2nd December, 2022 updated 3rd December, 2022

Practical manipulation of strength training variables

The degree and type of strength adaptations are selected with the correct manipulation of the strength training variables.

Knowing what is most important for maximal strength and hypertrophy grants us the ability to plan appropriately for the trainees objectives.

Maximalist training

The maximalist approach to training is the easiest to plan for. Utilizing the concept of autoregulation and applying an autoregulated double progression strategy, an effort is being put in finding maximum level of volume that the body can recover from in a timely manner.

This level of volume can be imagined as the point closest to the boundary of overtraining: when markers of overtraining are encountered, volume is likely too high and rolling it back a little likely brings the trainee to the most effective volume level. Overtraining markers work as limiting and guiding factors.

Maximal strength

Heavy loads means that sets will be comprised of 1 to 6 repetitions. Sets of 1-3 repetitions may be more specific to the competition, but sets of 3-6 repetitions allow the trainee to perform more total work. Both of these repetition ranges should be used when training for maximal strength, though I recommend training in the 3-6 repetition range more often.

The relationship between number of sets and gains is weak, but it is likely that each lift should be trained at least 4 sets per week (Ralston et al., 2017). With the process of trial and error it is possible to find the optimal volume for each individual, by gradually adding sets until the trainee shows signs of being unable to recover in a timely manner.

Competition lifts should be practised as frequently as possible to refine them as skills. I would train these lifts at least twice per week, some individuals can train them more often.


Volume is particularly important for hypertrophy training and a good starting point is to exercise each muscle for 10 weekly sets (Schoenfeld, 2016). Gradually adding sets and assessing the response is a good approach to finding the most fitting level of volume for each individual.

Both heavy and light loads can be used for hypertrophy training (Schoenfeld, 2016). I prefer using lighter loads whenever possible to minimize the risk of injury. But I do squat heavy to preserve the nervous system (Unhjem et al., 2020; Tøien et al., 2023) and to maintain a high bone mineral density (de Kam et al., 2009; Mosti et al., 2014). Dense and strong leg bones are particularly useful to fighters who kick and check kicks, while a strong spine is less likely to break with falls.

There is limited evidence in favour of high frequency training programs (Schoenfeld, 2016). It is a good idea to train a muscle at least twice per week, more frequently for those individuals who can recover faster such as experienced lifters.

Minimalist training

The minimalist approach to training is more difficult to plan for. Markers of overtraining are not encountered because the volume is purposely kept low, and it is impossible to know whether the volume is ahead or beyond the point of maximal efficiency. Evidence to use as reference is scarce, but there is some.

Tracking progress is crucial: if volume is too low and results are lacking or not matching the expectations, then more volume must be added if further progress is desired.

Maximal strength

In an experiment, elite competitive powerlifters, both male and female, trained by high-level coaches have switched to a minimal training protocol and gained a significant amount of strength, on-par or exceeding the expectations of the coaches (Androulakis-Korakakis et al., 2021).

This protocol involved a total of 18 weekly working sets. A one-repetition set at 9-9.5 RPE: once per week for the deadlift, twice per week for the bench press and 3 times per week for the squat. Every single was followed by 2 back-off sets at 80% of the load.

It is reasonable to expect the same degree of gains by performing less volume from individuals that are not trained competitive powerlifters. It is also unreasonable to ask a less experienced person to max out at every session, as this could not allow enough time for their body to recover.


Most recent recommendations talk about 4 weekly sets per muscle group, very close to failure and occasionally to failure (Iversen et al., 2021).

A variety of loads can be used, resulting in repetition ranges between 6 and 40. While it is possible to train a muscle for 4 sets in one session per week, I think it would be better to split these sets across 2 or more sessions.