Selecting exercises and related topics

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

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  1. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    How many exercises?

    I am a big fan of reducing the number of exercises and increasing the number of sets. For example, if you can stick with only 4 or 5 exercises per workout (e.g. squats, dips, chins, shoulders [only an example]) you can get in some really good work for the whole body without running around the gym from exericse to exercise. When doing this I definitely recommend using 2 different sets of exercises which you alternate between each workout, each set of exercises still geared towards major muscle groups with compound lifts. This is for overall body growth/mass.

    If over time, a person feels they are neglecting a minor muscle group, it is easily addressed in a cycle or two before a competition (bodybuilding).

    This is the most common mistake I see - people do too many exercises each workout on HST. They are so concerned with hitting every possible exercise that they aren't able to really focus on any of them.

    (from an old post) :

    I may only use 6-7 exercises to train my entire body. One major exercise for legs, back, chest, delts, bis, tris and calves. This doesn't have to be done all in one workout either. I may only do 4 of those exercises in the morning, and 3 later that evening. Or sometimes, if I can’t train twice a day, I do 4 body parts on Monday and the other 3 on Tuesday and then repeat the process on Wednesday. That way I can spend as much time on each exercise/bodypart as I need. 3 insufficient sets using 3 different exercises for a muscle group will do less than 3 sufficient sets with one exercise...make sense?

    If you are concerned about not using enough exercises, simply set up two sets of 6-7 exercises for the entire body. Use the calculator and get all your weights for each exercise. Then alternate between the two sets of exercises each time you train the whole body. So, if you train everything in one day, you would do one set of exercises on Monday, and the other on Wednesday, then repeat the first on Friday, followed by the second on the next Monday, etc, etc.

    If you can train twice per day, do one set in the morning, and the second set of exercises in the evening (you will definately drop fat by doing this).

    If you train your whole body in 2 days, alternate between the two sets of exercises in the obvious way. That way, instead of 6-7 exercises, you would be using 12-14 exercises within 2 fullbody workouts.

    Squats and deadlifts in the same week?
    There is no need to do squats and deadlifts during the same week, unless perhaps if you are training for a powerlifting event. Even then, you should alternate between squats and deads every other workout. These two exercises are essentially full body exercises. Unless you are chemically assisted doing both of these exercises with such frequency will lead to burnout.

    Most people can only handle 2 exercises per week that stress the lower back. These include squat, deadlift, stiff leg DL, unsupported bent over rows.

    If you are doing squats and SLDL 3 times per week during the 5s it's no wonder your back hurts. I can only do squats twice per week during the 5s, and I don't usually do a lot of SLDL.
    I would highly suggest you either drop the SLDL all together during the 5s, and only do a major exercise like squats or deadlifts twice per week. You can hit the quads and hams with extensions and curls inbetween.

    Grip width only effects the lats or pecs differently if the elbow is moved into a different plane of motion. There is no need to do incline press, shoulder press, and overhead db press all in the same workout, not to mention 3 times per week. If you insist on doing all of these shoulder movements you need to arrange an alternating workout schedule. Do flat bench and shoulder press on one workout, then dips and incline press on the next. Then just alternate between the two exercise routines each workout. The same goes for biceps. If you are training back properly, there is no need to do two different curling movements in a single workout. As with shoulders, alternate between curling movements from workout to workout.

    Leg extensions aren't "bad" for your knees per se, they are hard on somebody's knees that are already bad.
    Leg extensions are an integral part of knee rehabilitation in clinical settings. They wouldn't use knee extensions if they were bad for your knees. Done properly, knee extensions can actually help heal knees that have started hurting do to training stress. HST is designed to allow a person to heal up old aching joints, in order to allow them to train effectively once again. If you have a preexisting serious knee problem or injury, check with your orthopedic doc before doing any leg training.

    Your depth on Stiff Leg Deadlifts depends on the flexibility of the hams...not the back. The only movement should be the pelvis. When done properly, very few people can even go parallel to the floor with their torso. The stretching sensation with the legs straight will be felt behind the knees. As you begin to bend your knees the stretch will move up the back of the leg. The lower back should not give way.

