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We’ve got a new look for Halloween! I bet you hardly recognized us. Because of some technical difficulties, this issue of the HS:Report is in text format. Look for the full, better version on the site in the next few days. (http://www.hsnhst.com/articles.html).

For this issue, I decided to examine a recent study, which was making some pretty serious claims about high and low volume training. You might be surprised at how they reached their conclusions... We’ve also got some Q & A from the Forum.

Once again, the quality of discussion on the Forum is second to none. If you are getting ready for your first HST cycle, go to the forum and you’ll find answers to many if not all of the usual questions.

Until next time,

Bryan Haycock


Question: How does HST fit into sport specific training?


The problem with your question is that it is (or can be) very complicated. With sport performance, you are mainly concerned with 3 things:

  1. Genetic aptitude. Was this athlete born with the necessary capacity to compete in this sport?
  2. The psychosomatic state of the athlete. How is this athlete “feeling”? Do they feel good? Do they feel confident? Do they feel bored? Or bunt out? The 2 factors that contribute most strongly with this are training stress and competition stress (and to a lesser degree social stress). Long story won't go into it....
  3. Skill. How is the athlete responding to skill training? Are they talented enough to acquire superior skills through practice?

So where does HST fit into all this? Well, when sports performance is involved, you must figure out a way for HST to fit into the sport specific training schedule without being noticed. In other words, you don’t want HST to interfere with the sport specific training.

Once must keep in mind that although muscle mass is an important factor in many sports, it does not predict performance. So, aside from power lifting, more muscle mass does not translate into better performance. The only exception is when muscle mass is the weakest link.

Being sore and drained from weight training can interfere with skill acquisition. This is bad. Being drained from weight training can contribute to “burn-out” which is as much psychological as physical. This is bad.

So the best time to use HST is during the off-season right up to the beginning of the season. Then, most any amount of strength training will preserve the mass you gained while using HST in the off-season.

If one insists on using HST, it can be modified for use during the competitive season as well. The frequency should be reduced to twice per week per body part, and the volume must be kept low enough not to interfere with performance. That call must be made as you go along.


Question: But what about Strategic Deconditioning (SD)? It seems that if SD is good for building muscle, wouldn’t it be good for sports as well? Also, lets say I was getting ready to start a sport in school and was required to do a different program. How would I transition into the new program from HST? Would I still want SD?


Well, I would say "yes" you do want SD with the transition. However, I would also say include 2 weeks of 15s (HST style finishing the block with your 15RM) after SD right before you jump to another routine. The 15's will prepare the joints, heal you up a bit, and generally get you into condition for whatever you want to start doing from there on out.

I also feel 7 days of SD every 8 weeks would benefit anyone in any training program. Studies have shown the occurrence of injuries go up as training time (weeks to months) goes up unless there is a “break.” Call it a “break”, a “rest”, or SD, it still benefits the athlete. However, in a performance arena it literally is "rest", not Strategic-Deconditioning. SD is called such because you do it on purpose, whether you are injured or burned out or not, in order to get the muscle to respond to the growth stimulus once again. Conversely in a sports setting, it is simply rest, and it allows the athlete to “recover,” rather than decondition.

Question: How much weight is required to make a muscle grow? Why can’t I just lift a light weight a bunch of times (TUT) and get the same results?


Keep in mind that you have to consider the tensile strength of the tissue itself. Lifting weights to induce hypertrophy is a very much a mechanical process. You are causing physical stress to the protein structures of the muscle tissue. So, a given amount of load is going to be required, regardless of the number of repetitions, to induce hypertrophy.

How much load depends on the condition of the muscle at the time you impose the load. If you are an astronaut and have been weightless (extreme deconditioning) for 2 months, just the force of gravity on your limbs will induce hypertrophy.

On the other hand, if you have been lifting weights for 6 months, it is going to take significantly more load than the loads you have been using for the last 8 weeks... In order to experience the same results as you did when you first began training, the weight loads have to be equally heavy in relation to your current level of strength and conditioning. In most cases, this simply isn’t possible. You can’t just will yourself to be 75% stronger from one day to the next. This is why you see those guys at the gym, come in day after day, doing the same routine with the same weight loads day after day, month after month, and NOTHING EVER HAPPENS. They never get bigger, they never get stronger, they just keep plugging away at the weights, hoping if they just keep at it a while longer, they will finally start growing again.

