The Heavy Duty training method
This article mostly relies on the works of Arthur Jones, Brian D. Johnston and Mike Mentzer.
Accuracy is essential in each scientific discipline. This applies to exercise training as well. You need accuracy when you set up rules and when you implement them in practice. A cook, for example, needs a detailed recipe to make a perfect dish. Because inaccurate proportioning of the ingedients can totally ruin the end result, the dish in this case. So, why would it be different in the case of exercise training? Another example is medicine. Accuracy is even more important in this discipline. Medicine overdose may cause poisoning, illness or death. So you need to be careful with exercise training as well, as it is also a branch of medicine after all. Exercise training provides the stimulus necessary for triggering muscle growth. It is a form of stress, so you must use it in a way that its negative effects are reduced to a minimum.
It’s genetic variability that makes each human being different. But in a physiological sense, we are all the same: The rules of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and physics apply to each and every human being. This means, the same basic rules of exercise training apply to each and every human being. There are several training methods that meet these criteria: Sufficient results, i.e. increased strength and muscle size may be achieved by several training methods. But there is only one THEORY that fully meets the criteria, and this is the theory of Heavy Duty high-intensity training. Similarly, medicine “A” might ease headache, but medicine “B” might be a much better choice as it would totally kill the pain.
Nearly all training methods can produce results, but of course, each of them to a different extent and in a different time span. No matter if you train by HIT (High Intensity Training) or volume; as I have mentioned, the same rules apply to all of us.
That is, whether you train by HIT or volume, you exert some effort (intensity), you do at least one set (volume), you do this by a regular pattern (training frequency), and, of course, you lift heavier weights in time (progressive overload). All this leads to increased strength and muscle growth, as your body adapts to the conditions.
And the way you apply these rules will be the key to your success!
The rules and the importance of these 4 factors, i.e.:
- The frequency of workout and
- Progressive overload
The purpose of this article is to explain how to apply these 4 factors appropriately, that is, according to the Heavy Duty theory of training.
Increasing muscle strength is possible through increasing muscle mass. That is, the increase in muscle strength will lead to an increase in muscle size sooner or later.
It follows from the correlation between muscle strength and muscle size that you will NOT be able to increase the size of your muscles as long as your present strength is SMALLER than the effort a given muscle can exert with its present size.
You might have experienced it yourself: when you were gaining lean muscle mass, you must have experienced increased strength, too.
In order to increase your muscle strength and muscle size, you need to maintain the balance of the following equation:
G = s + r
“G” is growth, “s” is the stimulus to trigger the desirable processes in your muscles (increased strength and muscle size) and “r” is the time required for recovery.
- “S” (stimulus: training) includes the intensity, length (volume) and frequency of training.
- “R” (recovery time) is basically the rest time between two trainings, but its actual length strongly depends on nutrition among others.
There is a direct proportionality between “s” and “r”: increasing one of these without increasing the other one as well will ruin the equation. This means, if you increase the stimulus (“s”) but not the recovery time (“r”), you will be overtraining sooner or later. On the other hand, if you reduce “s” without reducing “r”, you will be udertraining, i.e. you do not provide your muscles sufficient stimuli to grow. This latter case is not very common nowadays, though.
1) The intensity factor
Intensity is the effort exerted by a given muscle in a given moment; it can be measured in percentages.
It is a basic truth that there can be no exercise without any exertion. The greater the exertion is and the shorter it lasts, the greater the intensity will be.
The length (volume) and frequency of training also depend on intensity. If you increase the level of intensity, you must reduce the above two. If and only if you reduce intensity, you might increase volume or training frequency.
However, increasing volume and training frequency while reducing intensity is not a good idea, since the purpose of non-aerobic exercise is to improve strength, not endurance or fitness.
If you do 10 repetitions, the 10th will be more intense than the 9th, the 9th will be more intense than the 8th etc.: As you are approaching positive failure, when you can no longer do another full-range concentric (positive) rep with strict technique, each rep will be more and more difficult.
In order to exert 100 %, i.e. train with 100 % intensity, you will need willpower, too. Because your muscles will not lift the weight without the “approval” of your brain. In other words, you cannot exert 100 % if you are not focusing on the exercise 100 %. That’s why you should refrain from talking and eliminate all sources of distraction during workout.