    SLDL is NOT a back exercise. It is strictly for the hams. It isn't necessary to do really heavy SLDLs - since this isn't a "strong position" for the body and it may expose a person to injury if pushed too heavy.

    You don't have to change bicep exercises if you don't want to. I just do it because I enjoy doing it.

    If you are going to change them "strategically" you want to start with a non-stretch movement like concentration curls, and move to a stretch movement like incline curls. This switch can be done once in a cycle, switching half way through the 10s. Or only switch as you go from one full HST cycle to the next.

    Any other switching is just for variety. Try not to go from a "strong" exercise to a weak one though. The absolute load on the biceps should still increase steadily as the cycle progresses.

    When approaching calves, don't change the principles.
    - Increasing load
    - sufficient volume
    - sufficient frequency
    - SD

    Now the calves are virtually never deconditioned because we walk and stand on them all day. This makes them very resistant to the effects of doing "reps". They're tuff as nails. In general, calves will require greater loads, greater volumes, and greater frequency to equal the effects of a lesser amount of training on the chest for example.

    So, don't get caught up in all the fiber type jibber jabber. ALL fibers grow with overload. Your fibertype determines what they do for you, NOT what you should do to them.
    Start with SD. If you are running you will have to cut that out for a bit.

    Start with 15-20 reps. Do this everyday while the reps are high.

    Keep the increments proportional to the strength of the muscle. Most people can calf raise huge amounts of weight, so make the increments 10-20 pounds at a time.

    Don't skip the negatives. You don't need a training partner to use both feet to lift, and one to lower. Don't forget to cut the weight in half though when you switch to one leg sets.
    When your all maxed out and they don't seem to be changing from week to week, take a 14 day SD period and do it all over again.

    One thing I have found is that adding running or jump-rope towards the end of your calf cycle can help get a bit more size out of your calves before you SD.

    - Bryan Haycock
  2. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Should I vary exercises?

    Should a person “switch” exercises frequently? Well, that depends. If she is going from an exercise that doesn’t stretch the muscle significantly, to an exercise that does, then Yes. You will benefit from switching, but only after the muscle has “adapted” to the exercise with less stretch involved.

    Switching exercises that require a high degree of neural skill (most compound exercises) is generally less productive. The hypertrophic response is delayed according to the duration of learning to manifest the neural drive necessary to generate the tension on the muscle fibers for microtrauma to happen. This is generally not a concern with isolation exercises.

    As to the value of Weider’s Confusion principle (sorry couldn’t resist), lets consider what we know both about strength, and the physical properties of muscle tissue.

    The foundation for the development of strength is neuromuscular in nature. Increases in strength from resistance exercise have been attributed to several neural adaptations including altered recruitment patterns, rate coding, motor unit synchronization, reflex potentiation, prime-mover antagonist activity, and prime-mover agonist activity. Aside from incremental changes in the number of contractile filaments, voluntary force production is largely a matter of "activating" motor units. In order to ascertain the relative contribution of each of these mechanisms, various measurement techniques have been utilized. We can go into this if you wish, but it is largely just an exercise in motor-unit physiology with little applicable value to muscle hypertrophy.

    One study might be worth mentioning though. Hakkinen and co-workers have shown that there is an increase in EMG activity with strength training as well as a decrease in EMG activity upon cessation of training (Hakkinen,1983). Male subjects accustomed to weight training went through progressive strength training of combined concentric and eccentric contractions three times per week for 16 wk. The active training period was followed by an 8 week detraining period (not to be confused with SD). The training program consisted mainly of leg extensions with the loads of 80-120% of one maximum concentric repetition (1RM). Significant improvements in muscle function were observed in early conditioning; however, the increase in maximal force during the very late training period was greatly limited. Marked improvements in muscle strength were accompanied by significant increases in the neural activation (EMG) of the quads.

    And as you might expect, during detraining, there was a rapid decline in EMG activity patterns.

    Now here is something interesting and illustrative at the same time. The relationship between EMG activity and high voluntary forces varied during the training period. The occurrence of these changes varied during the entire course of training. This points out the fact that other neurological factors are involved such as rate coding, motor unit synchronization, reflex potentiation, prime-mover antagonist activity, and prime-mover agonist activity.

