Monday, January 25, 2016

Mass — and Strength — Made Fast and Easy!

High-Frequency Training for Fast Growth in Muscle Mass plus Some Serious Strength and Power Gains

"A day without work is a day without food." —Zen Master Hyakujo

     After my son posted his previous article on some easy ways to lose fat (fast), I thought I would do something similar, assuming, of course, that your goals in this instance are fast gains in both strength and muscle mass.
Matthew Sloan builds his muscle with HFT

     I have many other articles on this blog that cover high-frequency training, but it's amazing how many emails I still get from folks—typically guys, of course—who want more information on how to properly design a high-frequency training program, or use HFT for a period of a few weeks as a break from their typical routines.  Consider this post—and the subsequent ones that will follow during the remainder of this month—as my answer(s).
     There are many ways to build both strength and/or muscle mass.  Some programs are decidedly better than others at building just muscle mass or strength.  Conversely, some programs suck at building one of the aspects, and are really good at building the other.  For instance, if you are trying to stay in a weight class (as some people do for powerlifting) and are concerned about gaining weight, then a very effective way to train is infrequent training combined with really low reps (1 rep, or at the most 2 rep, sets) for multiple sets.  In this scenario, you would train, say, Squats on Monday, bench presses on Wednesday, and deadlifts on Friday.
     Such low-rep, infrequent training is not good at all if you are trying to build muscle mass.
     In that same regard, if you perform a program of moderate to low-frequency workouts with lots of sets and reps—15 to 20 sets of 15 to 20 reps—then you have set yourself up on a program that will build plenty of muscle, but will result in virtually zero strength gains.
     When it comes to building both muscle and strength, there are several programs that are effective.  (Almost all of the training articles I've penned on this blog are good for building both.)  A heavy-light-medium, 3 days-per-week program, for instance, is quite good, as is an upper/lower split program where you train 4 days-per-week.  (And, of course, programs such as Westside ain't "half-shabby" either.)
     For my money, however, nothing—and I mean nothing—beats HFT for building muscle and strength and power WHEN it's used correctly.  (And the operative word is "when"—you can do daily training, multiple-times-per-day for really high reps, and you won't build strength that would amount to much of anything.)
     When I say high-frequency training, I mean high-frequency training!  I mean a program that has you training each muscle group between 4 and 6 days-per-week.  Anything less than that is not the kind of training that I'm talking about.
     Here are some of the "keys" to making HFT work for building the ultimate combination of both strength and mass:
Train Very Frequently
     As I just mentioned, HFT is most effective at building this ultimate strength/mass/power combo when VERY high-frequency is used.
     Each muscle group should be trained on an almost daily basis.  Typically the training works best if you train every day for 3 to 5 days in a row, then take a break of one day before repeating.  You don't have to be too systematic about it, however.  So, if you train 3 days, then take a day off, followed by 5 days, then take a day off, followed by 4 days, then take a day off, and so on and so forth, then that should work out "perfectly."
     You can take the day off whenever you feel as if "mentally" you need the break, or you can do something such as what I do: When training this way, I simply take a day off whenever "life" gets in the way.  If I come home from work, for instance, and my wife wants to go on a "date night", then I take a day off.  If, come the weekend, some friends invite us over for beer and burgers, then I know that's another "life" reason for a relaxing day away from training.
     Here's the thing, however: the more often you train, the more often will you NOT want a day away from the gym.  In fact, if you take two days off at any time, you'll probably be absolutely dying to get your tail back under some big weights.
Treat Each Training Day as a "Practice Session"
Herman Goerner was massive and strong even in the 1920's.  He trained as if it was a "practice session" and could deadlift almost 800 pounds, an impressive feat no matter the era.

     This is one I learned from the "old-timers".  Your old-school strongmen and other lifters interested in cultivating "physical culture" did not "thrash", "obliterate", "destroy", or "crush" their muscles and lifts into oblivion with sets taken to the point of momentary muscular failure.  No, what they did was "practice" their various lifts.
     In this way, lifting becomes much more similar to martial arts, where you pick a handful of exercises, and then "practice" the exercises for numerous sets, but never take your sets to the limit that your form begins to "break down."
     Which brings us around to the next big key:
Train the Lift and Not the Muscle Group
     At each training session, pick a handful of exercises, and then train each exercise for a handful of sets, beginning with a fairly light weight, and then work up to a heavy triple, double, or single.
     None of the sets should be "all-out"—or even close, for that matter.  Always leave a few reps "in the tank", aside from the last set, where you should be lifting close to whatever your max is for that particular rep range of 1 to 3 reps.
Always Finish Training Your Exercises with LOW-Rep Sets
     Along the same lines, whenever you are finished with your last set of your chosen exercise, DO NOT perform a final high-rep set or two.  Sure, this technique is fine for some programs, but not when it comes to building plenty of mass and strength with HFT.  You want your muscles to "remember" the last set.  Your strength gains will be diminished if you don't follow this tip.
Train Using the "Big" Lifts
     There is no need for "isolation" movements, or anything of the like when it comes to HFT.  In fact, using such exercises could actually hinder your progress on programs such as this.
     Stick with the "big boys."
     As a rule, you can't go wrong with the exercises I've outlined in the past in one of my "Big 5" articles/posts.  Pick a heavy squatting exercise, a heavy pulling exercise, a heavy overhead pressing exercise, and, then, throw in a "drag" or "carry" exercise as a finisher.
     Here's a small list as an example:

  • barbell squat
  • dumbbell squat
  • Zercher squat
  • overhead squat
  • deadlift
  • deficit deadlift
  • trap-bar deadlift
  • sumo deadlift
  • power clean
  • power snatch
  • clean-and-jerk
  • dumbbell power clean
  • clean and press
  • military press
  • push press
  • one-arm dumbbell overhead press
  • farmer's walk
  • sled drag
  • sandbag carry
     Also, in addition, it's perfectly fine to include some heavy chins, dips, barbell curls, dumbbell curls, or the like for good measure.
Use the "3 to 5 Rule" as a Reliable Guide
     At each training session, perform 3 to 5 exercises for 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps.  I like this "rule" because it limits your total amount of reps on any exercise to 25 reps.  If your total reps on any exercise, and, thus, your total "workload", gets too high you will begin to have problems with such high-frequency training.  This form of training has to be tempered with a moderate amount of volume.  (The exception, of course, would be highly advanced lifters who have built up the work capacity to do high-frequency, high-intensity, and high-volume workouts.)
     At the same time, another benefit is that this "rule" prevents you from doing too-little work.  Too much training, and you can stifle some of your results, but too little training, and you might as well stay away from the gym altogether.
     Finally, don't be limited by this "rule", either.  There will come a time—assuming that you stick with HFT for long enough—when you will need more sets, and, eventually, more exercises to keep making progress.  Also, to keep from growing incredibly bored, you may want to try some other methods that work well in the context of this style of training.
Another Reliable Method is the "Two-Barbell Rule"
     If you would prefer to do less exercises, you may want to try the "two-barbell" rule.  This "rule" simply states that, for the fastest progress, begin each training session with 2 barbell exercises before proceeding to whatever-the-hell-else you feel like doing.  In this case, however, the 2 barbell exercises would be the only exercises in use.  You perform less exercises, but more sets.
     A good way to use this "rule" is to do "ramps" on your two exercise.  Pick a rep range—either 5 reps, 3 reps, 2 reps, or singles—and simply "ramp" up in weight on each set until you reach the "near-max" for the chosen rep range.
     If your first exercise is the squat, and you choose a 5-rep ramp, your sets may look like this:
     This example assumes that the last set of 5 reps was "tough" with 295; tough enough that you probably could not get 5 reps if you added another 10 to 15 pounds.
     The lower the reps, the higher the sets.  Also, the more advanced, the higher the sets.  Advanced lifters may want to, as well, begin with sets of 5 before proceeding to sets of 3, then singles.  Remember, I said "advanced"—too many sets, even with only 2 exercises, and you won't be able to train at the frequency required.
Eat Plenty of Food!
     Unless you are advanced enough—by this point, if you haven't figured it out yet, the rules go "out the window" for advanced lifters—you would not want to follow my HFT strength and power training advice and follow my son's "Shredded Made Easy" diet plan at the same time.  The kind of training I have advised here requires calories, lots of calories!  Throw all the macros you want at this training regimen—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.  In fact, I think a diet that is almost equal in all the 3 macronutrients would be rather ideal.
     Don't forget the calories, either.  As a starting point, shoot for 12 times your bodyweight in calories daily.  After a few days, bump that up to 15 times your bodyweight in calories minimum.  So, for all of you 150-pound "Macs" who are tired of having sand kicked in your face while your woman tells the bully to beat off, this means that you need to work up to at least 2,250 calories-per-day minimum.  If you can stomach it, you will eventually want to add more.  (In fact, you should have to add more.  You should begin to gain weight at a rather fast rate on this program—compared to others—and as your weight increases, so must your total caloric intake.)
Charles Atlas is shown on the right, with a snippet from his legendary "dynamic tension" course on the left.  (Anyone my age or older, who read comic books as a kid, can remember the advertisements well.)

     For now, this should be enough information to get you started on the right track with HFT for strength and muscle mass.  Keep coming back to the blog regularly this month, however, because the plan is to have plenty more where this came from!

     (As an end note, the plan this year is to have at least 2 articles every week added to Integral Strength, whether the articles come from myself, my son, or the behemoth that frequents these whereabouts known as Jared Smith.)


  1. Since the 90's (and Yates, and really Platz) trainers have been obsessed with training to utter failure.....I think there would be alot more heavily muscled men if more guys understood the concepts you discuss in this article. ....not every session should be a "bloodbath". There is real value in practicing the movements.....