Unfortunately, the level of conditioning of the muscle tissue has risen to the point where the current weight loads simply don’t stimulate hypertrophy any longer. They will certainly maintain their current level of size, but they wont get any bigger until the start lifting heavier, OR, until the level of conditioning of the muscle decreases to the point where the weight loads they use are effective once again.

So, it is not only the absolute load, but also the relative load that is important when determining how much weight will be required by an individual to lift in order to get his/her muscles to start growing again. Not only that, but the amount of weight necessary to make a muscle grow is constantly changing, because the condition of the muscle is constantly changing, either up or down, depending on the frequency of your training.

The science of HST produced Strategic Deconditioning and introduced it to bodybuilding. What SD does, is “reset” the muscle’s level of conditioning to a lower level, one which will respond to weight loads ranging from your 15RM in the beginning, to your 5RM or even 2RM buy the time the cycle is complete. With SD it isn’t necessary to wait until you are stronger before you get bigger. It allows you to get bigger, which then makes you stronger.



Some time back I came across a study that clearly demonstrates the profound lack of understanding of muscle hypertrophy and training that is had by many researchers in the “exercise performance” fields. This sounds like a pretty harsh statement at first, but I think once you get a feel for what is being done in exercise labs across the world, you might just agree with me.

The study we will examine today is titled, “Low-volume circuit versus high-volume periodized resistance training in women” and it was published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. (1) The intent of the study was to find out whether a high-volume, periodized, multiple-set resistance training program was superior to a low-volume, single-set program for improving muscular performances in previously untrained women. Or simply put, is low volume as good as high volume, after all, that is what the conclusions of there researchers will be used for in arguments about volume among lifters as well as academics.

When I first read it I mistakenly thought, “Wow, they are actually studying HST!” In reality, they weren’t…not even close. They were trying to prove that circuit training was inferior to traditional routines, and that high volume is better than low volume.

Let’s take a look at the experiment, and then compare it to what we know about the principles of hypertrophy. Now they were also measuring strength, because that has always been the traditional measuring stick for an effective routine. As well it should if strength is your goal. Thirty-four healthy, untrained women were randomly placed into one of the following groups: low-volume, single-set circuit (SSC; N = 12); periodized high-volume multiple-set (MS; N = 12); or non-exercising control (CON) group (N = 10).

The SSC group (low volume circuit on machines) performed one set of 8-12 repetitions to muscular failure 3 d•wk-1. The workouts consisted of performing a single set of each exercise in a slow, controlled manner with a 1- to 2-min rest period between exercises. Each set consisted of 8–12 repetitions (at a pace of 2 seconds up and 4 seconds down) performed to momentary muscular failure. The resistance was increased during the subsequent training session only if a subject could perform 12 or more repetitions for a set without assistance. Subjects alternated between two different training circuits using the same exercise order. The use of two circuits was used to minimize boredom and staleness over the 24-wk training period so as to create some variation in exercises.

The MS group (high volume periodized routine with free weights) performed two to four sets of 3-15 repetitions with periodized volume and intensity 4 days per week. A frequency of 4 days per week was chosen to allow greater variation in program design and higher volume of work. On Monday and Thursday, the intensity varied between heavy (3–5 RM), moderate (8–10 RM) or light (12–15 RM) loads. On Tuesday and Friday, subjects trained using moderate loads (8–10 RM). Each set was performed until the targeted number of repetitions was performed. If more repetitions than the target zone could be performed, the resistance was increased for the next set or training session. The velocities of movement were related to the intensity of the exercise and the movement being trained but encompassed explosive movement speeds when loads were submaximal and exercises appropriate (e.g., hang cleans vs bench press). The rest periods in between sets were 1–2 min on moderate and light days and 3–4 min on heavy days. Make up workouts were allowed on weekends.