    Now with respect to the question of changing exercises every 2 weeks or so, you have to ask yourself why? Keep in mind that there are entire textbooks devoted to the field of “motor learning”. It is a very complicated field of study because it involves the whole organism or being. It involves the brain to a much greater extent than the muscle tissue. This of course makes it NOT hypertrophy-specific. Anyway, people are used to asking the question why, they just aren’t accustomed to having to answer it without simply deferring to some widely accepted authoritative source, or simply saying “it makes it harder”. “Harder” is a subjective term related to another subjective term “intensity”. Intensity is only important as it defines the amount of tension applied to the muscle, not how heavy it feels that day or how hard it is to lift when you are really tired.
  3. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    How does grip width and different angles change the stimulus?

    In general, when person moves their grip from wide to narrow, the elbows will pull in towards the side of the body during the pulling motion. This changes the line of pull transferred to the muscles of the back and shoulders.
    It also changes the degree of stretch, or the length of the muscle during the contraction.

    As for recruitment, the innervation of the lats is from the thoracodorsal nerve. With practice you can lean to control the lat, apart from the surrounding musculature. This however, isn’t necessary for typical lifting, nor is it possible with heavy loads.

    Think of the lat as a sheet that can experience different levels of tension depending on how you stretch it.
    Training a muscle in a lengthened position will cause more microtrauma than training it in a shortened position. Decline curls stretches the short (inner) head more than the outer (long) head of the biceps simply due to their different origins. The short head originating at the coracoid process and the outer head attaches to the humerus. So the outer head doesn’t stretch as the upper arm is moved away from the center line of the body whereas the inner head does.

    The pec minor actually lies beneath the pec major so you don’t actually see it. The pec minor attaches to the ribs and the coracoid process. The pec minor simply pulls the shoulder girdle forward. The pec major moves the upper arm because of its insertion at the humerus.
    Studies have shown that the upper portion of the pec is usually just as active as the lower portion during heavy flat bench. However, there is some benefit to doing incline bench because it seems to help build the clavicular portion of the pecs and the front delts.

    Nothing isolates the “inner” portion of chest. The myth arose out of the “sensation” that one feels as the pec becomes cramped while contracting it (with the arms brought close together in front of the body and flexed hard). Isolating the inner pec is like isolating one portion of a rubber band as you stretch it from either end. Now, there are differences in the way the muscle experiences stress due to the convergence of the fibers near the insertions at the musculo-tendonus junction...but that’s more detail than is necessary.

    One thing everyone should keep in mind. The distribution of androgen receptors is not even throughout the body. There is a greater density of androgen receptors on the shoulder girdle (delts, traps, upper pecs). You will notice, that once a guy begins to use androgens, he almost immediately grows traps and delts. In short, there are disproportional increases in muscle mass in certain muscle groups when one begins using steroids. This is due to androgen receptor distribution patterns.

    All right, we already went over the neurological adaptations that a muscle will undergo when exposed to a new movement. So aside from neurological issues, changing an exercise for the same muscle group does what?

    1) It changes the angle of the limb to the body and/or the position of body itself

    2) It usually changes the degree of stretch that the muscle experiences during the movement.

    3) 2a) Incident to this, the muscle will also often experience a change in the distribution of resistance throughout the movement (free weights are not isotonic do to the fixed direction of gravitational pull and the variable angle of pull of the muscle/joint).

    So now you have to ask yourself, how do these things effect what we know about “why” muscles hypertrophy. Lets look at them 1 at a time.

    1) It changes the angle of the limb(s) in relation to the body and/or the position of the body itself. Great, but does this really effect a muscle which has both a fixed origin and insertion? No. All the muscle knows, is that it is stretched to a given degree, and then forced to contract. Your “brain” knows where the muscle is in space (proprioception) but the muscle doesn’t know anything of the sort. It is 2 dimensional for the most part. It does only two things, it lengthens and shortens in a straight line between its origin and insertion. You can’t change that straight line between origin and insertion, only its orientation to the body or other frame of reference.

    2) It usually changes the degree of stretch that the muscle experiences during the movement. Does this really affect hypertrophy? YES!! It absolutely does. When a muscle goes from less stretch, to more stretch, it will elicit a hypertrophic response.

