Summary of HST principles

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I wrote this the elite fitness training board, both in response to and to try and feed a recent HST buzz that's started there. I figured it was appropriate to repost it here.
There have been a lot of questions and potential confusion surrounding HST (hypertrophy-specific training) recently. What I'm going to attempt to do is give a very non-technical explanation of the program itself as well as the physiology behind it. The purpose is to clearly present the program as an effective means of achieving hypertrophy.

Bryan Haycock, the guy behind HST, has already done this before: The website is somewhat technical, and I remember feeling just as confused after reading it. What I'm going to try to do is fill in the gaps try to clarify, practically, why the program works.

Most training programs were conceived based on practical experience and modified based on medical knowledge. What makes HST special is that it is the opposite: it was formulated based on the way muscle grows in the lab, and then modified based on practical experience.

What is hypertrophy?
hypertrophy - n - A nontumorous enlargement of an organ or a tissue as a result of an increase in the size rather than the number of constituent cells

In other words, muscle hypertrophy is the enlarging of the muscle fibers as opposed to an increase in the number of muscle fibers (hyperplasia).

The principles behind HST:
1) Mechanical Load:
Tension upon muscle cells is necessary to induce hypertrophy. When cells experience tension, the delicate sarcomeres are disrupted. Given adequate nutrients, the muscle is then repaired to a greater size than it originally possessed.
Side note: It is commonly misunderstood that muscle failure is the stimulus for muscle growth. Intuitively, it makes sense. How can someone not sustain growth if they are working to the very limits of their capacity? Unfortunately, this is not true! The tension on the muscle is what actually causes growth.(1)

2) Frequency Potentially the most controversial, so I'll be spending a lot of time on it.

The various growth factors initiated by training all peak at around 24 hours post-workout, and than fall back to baseline by 48 hours. (2, 3, 4, and especially 6, 7) Typically, programs will sacrifice training frequency for the ability to add volume. This is counterproductive if your goal is to have bigger muscles. Given the average split of once/week, this means one will spend two days growing and five days maintaining muscle size without adding to it. This has been confirmed in the lab. One study compared the effects of a volume of weight training performed all on one day of the week to the same volume spread across three days of the week. The thrice-per-week group saw greater muscle gains as well as strength gains over 40% greater than the once-per-week group.(5)
This can also seem counterintuitive, as muscle soreness and strength often do not recover after a mere two days. In actuality, neither of those factors (soreness or voluntary strength) is related to muscle growth.

The ability to recover one's strength is directly related to muscle failure. Training to failure directly inhibits voluntary strength. Basically, training to failure fries your nerves (not the technical term
) and prevents them from being able to contract the muscles for long periods of time. So when one trains to failure and then waits until strength is recovered to train a muscle again, oftentimes the muscle has long recovered and is waiting for the nervous system to catch up.
This means that sometimes, with HST, you will be training through soreness. This is totally okay! Soreness is not harmful, and people generally find that training a sore muscle will cause the soreness to stop.

3) Progressive Load
Anywhere one goes, one hears "Changing one's routine is a way to prevent stagnation. If you're not growing, change things."

We're all in the business of growing muscle. Unfortunately, the body doesn't like to do that. It's rather expensive for the body to repair and produce new muscle tissue. It requires both lots of protein and lots of energy (sort of like the "parts" and the "labor). So, when an exercise is performed that damages the muscle tissue, in addition to the growth response the muscle also becomes resistant to further damage from that load. This is called the Repeated Bout Effect. (4) This is why routines fail to cause further progress. It is also why HST incorporates progressive load.

Side note: strength programs and growth
As anyone who's done WSB will tell you, strength programs can induce a good deal of hypertrophy. As a result, many bodybuilders adopt strength-training programs as a means of causing growth. By isolating and understanding WHY they cause growth, you can just skip straight to the growth-causing elements without wasting time with all of the neural tricks that strength training uses to increase your 1RM.
Strength programs typically have people work with very low reps, often to failure. Both of those have been shown to increase the nervous system's efficiency at performing a movement, thus increasing strength. So, when someone starts a strength training program, initially he/she sees a lot of growth. His/her muscles are not that resistant to damage, and at high tension levels the Repeated Bout Effect takes a little while to kick in. As long as he/she also continues making strength gains, he/she will experience progressive load, and will see muscle growth as long as he/she is overeating. Unfortunately, after a time the strength gains will slow to a crawl, and at that point the muscles are very resistant to damage and will simply not grow.