Ok, now just to clarify, these researchers want to know if low volume is as good as high volume. So, they chose two inherently different programs to test the effects of volume. The obvious question is why they didn’t use the same program and just alter the volume for each group? This is what they had to say to that question:

“Experimentally, an almost unlimited number of factors (e.g., load range, volume, exercise choice, speed of movement, etc.) could be partialed out by various research designs but such studies would never allow one to see the more realistic effects of a composite domain of contributors to the adaptational effects. Therefore, we decided to make the comparison between two broad program designs made up of a specific set of clustered variables to determine the adaptational variations which may exist between two dramatically different program domains.”

In case you couldn’t follow their tenuous explanation, they decided that two entirely different programs would result in greater differences than altering the volume alone, so, in an effort to test the effects of different volumes, they chose two entirely different programs which varied in every variable know to man accept gender. This sets themselves up to make inaccurate conclusions from the results. For, the same variables that they chose not to control more than explain the differences seen in the results of the study.

With a closer look at the different programs that each group was assigned to, its easy to see why they got the results they did.

 SSC (Low volume)MS (Traditional volume)
Sets12 - 4
Reps8 - 12 fixed3 – 15 progressively applied
Tempo2up/4downVaried according to weight loads
Rest period1 - 2 minutes1 - 4 minutes as needed
Frequency3 days per week4 days per week
EquipmentMachinesFree Weights
Excercises Circuit A
Leg press
Bench press
Leg curl
Seated row
Standing calf raise
Arm curl
Military press
Circuit B
Knee extension
Chest fly
Leg curl
Lateral raise
Seated calf raise
Back extension
Upright row
Rotator cuff
Lat pulldown
Hang clean
Bench press
Push press
Leg curl
Rotator cuff
Upright row
Dumbbell military press
Arm curl
Lat pulldown
Seated row
Side bend
Lateral hip-flexion
Leg curl
Calf raise

Essentially they compared a bad program you would be put on at a health club, to a traditional strength-training program. I was a little surprised to see Häkkinen involved with this study. He has been one of my favorite researchers over the years. His previous work is far and above the quality of this study.

And what about the RESULTS? The MS group demonstrated greater, increases in upper and lower body maximal strength, increases in muscular power and speed, and increases in high-intensity local muscular endurance compared with the SSC training group.

So what do we learn from this study? Well, not much that we didn’t already know. They confirmed that using a circuit of machines with a fixed rep range and weight won’t build as much strength as using free weights and periodized-progressive load. Keep in mind that somebody may very well be getting his or her Ph.D. for this study.

The reason I wanted to highlight this study was to demonstrate that, besides the fact that most all training research is based on strength and not hypertrophy, most training research isn’t very helpful in demonstrating how muscles grow as a result of training, and therefore how to optimally train. This study also involved some biased as it attributed the observed differences in the results to the acute changes in blood hormones levels after training. If only it were true that a slight one hour change in hormones was the key to muscle growth...

This kind of research is why I had to go further into other fields of research to find out what’s really happening inside our muscles as we train in different manners. It was also necessary to look elsewhere to explore how muscle grows mechanistically from that training. HST is the result and application of that exploration and discovery.

As a result of this melding of scientific fields, HST speaks in a different language than traditional training studies. Instead of focusing on fatigue by measuring “volume” we speak in terms of “metabolic demand” (lactate and oxidative by-products), which triggers signaling proteins who’s pathways facilitate hypertrophy. Instead of focusing on how hard a weight is to lift measured by the ambiguous term “intensity”, we more correctly refer to “mechanical load” and the cascade of signaling events triggered through mechanotransduction. By making the language we use to describe muscle more accurate, we facilitate our ability to understand it. As our understanding of muscle increases, so does our ability to design training methods specific to muscle growth.

You can discuss these issues and others on the HST Forum. Join in and start sharing, learning, and growing.



1) Marx JO, Ratamess NA, Nindl BC, Gotshalk LA, Volek JS, Dohi K, Bush JA, Gomez AL, Mazzetti SA, Fleck SJ, Hakkinen K, Newton RU, Kraemer WJ. Low-volume circuit versus high-volume periodized resistance training in women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Apr;33(4):635-43.



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