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Saturday August 18, 2018

Strategic Variable Training

Written by Mark Sherwood
Strategic Variable Training

Strategic Variable Training

By:  Mark Sherwood


For 20 years I tried every weight training method I could get my hands on and for 20 years I failed to make progress.  I was only able to make progress the first one and a half years of training before going into my 20 year slump.  Finally, when I was 39, I began to piece together a weight training philosophy that made my training move forward again.  I am now 44 and have developed a training philosophy that I call Strategic Variable Training.

Strategic Variable Training has not made me a great bodybuilder or power lifter, but neither has any other training method that promised great results, and I’ve tried oodles of them.   What Strategic Variable Training has done for me is to help me improve more than any other training method.  Perhaps it can help you as well.  A six week sample for this training plan is listed at the end of this document.  The logical basis for Strategic Variable Training is explained before the workout plan is listed.


The Basis of Strategic Variable Training  Kareem Petteway

I believe your body is created to respond in an intelligent way to life.  Strategic Variable Training is a method that is designed to make becoming stronger the most intelligent choice your body can make.  The most intelligent goal your body can have when faced with a difficult weight lifting stress is to find a way to make the stress less difficult.  The whole premise of Strategic Variable Training is based on the idea that your body’s goal is to make life easier when stressed.  If your body thinks that becoming stronger will make life easier, it will become stronger.  If your body thinks that becoming stronger will not make life easier, it will not become stronger regardless of your workout method.  Our goal is to figure out when becoming stronger would make life easier and when it wouldn’t.  Our bodies already understand this.  We must learn how our bodies think if we are going to design a training strategy in which it makes sense for our bodies to become stronger.    


When Becoming Stronger Will Make Life Easier

I am going to use Larry as an example of when becoming stronger would make life easier.  Larry did his first bench press workout with 100 pounds for 10 reps, but he did not have enough strength to do an 11th rep.  Larry’s body is intelligent so it thinks to itself, “That was hard!  I have to find a way to make lifting 100 pounds easier.  I know what I can do, I can become stronger so that 100 pounds will be easier to lift.”  Larry’s body has just made an intelligent decision to make life easier by becoming stronger.  After working out twice per week for a couple of weeks, Larry decides to add 5 additional pounds to his previous workout weight because he wants to continue to become stronger.   He keeps following the same strategy by adding weight to the bar every time he becomes stronger.  Larry’s strategy seems to be working as he continues to increase in strength. 


When Becoming Stronger Will Not Make Life Easier

 Unfortunately for Larry, the training strategy that caused him to become stronger when he began training is the exact same strategy that will eventually cause all strength gains to cease.  Harder training is both the hero and the villain.  A further examination of Larry’s case study will help us to understand why.  Larry’s body has been getting stronger because his body is attempting to make the weights easier for Larry to lift.  Larry’s training strategy is to keep adding weight to the bar in order to make his workouts harder.  This means Larry’s body is trying to make life easier but Larry keeps making life harder.  Hopefully you can see the conflict.  Easier and harder are opposites.  Larry’s training strategy is in conflict with the intelligent goal of his body.  Eventually Larry’s body is going to say, “Every time I try to make life easier by becoming stronger, Larry makes life harder by adding more weight.  Why should I keep becoming stronger when it always results in life becoming harder?  I see no advantage in becoming stronger.”  Larry thinks that he must always train harder and harder to continue to make progress, but his body thinks differently.


 The Pattern that Kills Progress

The Pattern That Kills Progress

Larry has just run into the pattern that kills progress.  The pattern that kills progress is when the body’s attempt to make life easier is always paired with a specific stress that makes life harder.  This training pattern must be broken.  Larry will have to find a way to make his training easier because the goal of his body is to make life easier.  This strategy sounds illogical because if Larry makes his training easier, it would seem that his body would have no reason to become stronger.  However, knowing how to adjust training variables will help Larry solve this problem.


4 Training Variables

There are several ways that you and I can make our training harder or easier by adjusting training variables.  For the sake of simplicity, I will list 4 training variables that we can base our training strategy on.

  1. Total Volume which equals the amount of weight being lifted times the number of repetitions.

  2. The amount of weight on the bar

  3. Percentage of intensity to failure

  4. Number of training sessions each week per body part. 


Larry’s training strategy has been to focus on training with one set of 10 repetitions to 100% failure.   In doing this, he has emphasized variable number three on the list of training variables to the neglect of the other 3 training variables that are listed.   His body is now tired of going to failure.  However, Larry has not pushed his body in regard to the other 3 training variables.  If he will decrease the percentage of intensity to failure and increase the difficulty of the other three training variables, his body will be pushed in the areas where it has not been heavily taxed from previous training.  At the same time, it will be relieved from a decrease of training stress in the area where it has been over taxed for a long period of time.  For instance, Larry could do 6 sets of 4 repetitions with slightly heavier weights for three days per week instead of two.  His total reps per workout will increase from 10 to 24.  His weights will have increased and his workout days will have increased.  Yet his body is resting from having to train to all out failure, which is the training variable that had been pushed to a maximum for so long.  By making training easier in the area where previous training was difficult, and making training harder in the areas where previous training was easy, Larry can avoid the pattern that kills progress.

