Acute Variables for Training

By David Sautter

Ask anyone on the street about their fitness goals and you’re bound to hear one of the following categories: build muscle, lose fat, improve strength. Even sport-specific goals can fall into one of these three main categories.

Excelling in your fitness goal comes down to the numbers. Research suggests there are specific acute variables to follow in order to maximize your results. Let’s jump right into the numbers you should be crunching if you want to see more muscle, less fat and incredible strength.

Acute Variables for Muscle Building

There are two different types of muscle building that you can focus on: hypertrophy and muscular endurance. Hypertrophy is the increase in muscle size where endurance training is preparing the muscle to endure more resistance for a longer period of time. We’ll discuss both below.

Before jumping into the numbers, it’s important to note that if you want to build lean muscle mass, you should be cycling through both endurance AND hypertrophy training. (Yes, ladies, that includes you as well.) This will allow you to avoid a plateau and maximize results. 

Muscle Mass

If you want to build muscle mass, try using these acute variables for your workouts:

Number of Exercises

  • Use 1 to 3 exercises per major muscle group
  • Major muscle groups include quadriceps, hamstrings, chest, back and shoulders


  • 2 to 4 sets of each exercise


  • 7 to 12 repetitions for each set


For each repetition, you should be lowering and lifting the weight as follows:

  • 2 seconds to lift the weight (concentric phase)
  • 0 seconds pausing at the top of the movement (isometric phase)
  • 2 seconds lowering the weight (eccentric phase)

Resistance Load

The amount of weight you are using for each set should be 65% to 85% of your one-repetition maximum. The one-repetition maximum is the most weight you can lift for that exercise ONE time. Use the percentage of that number.

Rest Period

  • 60 to 90 seconds of rest

Muscle Endurance

If you want to increase muscular endurance, try using these acute variables for your workouts:

Number of Exercises

  • Use 1 to 3 exercises per major muscle group


  • 2 to 4 sets of each exercise


  • 12 to 20 repetitions for each set


  • 2 seconds to lift the weight (concentric phase)
  • 1 second pausing at the top of the movement (isometric phase)
  • 3 seconds lowering the weight (eccentric phase)

 Resistance Load

  • 50% to 60% of your one-repetition maximum

 Rest Period

  • 60 to 120 seconds of rest

Acute Variables for Strength Gains

Everyone can benefit from having more strength. Strength is a functional goal to have, as it applies to life outside the gym. If you want to boost your strength gains, try using these acute variables for your workouts:

Number of Exercises

  • Use 2 to 4 exercises per major muscle group


  • 3 to 6 sets of each exercise


  • 1 to 6 repetitions for each set


  • 1 second to lift the weight (concentric phase)
  • 0 seconds pausing at the top of the movement (isometric phase)
  • 2 seconds lowering the weight (eccentric phase)

Resistance Load

  • 85% to 100% of your one-repetition maximum

Rest Period

  • 90 to 120 seconds of rest

Acute Variables for Fat Loss

Fat loss can be extremely frustrating, especially when results aren’t showing on the scale. 

Here’s the catch with optimal workout routine for fat loss: if you want to see ongoing and impressive results, you’ll need to use ALL of the systems mentioned above. Why?

As I mentioned in the introduction, you want to avoid a plateau. The last thing you want is to get close to your goal weight then have the progress stop. The way to avoid this plateau is to keep introducing variables that force the body to adapt on a continuous basis. You don’t need to be (or want to look like) a bodybuilder or a powerlifter to benefit from lifting like one.

By using a periodization program of all the systems mentioned above, you will trigger more fat loss while improving strength and muscle definition. Not too shabby, right? Here’s a recommended system based on one month of training:

Week 1: Endurance Training (use the Endurance Acute Variables above)

Week 2: Hypertrophy Training

Week 3: Strength Training

Week 4: Back to Endurance Training or use this as a High Intensity Interval Training week

Achieving fitness results is more than just walking into a gym and randomly utilizing equipment. You need to have a structured plan down to the numbers. What’s your fitness goal? Find it above and apply those acute variables to your workout routine. Let us know what kind of progress you make! 


  1. Clark, M.A., Lucett, S.C., Sutton, B.G. (2012). NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  1. American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar;41(3):687-708.
  1. Wilborn, CD; Taylor, LW; Greenwood, M; Kreider, RB; Willoughby, DS. Effects of different intensities of resistance exercise on regulators of myogenesis. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Nov;23(8):2179-87.
  1. Jean-Pierre Després. Body Fat Distribution and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation. 2012;126:1301-1313, originally published September 4, 2012.

About David Sautter

David Sautter is a NASM certified personal trainer, NASM certified fitness nutrition specialist, fitness workshop leader, and health and fitness writer who has been featured in NoTimeWheysted, Kutting Weight, and Workout Labs. With over 12 years of experience, David has been the driving creative force behind numerous fitness-related e-books, training guides, articles, and supplement research. You can discover more of his work at his website:

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