Zig-zagging or undulating loads

Discussion in 'HST FAQ' started by Blade, Jan 21, 2003.

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  1. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    When setting up your HST cycle with the proper increments, you may notice that the first workouts of a new microcycle (rep range) uses lighter loads than the last workouts of the previous microcycle. Or if your 15RM and your 10RM aren't that far apart, you will be repeating some weight loads as you go from block to block. This is what we call "zigzagging". I have yet to see a difference in gains from those allowing zigzagging of their weights, and those who don't.

    Zig-zagging is fine as long as the general trend over time is upwards. If not, the conditioning of the muscle (which is to say, the resistance of the tissue to the mechanical strain of a given weight load) will catch up with you, and your growth will plateau. Growth with a given load will probably only produce gains for about 4-6 weeks. The lighter the load, the shorter the amount of time it will be able to induce muscle growth.

    You can go about 7-14 days before you begin to lose some of the adaptation to previous higher loads. So one week will not cause you to lose ground. But by the end of two weeks with lighter loads, your muscles will begin to adapt to those lighter loads.

    Keep in mind that these time frames are "soft" meaning that there are many variables that can effect things. But in general, 7-14 days of lighter than previous loads will not allow that much un-adaptive response. Utilizing changes in rep speeds and modes of contraction will also make the lighter loads more effective.

    Do not sacrifice the size of the increments to reduce the overlap/zig-zag - it is better (to some extent) to repeat two (or even three) workouts at the same loads. Some people's RMs are so close together that this is needed.

    The reason HST works even though sometimes the weight zig-zags is because of the frequency. HST dictates that you train the same muscle every 48 hours, or at least 3 times per week. Most other training programs dictate that you allow what they call “full recovery” before training the muscle again, which is usually 6-7 days rest for that muscle.

    If you were to zig-zag your weights on a traditional routine the way HST allows, you would have to decrease your weights for at least 3 weeks just to accommodate the weight increments. While using HST, zig-zagging your weights only requires 1 week to get back to your previous weight loads. If using a traditional routine you wouldn’t train at all during this period! A little CNS recovery during the zag doesn’t hurt anybody either.

    If you are uncomfortable with the beginning weights for small muscle groups such as shoulders biceps triceps etc, simply decrease the number of increments and use each weight load twice. An example of this:

    Mon - using 35 lbs
    Wed - using 35 lbs
    Fri - using 40 lbs
    Mon - using 40 lbs
    Wed - using 45 lbs
    Fri - using 45 lbs

    That way the weight is still increasing each week, and everybody is happy.

  2. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Why not set up the cycle by starting at your 5RM, and then working backwards in 5% increments?

    I hesitate to use the term "micro-cycle" simply because it gives people the wrong impression about what HST is, but for ease of communication I'll use it.

    Starting at your 5RM and working backwards is essentially what people do when they try to avoid zigzagging the weight as they work their way along. The only problem you run into is not knowing how many reps to use each workout. You will have to guess how many reps is good for whatever weight you are using that day.

    Then you will be tempted to use "instinctive training", which dictates that you do whatever number of reps or sets and exercises you feel like doing that day. Its kind of a slippery slope...Pretty soon you will be training "instinctively" all the time. Unfortunately, your muscle tissue doesn't have instincts, nor does it communicate to our brains concerning its hypertrophic activity. It only communicates fatigue and/or pain...both being neurological factors.

    Finding your 15, 10, and 5RM is a way of knowing where you are. By having these figures, you know what you are capable of lifting at various rep ranges. This allows you to plan your training to ensure consistent increases in load.

    The 15's serve another purpose however and that's to address any chronic pain issues in the joints and to prepare them for more frequent heavy loading later.

    There is nothing magical about using 15s, 10s, and 5s. Some people have used 15,12,10,8, and 5s, changing reps each week. This creates quite a bit more fatigue in well-trained lifters though and can begin to interfere with their training.

    Finally, there isn't anything bad about repeating weights over a short period of time, say 2-4 weeks. Sure, that particular load will show diminishing effects over time, but it is still causing an effect as long as your frequency is high enough. Also, due to the delayed recovery pattern of the CNS, most people experience significant strength gains when the weight and reps drop periodically, allowing additional recovery of the CNS. This however isn’t required for growth, it only makes the experience more enjoyable for many people.

    There are several people here who have opted to get rid of the zigzagging. Their results are mixed. Most report that they end up using a greater percentage of their RMs throughout the entire cycle. Due to the high frequency, this has produced more fatigue than they expected and didn’t help their results any.

    So bottom line - feel free to adjust your weights so that there is no zigzagging or repeating of the weights. There is nothing contraindicated with that “technically speaking”. However, it is unlikely you will experience greater results than if you simply base your weights on your 15,10 and 5RMs. This is because the frequency of training negates the effects of repeating a weight now and then.

    - Bryan

    HST is laid out in 2 week blocks of 6 workouts (=increments) because this is what it generally takes you to go from one RM to another (e.g. from 15RM to 10RM, or from 10RM to 5RM). This doesn't apply to everyone though, so in order to keep the increments as linear as possible (reduce zig-zag) you can, as mentioned, repeat workouts. The other option is simply to reduce the estimated 15RM and/or 10RM, then make up the slack on the bottom end by repeating workouts (to avoid starting out at too light weights for your liking). Since the object of 15s is to induce lactic acid, you can increase the metabolic work by slowing down the reps to compensate for the lower load.

    Again - the frequency and progression after SD is what makes you grow, not hitting any predetermined RM - which in itself is affected by a number of factors (almost) unrelated to hypertrophy.

    - Blade
  3. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Which is better - zig-zagging or repeating loads

    Zig-zagging will result in less fatigue and more strength without losing ground size wise.

    Repeating workouts isn't necessarily bad either. I recommend you repeat your 5RM for a couple additional weeks (6 workouts) at the end of the cycle (if you can't do negs) just to get as much growth out of that weight load as possible before you SD.

    I seriously doubt this answer is going to satisfy you. You’re simply going to have to try it both ways on two different cycles to see which way you prefer. Do 1 entire cycle using your 15, 10, and 5 RMs. DO NOT ESTIMATE THEM! Find them a week in advance using each and every exercise you plan on using. Monday find your 15s, Wed find your 10s, Fri or Sat find your 5s.

    Then do another cycle where you only use your 5RM and adjust your weight increments so there is no zigzagging, repeating weights where necessary.

    Then come back and tell us which one you like better and why.

    - Bryan
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