Strength Performance Network

Case Study:  Tweaking a standard hypertrophy protocol to accommodate for client readiness and progress.

A standard hypertrophy protocol for a fitness client in the third (or more) year of systematic training might be 4-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions with 60 seconds of rest in between sets.

The training should begin with a load that allow the client to perform 8 repetitions (the lower number in the bracket) with good form and a rate of perceived exertion of 4 out of 5.

This load is found through a sub maximal RM-test executed in the following way (after a general warm up):

  1. Three or more sets with gradually increasing loads are performed to find the right start load

First set = estimate load so target rep results in a RPE of 1-2 out of 5 - it is a judgment call that gets easier with experience. There should be no visible strain in the clients face during this set.


If the client has never tried this particular exercise variation before, it is a complete “guestimate” which load to use. If the client has trained with the particular exercise variation before, for example three months ago, you should use his past performance to guestimate the correct load. This is just one of many situations where training logs come in handy.


(Use a relatively short rest period between the first and the second set)


Second set = estimate the load so target rep results in a RPE of 2-3 out of 5 – to achieve the increase in rate of perceived exertion the load should most often be increased with 5-25 pounds.


! If the RPE is on the low side increase the weight more before the next set. If the RPE is on the high side, increase the RPE less before the next set.


(After the second and after subsequent sets you should use the standard rest periods for the repetition bracket in the program).


Third set = estimate the load, so the target rep results in a RPE of 4 out of 5 – to achieve the increase in rate of perceived exertion the load should most often be increased with 5-25 pounds. There should be visible strain and muscular contraction in the clients face and body, but the technique should off course still be perfect. In order words, the set should be a solid effort, yet nowhere near failure)


This sequence can be extended 1-2 sets, in some cases even more if needed.


The load that results in a RPE of 4 out of 5 for the target repetitions is the start load for the program

The instructions to the client during the following workouts are “to perform a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 12 repetitions in each set. When you can perform 12 repetitions in 4 or more sets, then we increase the load with 10-2.5 pounds in the next workout”.

When the load is increased then the client’s number of repetitions will drop back towards 8 in the following session. The process is then repeated as the client works his/her way back up to 12 consecutive repetitions.

A standard frequency for 4-6 x 8-12 would be twice per week. If the client performs 4-6 x 8-12 of a select number of exercises twice per week, eats and rests well in general you should expect steady progress in repetitions and load for 4-8 workouts (=2-4 weeks). 

Deviations from the “ideal plan” may take different forms:

  1. At the second workout the load look way too easy and the client states that the RPE is no more than 2.

Cybernetic adjustment: Adjust the load upward in the middle of the workout even though the client has not performed all 6 sets.

  1. The client is overall well and ready and perform a great 1st and 2nd set, but can’t get to 8 repetitions on the third set.

Cybernetic adjustment: Allow the client as many 15 second rest-pauses as needed to get to a minimum of 8 repetitions. Depending on the exercise the client may stay in touch with the bar or completely rack the bar.

  1. Towards the end of the 4-8 workouts the client have added load several times and is now struggling. The total mechanical work (force x distance x number of repetitions) is important to the hypertrophy stimulus, so you are looking for a way to still get the 12 repetitions.


Cybernetic adjustment: Perform 1 or more sets as clusters of 2-3 repetitions (6 x 2 or 4 x 4) to get to 12 repetitions. The client should rest 15-30 seconds between clusters.


Cybernetic adjustment: Perform the 12 repetitions as two ladders (or waves) of 2,4 and 6 repetitions. The client should rest 30-60 between sets.


  1. The program started as planned and you determined a weight that the client could perform for 8 repetitions. Now the client has missed a week of training (or more) for any reason and you cannot expect that load that you initially found is still valid.


Cybernetic adjustment: Repeat the process of finding the right start load and perform 1-4 sets (the 3rd-6th set) with the top weight that is achieved (on the third set).


Periodization is needed to maximize long term progress. However, the program structure must be flexible to take into account varying rates of daily readiness and progress. Based on a standard protocol of 4-6 x 8-12 repetitions this article offered several cybernetic adjustments to easily match the program to the clients need at any given workout.          

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