 Corbin Stout

Larry has found a temporary solution to his problem.  However, the pattern that kills progress will repeat itself if Larry continues to progress by increasing the difficulty of the other 3 training variables.  How can Larry solve this problem?  One solution is to choose just one new variable to focus on while keeping the difficulty of the other 3 variables at a low level.  For example, if Larry chooses to increase the weight on the bar, he can also choose to decrease his total training volume, his training sessions per week, and to keep the percentage of training intensity to failure at a low level.  Larry has just made his training easy in three ways and harder in only one way.  His body will not go into the pattern that kills progress because training has become easy in more ways than it has become hard.  If Larry’s body becomes tired of lifting heavy weight, he can reduce the weights and increase the other three variables in which his body has been rested and fresh.   A systematic increase and decrease of training variables can keep the body from perceiving that an increase in strength is always being paired with a specific training stress that will always increase in difficulty.  In doing this, a person has a better chance of avoiding the pattern that kills progress.  


Strategically Using Training Variables

There are a lot of possible ways to use training variables in a strategic way so that the most intelligent choice the body can make is to become stronger.  I personally use a training strategy where I alternate back and forth between a single variable emphasis for a week, followed by an emphasis of three training variables the next week.  The combination of training variables being stressed is different every week for a six week period.  The best way to demonstrate this is to look at the six week training plan.   This training plan could be used for an exercise of your choice or for training your whole body with several exercises.  If training your whole body with this training plan, I recommend keeping it simple and choosing a few compound exercises, but the exercises are up to you.  You can combine opposite (antagonistic) muscle groups and quickly alternate back and forth between them each set to make workouts go faster.  Long workouts are not necessary.  I see no need for long rest periods between sets except where specifically indicated in the training plan.


A Six Week Strategic Variable Training Plan


Week 1   

Strategy is to stress 1 training variable listed below: 

1. Total Volume



Sets  reps

12 x  4  @ 60% of 1 rep max (1RM)



7 x 3 @ 60%  of 1 RM

1 x reps to failure @ 60% of 1RM



5 x 3 @ 60% of 1 RM

1 x 3 @ 85% of 1 RM


Week 2  

Strategy is to stress 3 training variables including:

1. Total Volume   2.  Intensity to failure  3. Training sessions per week



10 x 3 @ 65% of 1 RM

1 x reps to failure using 30% of 1 RM



7 x 3 @ 65% of 1RM

1 x reps to failure using 55% of 1 RM




4 x 30 @ 35% 1RM


Saturday (optional)

1 x reps to failure using 25% of 1RM



Week 3  

Strategy is to stress 1 training Variable listed below:

1.  Weight increase



8 x 3 @ 75% of 1RM



6 x 3 @ 75% of 1RM



5 x 3 @ 80% of 1RM



Week 4  

Strategy is to stress 3 training variables including:

1.  Weight increase:  2. Total Volume:  3. Training session per week



8 x 3 @ 80% of 1RM

3 x 30 @ 30% of 1RM



6 x 3 @ 80% of 1RM

2 x 30 @ 30% of 1RM



5 x 3 @ 85 % of 1RM

1 x 100 @ 20% of 1RM



3 x 3 @ 85% of 1RM

5 x 6 @ 40% of 1RM



Week 5  

Strategy is to stress 1 training variable listed below:

1.  Intensity to failure



2 x reps to failure using 65% of 1RM:  3 minutes rest between sets



2 x reps to failure using 70% of 1RM:  3 minutes rest between sets



Week 6  

Strategy is to stress 3 training variables including:

1.  Intensity to failure:  2. Training sessions per week:  3. Weight



Warm up

1 Giant Strip set as follows: 

1 x reps to failure using 80% of 1RM

1 x reps to failure using 70 % of 1RM

1 x reps to failure using 60% of 1RM

1 x reps to failure using 50 % of 1RM

No rest between sets



A mini strip set as follows:

1 x reps to failure using 70% of 1RM

1 x reps to failure using 65% of 1RM

No rest between sets to failure



2 x 3 @ 85% of 1RM

1 x reps to failure using 65% of 1RM



1 x reps to failure using 70% of 1RM   


Final Words of Advice

If there seems to be unusual extremes of varying weights and rep ranges in this training plan, don’t panic.  The extremes are planned in a sequence that creates a positive training effect.  Personally, I don’t mind weight training pain.  If you don’t like pain, you may be tempted to quit this type of training if your body is not accustomed to high reps or strip sets.  Don’t let temporary soreness or weakness keep you from taking the necessary time for your body to adapt in a positive way.   If you stick with it, you’ll be fine when you go through another 6 week cycle.


If you plan on repeating this 6 week cycle, do very little training in week seven and then start the six week cycle again at the start of the eighth week.


If you are stuck in the pattern that kills progress, or just stuck, you have nothing to lose if you give Strategic Variable Training a try.


Thanks - Mark Sherwood


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