Let’s see a few examples to demonstrate intensity:
Source of stress
Candle (shrunk pupils)
Intense light (narrowed eyes)
Sunlight (temporary sight impairment)
Whispering (slight vibration of the eardrums)
Rock concert (hearing impairment)
Sonic boom (deafness)
Heat (tactile sensation)
Lukewarm water (the skin warms up)
Warm water (quickly pulling away the affected body part to avoid pain)
Hot water (burn)
The first rep in a set of 10 in which positive failure will come at the 10th rep – the muscle is still capable of multiple contractions
5th to 7th reps of the same set; you are breathing faster, but the muscle is still capable of multiple contractions
The last rep in a set of 10 in which positive failure will come at the 10th rep – the muscle is not capable of any more contractions
The above examples clearly show the difference between low/medium and high intensity “attacks”.
When the stress is intense, tolerance is limited. These attacks – including exercise – in fact have a negative impact on the body, therefore they must be short so the body can bear them.
What this means in relation to exercise training:
- If it would be possible to build abnormally huge muscles and increase strength by low or moderate intensity exercises, then long-distance runners or factory workers would all be like bodybuilders, powerlifters or weightlifters. But of course it isn’t like that in real life. In real life, A is A and B is B.
- So, high intensity effort is the key to trigger muscle building and improving strength. But this stress must take the shortest time possible in order to reduce recovery time to the least possible extent.
Following from the above, we may draw the conclusion that training methods which promote higher volume or training frequency than necessary and low/moderate intensity (like volume periodization by Weider) as the key to increasing strength and muscle mass, are wrong.
It must be clear for all of you now that some effort is inevitable for triggering growth. You might sit on a chair all day and wait for something to happen, but it won’t. The only way to break through your limits is applying a really intense stimulus. This does not necessarily mean that you need to exercise until positive failure. But the greater the effort (the more intensively you are working out), the more likely it will trigger growth. The reason why it is still recommended to exercise until failure will be explained later.
If you do one rep while you could do 10, you will obviously not trigger growth. If you do 2, 3, 4 .... 9 reps, you may maintain your present strength, as you are already able to do the reps 1 to 9. In fact, you are also able to do the 10th rep, with difficulty, though.
This “difficulty” will function as a warning sign for your system, “saying” the effort was extreme. This warning sign will incline your system to protect itself from possible similar attacks in the future by building larger and stronger muscles so it can perform these “y” x 10 reps easier in the future.
As it follows directly from the above, you can expect the greatest possible development (i.e. increased strength and muscle mass) only if you exert the greatest possible effort.
This doesn’t mean you cannot trigger growth without making the maximum effort (without exercising until failure): Thousands have bulked up training by volume and avoiding extreme effort (even though most of them were beginners who can profit from low intensity training until they get used to it as their bodies adapt to weight training).
The biggest problem with training methods that do NOT rely on failure is the following: Maybe even 96 % effort is sufficient to trigger growth; but how could you measure the intensity level of your workout if you stop 1 or 2 reps before failure? How will you know you have reached 96 %?
Why you should reach positive failure
In order to determine the level of intensity accurately, the effort needs to be measured. An architect must draw the plan with the utmost accuracy; a medicine must contain accurate amounts of the active ingredients in order to be effective. You must be just as accurate in measuring intensity; since the level of intensity is going to have a decisive impact on the other factors of your training as well.
This means, if you cannot determine the level of one factor (in this case, intensity) in your training program exactly, and it keeps fluctuating from one workout to the other, it will also be impossible to determine the necessary volume and frequency of training exactly, and tailor these to your individual needs.
In aerobic workout, intensity is measured by heart rate. This will show how intensively your cardio-vascular system is working. The higher the heart rate, the higher the intensity.
But in the case of weight training you cannot exactly determine the intensity of the work performed by the muscles, as it is either 0 % or 100 %.
It’s 0 % when you are sleeping and 100 % when you have reached positive failure, when you can no longer do another full-range rep with strict technique.
And the question was: If 96 % intensity will suffice for triggering growth, how will you know that you have reached this point? How will you know you have reached 96 % exactly, and not just 95 %, which is worth nothing?
