T Nation

An Old Article Suddenly Made Important Again

I wrote this one in 1999 (excuse my english of the time, I was learning how to write properly since french is my primary language). I don’t agree with 100% of what I said in there, but the bulk of it is VERY much in line with the perfect rep, autoregulation and the likes, and it will help you understand where I come from.

BTW, notice how I wrote about 10 x 3 years before other popular coaches started ‘inventing’ this approach :wink:

High Tension Training
By Christian Thibaudeau

Chronic adaptations to training simply mean that the structural adaptations to your training regimen will be relatively stable. At this point your body will be perfectly adapted to the training stress you are used to present to your body and thus it will not require further adaptation (read no further progress). At this point most peoples assume that their body has adapted to the exercises they are using and that’s why they change them around. Initially this will bring new strength gains but more often than not this is not correlated with added muscle gains. Why? Well the gains you get from switching exercises are mostly due to and increased neural efficiency at performing the new movement. In other words you initially get stronger in the new movement because you learn to be better at it! This has led people to believe that when they stagnate they must change the exercises around. This is erroneous in most cases (sports where relative strength and neuromuscular efficiency is the goal are another animal altogether!).

As it was stated, your body adapts to stress - in our case physiological stress in the form of strength training. Your body will adapt itself to the stress placed upon it, not to the means that provide that stress. Your body doesn’t know if you are doing barbell curls or preacher curls, nor does it care to know about it! All that your body “knows” and needs to know is that there is a physical stress x placed upon the elbow flexors (biceps brachii, brachioradialis, brachialis and the various forearm muscles). To make an oversimplification out of it, your body only needs the following information to start and modulate the adaptive response:

  1. What structures are affected by the stressor?

  2. What is the magnitude, or importance, of the stressor on each of the structures?

  3. What’s the nature of the stress?

Obviously the structures affected by the stressor will depend on the exercise you use (chances are that a squat will cause more stress in the lower body than a bench press!) however because of the structure of your muscles, changing the exercises you perform for a specific body part will not lead to a great variation in the structure affected by the stressor (some recent research indicate that it might be possible to recruit different fibers with different exercises though). The only things that you can vary when you change your exercises around are the muscles involved. For example preachers curls are good to develop peaking biceps because this exercise will place most of the stress on the brachialis (placed under the biceps and which give the impression of a peaked biceps when overdeveloped) not because this exercise recruit different parts of the biceps which lead to the development of a peak.

Thus changing your exercises around can help resume your progress by working previously under worked muscles or by improving the neural factors involved in weight lifting performance. Both of which can be of benefit to athletes and bodybuilders. But once you have changed your exercises so many times that no muscles are under worked in relation to each other and that your nervous system is efficient in all the exercises you do you will not be able to kick start your progress simply by changing the exercises you use.

Probably the most important factor in triggering the adaptive response is the magnitude of the stressor. For easy comprehension’s sake we will define the factors involved in the magnitude of the training stress:

  1. The tension produced (intensity)

  2. The total duration, or workload at which tension is produced during your workout (volume, either in it’s time under tension form, or tonnage form

  3. The total load of tension (intensity x volume) per unit of time (density)

Muscle strength is exhibited by creating muscular tension. The harder a muscle needs to contract the more tension it must produce. So basically the heavier the resistance, the greater is the required muscular tension. For you scientific minds out there the higher is the muscle tension produced, the greater is the rate of protein degradation (which is one of the factor triggering growth stimulation).

If maximum muscle tension were the only factor involved in developing size and strength we would simply have to do singles in every exercises we do and grow like crazy! Unfortunately (or fortunately for some!) it’s not the only factor involved.

The amount of growth stimulated is dependant upon the amount of muscle protein degraded during training. The more muscle protein are degraded the more your body will need to mobilise it’s resources and the more it will “rebuild” the muscles to avoid such a stressful (pun intended) situation in the future!

The amount of degraded protein is a function of the rate at which protein is degraded (if you degrade 10x proteins per second you will degrade more protein than if you were to degrade 5x proteins per second all else being equal). And as it was stated the rate of protein degradation is determined by the importance of the muscular tension created. The other important factor involved in determining the total amount of degraded proteins is the duration of the degradation process. Obviously the more time you spend degrading proteins the more proteins will be degraded! This second factor is determined by the volume of training.

A third factor in modulating the adaptive response is the density of training. The more work you perform per unit of time, the more important will be the growth stimulation (this is mostly due to an increase in growth hormone production).

