Wireless energy transfer is a broad research area that has recently become applicable to implantable medical devices. Wireless powering of and communication with implanted devices is possible through wireless transcutaneous energy transfer. However, designing wireless transcutaneous systems is complicated due to the variability of the environment. The focus of this review is on strategies to sense and adapt to environmental variations in wireless transcutaneous systems. Adaptive systems provide the ability to maintain performance in the face of both unpredictability (variation from expected parameters) and variability (changes over time). Current strategies in adaptive (or tunable) systems include sensing relevant metrics to evaluate the function of the system in its environment and adjusting control parameters according to sensed values through the use of tunable components. Some challenges of applying adaptive designs to implantable devices are challenges common to all implantable devices, including size and power reduction on the implant, efficiency of power transfer and safety related to energy absorption in tissue. Challenges specifically associated with adaptation include choosing relevant and accessible parameters to sense and adjust, minimizing the tuning time and complexity of control, utilizing feedback from the implanted device and coordinating adaptation at the transmitter and receiver.