Hypertrophy-Specific Training Q&A

Hypertrophy-Specific Training vs. HIT?

Mr. Haycock,

If you have even read this far, I would like to thank you in advance for your time. I came across your program on your thinkmuscle site. Unlike most programs yours has some solid, current research behind it. I was hoping you could answer just a few questions; although I realize you may be inundated with queries from others. I currently use a HIT routine in which the body is trained with a three way split; with each bodypart being trained once every 14 days or so on average. Believe it or not, progress is being made on such a program, but it is glacially slow.

I too faithfully used a HIT “type” training method for at least two years. I am not surprised at all that you make progress. I did too. It was also very slow for me.

One of the tenets of HIT is that light and medium days are eliminated in favor of complete rest and training only the maximal days. The theory is that they are a drain on recovery ability yet do not stimulate growth effectively.

The theory of “recovery ability” based on energies of some sort is incorrect due to a lack of facts. It is much more mechanical than that. Keep in mind that I investigated HIT and Mentzer’s ideas with close scrutiny (just as I’m sure you have) before I changed my training to align with his theories. The problem is that Mike M’s theories are based on “stress”, not the mechanical stimulus of overload.

HIT, based largely on Mike Mentzer’s and Arthur Jones’s ideas, is founded on “Selye’s General Adaptation Model”. It is a good model however it is based largely on psychological and environmental stress. Admittedly, physical stress response is very similar, and arguably intertwined with psychological stress. When working on my psych degree we spent a lot of time discussing this model and how it relates to physiology (cortisol, catecholamines, cancer etc.).

Anyway, “overtraining” is a neurological phenomenon, not a muscular phenomenon. I believe I touched on this briefly in the “Advanced Training Planning” series of articles (http://www.thinkmuscle.com/beta/articles/haycock/training-01.htm ). The muscle tissue itself will continue to recover even if the same mechanical stress is applied to it within 48 hours (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). Studies where overtraining was intentionally induced indicate that although “voluntary strength” decreases with “overtraining”, involuntary strength does not. Involuntary strength is measured by stimulating the muscle with electrodes. This enables researchers to see if the muscle itself is able to generate force, or if the problem lies in the central nervous system (the electrodes bypass the CNS).

Why would progress be greater training at submaximal levels and only one peak day per two week cycle?

Understand that it is not necessary to train at 100% voluntary strength levels to stimulate “growth”. This is one fundamental difference between Hypertrophy-Specific Training (HST) and HIT. HST is designed only to stimulate growth. Strength of course will increase as well during HST training but this is not the primary goal of the method. It isn’t necessary to push against a weight that won’t move (due to load or fatigue) to induce the necessary strain to muscle that leads to growth.

After years of training I realized that I would never get any bigger training the way I was unless I could get stronger, but I couldn’t get any stronger until I got bigger. I had to discover a way to get bigger without getting stronger first. The HST method allows a person to get bigger before they get stronger. Accomplishing this is dependent on frequent loading (hitting same muscle at least 3 times per week), rapid progression in loading (mandatory increase in weight every workout), and Strategic Deconditioning (a week or so completely off to allow the muscle to become vulnerable to the training stimulus). HIT training takes this “deconditioning” too far. They think the muscle is “recovering” when it is actually past recovery and beginning to decondition thus allowing the stimulus to work the next time the muscle is trained. Unfortunately, the rate of growth is greatly dependent on the frequency of the stimulus. So with HST you hit a muscle at least 3 times as often as with HIT, and growth is greatly accelerated.

One other very important thing to realize is that this routine does not use “heavy” and “light” days. It is all a continuous process. The weight is constantly increasing from the very first workout. The “high rep” training is only there to prepare joints and tendons for future heavy loading. Flushing tissue with lactate stimulates angiogenesis and stimulates tendon growth. (Hunt TK, Hussain MZ. Can wound healing be a paradigm for tissue repair? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1994 Jun;26(6):755-8.) The 15s are designed simply to flush all tissues and joints (as far as possible) with lactate to encourage angeogenesis for blood flow and tendon growth to better endure subsequent heavy loads (e.g. 5s and negatives)

Why not train one maximal day only, then utilize “complete rest” thus preserving adaptive energies?

There is no need to preserve “adaptive energies”. This is a false notion. These adaptive energies are, in reality, the ability of the CNS to recover voluntary strength. Early “thinkers” noticed the effect of stress on health and compared that to the effects of heavy resistance exercise on strength and came to the conclusion that there was some pool of “adaptive energies” that was limited. Use it all up and you can’t recover. What they had not realized was that there are fundamental differences between mechanical loading and Selye’s stress model. This caused them to confuse the limitations of the CNS with the resilience of muscle tissue.

Muscle tissue, as indicated earlier, has been shown to recover amidst continued loading. Take for example “synergistic ablation” studies. In these studies the gastrocnemius of an animal is cut so that the standing load is placed almost entirely on the soleus. In these studies the animal’s soleus is subject to a dramatic increase in load during every waking hour. There is no “rest between sets or workouts” or any kind of sets or workouts for that matter. There is no time off to allow “adaptive energies” to do their magic. Nevertheless, the soleus will double in size and weight within days. The muscle literally grows and adapts to the new “environment” while being continually loaded. Now I’m not suggesting that people have this done to get their stubborn calves to grow, but it does illustrate an important point. That is, that the muscle can adapt while it is being loaded, or trained. The tissue does not necessarily need time off. The central nervous system, on the other hand, does need time off. The amount of time off it needs depends on how much “fatigue” was induced.

And also, perhaps more importantly, is the issue of central nervous system fatigue. I cannot perform a whole body workout even with one set or so per muscle (8-10) without being drained for days afterward. I know there are many lifters others like this. Splitting the workout up into two sessions in the same day doesn’t help and there is a limit to the number of movements you can eliminate before it is no longer whole body. Any ideas?