So to resume. To stimulate muscle growth you need:

  1. High tension contractions

  2. High total time under tension

  3. High density of training

As we stated, tension is what is required to produce force. The more force needs to be produced, the more tension your muscles have to create. Now, force is defined as such:

F = MA

In which F means force, M means mass and A means acceleration. In other words you can either increase the force output by:

a) Increasing the weight lifted (lifting heavy loads relatively slowly)

b) Increasing the acceleration/speed (lifting light loads very rapidly)

c) Using an optimal combination of weight and acceleration (moderate loads lifted as fast as possible)

In regular bodybuilding training method a) is the only one currently used. Which means that bodybuilders are only stimulating 33% of the growth they could trigger if they used all three methods!

Increasing the weight lifted (lifting heavy loads relatively slowly)

The first method is already well known of most bodybuilders and powerlifters. It involves increasing the weight that one lifts. Basically there are two ways of making this work.

  1. Keeping the reps relatively high and trying to increase the weight as often as possible

  2. Using low reps and very heavy loads

It is generally accepted that point 1. Is the approach to use. We disagree. More weights = more force to be produced = more tension = more stimulation.

I know what you are thinking: “I’ve used low reps in the past, I got stronger but not bigger”. Maybe, but that’s because you forgot that muscle mass is stimulated via 3 factors (tension, total time under tension, density). So if you kept doing the same number of sets when using low reps as you did when you were using high reps you greatly diminished the total time under tension factor which probably negated the benefits of using very heavy weights.

Let us illustrate our point:

If one keeps using the same number of sets

High reps: 3 sets of 10 reps with 120lbs for the chest, each rep lasts 4 seconds, the “workout” lasts 12 minutes (total volume: 30 reps, total tonnage 3600lbs, total time under tension 120 seconds, density: 300lbs/min)

Low reps: 3 sets of 3 reps for the chest with 200lbs, each rep lasts 4 seconds, the “workout” lasts 12 minutes (total volume: 9 reps, total tonnage: 1800lbs, total time under tension: 36 seconds, density 150lbs/min)

Difference:

Total volume: -21reps

Total tonnage: -1800lbs

Total time under tension: -84 seconds

Density: -150lbs/min

So in this case using heavier weights will lead to less gain. However if we were to adjust the sets to keep the same volume:

If one adjust the sets

High reps: 3 sets of 10 reps with 120lbs for the chest, each rep lasts 4 seconds, the “workout” lasts 12 minutes (total volume: 30 reps, total tonnage 3600lbs, total time under tension 120 seconds, density: 300lbs/min)

Low reps: 10 sets of 3 reps for the chest with 200lbs, each rep lasts 4 seconds, the “workout” lasts 20 minutes (total volume: 30 reps, total tonnage: 6000lbs, total time under tension: 120 seconds, density: 300lbs/min)

Difference:

Total volume: equal

Total tonnage: +2400lbs

Total time under tension: equal

Density: equal

In this case the second workout will obviously be more effective. When all other things are equal, the workout with the heaviest average weight will always stimulate more growth. Why? Simply because heavier weights increase the “M” in F = MA compared to lighter sets. So it is the premise of the HTT program that the first type of training to include is heavy lifting then adjusting the sets to have a high enough total time under tension to stimulate muscle growth.

Using an optimal combination of weight and acceleration (moderate loads lifted as fast as possible)

As we stated, Force can be increased many ways. One of the best ways to produce a high level of force and tension is to lift moderate loads in an explosive manner. The only movements that allow that type of training are the olympic lifts and their variations. These movements are by far the most powerful lifting movements that one can do and as an added benefit they involve most of the muscles in the body at the same time, with a special emphasis on the legs, lower back, upper back, traps and shoulder muscles. In fact look at elite weightlifters and for the same bodyweight they have the most muscular legs, back and traps or all athletes who train with weights (even bodybuilders). So it really is a wonder why bodybuilders have not picked up on it!

Well to be fair they DID pick up on it WAY back. When elite bodybuilders were still natural, the olympic lifts were a major part of their training. John Grimek who was considered to be the best-developed man before steroids was also a competitive olympic weightlifter (even went to the World Championships), Steve Stanko who won the Mr. Universe when the title still meant something was also a world class olympic lifter. Bodybuilding legend Reg Park (Arnold’s hero and model) regularly used power cleans in his training and I could go on and on.