    3) Or “2a”, the muscle will also often experience a change in the distribution of resistance throughout the movement. Will this effect hypertrophy? Generally No. It only encourages neurological adaptations to better able itself to generate force at a given muscle length. As the SAID principle demonstrates, you will increase strength in that specific range of motion where the resistance is highest. .
  4. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member


    The problem with squats is that they are a very complicated exercise...By complicated I don't just mean the movement itself, but the number of variables that come into it when you are dealing with all sorts of people with all sorts of abilities and tolerances.

    I would say about 85% of the bodybuilding population don't perform squats properly. Why so many? Because they are unaware that they are not doing them correctly. They think they’re doing squats, when in reality they are doing partials, using a lot of low back. Balance is usually over the balls of the feet and the knees come in until they nearly touch. Power lifters and Olympic lifters are much better at this because they are “trained” to squat properly from the very beginning. Olympic lifters, in my opinion, have the most beautiful squatting technique I have seen among all lifters.

    There is also the problem of ego. Like bench, everybody seems to think you aren’t cool unless you squat a ton of weight. This puts undue pressure on people to increase the weight beyond their capacity. As a result, their execution of the exercise deteriorates even further.

    Finally, one other variable referring specifically to muscle growth is exercise tolerance. People often don’t realize how agonizing and painful a true set of squats can be. I mean, anybody can burn the crap out of their biceps doing concentration curls, or even their chest doing crossovers or pec-deck. But put several hundred pounds on their back and tell them to keep going until the pain is so bad they think they will surely be crushed, die, or both and you are talking about something most people have never experienced…even most casual lifters. Most people simply rack the weight before they really stress the legs. As a result, their squatting weight will be significantly less than it is for their other leg exercises. In other words, they are unable or unwilling (consciously or not) to perform squats in the way necessary to illicit a significant growth stimulus.

    So take this group of bad squaters, give them squat advice, and it is anybody’s guess what kind of results they will have. Simply because they don't perform them properly. As a result of that, there will crop up dozens of squatting routines all promising huge gains. Not only that, but squats do not cause whole body growth. They only have the potential to cause growth in those muscle groups directly involved in the squatting movement. However, because squats involve at least half of the body, you can increase overall bodyweight as a result of so much of the body’s musculature being stimulated to grow. Despite Kraemer’s claims that the miniscule spikes in Test and GH as a result of squatting without resting too much in-between sets is responsible for muscle growth, it isn’t entirely true. Otherwise, if these minute spikes in Test and GH had any significant physiological effect, squatting would put hair on your chest. Ok, I’m being a little sarcastic but you get my point.

    The anabolic potential of any given squatting routine, be it 20 rep, Breathing squats, Oxford method, Straight sets, Super Slow, HIT, GVT, EDT, or HST, depends on the individual’s level of conditioning in the legs when they begin a squatting routine.

    For someone who has been frustrated with their legs and/or squats and hasn’t been squatting properly or diligently, anyone of the above mentioned methods would lead to some size gains… Then that person runs out and tells everybody that they have found the answer to getting legs like Tom Platz. So depending on who’s asking, sure, small increments, or even no increments will work for a lot of people, just as long as they are consistent, and are able to push themselves to the point that they are really causing some trauma to the tissue.

    For those who are healthy, squat well, squat relatively frequently, and are somewhat already developed, I recommend HST as indicated (accept for negatives). For those who struggle with squats for one reason or another, simply add leg extensions, and/or leg press, using the HST method.

    So, both SD and the bigger increments are going to be necessary for people who have been already training legs properly and are already bigger than they would be without training much. Other people will get by with less simply because they haven’t been training all that well to begin with.

    - Bryan
  5. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Kate on posture, form, and rows

    When I left fitness training to get back into massage, some of my gym clients became massage clients. Several of these people had similar posture (along with neck pain and/or headaches). None of them were very good at rowing motions and I a$$umed it was some kind of "communication" problem... that these people couldn't figure out how to tell their shoulder blades to move properly.

    What I found out when I got my hands on them, was that they could not move the scapulae properly. Their upper back paraspinal musculature was in chronic spasm reducing proper movement of their spine. And worse, the muscles in the shoulder girdle were so locked together that their scapula were firmly fixed to the ribcage.

