I frequently hear comments both for and against tweaking or personalizing HST on an individual basis. This is to be expected among people who are real enthusiasts of weight training. You also find this irresistible urge to tweak among other enthusiasts such as audiophiles. An audiophile will go out and spend obscene amounts of money on the highest end exotic equipment they can find. But this isn’t good enough! They must find some way to “tweak” it, some way to make it their own delectable creation. Anything from placing the turntable on a 3 inch marble slab, putting sand bags on and/or in the speakers, or using speaker wire that cost as much as the car you used to drive to the store. Whenever you find people who are really into what they are doing, they will try to find ways not only to squeeze out the last bit of performance, but also make it their own creation.
I think it comes down to a couple issues which I’ll address after a short review for those new to HST.
First let me clarify that HST is based on physiologically sound principles, not numbers. In short, they are:
- Progressive load
- Training volume
- Training frequency
- Conditioning (Repeated Bout effect)/Strategic Deconditioning
So we are dealing with 4 basic issues, Load, Volume, Frequency and Conditioning. Within these basic factors we have reps, sets, and rest. HST differs from previous training methods in many aspects, but particularly in how it incorporates knowledge of how the “cell” physiologically responds to the training stimulus in its methodology. Previous methods focus on effort (A.K.A Intensity), current voluntary strength, and psychological factors such as fatigue and variety (i.e. many different exercises).
- The number of Reps is determined by the minimum effective load (this changes over time based on Conditioning)
- The number of Sets is determined by the minimum effective volume (this changes over time according to current load and Conditioning status.)
- The Rest between sets is determined by the amount of time required to regain sufficient strength to successfully achieve the minimum effective Volume.
- The Frequency (rest between workouts) is determined by the ability of the CNS to recover sufficiently to maintain baseline “health” indicators. It is also determined by the time course of genetic expression resultant from the previous workout.
- The interval of Strategic Deconditioning (SD) is determined by the time course of adaptation to the individuals maximum weight loads. In other words, SD is required to reset growth potential after plateauing. The duration of SD is determined by the level of conditioning attained during the training cycle.
Anyone who argues with these points after understanding them correctly is in error. That is a strong statement but it is true. These are principles that we “know” from research and experience. The data from this research is not theoretically based. It is based on identification, measurements, and direct microscopic observation. All future research will show us is more genetic detail, NOT that we were wrong on some sort of fundamental basis. So, anyone can with confidence apply these principles to their training and successfully induce muscular hypertrophy.
If anyone should attempt to apply these principles and not experience some degree of muscle growth, it is not because the principles are wrong, it is because the application of the principles was flawed. Once again, another strong statement, but it is true. For example, just because you plant a garden and water it does not mean you will successfully grow prize-winning vegetables. Does this mean that your garden acted by some other mysterious agricultural principles other than those based on water, sunlight and soil? Of course not! We “know” the principles of growing plants. Where we fail, is in our application of those known principles.
The application is where the details lie. Issues such as how much, how many, how fast, when and where to name a few.
Whether it be growing plants, or growing muscle, you are dealing with a moving target. Because plants are alive, or put another way, because plants are biological systems, the best application of agricultural principles to grow vegetables will change as conditions change. The same is true for the application of the principles of hypertrophy or muscle growth. The application will change as conditions change. All the while, being careful to stay faithful to the underlying “known” principles.
Why do people tweak and change HST? Well, when done haphazardly it is usually because they have no faith in the underlying principles. This almost never leads to progress, only constant tinkering and frustration. Without adequate knowledge of the principles, and faith in their effectiveness, their expectations will never be realized and their “locus of control” will move ever outwards, blaming everything but themselves for their lack of progress.
In contrast, when people tweak and change their program based on changing conditions, they almost always experience success and they gain valuable experience in the process. Their locus of control will move inwards and they will grow ever more effective at adjusting their training as conditions dictate to keep the gains coming.
If you find yourself lacking faith in your training program, you will most likely fail to reach your goals. You must first prepare yourself. Take it upon yourself to gain the required knowledge of the principles of muscle growth. Only then will you really have faith in your plan. Look up the studies and compare the traditional methods to what the research tells you. Ask questions of people who seem to have faith in what they are doing. Find out whether they are doing it because they were told to do it, or because they know it is the right way to do it. And of course, ponder your own experience and try to make sense of past periods of growth and past periods of stagnation.