When you look at the physique of these guys you’ll agree that it’s an example to follow for natural trainee.

We recommend that easier variations of the olympic lifts be used. The objective is not to win the Olympics but to develop an impressive physique. The complex, technical version of the olympic lifts (full snatch, full clean & jerk) are too hard to learn without a coach rapidly. We want to use exercises that have the benefits of the full lifts without being as complex. We thus recommend the power variations of the lifts from various heights as well as various types of explosive pulls, mainly:

  1. Power snatch from the floor

  2. Power clean from the floor

  3. Power snatch from blocks

  4. Power clean from blocks

  5. Snatch pull from the floor

  6. Clean pull from the floor

  7. Snatch pull from the blocks

  8. Clean pull from the blocks.

Don’t worry, all of these exercises will be explained and illustrated later in the article.

The olympic lifts are also high tension exercises. However these lifts cannot be performed at a high time under tension because they are explosive movements. So for hypertrophy purposes it’s best to keep the reps moderately high (4-6 reps) and the sets high (5-8) to ensure proper stimulation.

At this point we would like to add that a recent study (Bosco et al. 2000) found that a high volume olympic lifting workout produced a marked increase in testosterone (+ 45%) while a classic bodybuilding workout led to an important decrease in testosterone ( - 70%). If you increase your testosterone levels naturally you will increase your capacity to gain strength and size.

What does the program look like?

The basic principles of the HTT program are simple:

  1. The program is divided in 3 weeks phases. An accumulation phase (3 weeks) is alternated with an intensification phase (3 weeks) and the process is repeated.

  2. The accumulation phase uses 5 sets of 5-6 reps for all the exercises.

  3. The intensification phase uses 5-8 sets of 2-3 reps for all exercises.

  4. Each workout consist of 4 exercises:

a) a main olympic lifting movement

b) an assistance olympic lifting movement (explosive)

c) a limit strength main movement

d) a limit strength assistance movement

  1. There are 4 workouts per week:

a) a snatch-based workout

b) a clean-based workout

c) a jerk-based workout

d) a remedial exercise workout (work on your perceived weaknesses)

  1. The rest between sets is minimal:

a) 1-2 minutes during the accumulation phase

b) 2-3 minutes during the intensification phase

What are the exercises that can be used

  1. Snatch-based workout (one of each category)

a) main olympic lifting movement

  • power snatch from the floor

  • power snatch from the blocks

  • power snatch from the hang

b) assistance olympic lifting movement (explosive)

  • snatch pull from the floor

  • snatch pull from the blocks

  • snatch pull from the hang

  • overhead squat

c) limit strength main movement

  • snatch grip deadlift from the floor

  • snatch grip deadlift from the blocks

  • snatch grip deadlift from an elevated podium

d) limit strength assistance movement

  • Romanian deadlift

  • Straight legged deadlift

  • Upright row

  1. Clean-based workout (one of each category)

a) main olympic lifting movement

  • power clean from the floor

  • power clean from the blocks

  • power clean from the hang

b) assistance olympic lifting movement (explosive)

  • clean pull from the floor

  • clean pull from the blocks

  • clean pull from the hang

c) limit strength main movement

  • back squat

  • front squat

d) limit strength assistance movement

  • deadlift

  • sumo deadlift

  1. Jerk-based workout (one of each category)

a) main olympic lifting movement

  • split jerk

  • power jerk

  • jerk behind the neck

b) assistance olympic lifting movement (explosive)

  • push press

  • push press from behind the neck

c) limit strength main movement

  • military press

  • incline press

  • bench press

d) limit strength assistance movement

  • seated dumbbell press

  • flat dumbbell press

  • incline dumbbell press

  1. Remedial exercises workout (one of each category)

a) Biceps exercise

  • Barbell curl

  • Reverse curl

  • Hammer curl

  • Cable curl

  • Dumbbell curl

b) Triceps exercise

  • Nose breaker

  • Cable extension

  • Dumbbell extension

  • Kickback

c) Pectorals exercise

  • Dumbbell fly

  • Dumbbell incline fly

  • Cable cross-over

  • Pec deck machine

Abdominal work is done for 5-8 sets of 10-15 reps at every workout.

Excellent, read it before and it’s one of my favorite articles. Perfectly structured, straight to the point, strict explanations, leaves no questions.

Thib, could you list the most important things you’d change if you were to update this article ?