    In other words, in a healthy relaxed shoulder, I can get my hand part way between the scapula and the back, and the shoulder blade glides smoothly. On these folks, the blades were hardly moving at all. Imagine the stresses that puts on the rotator cuff and surrounding structures!

    Typical with this posture then is "stuck" scapulae, immobility in the thoracic (upper) spine, overstretched and fatigued upper back muscles, and chronically contracted muscles in the front of the neck, shoulders and chest.

    Proper exercise could indeed improve the posture, but deep tissue massage would certainly speed up the process. Rowing exercises should focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together (without lifting the shoulders toward the ears) and then feeling the shoulder blades pull apart as the arms extend.

    The muscles in the front of the shoulders and the chest need to be strengthened and lengthened. Flyes or pec deck would work nicely for that. The shoulder blades should be moving somewhat for this exercise, although your friend should try to keep them from rolling up around his ears...

    For the "stuck" upper back, he could try some hyper extensions, but focus on trying to make the motion come from his upper back rather than his lower back. Lying face up over a Swiss ball would definitely stretch that tight spot. Use a spotter the first time.

    Its impossible to know what you have going on without watching you move, but stretching over the Swiss ball is a great way to bring mobility back to that area. If you do full range of motion crunches over the ball, you should be able to encourage some motion in the upperback as well as the lower. Hyper extensions over the ball should help too.

    If you cannot bring your scaps together without lifting them, you either have a faulty movement pattern or a lack of mobility in at least one plane of motion. When you contract your lower traps and spinal erectors, your rib cage should lift up and your shoulders slide back (think down with the blades until you get a feel for it).

    A perfect row should go like this:

    1. No motion at the hips... this is not a glutes and hammies exercise. Keep the hips at approximately 90 degrees and don't rock.

    2. Begin the motion by drawing the arms back without changing the bend in the elbows. The only way to do this is to draw your shoulder blades together. If you cannot pull the bar back a few inches without bending your arms, you are not getting those scaps moving.

    3. Once the scaps are drawn together, pull back through the elbows, lifting the rib cage at the same time. Imagine you are doing a chin and try to lift that chest up as you pull the elbows back. This definitely requires motion in the thoracic spine.

    4. Remember, this exercise is about squeezing the back and not about what the bar is doing. When you can't squeeze your back any harder the bar is as close to you as it needs to get. If you pull that bar to the belly as many people do and let the shoulders roll forward you are dropping that resistance right off the muscles you are trying to target.

    I'm a stickler for form, partly because of the number of injuries I've seen caused by lousy form (had a few myself). The truth is, beautiful form yields beautiful results.
  6. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Using EMG to determine how effective an exercise is

    EMG reflects the level of "electrical" activation of the muscle. As such it is a good indicator of how hard a muscle is contracting. However, it isn't perfect. Having done EMG research myself while in school (Ex phys labs) I know that there are inherent weaknesses to the methods. Nevertheless, if you want to know how much electrical activity is going on in a muscle (or at least a certain part of that muscle), EMG is the best we've got.

    In a very real sense, EMG is a result of voluntary effort. So, the harder you try to contract the muscle, the greater EMG activity you will see, regardless of how heavy it is. This brings in a great deal of between-subject, and between-trial error in measurements.

    EMG is also greatly affected by practice or coordination. A person who is not well practiced at a given exercise will often display erratic EMG read outs.

    Fatigue also changes EMG readouts. The more fatigue there is, the greater the EMG amplitude.

    Keep in mind as well that during eccentric contractions, EMG amplitude goes down significantly, yet at the same time, the eccentric portion of an exercise presents a greater stimulus for growth than the concentric portion.

    EMG as a tool specifically relating to bodybuilding (muscle growth) is not an accurate indicator of the efficacy of a given exercise to induce growth. The efficacy of any exercise is determined by the load, the duration, and the condition of the tissue at the time the load is applied.

    For the lats, the load is limited by your strength level and degree of stretch during loading. The duration is limited by your “strength-endurance”, and time in the stretched position. The condition of the muscle is determined by what you have done with your lats in the last 6 weeks or so.

