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Setting up a Hypertrophy-Specific Training? Cycle: Part One Training Database Advanced Training Tips Setting up a Hypertrophy-Specific Training? Cycle: Part One

Go to: Setting up a Hypertrophy-Specific Training? Cycle: Part II

By Charles T. Ridgely

Introduction to Hypertrophy-Specific Training? (HST)

To be certain, there are a mind-boggling number of lifting programs available, all claiming to be universal in their ability to produce bigger and stronger lifters. Some programs rely on muscle fatigue, or working to muscular failure, to produce results. With these programs, a weight is lifted until it cannot be lifted even one more time. Other programs rely on increasing volume. These programs may call for adding more sets or repetitions of each exercise over time. Still other programs call for a combination of working to failure and increasing volume to produce results.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of these programs are based not on scientific evidence, or research, but rather on the basis of observations of a few elite lifters. One program that is based on scientific research is Hypertrophy-Specific Training? (HST), developed by Brian Haycock. HST is helping many ordinary people make wonderful gains on an every-day basis, and many exceptional lifters are experiencing renewed, plateau-free growth, as well.

It should be noted that the objective here is not to provide the scientific evidence behind HST, but rather to briefly explain the principles of HST and demonstrate how to set up your own HST cycle. A more detailed account of the science behind HST can be found at the Hypertrophy-Specific Training website, located at

Key Principles of HST

An important thing to understand about HST is that it is not a rigid program which is applied to all lifters in the same way. Rather, HST is a group of principles, which, when understood intuitively, can direct your lifting efforts toward new growth without hitting the plateaus that inevitably plague lifters using other, generalized programs. In the simplest of terms, the primary principles of HST are frequency, mechanical load, progression, and strategic deconditioning. Each of these principles is briefly discussed below.

Frequency: In the HST protocol, muscles are loaded three times a week rather than the usual once per week suggested by other programs. The greater frequency of workouts provides the muscles with an environment of chronic loading. This contrasts the acute loading (i.e., high intensity once a week) of other programs.

Let's consider an example which illustrates the difference between acute and chronic loading. Say you get a new job that occasionally requires you to lift and move several boxes, each weighing 50 lbs. Naturally, the first time you do this, the next day you will be sore. The soreness occurs because your muscles are not conditioned to this particular form of exercise. Suppose that you only have to lift the boxes once every two weeks. Think you?ll be sore after the next time? Probably, even if a bit less than the first time. This occurs because your muscles adapt to the load provided by the boxes during the first lifting session, but then decondition during the several days before the next box-lifting session. As a consequence of this acute loading, your muscle-building efforts are slowed at best.

On the other hand, suppose that you have to lift the boxes every day. Think you will continue to get sore as the days go by? Yes, but not for long. Lifting the boxes every day will quickly condition your muscles to the load provided by the boxes. Likely, by the end of the first week of lifting, you will no longer get sore. Your muscles will have become conditioned to a new environment wherein lifting 50 lbs-boxes occurs very frequently, or chronically. Once this conditioning has occurred to a sufficient level, you will plateau and no further adaptation will take place. That is, unless there is some sort of progression to your box-lifting efforts.

The take home point is: we want to keep the muscles in a state of adaptation with as little deconditioning as possible taking place between workout sessions.

Mechanical loading: Traditionally, muscle fatigue has been relied upon as a gauge for the effectiveness of a particular program to produce growth. According to this reasoning, one must work the muscles to momentary muscular failure so as to cause as many muscle fibers as possible to receive a growth stimulus. Often it is suggested that the fast twitch, or white, muscle fibers are not even called into action until the last few repetitions of a set. As pointed out in support of HST, however, a great deal of research suggests that all types of muscle fibers are called into action when the muscles are exposed to heavy enough loads. Because of this, HST emphasizes heavy mechanical loading of the muscles. In other words, we want to spend some time using heavy weights, and not just stay with the lighter weights suggested by many other programs.