I’ve read this somewhere before, very interesting read… I have some experience with Olympic Lifting, (I trained at the facility called CATZ with Jeremy Frisch, he did articles on here about O-Lifts) and I was wondering if I should focus on gaining more basic strength before taking on a routine like this. Is there a base you suggest for people to start off as before taking on a routine like this?

j’ai ajouté plusieurs de ces mouvements olympiques a mon entrainement , mais en france on n’est peu equipé specialement (sols , bruits…) en plus , les salles n’ont pas beaucoup d’espace pour la majorité d’entre elles.

je fais du 10x3 (+ 4x6) actuellement , eh bien , je vois bien les regards des gars qui se disent ;" " il a acheté la cage a squat lol , ça fait au moins 8 series qu’il fait , jamais il laisse la place ?? et puis , qu’est ce qu’il fait là ? 3 reps , c’est tout ? , pas trop fatigué le gars !!""
ça en dit long sur les idées reçues française mdr!

et puis , la mentalité est , hum , ringarde . tu appartiens a une race extra-terrestre quand tu sors des mouvements les plus connus comme le dc , presse , curl ,etc…

même le squat , tractions , rowing barre , sont hardcore dans la plupart des clubs , souvent orientés fitness ,cours collectifs .

il faudrait un paquet de seminaires pour faire changer les choses .
ps ; tu ne passerais pas par la france un de ces 4 ???

TRADUCTION GOOGLE FOR MY BRO’S
I added several of these movements was my Olympic training, but in France there is little Task Force (soil, noise …) in addition, the rooms do not have much space for the majority of them.

I’m the 10x3 (+ 4x6) now, well, I see the eyes of guys who say, "he bought the cage squat lol, that makes at least 8 series he does, he never leaves place? and then what’s he doing here? 3 reps, that’s all? Not too tired guy! "
it speaks volumes about the wisdom French mdr!

and then, the mentality is, um, corny. You belong to an alien race when you leave the movement best known as the dc, press, curl, etc. …

even the squat, push-ups, rowing bar are hardcore in most clubs, often oriented fitness group classes.

should be a package of seminars to bring about change.
ps: you do not pass through the France one of these 4??

You raise in this article what I think is a very important point that seems rarely to be made.

Namely, total time under tension as opposed to the usual obsessing over how TUT for a given set is supposed to be such-and-such.

Since I am not an exercise scientist I have not bothered to go into the original journal articles to find how they came to the ridiculous conclusion that sets must be in the rather lengthy ranges they specify for best hypertrophy. But there must be a flaw in method and reasoning, such as – as you point out – not having the same volume while making the comparison.

Anyway what you are saying, regarding TUT as a total rather than per set, seems to me a very important thing.

OK, so this may be stating the obvious, but it seems that trying to master the “perfect rep” and using feel reps followed by ramping (starting at 60% of your 5 RM) with sets of 3-6 reps then autoregulating by stopping when you can’t hit your target reps for that set covers B and C

[quote]b) Increasing the acceleration/speed (lifting light loads very rapidly)

c) Using an optimal combination of weight and acceleration (moderate loads lifted as fast as possible)
[/quote]

either a) b) c) go to the max of its abilities on the day j is the line of conduct most natural.

I remain puzzled about the number of guys who can at each sitting systematically increase the load, the series, the reps.

it is human life every day, greatly influences our performance.
if it persists in wanting an absolute increase of parameters then it is a day without it cons productive, there will be or injury, or cheating (bad execution) etc. …, but in all cases This is still below the expected benefits

Its the I, Bodybuilder program.

Kept a secret all these years.

On a serious note, its good info (As one has come to expect from CT) and It’s ironic how everything seems to become relevant again at some point in time, even when its been written for 10 years.

I know its just an example, but something I could do 3x10 @ 120lbs I do not think I would be able to do 10x3 @ 200lbs.

I would agree if you mean, as I think you do, that if the maximum you could do for 3x10 was 120 lb, then it may be you could not quite do quite 200 lb for 10x3.

I think a good 1RM estimate for being able to do 10x3 for 200 as a maximum would be 235 lb – figuring the 200 as 85% 1RM.

If so, then the 120 lb is 51% 1RM. Some could do more than this for 10x3. Some could not. It would also depend on rest period.

But in the comparison CT is making, the difference in outcome --regardless of whether one uses 200 lb or trims the figure slightly – is drastic. Even if we had to trim that 200 lb figure down to say 180, 30 reps with 180 is a much greater amount of work done than 30 reps at 120.