Moreover, not only it is worthless, but it will shorten your recovery time, too.
While if you make 100 % effort, you are doing it right, as you do everything you can to trigger growth. 100 % intensity is measurable and you can take it for granted each workout. But remember: you need to exceed your present strength in order to increase it. But how could you exceed a certain level if you always work out on that level?
Problems with series without failure
Let me repeat: if you do not train with 100 % intensity (until failure), then one factor (intensity) will fluctuate from one workout to another. And since intensity fluctuates, we cannot tell the necessary volume and training frequency. Because both volume and training frequency depend on the intensity level of training. So if you want to achieve the best possible results in a given timeframe with the intensity level fluctuating all the time (this happens if you train without failure), then, since you have to adapt volume and training frequency to the level of intensity, you should constantly vary these two factors as well.
Another controversial topic is the HG (hardgainer) intensity cycling. The HG FAQ says that with HG “you can achieve maximum continuous growth both in strength and muscle size”. But how could one achieve maximum continuous growth in strength and muscle size if they do not even attempt to exceed their present strength level for 10 weeks?
They also recommend exercising until failure for the “bulking phase”. But they recommend that you start cycling intensity if you cannot raise the weights used for 2 consecutive weeks.
If you cannot recover from exercising until failure, you should either reduce the volume or the training frequency or both, in order to keep the equation in balance. That is, the reason why you hit a plateau was not exercising until failure.
Stagnation or regression in strength or muscle growth are obvious signs of overtraining in any training program (including HIT). This is because you have not let yourself enough time to recover or skipped periodical longer breaks from training.
So, what the intensity cycling-fans experienced at the end of each cycle was nothing but the result after they eventually let themselves recover.
To bring the equation back to balance again, the logical step would have been the reduction of volume or training frequency. So if you cannot recover, you should not blame heavy duty training (until failure) for that.
All in all, one thing is for sure: exercising until failure is physically very exhausting. For this reason, you should reduce or modify the volume or frequency of training when required, in order to avoid overtraining.
But exercising until failure is especially exhausting mentally, because you need to concentrate heavily to make sure it works best.
True. Since each human being is different, some people cannot bear exercising until failure all the time. Either because it is too exhausting physically (this applies for the minority) or because it is too exhausting mentally (this applies for the majority). The older you get, the less you need to train so hard on an ongoing basis, since exercising until failure can be too exhausting mentally, after you hit a certain age.
But you should exercise until failure as many times as possible and allowable, for the reasons explained above. Because, if you exercise until failure, you can follow up on your development better, since intensity is constant from one workout to another. Furthermore, this is the best way to make sure muscle growth and increase in strength are triggered even in muscle groups which have already got used to low intensity training.
2) The volume factor
Volume is the total amount of exercises made in one workout. In the case of weight training, both TUT (Time Under Tension) and the number of sets completed are included in volume.
The greater the volume of training, the less frequently and intensively you have to train in order to keep the equation in balance. Taking into account that in the case of non-aerobic workout, intensity needs to be high in order to achieve the desired results (growth in strength and muscle size), the volume should be precisely tailored to the individual. Failure to do so may lead to over-stimulation of the muscles, i.e. overtraining.
For example, sprinters strive for 100 % intensity. Their event takes no more than 10 seconds, because of the extreme effort and fatigue. For this reason, their recovery is slower; before they could perform the event successfully again, they need much more recovery time than endurance athletes. On the other hand, long distance runners for example, can hold on for hours, because the intensity is much lower in their case. For this reason, they recover much faster and can train almost every day without any deterioration in their physical condition (but this of course does not mean you have to train so often in order to improve your endurance).
But the higher the intensity, the less frequently you need to train and in the less volume. And since you don’t need to train every day to improve your aerobic capacity, you definitely do not need to train every day in order to improve your non-aerobic capacity (to improve your strength and gain muscle). And the reason is that higher intensity non-aerobic exercise requires more of your recovery capacity than aerobic training does.
An aerobic training lasts about 20 to 40 minutes; a long distance runner runs for about 45 to 90 minutes per training; and there are about 3 to 5 aerobic trainings a week. Still, a lot of people, whose obvious goal is to increase their strength and muscle mass, pump six times a week for 40 to 120 minutes each time, without any reason.
