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:



For nervous system or neurological strength development, where training is aimed at increasing motor unit recruitment, many low repetition sets of high resistance are necessary for maximal progress. For example, a session with this objective may include 8 sets of 3 repetitions in the main lift of the workout. In the past we have prescribed as many as 10 sets of 1-2 reps for specific athletes during set periods of their training.

For the example below we will take the athlete as having a 1RM of 200kg.

Exercise: Trap Bar Deadlift
Sets: 8
Reps: 2
Intensity: 90% 1 RM (180kg)
Tempo: 30X0
T.U.T/Set: Approx. 8 seconds (4 seconds x 2 reps)
Total T.U.T: 64 seconds (8 seconds x 8 sets)

Summary = 64 seconds time under tension, with 180kg load or 90% 1RM.


On the other hand, when training for metabolic adaptations, absolute strength or body composition change, due to the higher number of repetitions being performed for these training goals, less sets are required to achieve the optimal loading. In fact, even with high performing athletes, when the reps and time under tension are particularly high, as little as one set of an exercise may be all that is required. A common example of a session designed for an athlete looking to increase their hypertrophy and absolute strength may include 3 sets of 10 repetitions at a tempo of 30X0.

Exercise: Trap Bar Deadlift
Sets: 3
Reps: 10
Intensity: 70% 1 RM (140kg)
Tempo: 30X0
T.U.T/Set: Approx. 40 seconds (4 seconds x 10 reps)
Total T.U.T: 120 seconds (40 seconds x 3 sets)

Summary = 120 seconds time under tension, with 140kg load or 70% 1RM.


As with all variables, there are many factors which influence the decisions around the number of sets to be performed. The number of exercises to be performed, the training history of the athlete, the phase of the program (extensive/intensive) and the the stage of the competitive season they are in (pre-season/taper/in-competition), are all considered during the program design process.

In this series of articles, we have looked at a number of the key variables of strength training. However, program design is not limited to just weight, tempo, reps, sets and rest. Training frequency and splits, the number and order of exercises and even range of motion are just a few examples that can all be manipulated to help achieve a specific training outcome.


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 2

As a general rule of thumb, the higher the total time under tension, the greater the impact on body composition. This is due to greater metabolic adaptations associated with increased time under tension. In order for an athlete to maintain control over a weight for a prolonged period, he/she must sacrifice on the intensity of the set (weight on the bar). This has a knock on effect of potentially reducing the strength training effect. Heavier weights will be required to optimally develop maximal strength, and particularly so to develop relative strength, therefore lower prescriptions for total time under tension must be applied.