HST (Hypertrophy Specific Training)


Hypertrophy-Specific Trainingâ„¢ arose out of the research looking at both the stimuli and mechanisms for muscle cell hypertrophy. Hypertrophy-Specific Training (HST) is based on physiological principles of hypertrophy first discovered in the laboratory. These principles were then organized into a “method” of mechanically loading the muscle to induce hypertrophy. Of course, translating these principles into applicable methods (sets & reps & schedules) brings in some possibility of error. As the science continues to explore the exact mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy, this error will be whittled away. 

As hypertrophy-specific research progressed in specificity it was clear that traditional training routines had stumbled across many important principles of load induced muscle hypertrophy, but because of their limited perspective (volume and intensity) they failed to capitalize on some critical truths exposed by research at the cellular level.

The principles surrounding HST

1) Mechanical Load 
Mechanical Load is necessary to induce muscle hypertrophy. This mechanism involves but isn’t limited to, MAPk/ERK, satellite cells, growth factors, calcium, and some other fairly understood factors. It is incorrect to say “we don’t know how muscle grows in response to training.” The whole point of the HST book is not to discuss HST, but to present the body of research explaining how hypertrophy occurs. Then HST becomes a relatively obvious conclusion if your goal is hypertrophy.

2) Acute vs. Chronic Stimuli 
In order for the loading to result in significant hypertrophy, the stimulus must be applied with enough frequency to create a new “environment,” as opposed to seemingly random and acute assaults on the mechanical integrity of the tissue. The downside of taking a week of rest every time you load a muscle is that many of the acute responses to training like increased protein synthesis, prostaglandins, IGF-1 levels, and mRNA levels all return to normal in about 36 hours. So, you spend 2 days growing and half a week in a semi-anticatabolic state returning to normal (some people call this recovery), when research shows us that recovery can take place unabated even if a the muscle is loaded again in 48 hours. So true anabolism from loading only lasts 2 days at best once the load is removed. The rest of the time you are simply balancing nitrogen retention without adding to it.

3) Progressive Load 

Over time, the tissue adapts and becomes resistant to the damaging effects of mechanical load. This adaptation (resistance to the stimulus) can happen in as little as 48 hours (Repeated Bout Effect or Rapid Training Effect). As this happens, hypertrophy will stop, though neural and metabolic adaptations can and may continue. As opposed to hypertrophy, the foundation for the development of strengthis 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. So, aside from incremental changes in the number of contractile filaments (hypertrophy), voluntary force production (i.e. strength) is largely a matter of “activating” motor units.

4) Strategic Deconditioning 
At this point, it is necessary to either increase the load (Progressive load), or decrease the degree of conditioning to the load (Strategic Deconditioning). The muscle is sensitive not only to the absolute load, but also to the change in load (up or down). Therefore, you can get a hypertrophic effect from increasing the load from a previous load, even if the absolute load is not greatest, assuming conditioning (resistance to exercise induced micro-damage) is not to extensive. There is a limit to the number of increments you can add to increase the load. You simply reach your greatest voluntary strength eventually. This is why Strategic Deconditioning is required for continued growth once growth has stopped (all things remaining equal).

Utilizing Lactic Acid As A Stimulus For Tendon Repair/Health
Now HST incorporates a few other things such as higher reps (for lactic acid) to prepare the muscles and tendons for future heavy loads. This serves as “regular maintenance”. Without it, you increase your risk of chronic injuries and pain. The metabolically-taxing reps enhance healing of strained tendons.

Compound Exercises 
HST also suggests using compound exercises to maximize the effects of loading on as much muscle as possible per exercise.

Progressively Adjusting Reps To Accommodate Progressive Load 
HST suggests that you use 2-week blocks for each rep range. Why? It has nothing to do with adaptation. It is simply a way to accommodate the ever-increasing load. Of course, you could adjust your reps every week (e.g. 15, 12, 10, 8, 5, etc), but this is more complicated and people might not understand. Often times, to communicate an idea you must simplify things, even at the price of perfection. If people can’t understand it, they won’t do it. What good would that do or anybody? Then, over time, people figure out for themselves the other possibilities that exist within the principles of hypertrophy.

Low Volume Per Exercise (average volume per week) 
HST suggests that you limit the number of sets per exercise per workout to 1-or-2. This is based on “some” evidence that sets beyond the first “effective” set do little more than burn calories. There is nothing wrong with burning calories, but when you get to be my age you just don’t have the exercise tolerance that you once did. Using hormone replacement (HRT) therapy would of course, increase the number of sets you could do without undue stress.

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