Those who don’t work out regularly might see the logic in the above statements. And those who are struggling on a plateau or even regress because of too high training volumes may not see the forest for the trees because of the popular misconceptions that have been spreading for decades.
Those who are still capable of development using such training methods are either extremely lucky genetically (recover extremely well) and/or take anabolic steroids, which reduce recovery time.
The volume of training, i.e. the number of sets done can be measured exactly.
As I have hinted before, you need to perform the least sets required in order to trigger growth. Needless to say: Development cannot be triggered by zero sets. So, in the beginning, you should do one set for each body part until positive failure (100 % intensity); warm-up sets not included, of course.
In some cases, one exercise (one set) per body part may not be enough, due to the compound structure of certain body parts (e.g. back). This also depends on the capacity of each muscle group to tolerate stress. And this tolerance depends on the types of muscle fibers.
So-called fast twitch muscle fibers tire quickly and cannot tolerate stress to such an extent as slow twitch muscle fibers can.
During the experiments made on the MedX machines, which were developed by Arthur Jones, they found that the power and strength of fast twitch muscle fibers (which tolerate stress to a lesser extent) decreased by each repetition.
On the other hand, the power and strength of slow twitch muscle fibers kept increasing to a certain point by each consecutive repetition. After they have reached this point, the power and strength of these muscles gradually started to decrease.
The relevance of the results of these experiments to training theories may be summarized as follows:
- Those people whose muscles mostly consist of fast twitch fibers should have a short warmup, because in their case, even low-intensity activities can quickly lead to muscle fatigue.
The other group (slow twitch muscle fibers) should have a longer warmup, but not much longer.
- In the case of fast twitch muscle fibers, the number of reps should be somewhat lower than in the case of slow twitch muscle fibers. The group with more fast twitch fibers should work with lower TUT.
For the fast twitch group (that is: most of the fibers making up their muscles belong to the fast twitch type), generally a TUT of 40 to 60 seconds is suitable, while a TUT of 100 to 150 seconds is ideal for you if the great majority of your muscle fibers are slow twitch fibers.
- 3: The fast twitch group should work with extremely low volume; the slow twitch group might even train with two or three times larger volumes.
- 4: The slow twitch group recovers faster, therefore they can train more frequently. Still it is better to make an extra set for slow twitch muscle groups instead of an extra training day. So in this case, it is better to increase volume than to increase training frequency.
How you can determine which type of muscle fibers dominate in each of your muscle groups
You should observe how each your muscle groups react to different TUT and rep counts. For example, if you do 4-6 reps with 5/5 sec speed (see explanation later) and the muscle responds to it well, than it is made up mostly by fast twitch fibers. (10 sec x 4-6 reps = 40-60 sec.) If it responds to 8-10 reps (5/5 sec) the best, then it is most likely made up by slow twitch and fast twitch fibers in a more or less equal proportion. And if it responds to 12 reps and higher, then slow twitch fibers must be in the majority in that muscle group.
If you have more fast twitch fibers and still you apply TUT of 120 seconds or higher, that will have a negative impact on your development. You start to stagnate or even regress.
Some of your muscles may endure or even require more exercises for the best results. Still you should begin with one set for each muscle group. You can draw the conclusions from this later, regarding the effectiveness of your training. You should develop each time!
If you start training by doing 10 sets per body part and there is no instant and constant development, it would be impossible to find out whether you should reduce or increase volume, and to what extent (it happens rarely – if ever – that the volume needs to be increased).
For example, if 5 sets per body part already cause overtraining, it is no use to reduce the number of sets from ten, one-by-one. Because, by the time you find out how many series would be ideal for you, you will be chronically overtrained. So you keep on reducing volume even below 5 sets , which would be unnecessary.
You can read further details about training volume in the part “The progressive overload factor”.
3) The training frequency factor
The more frequently you train, the smaller the volume and the intensity should be in order to keep the equation balanced. Taking into account that in the case of non-aerobic workout, the intensity needs to be high in order to achieve the desired results (development in strength and muscle size), the frequency of training should be precisely tailored to the individual. Failure to do so may lead to over-stimulation of the muscles, i.e. overtraining.