Progression: As pointed out above in the 50 lbs-box example, your muscles will eventually become conditioned to lifting the 50 lbs-boxes. Certainly, the level of conditioning depends on several factors, including how frequently you engage in box lifting, how many boxes you lift in each bout of box lifting, and how fast you lift and move the boxes in each bout. Assuming that all of these factors remain constant, your muscles will become conditioned and no further conditioning will take place unless there is some sort of progression. In our box example, progression can take the form of lifting the boxes more often, lifting the boxes more quickly during each bout, or lifting more boxes in each bout, or even a combination of these. Of course, another type of progression can be achieved simply by lifting heavier boxes. This is the preferred method of progression in HST; namely, the mechanical loading on the muscles is progressively increased in a steady manner.

Strategic Deconditioning (SD): As you steadily increase the mechanical load on your muscles, you will eventually reach a point where you cannot add any more weight. At this point, you will have reached your maximum lifts. Because of this, there is a natural limit to the length of time during which you can increase the mechanical loading on your muscles. And to confound things even more, you will eventually become conditioned to these maximal weights?meaning, they will lose their effect on your muscle growth mechanisms. When that happens, any further progress will be phenomenally difficult at best. So, we can either beat ourselves to a pulp lifting heavy weights day-in and day-out, hoping for some sort of progress, or we can find a way to make renewed progression possible. With HST this is where Strategic Deconditioning (SD) comes into play. Strategic Deconditioning comprises between 9 to 16 days of no lifting to allow the muscles to become deconditioned to the heavy weights you?ve been lifting for the previous 6 to 8 weeks. After about 7 days of SD, your muscles will be essentially completely repaired from the damage you?ve inflicted on them up until your final workout. From about the 7th day onward, your muscles will then become unaccustomed to these weights. Therefore, if you do a good job of not doing anything at all, when you return to the weights between 9 to 16 days later, progression of those submaximal weights will produce further growth all over again. Hence, by ?SDing? you?ll avoid the plateau that would have otherwise been inevitable.

Basic Layout of a HST Cycle

A HST cycle is typically an eight-week, mass-building macrocycle which is comprised of at least three mesocycles. Each mesocycle provides a repetition range which specifies a number of repetitions you will perform with each exercise. The recommended repetition ranges are a 15-rep range, a 10-rep range, and a 5-rep range, although other rep-ranges are certainly acceptable. These rep-ranges are generally referred to as the 15s, 10s, and 5s, respectively. It should be stated up front that the secret of HST?s ability to produce renewed muscle growth is not to be found in the rep-ranges. Rather, the principles of HST discussed above hold the secret to renewed growth. The purpose of the rep-ranges is to guide you in choosing effective weights that progress throughout the HST cycle. It is straightforward to see that during the 15s, the weights will be much lighter than the weights used during the 5s.

A fourth mesocycle may include negatives (i.e., eccentric repetitions) and/or a continuation of the 5s or even the addition of drop sets. SD can be considered to be a fifth, or final mesocycle. The following table summarizes the primary mesocycles in a HST cycle.

One HST Cycle:

Weeks 1-2 15s
Weeks 3-4 10s
Weeks 5-6 5s
Weeks 7-8 Negatives, More 5s, or Drops
Weeks 9-10 SD

Each mesocycle comprises at least six individual workouts. The weights you use should progress from workout to workout as you work through each mesocycle. The lighter weights you use for the 15s develop tendon strength, prepare the body for future heavy loads, and encourage the body to heal any old injuries. The weights used for the 10s are great for hypertrophy, but also serve as a transition from the light weights of the 15s to the heavier weights used in the 5s. The weights used for the 5s are great for developing strength and hypertrophy. Negatives enable you to use even heavier weights than in the 5s, and develop hypertrophy via loaded stretching of the muscles. SD allows time for your muscles to forget their conditioning, so that the submaximal weights used in your next HST cycle will be effective for producing further growth.

Good luck,

Charles T. Ridgely

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