Your body has adapted to HIT style training. HST is quite different in its physical demands. You will adapt to HST quite quickly if you follow the method closely. It will take about 2 weeks to adapt. I have been watching closely at least 10 people using HST training. Some are doing it natural others are using “assistance”. Every person has complained of the 15s “kicking their butt”. It burns too much or they feel “fried”. Then, when they get to the 10s 2 weeks later they are singing my praises.:) Even if they don’t understand why they are doing them they will benefit from it later. Whole body workouts are demanding, especially when reps are high. Keeping the over all volume in check will be your key to success.

You know, the funny thing is that this training program has come almost full circle to the ‘old timer’ routines that trained the entire body three times weekly with one set or so per muscle. Of course, the cycling is of a modern flavor as well the research behind it, but I thought interesting. That was not meant as an insult, but an observation.

That is not insulting. I am well aware of earlier theories about training the entire body each workout. They were still grasping in the dark though. They didn’t have the research that we have to day to refine the method. Nor did they understand how muscle grows on a molecular level in response to mechanical loading, so they couldn’t make precise decisions about putting it all together.

Years ago, I utilized a 3x weekly whole body workout (one set per exercise) and experienced rapid progress but always ended up overtrained or injured. The concept of cycling didn’t occur to me. It was all out training every workout. I eventually got caught up in the muscle magazine hype routines until about 3 or 4 years ago when I started using HIT. All this began over 20 years ago.

Same here. I followed the magazine hype and did their split routines for years. I made pretty good progress but eventually ended up busting my butt day after day in the gym just to stay the same. “Chest shoulders tris, back bis, legs” was basically my routine for many years.

As a side note, you and I are the same age and have been training for about the same length of time. The only thing I really have to show for my efforts are injuries in just about anything that bends (which is a concern on this program). You know, for both of us, the next several years will likely be our last productive training period ever. After that looms 35 and the big 40 (hello sarcopenia!).

Don’t be so sure! Give HST a try before looking towards retirement. The method of training will impact one’s ability to continue to grow. New research on satellite cell activity in response to resistance exercise sheds light not only on the effects of aging on ones ability to adapt to exercise, but also on the best way to train to get the most progress out of resistance exercise.

At the risk of sounding corny, the kids today are very fortunate. The science of diet, supps, and training are light years ahead of even 10 years ago (hell, even 5 years ago).

Very very true. Hopefully ThinkMuscle can continue to be a source for people to become exposed to this new science, and provide information for people to discuss (and perhaps debate) in their own circle of friends and colleagues.

Though I have yet to start your program, I’d like to thank you for what may be my best chance of achieving my goals as an injury laden drug free lifter. Thank you.


Every opinion is welcome…

Are you retarded?! I’ve been bodybuilding for ten years and have never ever heard anyone say something as stupid as working the same bodypart out three times a week. And who wants to train at low intensity? You go in a weight room to train hard for less than an hour then you get sufficient rest and nutrition to make the body grow before hitting the bodypart again in no less than a week. Everybody knows that.

It really pisses me off that you publish something so contradictory to what everyone else thinks. Who uses your system? Where are the results? I don’t get it. Nobody with a body that makes heads turn implements your strategy, guaranteed, so what do you have to say to that?

Well, I’m not really sure what to say. I could be wrong but “Thank you” just doesn’t seem appropriate. I guess the best thing to do is let others who have used the HST method speak for me:

“I am thoroughly impressed with this workout. I have lifted off and on for all of my life and have never had significant gains until now. If you remember me I am the 6′ 165 lb. surfer with bad shoulder ligs. I have lost the inch off of my waist I wanted to and gained 5lbs.! That is allot for me because I have been trying to gain muscle mass since high school in the 80’s and have never looked so good, and only one cycle! I am amazed.”

“I am a 36 year old male that has worked out on and off for many years with marginal results. I am very pleased to tell you that I have been following your Hypertrophy Specific Training for 6 weeks now and have gained close to 18 pounds of mostly muscle and my strength has gone through the roof, I was benching maybe 180lbs and now am up to 240+. Once again I thank you for this fantastic routine and plan to continue using it with continued success.”

“The HST workouts have been extremely productive. I look pretty good, after having traveled so far in just a short period of time.”

“My strength is up dramatically…My weight is now 202lbs, and I’m pleased to say that my waist size decreased dramatically and I have an outline of abs beginning to appear. This tells me that I must have put on a substantial amount of lean mass while dropping a lot of fat.”

These are just a few comments from people who are using HST. If anyone has doubts about the correctness of HST, all they have to do is honestly apply its principles to their training. The effectiveness of the methods will then become apparent and progress will ensue where none had before. The world of science, and more pertinently physiology, is full of truths, I’m speaking of universal truths, meaning they can be universally applied. It does nothing but impede progress when people simply use the consensus of the masses, or even the opposite stance of individuality, as an excuse to reject principles of truth.


What does “5s/negatives” mean?

I read your hypertrophy program but I am confused about the rep count “5s/negatives”. What does that mean? Do five negative reps?

Hi Ken,

“5s/negatives” means for that for the 5s/negatives 2 week block use your 5 repetition maximum for all your exercises that you can’t do in an “eccentric-only” fashion. Eccentric lifts, or sometimes called “negatives”, are when you use more weight than you can lift. Eccentric reps should be done in a controlled fashion.

If you train alone, there are many exercises you can’t do negatives on simply because you would need a partner to help you lift the weight first. If you do train alone I would suggest that you just continue using your 5 rep max for each exercise for an additional 2 weeks after finishing the first 2 week block of 5s. You should see good results using your 5 rep max for an additional 2 weeks.