You must leave sufficient recovery time between workouts, i.e. between the stimuli that trigger muscle growth, so your system could build new muscle tissue after you have filled it up with nutrients of appropriate quality and quantity.
You should also take into account that stress (training) affects your whole system, not just the muscle group which was actually exercised.
For this reason, recovery time between two trainings is just as important even if the body parts you worked out for are not connected with each other (for example, push/pull), as they are, for example, in the case of the triceps, chest and shoulders or biceps and back.
That’s why it is recommended to use full-body workout routines.
As I have already mentioned, slow twitch fiber-dominated muscles can be trained more frequently than fast twitch-dominated ones. Yet it is more favorable to train slow twitch-dominated muscles rather with higher volume, instead of higher training frequency. The reason why you should not increase training frequency is that the stress of training affects your whole system including fast twitch-dominated muscles, which recover more slowly.
All in all, you can only expect the best results in the shortest time possible if you train only as frequently as necessary. You might ask what does that mean in numbers. Well, it depends on your individual recovery capacity; so it is kind of different for each person.
Of course, neither volume nor training frequency can be reduced infinitely. As a last resort, you can use a workout routine built up as follows:
– 1 set of squats;
– 1 set of bench presses;
– 1 set of pull-ups.
And you might reduce training frequency until you do a given exercise once in 7 to 28 days. You should keep in mind though, that after 28 days, muscles start to lose strength. So you should stimulate them at least once in 21 to 25 days. If your goal is to achieve the best results in the shortest time possible, it is not favorable either, to train less than required, either in volume or frequency.
4) The progressive overload factor
Intensity, i.e. the extent of the effort is the only relevant factor in triggering growth. Overload means to gradually increase weights and/or TUT.
In order to increase your strength i.e. trigger growth, you need to exceed your present strength. This means, if you do the same set each workout without raising the weight or the TUT, you will not stimulate your muscles for growth. Furthermore, you should avoid further overload until you have fully recovered; otherwise you will not provide your system enough time to build new muscle tissue. So, the point is: training triggers muscle growth; but growth itself takes place during rest.
Progressive overload is influenced by 3 factors:
- TUL/TUT (the length of one set in seconds / time under tension)
- The amount of weight moved
- The volume of training (the number of sets performed)
Overload of the muscles can be done the best by increasing the weight and/or TUL/TUT.
Let’s see an example:
If you previously used to work with 50 kilograms for 60 seconds, then development would be, for example, if you worked with 52.5 kgs for 60 secs or 50 kgs for 65 secs. To avoid self-deception, it is recommended to measure the length of the sets with a stopwatch.
The pace of progressive overload depends on your physical condition (i.e. how long have you been training).
A) Overload by increasing TUT
The volume of training includes the number of sets performed and the TUT. Both need to be kept under control in order to trigger growth and avoid overtraining. A set must be long enough to stimulate the muscle for growth. Because demonstrating strength and increasing strength are two different things. You won’t increase your strength by making only one rep or two, unless you are doing it extremely slowly. A set of about 10-15 seconds will only demonstrate your strength, so if you did sets like this each time, you would lose strength or stagnate at best.
It would be more appropriate to measure TUT instead of the number of reps. Of course it is not a problem if you count them both. But counting repetitions only, might be misleading.
Let’s say you make 7 reps in 60 secs; one rep was longer, while another was shorter. At the next workout you do 8 reps, so you will believe you have made progress. But if you made a rep or two a bit faster, you might have done these 8 reps in 60 secs. So you have actually made no progress. You based your conclusion on the number of reps – inappropriately.
Although increasing the TUT may lead to overload, there are certain boundaries you should keep. For example – especially in the case of fast twitch-dominated muscles – TUT ideally takes 40 to 60 secs. In this case you better not exceed the upper limit, as these muscles give the best response to stress in the range between 40 and 60 secs.