  2. How would you see the "Squat nemesis" program with regard to HFT? "Squat nemesis" features a variety of finishers whilst you recommend no finishers if I understand correctly.
    Also, would you apply/recommend the 25-rep rule to the "Squat nemesis" ramp as well?

  3. Mike,

    I think the the Squat Nemesis program doesn't really fit in with this form of HFT—it is it's own program with its own set of principles that work well for what you are hoping to achieve with it. I would, for instance, not typically recommend SN to anyone looking to build a combination of muscle and strength on a wide variety of exercises. It's more of a "specialization" program. If your squat is stalled, for instance, then it's a hell of a program to get it moving again, or it's great if your squat is NOT stalled, and you are looking to break a PR. But you should only use SN on ONE exercise, and, even then, you need to be careful of what exercises you choose. (I, for one, would never do it with the deadlift, but I think Nick Horton has done so with some degree of success, but, still, he could probably have achieved better deadlift results with a different program.)

    For my two cents, I wouldn't do the finishers at the end of the program until you have spent several weeks just doing ramps leading up to a heavy 5, triple, double, or single. Even without the finishers, the 25-rep rule would probably still not apply, since the program works best if you take your time working up to your max set, which typically means more sets.

    Now, if I had a lifter who INSISTED on trying the SN program in the context of my HFT program, then I would recommend a couple of things:
    a) He/she spend several weeks doing the HFT program as I prescribed before adding in the SN work.
    b) After that, pick one exercise for the SN at the beginning of the session (preferably squats, overhead presses, cleans, or snatches) before proceeding to the rest of the workout.

    Finally, I think that for the average lifter, the SN program is just "too much" to use on a regular basis.

    I hope these answers help. If you have any more questions, please ask.

    1. Thanks for the detailed answer.

      I had the SN program in mind in this context since you had referred to it in previous posts.

      With regard to your HFT program I have a couple more questions if I may.

      I think this HFT set-up will suit me and my lifestyle well since I like to train daily if possible and like to base my program around the basic lifts which you listed.

      I would like to use the squat, the deadlift (or variation thereof) and the OHP (or variation thereof), farmer's walk + dips, push-ups, pull-ups/chins, and rows (dumbbell or barbell).

      So, for example for the squat I would go (warm-up: 60kgx5x2, 100kgx5, 110kgx5) 120kgx3, 125kgx3, 130kgx3, 135kgx3, 140kgx3, 145kgx3, 150kgx3, 155kgx2, 160kgx1.

      Is that correct?

      When you say "DO NOT perform a final high-rep set or two" are you referring to a "finisher" set at 70 or 80% of the daily max?

      Does the "3 to 5 Rule" apply to the assistance exercises I listed above or the main lifts or both?

      If it applies to the main lifts is my above example correct i.e. the total number of reps going from 120-160kg adds up to 24?

      Or does the "3 to 5 Rule" apply to straight sets across such as for example 140kgx3x8 for the squat?

      I am confused with the statement "...perform 3 to 5 exercises for 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps." since this seems to be different to the ramp "train each exercise for a handful of sets, beginning with a fairly light weight, and then work up to a heavy triple, double, or single" on which I based my example above.

      Hope I didn't ask too much.

      Thanks for your help and all the great content you put out.

  4. Mike,

    Glad to answer your questions.

    Understand that I meant the "3 to 5 Rule" NOT to be the only way in which you should program HFT. I simply think it's one of the EASIEST ways to program it. So, when I say "perform 3 to 5 exercises for 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps," I mean exactly that. Your TOTAL work for each exercise would not be over 25 reps. This means that your squat example above would NOT apply in this instance, as you correctly surmised.

    In your squat example above, you used a total of 12 sets, which is fine, and, if that's how you want to train, then be sure that you don't do too much other work in addition to squats on the day you train them. If you want to train that way every day, then I wouldn't perform more than 2 exercises per workout, and your program might look like this:
    Day One: Squats and Overhead Presses
    Day Two: Deadlifts and Dips
    Day Three: Squats and One-Arm Overhead Presses
    And so on, and so forth, working two exercises hard each day for a total of 10 to 12 sets each (including warm-ups).

    Please keep in mind that this is just an example. You could train some lifts every day — like squats — and then perform the 2nd exercise with a unique exercise on each day. (This would be the way the Squat Nemesis program typically works.)

    Remember: less exercises means more sets per exercise; more exercises means less sets per exercise.

    In addition to "3 to 5 Rule" or the "Two-Barbell Rule", you could also include the "8-12x2 Rule". With this one, you perform 8 to 12 exercises per workout for only 2 sets (of 3 to 5 reps) each. Notice that in all of these examples, you are doing a total of (around) 20 to 25 sets per workout, but rarely should you ever do more than that, and, obviously, sometimes you would do less.

    Once again, I hope these answers help. Soon, I will post an article that includes actual example workouts—or, possibly, even several weeks of workouts if it would be helpful.


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