200+
Within his training design, we will progressively build volume over the course of his training to gradually expose him to more repetitions with the movements listed above. It’s worth noting that this process could take 2-4 years for some athletes to reach a level where they could perform 100+ C2B pull ups each week without having any deleterious effects on their body or performance. A very vanilla progression for this specific athlete could look like this:
Understanding the functional volume of the sport gives us a target to aim at with regards to volume accumulation within a training design. It’s always worth mentioning that the goal and the athlete’s current abilities will always dictate the prescription for their training design. Having the long term vision of what that athlete will eventually need to be at creates truth in where they currently sit and gives perspective on how much time it might take to reach that level.