Workout Program Variables

Here are the most important training variables when it comes to designing a customized program to accomplish your fitness goals. It is so important to understand these variables and ensure you are implementing them properly into your program based on your goals.

If you’re training for fat loss, the training variables you should be using in your workout are different then if you’re looking to grow in size.

If you’re training for strength you should be using different training variables than if you’re training for muscle endurance.

Once you decide on what your goal is: power, strength, muscle growth, fat loss, muscle endurance, etc. the following training variables will be your guide to how you should be designing your training programs.

However, if you don’t want to worry about designing your own programs, I have your back. Click here to get a customized workout plan specific to your goals. I take all the guess work out of it. You just go to the gym, follow this plan, and watch the results happen!

Most Important Training Variables:


1-7 rep range (strength) —> 8-12 rep range (muscle hypertrophy/growth) —> 15-20+ rep range (muscle endurance)


5-10 sets (strength) —> 3-4 sets (muscle hypertrophy/growth) —> 2-4 sets (muscle endurance)

The lower the rep range, the higher the sets you should complete. The higher the rep range, the lower the sets you should complete.

Intensity (weight):

High intensity/heavy weight (strength) —> Mid-High Intensity/heavy weight (muscle hypertrophy/growth) —> Low intensity/light weight (muscle endurance)

The higher the intensity, the heavier the weight. The lower the intensity, the lighter the weight.


1-3 min rest (strength) —> 45-60 sec rest (muscle hypertrophy/growth) —> 10-30 sec rest (muscle endurance)


This is the time it takes for you to complete one rep. The timing is broken down into 4 segments:

1. Eccentric (the lengthening of the muscle) – for example, with a barbell curl, the eccentric portion of the rep is when you lower the weight as the bicep is lengthening.

2. Hold/pause at bottom of the rep – for example, with a barbell curl, this is the time spent with your arms extended at the bottom of the curl.

3. Concentric (the shortening of the muscle) – for example, with a barbell curl, the concentric portion of the rep is when you lift the weight as the bicep is shortening.

4. Hold/pause at the top of the rep – for example, with a barbell curl, this is the time spent with your arms curled at the top of the curl.

Tempos are usually labelled like 2/0/4/0 or 2-0-X-0.

The first digit is the time in seconds for the eccentric portion, the second digit is the time in seconds for the hold, the third digit is the time in seconds for the concentric portion, and the fourth digit is the time in seconds for the hold. ‘X’ refers to explosive power. So you’d explode with this movement.

Here’s Tempo Example:


This tempo range for a bicep curl would be as follows:

4 secs to lower the weight

No pause at bottom of extension

X indicated an explosive lifting of the weight

1 sec hold at top of curl

With strength building a lot of X (explosive) tempos are used. With muscle hypertrophy (growth) the time under tension is increased. For muscle endurance, the time under tension is decreased.

More Advanced Training Variables

These advanced training variables are only to be used by experience lifters with a few years experience. If you’re just starting out, avoid these advanced training variables as they could cause you to overtrain, slow results, and potentially cause injury.

Rackless Sets

This variable is usually used when completing compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and bench press. The idea is to select a weight that is 50-65% of your 1 rep max (so if you could only lift 100 lbs 1 time, this is your 1 rep max, thus the weight you should use is 50-65lbs).

Lift this weight until you hit failure but instead of dropping or racking the weight, you hold it in place at the lifts starting position until you get enough strength back to continue a few more reps until you hit failure again. Do this until you can no longer do a single rep.

That equals 1 set. Try to complete 4-5 of these sets.

Unilateral Exercises

If you notice one of your pecs (or any symmetrical muscle) is bigger than the other, unilateral exercises may be what you need. These are mainly done using dumbbells or kettle bells. Rather than doing a barbell bench press you would use just one dumbbell, one arm at a time. Complete the set using one arm, then switch to the opposite arm for the same amount of reps.

Bomb Sets (compound to isolation supersets) 

Do a compound move like the squat to failure and then immediately do an isolation exercise targeting the same muscle group like the leg extension machine until failure.

Super Sets

Super sets allow you to do more work in less time. By working two opposing muscle groups right after one another, you’ll be able to burn more calories, boast metabolism, boast your cardio, and increase the release of muscle building hormones in a shorter period of time. Super sets can be done in two ways. You can target the same muscle group with two back-to-back exercises (no break) or target the opposing muscle group (i.e. bicep vs. triceps). I recommend you do the majority of your super sets with opposing muscle groups as it is much easier on your joints.

Descending Pyramid Training

Here are two examples of how you can design your descending pyramid training program (a sample program of each can be found at the end of this post):

1. Full Body Circuit Style – select 2-4 exercises that each target a different muscle group. Complete each exercise in short sets. Your goal is to alternate each exercise until all reps have been completed.

2. Unilateral – unilateral means working one arm/leg at a time. One arm/leg is working while the other would be in its built in rest period. Once you hit your rep count goal for each arm/leg you are done.

Based on the unilateral example, here is how it would look for a shoulder exercise. For shoulder presses you would start with just your right arm and would press it up 5 times, you’d follow this up by pressing up your left arm 5 times, then 4 with your right followed by 4 with the left, and repeat for 3, 2, and 1 reps.

For a full description of descending pyramid training, click here.


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