The speed of performing the exercises
The speed of performing the exercises should be low enough to avoid injury. Plus, you need to perform the exercises as slow as necessary to achieve sufficient “tension” throughout the whole range of motion. The Super Slow method recommends a pace of 10/5. Ken Hutchins recommends a 10-sec concentric (positive) phase, because, if the positive phase took 5 secs, there would be no stimulus at some parts of the range of motion, he believes. But this, i.e. the 10-sec positive phase does not apply to each case. Hutchins made a person perform a straight-bar-bicep-curl while this person was standing on a special machine. The machine was measuring the forces that had an impact on the body. Hutchins concluded that if the exercise is performed in 8 secs or less, the body will be exposed to mild forces. Since the muscles are not working on these few centimeters but the said force is moving the weight upwards, Hutchins recommended a longer concentric time, 10 seconds. A few questions may emerge in relation to this experiment:
Is it for sure that the machine signaled because of the non-steady motion? It might have been caused by the swinging movement of the upper body at some point of the range of motion. Or the subject might have found the weight too heavy at this point.
But let’s assume the experiment was conducted in perfect circumstances and it was really an undesirable force that was moving the bar in that range. And let’s assume the subject had an average musculature, so the bar was moving in a motion range of about 130 degrees around the elbow joints.
But even if the ultimate goal of the proponents of the Super Slow technique is to eliminate unnecessary forces and swings, and keep the muscle under tension at each point of the range of motion, why should we keep a 10-sec positive phase for each exercise?
Calves, forearms, abs or pecs for example, move in a smaller range of motion around their axes, below 130 degrees. So, in order to ensure a continuous movement of these muscles, you do not need a 10-sec concentric (positive) phase, but not even 8 secs.
Consequently, the question is not: “Is a 10-sec positive phase the most suitable?” But how long a repetition should ideally last in order to avoid injury and keep the muscle under tension throughout the whole range of motion.
In the science of exercise training, each factor should be determined accurately. This applies to speed as well. The most suitable approach would be something like: “x degrees / sec”. Let’s assume Hutchins was right, so 8 secs are necessary to perform a straight-bar-bicep-curl with a 130-degree range of motion properly. This means, the speed will be about 16 degrees / sec. (130 degrees / 8 secs = 16 degrees / secs.)
Therefore, if a standing calf raise has a motion range of 70 degrees, then a positive phase of 4.5-5 secs is ideal for this move. Knowing the ideal speed, all you need to do is to calculate the ideal length of the concentric phase for each exercise. The following values are meant for young and healthy individuals! Older people or people with injuries should choose a somewhat slower speed. The following values apply to the whole range of motion and may vary from one person to another depending on flexibility or muscle mass: pull-ups - 8/2/5; push exercises for pecs - 6/6; legs - 5/10; calves – 5/5/5. These are just indicative examples. Whatever speed you choose, all that matters is that it should be the same each workout.
B) Overload by increasing the weight
This is the most commonly used method of progressive overload. Still there are a few things you should be aware of, as this has some disadvantages, too.
As you keep using heavier weights, you might tend to cheat in order to make the prescribed rep counts. And you might cheat unintentionally, without noticing it. For example, for squats, +5 kgs on the bar might be enough for you to subconsciously bend your upper body lower, thus shifting the load to the lower back.
So, you should monitor your technique carefully!
Furthermore, if you overload your muscles by adding more weight, the IRRI (inter-repetition rest intervals, i.e. the time between two reps) might change from one workout to another. Therefore you should keep your muscles under continuous tension; and if you insert “planned breaks” between reps (e.g. take a breath between two squats), you should do that using a constant IRRI.
The below example should make it clear why it is so important:
Let’s say you have performed 10 reps with 100 kgs and 3-sec IRRI on workout “A” and
10 reps with 110 kgs and 4-sec IRRI on workout “B”.
Even though you have raised the weight by 10 kgs, the development is not real because of the +10-sec IRRI (+1 sec x 10 reps), i.e. you could only endure the greater load because of the longer rests between reps.
For this reason, you should put down the inter-repetition rest intervals, so they do not fluctuate from one workout to another.
Development will slow down at a point; it is recommended to use small weight plates then, in order to ensure further continuous development. (1 kg, 0.5 kg, 0.25 kg, 0.125 kg etc.)
C) Overload by increasing volume
The greater the volume of workout (the more sets you make), the smaller the intensity. Because it’s impossible to train with 100 % effort for a longer period of time; it would be too much stress both physically and mentally.