    So, speaking in general (i.e. simplified) and acute (i.e. one training session) terms, the heavier any lat exercise becomes, the more effective it will become. The more volume you do at that weight, the more effective that session will be. The greater the stretch experienced by the lat and the longer you hold it, the more effective that exercise will be. And finally, the longer its been since you trained your lats, the more effective that session will be.

    On a personal note, nothing has been as effective as the weighted eccentric chins/pull-ups at the end of an HST cycle for putting on real thickness on my lats.

    - Bryan
  7. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Treatment for sore elbows - and sore joints in general

    Lying tricep extensions cause me elbow pain unless I am very careful about my weight progression.

    Whatever you do, don't ignore elbow can become chronic and a real pain in the neck (and elbow of course).

    If you are doing lying tricep extensions, switch to tricep pushdowns.

    If tricep pushdowns also cause pain, switch to dips only.

    If dips also cause pain do only kickbacks. You can't go very heavy with kickbacks but you can at least burn out a set or two.

    If necessary, drop all direct tricep work until next cycle. Let your elbow heal up and start the next cycle VERY light on triceps and try to do as much burning sets as possible during the 15's and 10s.

    After SD, take only the EZ bar and rep out 30 or 40 reps of skullcrushers/lying triceps extensions, and call it a day. Next time in, put on only the collars and do it just the same way. Nice and slow until either it burns too bad or all the blood runs out of your arms and they begin to go numb.

    Next time in put on 2 1/2 lbs plates and rep them out again. What will happen is you will be able to rehabilitate your elbows. If I can do it, so can you.

    Now, when you begin to go heavier (slowly and progressively), don't do skull crushers first. Warm up the triceps/elbows with heavy dips. I usually do a burn set of tricep kickbacks first, then do my dips, them do my skullcrushers. Even then, you should do a slow light burning set first. Then do a set of biceps first and bingo, pain is gone.

    Complete rehab takes about 4-6 weeks of pretty light weight and a lot of reps. But its worth it.

    The problem usually stems from the tricep actually becoming too strong for it's tendons. This happens when a guy gets used to training heavy with relatively low volume all the time. They also tend to use too little warmup before going heavy.

    If you really want to be able to do them again, give this a will work. You'll still have to be careful to maintain the condition of your elbows over time, but at least you will be able to get in some great sets of skullcrushers as well.

    If the elbows start hurting mid-cycle

    You will have to take your triceps "out of the loop" so to speak.

    You'll need to quit doing the pushdowns, and other direct tricep work until you fix your elbows. The thing about pushdowns, is that they usually don't hurt while you’re doing them, but they foster the inflammation in the elbow that is at the core of our problem.

    One way to check if you are having an inflammation problem in the elbow is to relax the arm, allowing it to hang straight at your side. Then take your finger of the opposite hand and press just above and down on your "elbow bone" (essentially this is the proximal tip of the ulna or "Olecranon process" of ulna where the tricep attaches), directly on the back of your arm.

    With the tricep relaxed and arm straight, press your finger on the bone where the tricep attaches and see if there is any pain as you rub on the bone. If there is, you have inflammation. It may be mild or severe.

    So, in order to get it to subside, you have to get rid of the inflammation first. This requires a lay off from direct tricep work. Usually wide grip pressing is ok, but any kind of extension should be avoided.

    You may need to use an OTC anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen if the inflammation/pain is significant.

    So, keep training the rest of the body as you normally would, but take your triceps and put them on a rehabilitative schedule. Like I said, it may take 4-6 weeks to work your way up to any real weight on the EZ bar. But this is better than never being able to do them at all.
  8. Blade

    Blade Super Moderator Staff Member

    Movement range, or ROM

    If you were to take somebody who hasn't trained before (or for a long time) and only have them do partial pull-ups, they would experience some growth in their lats.

    However, they would experience better results if they started with full range contractions, and then, if necessary finished with partials after having increased the weight to where only partials were possible.

    Even then however, I would suggest they add rows, making sure to pull the elbows all the way behind them, in order to hit the rear delts effectively.

    So yes, you can do more weight and reps doing partials, but full range, weighted, eccentric pullups or chins by stepping off a bench or chair (or pushing yourself up with your legs) would be MUCH MUCH more effective.

    But just doing partials for the sake of doing partials would not provide better results than fullrange progressively loaded reps.
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