At this point, conventional wisdom would have our trainee change up his/her routine. This advice is somewhat sound, as new exercises can put new levels of tension on muscle fibers and thus elicit more growth. Also, a rep change can stimulate new growth as well, but ONLY if the new rep range is lower and allows more weight to be used, thus loading the tissue at new levels.

Instead of changing the routine, HST advocates...

4) Strategic Deconditioning
Before each cycle, in order to make the muscles responsive to the light weights in the beginning, a period of 9-14 days is taken off from all training. This reverses some of the effects of the RBE. It allows HST-users to experience rapid and sustainable progress.

This is one of the reasons why newbies experience such great initial gains. They have had such long deconditioning periods. Trained individuals also notice this; when coming off of a planned or unplanned layoff they often experience a renewal of gains.

1) Warren GL, Hayes DA, Lowe DA, Armstrong RB. Mechanical factors in the initiation of eccentric contraction-induced injury in rat soleus muscle. J Physiol. 1993 May;464:457-75
2) Nosaka K, Clarkson P.M. Muscle damage following repeated bouts of high force eccentric exercise. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc., 27(9):1263-1269,1995
3) Smith LL., Fuylmer MG., Holbert D., McCammon MR., Houmard JA., Frazer DD., Nsien E., Isreal RG. The impact of repeated bout of eccentric exercise on muscular strength, muscle soreness and creatine kinase. Br J Sp Med 28(4):267-271, 1994
4) T.C. Chen, Taipei Physical Education College, and S.S. Hsieh, FACSM,. The effects of a seven-day repeated eccentric training on recovery from muscle damage. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc. 31(5 Supp) pp. S71, 1999
5) McLester JR., Bishop P., & Guilliams M. Comparison of 1 and 3 day per week of equal volume resistance training in experienced subjects. Med. Sci. Sports Exrc. 31(5 Supp) pp.S117 1999
6)MacDougall JD, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE. The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise.
Can J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;20(4):480-6.
7)Phillips, S. M., K. D. Tipton, A. Aarsland, S. E. Wolf, and R. R. Wolfe. Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. Am. J. Physiol. 273 (Endocrinol. Metab. 36): E99-E107, 1997

Edit: 5/16: Added studies 6 and 7, other minor editing
A nice summary, Calkid.

I request anyone with membership to the the Hardgainer Roundtable to post this over there, with Calkid's permission.
Hi Calkid

Excellent summary. I hope you dont mind but i have copied this post and used it on a site over here in the UK. I am trying to tell people how good HST is and have suddenly found myself being asked a lot of questions! I keep directing them to this site but I thought it would be useful if they could see this as well.

Thanks, Monkey
lol, no problem whatsoever. I wrote it to try and help anyone understand HST -- not merely those interested in using it.

Just know, however, that not all of what I claimed in there falls under the umbrella of one of the studies quoted. For instance, if someone wanted to challenge my statements, "The ability to recover one's strength is directly related to muscle failure. Training to failure directly inhibits voluntary strength," they would be correct in doing so because none of the posted studies show that to be true.

In that specific instance, I AM aware of studies proving the point, I simply wasn't able to find them. It has to do with a fatigued muscle voluntarily performing at less than 100% of starting strength, but when stimulated with electrodes can perform at 100%. If you get any specific challenges, I can help look for a reference and then edit that reference into the version posted here.