This means, if you do too much sets, you have no choice but to lower intensity so you can complete the total volume of the workout. But, as we already know, high intensity is the key to triggering growth.
It is also obvious that the more sets you do, the longer it takes to recover. And longer recovery means less frequent, i.e. less training, less new opportunities to stimulate your muscles to growth. As you are getting older, your system will gradually lose its capacity to grow (most of all, because your testosterone levels will sink). So, your goal should be, to reach your genetic potential by completing as many effective workouts as possible, within the limited timeframe you have at your disposal. You cannot wait forever, so you should not waste your time on overtraining and too short recovery times.
Therefore you should only do as many sets as necessary for triggering growth, without crossing the imaginary red line of overtraining.
In order to avoid overtraining, you should not only keep the number of sets under control, but the time under tension (TUT) as well.
Remember: the ultimate goal is not to fully tax your muscles, so it’s needless to do 10 to 60 sets per workout. The ultimate goal is to stimulate the muscles for growth, not to over-stimulate them. We want to recover as fast as possible, so we can stimulate the muscles for growth again as soon as possible.
Mike Mentzer and many other HIT-advocates agree that the ideal number of sets is one per muscle group. However, some individuals may respond better to 2 or 3 sets (2 or 3 exercises, 1 set each).
And there are some cases when it is not necessary to train a certain muscle group separately. The biceps femoris, for example, gets enough stimulus from squats, leg presses and deadlifts.
You have to test yourself to find out how many sets are ideal for you; a ready-made training program cannot tell you that.
Most bodybuilders are desperately seeking training programs. In fact, they are playing Russian roulette. They keep switching from one program to another, hoping to find the ideal one. They ignore their judgment and intuition and join the crowd. They blindly follow the loudest opinion-makers and apply their programs without questioning it; “How could it be wrong, if it has so many followers?” And they have no idea that everyone else is doing exactly the same. After all, how could the majority be wrong? But the truth is, maybe the whole world is wrong and only one guy is right. Back then, everybody believed that the earth was flat. And this belief was holding on for hundreds of years. Still they were all wrong.
Overload and intensity
Overload, whether you realize it by increasing the weight or the TUT, is directly related to intensity. Moving heavier weights in the same or longer TUT is harder work. Sooner or later you have to exercise until failure so you can “lift” the weight, which is getting heavier and heavier in time. This is especially true for those who have been pursuing bodybuilding for quite a long time and are close to their genetic potentials, because their bodies have already got used to this type of stress. They have to work hard for even a few seconds or a few dekagrams of overload. Since all things in the universe are finite, including human strength, the closer you get to your genetic potential, the more likely you need to exercise until failure in order to overload your muscles.
Some “expert” advocates of higher volume believe that experienced bodybuilders adapt to higher volume. Plus, they say, increasing the number of sets is essential for building bigger and stronger muscles.
Testosterone is an essential indicator of one’s recovery capacity. But how could it be true, if testosterone levels sink with age? And, how far should we increase the number of sets? Weider said we should do 12 to 20 sets per muscle group. Now 12, 14 or 20? If 12 is enough, why should we do 20? Since he hasn’t even tried to justify this statement ever, it is nothing but a random sentence, without any ground. Dorian Yates, Arthur Jones and many other HIT-followers said that you should do less than what most of the people do. But since the majority has no idea what they are doing, how to do that and why, simply doing less is not enough.
Just one example: if the “orthodox” view states the best method is to do 6 x 400 sets a week, then 3 x 200 sets a week may not be much better. It’s like the blind leading the blind. If Weider said “turn to the right”, Jones would say “turn to the left”.
Why should we exercise 6 times or 3 times a week? We are sticking to these numbers because of tradition. It’s a religious tradition to work 6 days a week and rest on the 7th day. The number 3 has similar mythical connotations. Three meals a day, the Holy Trinity etc. Both Weider and Jones based their assumptions on tradition.
To wrap it up: “Not more is better, nor less is better, but the precise amount required is best.” Mike Mentzer
So, neither the principle “more is better” nor “less is better” reflects the truth. It is best to do exactly as much as needed.
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