[quote]Bill Roberts wrote:
You raise in this article what I think is a very important point that seems rarely to be made.

Namely, total time under tension as opposed to the usual obsessing over how TUT for a given set is supposed to be such-and-such.

Since I am not an exercise scientist I have not bothered to go into the original journal articles to find how they came to the ridiculous conclusion that sets must be in the rather lengthy ranges they specify for best hypertrophy. But there must be a flaw in method and reasoning, such as – as you point out – not having the same volume while making the comparison.

Anyway what you are saying, regarding TUT as a total rather than per set, seems to me a very important thing.[/quote]

Actually, I have a general, more curious question. When was the last time you spoke to Poliquin, and does he still recommend strict tempo recommendations?

By “you,” do you mean me?

I have never spoken with Poliquin.

But I am guessing by “you,” you really mean CT?

[quote]forbes wrote:
Bill Roberts wrote:
You raise in this article what I think is a very important point that seems rarely to be made.

Namely, total time under tension as opposed to the usual obsessing over how TUT for a given set is supposed to be such-and-such.

Since I am not an exercise scientist I have not bothered to go into the original journal articles to find how they came to the ridiculous conclusion that sets must be in the rather lengthy ranges they specify for best hypertrophy. But there must be a flaw in method and reasoning, such as – as you point out – not having the same volume while making the comparison.

Anyway what you are saying, regarding TUT as a total rather than per set, seems to me a very important thing.

Actually, I have a general, more curious question. When was the last time you spoke to Poliquin, and does he still recommend strict tempo recommendations?

[/quote]

We had lunch a few weeks back and we are giving a seminar together this weekend. He still use tempo prescription but to the best of my knowledge it’s more to give a general guideline regarding how to lift the weight.

[quote]Bill Roberts wrote:
By “you,” do you mean me?

I have never spoken with Poliquin.

But I am guessing by “you,” you really mean CT?[/quote]

Ya, sorry Bill, I meant CT. :S

No problem, I figured that was what you meant. I just wanted to cover the bases in case, and also to be extra-sure that Coach Thibaudeau would see it as being intended for him, which happened anyway :slight_smile:

Actually, I have a general, more curious question. When was the last time you spoke to Poliquin, and does he still recommend strict tempo recommendations?

We had lunch a few weeks back and we are giving a seminar together this weekend. He still use tempo prescription but to the best of my knowledge it’s more to give a general guideline regarding how to lift the weight.[/quote]


Curious if Poliquin is still sticking to post workout nutirition being key (as opposed to your new protocol for pre and during insulin spiking)? All over his site it looks like he is still a believer in post workout insulin/carb spiking.

Charles has suggested BCAA in a concentrated dose during training for some years now. He got it from Dr. Di Pasquale.

Currenlty he likes a large bolus divided up as a pre and post drink.

DH

[quote]mass production wrote:
Actually, I have a general, more curious question. When was the last time you spoke to Poliquin, and does he still recommend strict tempo recommendations?

We had lunch a few weeks back and we are giving a seminar together this weekend. He still use tempo prescription but to the best of my knowledge it’s more to give a general guideline regarding how to lift the weight.

Curious if Poliquin is still sticking to post workout nutirition being key (as opposed to your new protocol for pre and during insulin spiking)? All over his site it looks like he is still a believer in post workout insulin/carb spiking.

[/quote]

Thib,
What prompted you to change your philosophy so drastically? By that I mean that you were of the high set / low rep school for mass some time ago. Then you began to take on an entirely mainstream look to your programs.

Why did you do this?

DH

To just understand the theory (which I agree with)…

Does one not even need to really change exercise rather than the weight/execution of the same exercise to reap a lot of benefits?

Thank you.

CT, I remember this article. I thought it was one of the most intelligently written articles on strength training and gaining mass that I had seen. Several years later, I still do.

[quote]DH wrote:
Thib,
What prompted you to change your philosophy so drastically? By that I mean that you were of the high set / low rep school for mass some time ago. Then you began to take on an entirely mainstream look to your programs.

Why did you do this?

DH
[/quote]

If I recall, CT said that he switched his focus to bodybuilding for purposes of his T-Nation articles because there were already several performance coaches here and he wanted to fill the bodybuilding void. I believe CT said that he still coaches many athletes as well as BBers. The newbies here all think that CT is a bodybuilder type, but I know that at heart, CT is a crusty old Olympic lifter. :slight_smile: