Training Variables – Part 1


The amount of weight an athlete lifts in an exercise, relative to the 1 repetition maximum (1RM) for the same exercise, determines how much tension a muscle produces and the number of motor units recruited. These are two hugely important factors in strength development.

Unfortunately, there is a trade off between the intensity, and the overall volume that is feasible in a given workout. Which of these is prioritised (intensity or volume) at a particular stage of a performance plan, is decided primarily by the training objective.

In general, where relative strength is the quality most required by an athlete, the intensity will need to be greater than 85% of their 1RM, for the majority of their strength training. Intensities of this level and above result in increased strength through enhanced neural drive that is best developed through heavy lifting. When sufficient volume is accumulated, lifts in the 85-100% of 1RM best stimulate the development of the type 2b muscle fibers which are required for generating high levels of power and speed.

Where maximal hypertrophy gains are desired, intensities between 70-77% are usually most appropriate, while athletes seeking an optimal compromise of maximal strength and hypertrophy development may find that 77-85% is the best range when training for this outcome.

Intensities below 70% are best used for strength-endurance and in some instances for body composition training.

The amount of weight you aim to lift will influence all other loading parameters, including even exercise selection. This series of articles will explain how these training variables are manipulated to achieve a specific response that is optimal for an athletes performance in their sport.


A question that seems to be common among strength trainee’s is “how many reps & sets should I perform to get (insert objective here)?”

The answer to this question, unfortunately, is not as simple as you might assume. The truth is that two athletes can perform the same number of reps & sets and at the same % of their maximum, and still elicit different training effects.

There are many common factors which can contribute to this decision including range of motion, stance or grip, and even rest. However there is another key, yet little understood, variable that goes hand in hand with repetitions; Tempo.

The tempo that each rep is performed at will dictate the total time under tension (TUT) for any given set. This component is one of the major keys to achieving the desired training response. A better question to ask, may in fact be “what time under tension should I strive to achieve per set to get (insert goal here)?”

 To understand tempo its important to understand the different types of muscular contractions, primarily concentric, eccentric & isometric. If you have skipped ahead, now is a good time to go back and learn about these! Each of these contraction types play a role at varying ratios in most strength training repetitions.

When prescribing tempo, we use a method popularised by the late strength coach Charles Poliquin. In this method a 4 digit system is used to represent the time it takes to complete the different phases of each repetition, for example “41X0”. Here, the first digit (4) prescribes the length of time to perform the eccentric lowering of the movement, for example lowering the barbell to your chest during a bench press. The second digit (0 in this example) refers to the moment when the bar has reached the bottom position of the lift. This is usually in the stretched position, and between the eccentric and concentric phases of the rep. Using the 41X0 example the athlete would hold that position for a count of 1, prior to initiating the concentric action. This action is represented by the third digit, most often written as “X” as in our example, particularly when assigned to an athlete who requires explosiveness for their sport. X implies that the movement should be performed at maximal effort/speed, it is important to note that it is the intent which matters most here and while the bar may in fact be moving quite slow during a heavy repetition, the attempt of the athlete to accelerate the bar is what is most important. Of course this third digit could also be a number, in which case the athlete would attempt to control the speed of contraction to match the prescription as may be the case with rehabilitation exercises or other supplementary lifts. Finally, the fourth digit refers to the time of the pause, if any, in the contracted position, usually the top of a particular range of motion.

To demonstrate how this may look for our two athletes and to illustrate how a different training effect may result, we will use the following examples. For this set, both athletes are to perform 6 repetitions of a front squat with varying tempo prescriptions.

TUT for each Rep = 8 seconds
TUT for each Set = 48 seconds (8seconds x6reps) 

TUT for each Rep = 4seconds
TUT for each Set = 24 seconds (8seconds x6reps)

These two sets, while both performed for equal repetitions resulted in significantly different outcomes in terms of total time under tension.

Continue to the next article to understand how the optimal tempo, reps and time under tension are determined for a given training goal.

Blood Flow Restriction Training

Blood Flow Restriction Training

Restriction to blood flow first emerged as a form of exercise training with Japanese bodybuilders in 1995, but is now more commonly referred to as Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training.  Over the past 3-4 years, BFR training has exploded in popularity amongst strength coaches and physiotherapists alike. Early research identified the capability of BFR to stimulate hypertrophy and strength gains when combined with low-load resistance training but there was a distinct lack of research on how this was happening.  

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Field Sport Conditioning

Field Sport Conditioning

As teams across the country are forced to suspend all collective training, we thought we would help out with a sample session that can be completed individually and modified to suit!
This session includes work in all energy systems to maximise transfer to your sport.
Give it a go and pass it along to your team mates if you think they would benefit. Feel free to get in touch with any questions!

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Repetition Tempo

Repetition Tempo

Tempo is a training variable equal in importance to reps and sets. This programming tool allows coaches to target specific adaptations in an athletes programme and is a key component of a training plan. Essentially, in resistance training, tempo refers to the speed that an exercise is performed. The tempo that each rep is performed at will dictate the total time under tension (TUT) for any given set, and this component is one of the major keys to achieving the desired training response.

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Psychological Resilience in Sport

Think of the physical preparation that goes into an athletes performance; nutrition, sleep, strength training, recovery, rehabilitation are just a few. Ask, is mental performance receiving the adequate amount of time and dedication that it should be in comparison to the physical preparation, and if not, why?

Movement Skills – Acceleration

There are many elements to enhancing speed, no one training method holds the key. Rather it is a combination of components that result in greatest improvements. For example, developing specific strength qualities, is one of the most effective ways to increase the power necessary for maximal sprinting. However unless an athlete first focuses on movement, and in turn movement skills, they may struggle to maximise the results from their efforts in other areas.

Movement Prep

The purpose of any physical preparation routine should be to optimise performance in the upcoming session or competition, while decreasing the risk of injury.
Traditional warm-ups have typically included light aerobic movement followed by static stretching, and while this approach is successful in raising body temperature, it does not contribute significantly towards reducing injury risk, and certainly not towards optimising performance.

Pre-Season in Gaelic Games

We are at that time of year where a lot of teams are returning to training for the season ahead. Of course, most will have different league and championship calendars and will go about their preparation for each competition in various ways. Some will begin with gym sessions only, some will opt for field sessions only, and some will choose a combination of both. Some may even decide to give their players another few weeks before returning to any form of training.

Fuel Your Performance

At AXSOM, we believe that the process of eating should be viewed simply as fuelling the body. In the same way that a high performance car needs clean fuel to perform to the highest level, the body needs clean fuel to be at its most efficient and effective. We fuel to train, fuel to recover, and fuel to compete. This is applicable in all areas of life, not just with regards to competitive athletes. With nutrition, you are not only fueling the body, but the mind too, as food provides energy for our brain as well as our bodies.

Training Variables – Part 3

As is the case when determining the optimal reps and tempo, the training objective also dictates another important variable – the number of sets.
In general, the higher the number of repetitions, the less sets that are required to achieve the optimal volume. Conversely, the lower the number of repetitions being performed, the more sets that are needed. There are of course exceptions to this, but to illustrate how training objective will most typically influence the number of sets performed we will take two examples for comparison..