I do ask one thing: post a link to the thread you quoted it in. I want to see people's reactions :D


Its on, they have various forums and one of them is on bulking up. Beware though this forum is full of some of the worst information on weight training and bulking you will ever see! I have tried directing people to this site so many times and have copied and pasted various info from this site to explain things to people, it annoys me to see such duff advice which leads to people wasting time in the gym, as i once did!. (I hope I have given credit to the site, although sometimes I may have not in a state of anger and haste at trying to put people right, sorry bryan, i never intended to take credit for your knowledge / work as my own). On the plus side I think my promotion of HST has managed to create a few converts, and then one day when you become a millionaire from all this you can thank me!

Calkid I'm very sorry but I could not post a link to your post, but I'm sure everyone finds your post most interesting and useful!

I'm willing to give HST a try...

say my squat is as follows
15 rep max 80 lbs
10 rep max 90 lbs
5 rep max 100 lbs

won't the poundages over lap ??


55 60 65 70 75 80 -15 RM (Rep Max)
65 70 75 80 85 90 - 10 RM

overlapping at 80 ? 2nd week of the 15 RM's and beginning of 2nd week of the 10RM's ?

and the first workout when the weight is 55 i stop at 15 reps even though i could do more ? is this strategic deconditioning ?

Is it supposed to be like that ?

I'll take your 2nd question first.

[b said:
Quote[/b] ]and the first workout when the weight is 55 i stop at 15 reps even though i could do more ? is this strategic deconditioning ?

No. Read #4 above in Calkid's post. It is a period of time, (9-14 days normally) where you do no resistance training. The purpose is to desensitize your muscles so that the lighter weights you will start your cycle with in the 15s will have a hypertrophic effect. If you didn't SD prior to doing an HST cycle, and you had been lifting regularly, those light weights would do nothing for you.

You ARE correct, though, when you say that when you first start using the 55lbs, as you suggested, that you would stop at 15 reps even though you could do more. The point is that you are gradually increasing the weight to get to your 15RM (and 10 and 5 later on).

[b said:
Quote[/b] ]55 60 65 70 75 80 -15 RM (Rep Max)
65 70 75 80 85 90 - 10 RM
overlapping at 80 ? 2nd week of the 15 RM's and beginning of 2nd week of the 10RM's ? ... Is it supposed to be like that ?

Yes, that's called "zig-zagging". It normally happens when you have RMs that are fairly close together, and is totally OK. As long as there is an upward trend in the weight increases (progressive loading, #3 above in the summary) you are fine. You may even repeat a weight in a workout, so that it allows you to use a bigger increment. Read the FAQ on this, too ("Zig-zagging or undulating loads" topic).

For your squat weights, I might suggest using something like:
15s: 60-60-70-70-80-80 (15RM)
10s: 70-70-80-80-90-90 (10RM)
5s: 80-80-90-90-100-100 (5RM)

You could do something similar for your other lifts as well. A bigger increment usually = better hypertrophy.

Keep asking if you have more ?s! Good luck!
[b said:
Quote[/b] (jsraaf @ July 03 2003,7:25)]For your squat weights, I might suggest using something like:
15s: 60-60-70-70-80-80 (15RM)
10s: 70-70-80-80-90-90 (10RM)
5s: 80-80-90-90-100-100 (5RM)
You could do something similar for your other lifts as well. A bigger increment usually = better hypertrophy.
Keep asking if you have more ?s! Good luck!
[b said:
Quote[/b] ]15s: 60-60-70-70-80-80 (15RM)
10s: 70-70-80-80-90-90 (10RM)
5s: 80-80-90-90-100-100 (5RM)

How would i know which muscles do i apply this ( doubles ) scheme? Big muscles or compound movement ? wouldn't this break the progressive load on every work out rule ?
When initiating the strategic deconditioning would that include regular cardio workouts or just weighted workouts?
What exactly is 'light' or 'heavy' cardio?
If I jog at 6 miles an hour for 8 minutes, followed by a sprint at 8 miles an hour for 2 minutes, and reapt that sequnce to give me a total of 20 mins, is that too heavy?

Basically, what is a good intensity of cardio which will be effective and not counterproductive.
If you run 20 minutes at 6 mile an hour, the body would probably adapt and render the workout useless.
If you have questions unrelated to the basic summary at the top, do post them as new topics in the appropriate forum.

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