Effort-Based Hypertrophy Training

Effort vs. Volume vs. Load: Part 1

What’s the best way to train for size gains? Effort, load, or volume-based training? Here’s what you need to know.

What works better for hypertrophy? High-volume training or low-volume/high-effort (intensity) training? What about “powerbuilding?” In short, what’s the secret to gains? Effort, volume, or load?

It’s an age-old debate, newly revived because of social media polarization. It’s hard to get an objective assessment because everyone is trying to make their own approach sound like the only one that works.

Let’s clear the air. In this series, I’ll objectively present all three approaches. Think of this as a deep into the logic behind my three-phase Hypertrophy training system.

First up, let’s look at effort-based training.

What is Intensity or Effort-Based Training?

The main idea: Milk every set for all it’s worth, ensuring the most growth stimulation possible from each work set.

It first became popular in the early 1970s with the work of Arthur Jones and later Ellington Darden. It continued gaining popularity with Mike and Ray Mentzer, Casey Viator, and Dorian Yates. For the younger generation, effort-based training is reflected by DC and Fortitude Training.

People associate effort-based training with low-volume training. In fact, low volume (and low frequency) is seen as the key principle of effort-based training, even by some of its proponents. It’s not! Yes, effort-based training is lower in volume than traditional training, but it’s not a principle. Rather, it’s the result of the type of effort given to each work set:

  1. Out of Need: If you push a set to its utmost limit, doing several of those sets is both counterproductive and draining.

  2. Maximum Efficiency: Only do what’s necessary to stimulate optimal growth. Once the optimal hypertrophy stimulus is achieved, any additional work only creates more fatigue and hurts recovery (and progress). The harder you push a set, the fewer of these sets you can do, and the fewer you need.

That’s why effort-based training has less volume. Doing more just isn’t necessary and could backfire, considering the level of effort given.

Parameters for Effort-Based Training

  • 1-2 maximum-effort sets to failure or past failure using methods like rest/pause and drop sets.
  • 1-3 warm-up/preparation sets.
  • 5-10 reps per set. This is the principle of efficiency. If you train to failure, you get 4-6 effective reps, regardless of the total number of reps performed. Doing high reps only increases work and energy expenditure and creates more central fatigue.
  • 1-4 exercises per muscle in a session.
  • 5-6 exercises per workout, although some effort-based authors use more.
  • Training each muscle once or twice per week. A higher frequency – hitting a muscle sooner than 72 hours after first training it – makes the second session slightly less effective because of a reduction in protein synthesis.
  • 2-3 minutes of rest before the work sets. To work optimally, effort-based training must get the most out of every set. With rest periods shorter than 2-3 minutes, you risk lingering central fatigue. This makes it harder to recruit the fast-twitch fibers, rendering the set a bit less effective. Shorter rest periods also decrease the amount of weight you can use.
  • Greater emphasis on machines, pulleys, and single-joint exercises. It’s safer to go to “task failure” on machine exercises. Also, the more stable exercises facilitate maximizing tension in the target muscle. This makes stimulating growth more effective.

Pros of Effort-Based Training

  • It teaches you to train hard: The main reason people fail to progress? They don’t put enough effort into their sets to be effective. Effort-based training, which typically goes to failure (or one rep short, especially if using heavy weights), teaches you to train as hard as you can on a set.

  • It allows you to better evaluate RIR (reps in reserve) in the future: Most lifters put less effort into their sets than they think. They might think they’re keeping 1-2 reps in reserve, but in reality, they’re leaving 4 reps in the tank. This essentially makes a set ineffective for stimulating growth. Training to failure for a certain time teaches you what 1, 2, or 3 reps in reserve feel like.

  • It’s efficient: You can make the same gains in less time with less work.

  • It guarantees that each work set is maximally effective: When you leave several reps in reserve, it’s easy to overestimate your level of effort and end up with garbage sets.

  • It has a psychological advantage: You’re more likely to give everything you’ve got during a set if you know it’s the only set you have to do on that exercise.

  • It reduces the risk of central fatigue affecting your workout: Yes, from a set-to-set perspective, going to failure causes more central fatigue than keeping reps in reserve. But, the lower volume of work necessary with effort-based training creates less overall central fatigue than higher volumes of work.

  • It causes less muscle damage: The number of intense contractions is the greatest driver of damage. Doing less volume reduces muscle damage. Contrary to what’s commonly believed, muscle damage is not a stimulus for growth. In fact, too much reduces muscle gains by reducing the amount of protein synthesis “available” to build new muscle because it’s used to repair the damaged one. And if too much damage is created, it might become impossible to repair the damaged fiber, which then needs to be regenerated (creating a new, smaller fiber since it’s not yet developed). This can not only reduce muscle growth but also lead to muscle loss.

Cons of Effort-Based Training

  • Higher risk of injuries: This is mostly when using compound, free-weight exercises, which is why effort-based programs use a lot of machines, pulleys, and single-joint free-weight exercises. But even on those, going to failure is a bit more hazardous than stopping before the really hard reps.

  • If you use light or moderate loads, going to task failure is more critical: If you’re using heavy weights (4-6 RM), you can get adequate gains with effort-based training if you stop your work sets with one rep in reserve. But if you leave more than that, you’re not going to have enough effective reps with your planned work volume. With the light or moderate loads in an effort-based approach, reaching failure becomes critical to get maximum growth. Not everybody can truly train to failure. Many people hit “psychological failure” or fake themselves out. This is most common with beginners or overly cautious personalities.

  • Higher risk of technique degradation: This is another reason machines are preferred with effort-based training. When you reach the really hard reps (last 2 or 3) there’s a greater risk of using technical compensations, momentum, or cheating, making the reps (and sets) less effective.

  • For some, the low volume feels unsatisfying: Some people are stimulus addicts, unsatisfied if they don’t “train a lot.” This can decrease their motivation.

  • Greater importance of optimal exercise selection: Because of the lower volume of work, you can’t compensate for the lack of effectiveness of an exercise by doing more work. If you only perform a small amount of work to stimulate growth, everything needs to be optimal, including exercise selection.

  • It can play a Jedi mind trick on you: Some people who switch to effort-based training report feeling smaller despite getting stronger (certainly indicating muscle gain or, at the very least, not losing muscle). The main reason? Higher-volume work can increase inflammation more than lower-volume work. That swelling, likely from more muscle damage, creates the illusion of more size. If you get rid of the inflammation, you also get rid of that illusion, but you’re not losing muscle.

Are You Doing “Only One Set To Failure”?

No, you’re not. The main principle of effort-based training is not to train as little as possible. It’s to get the most out of your work, so you don’t need to compensate by doing a boatload of volume.

This means your work sets need to be optimized. You can’t reach maximal performance and stimulation without first preparing your body for that work set. You need both physical and neurological/psychological preparation.

How? You do preparatory sets prior to your work sets. Depending on the exercise, it can be 1, 2, or even 3 sets. But none of these sets are truly stressful.

A set progression can look like this:

  • Set 1 (warm-up): 8-10 reps with around 50% of the planned weight for your top set.
    60 seconds rest
  • Set 2 (feeler set one): 6 reps with around 75% of the top set.
    90 seconds of rest
  • Set 3 (feeler set two): 3 reps with around 90% of the top set.
    2-3 minutes rest
  • Set 4 (top set): 5-10 reps to failure.
    3 minutes rest

The purpose of the first set (warm-up) is to increase blood flow to the target muscle, raise its temperature, and release synovial fluids.

The role of the feeler sets is to first prepare you psychologically for the top set. Going straight from a light warm-up to a heavy top set feels overwhelming. Feeler sets also neurologically prepare you by increasing neurological activation and the sensitivity of the synapses/neuromuscular junctions.

Feeler sets also allow you to see if you need to change your planned top-set weight. If you find yourself stronger than you thought during the feeler sets, you can adjust the top set weight up, or vice-versa.

Note: On the second feeler set, I recommend 3 reps instead of 6. This reduces potential fatigue and reduces volume. The role of that set is just to get you psychologically and neurologically ready for the top set. You just need to feel a heavy weight. Volume is irrelevant at this point.

A lot of effort-based proponents use a second work set called a “back-off” set. It’s typically done either…

  1. With the same weight as the top set (normally if you got 8 or more reps on your top set).
  2. With 10-20% less weight (if you got 5-7 reps on the top set).

In both cases, it’s not necessary to go to failure, but you shouldn’t leave more than one rep in reserve.

Training Methods/Intensifiers

There are three categories of intensifiers. They might not all be needed for all training styles. Some methods might be beneficial for an effort-based program but might not be suited for a volume-based plan, and vice versa.

When you pick a training approach, it’s important to understand which methods can help you and which ones are a waste. Let’s look at the three categories:

  1. Set Extenders: The purpose is to increase the number of effective reps in a set, ideally without adding “junk volume” (reps that don’t stimulate hypertrophy). Examples: Rest/pause, drop sets, myo reps, clusters, range-of-motion drop sets.

  2. Density Methods: Here, the goal is mostly to “save time” – do the same amount of work in less time. The most common examples are supersets, antagonist supersets, and giant sets. Studies find that supersets don’t lead to more hypertrophy than doing both exercises separately. It gives the same results but takes less time to complete. The main benefit of this category is reducing training time when volume is high.

  3. Rep Style: This refers to changing the way you perform reps to make them harder. For example, you can use a slow eccentric tempo, add pauses during the movement, or perform 1.5 reps.

Which methods are more suited to a training style? Consider what the method provides and if your training approach also requires that.

Let’s examine effort-based training. What does that approach need? Does it need to shorten the workouts? No, it doesn’t. The volume is fairly low, so excessive/impractical workout duration is never a problem. As such, density methods aren’t very useful since they don’t provide more gains than doing the movements separately; they only save time.

An effort-based approach is more likely to need a few additional effective reps. So, set extenders are a much better choice.

Important: The last 4-6 reps in a set are the effective reps. All the reps performed prior to that are essentially pre-fatigue reps and have very little, if any, impact on hypertrophy. This is also true for set extenders. For example, look at this drop set:

8 reps / drop / 8 extra reps

After the drop, 2-3 of the added reps are junk volume. To make the training as efficient as possible and reduce central fatigue as much as possible, we want to avoid being able to do more than 5-6 additional reps. That’s why I favor rest/pauses over drop sets. And if I use drop sets, the drop will be small to allow only for an extra 5-6 reps.

If you want to add even more effective reps to a set, break the set down into three or more segments – a double rest/pause or a double drop set.

The third category, rep style, is most useful when you can’t add weight to the exercise for some reason (either you’re lifting the whole stack or you hit a strength plateau). It increases the training stress a bit without using heavier loads.

How to Progress

To keep making gains, gradually increase the strength of the training stimulus. Building muscle and strength is an adaptation to the training imposed on the body. So, the more muscle and strength you gain, the more adapted you are to your training, and the less effective the same level of stress becomes.

There are several ways of increasing stimulus strength:

  • Progressive Overload: Either adding weight to the bar (without changing exercise execution and repetition style) or adding reps with the same weight.
  • Volume Increase: Typically, adding more work sets.
  • Ramping Up Effort Level: For example, going from 2 RIR to 1 RIR to failure is a progression in effort level. So is going from failure to using a range-of-motion drop set and then using a rest/pause.
  • Making Reps Tougher: Changing the way you’re performing your reps (e.g., slow eccentric, pauses) to make them harder. If you do that while keeping the other parameters (load, reps) the same, the stimulus from your set is higher.

Obviously, with effort-based training, volume progression is out of the picture. That leaves us with progressive overload, ramping up the effort level, and making the reps harder.

With effort-based training, progressive overload should be your main progression model. You can then use the other two approaches when you can’t add weight to an exercise. It could look like this for a 12-week cycle:

If you use intensifiers:

  • Week 1: Go to failure on your top set

  • Week 2: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 3: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 4: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 5: Go to failure, then add lengthened partials to failure

  • Week 6: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 7: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 8: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 9: Perform your top set as a rest/pause set

  • Week 10: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 11: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 12: Same, but a bit more weight

If you change the rep style:

  • Week 1: Go to failure on your top set with a normal rep style

  • Week 2: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 3: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 4: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 5: Go to failure with a slow eccentric (4-5 seconds)

  • Week 6: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 7: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 8: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 9: Go to failure with a 2-3 second pause either in the lengthened state or the position of highest tension.

  • Week 10: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 11: Same, but a bit more weight

  • Week 12: Same, but a bit more weight

Or just stick to doing your work set to failure using progressive overload and changing an exercise if you fail to add weight for 2-3 sessions in a row.

Who Is Effort-Based Training For?

You do need a certain amount of training experience to benefit the most from effort-based training. Beginners lack the motor control, exercise technique, and neuromuscular efficacy and capacity to really push themselves hard to get the most from this type of training.

Intermediate and advanced lifters greatly benefit from this training style, either as a stand-alone training approach or as a phase in a training cycle to work on being able to train hard and better evaluate RIR in future phases.

This is also a good training approach for busy people and those engaging in other types of recreational physical activity while still wanting to get more muscular.

Up Next

Next, I’ll examine volume and load-based hypertrophy. Remember, all three are part of my three-phase Hypertrophy training program. Feel free to ask questions below or in my Community Coaching Forum.

Metabolic Drive Metabolism Boosting / Award-Winning Protein




  1. García-Orea GP, Rodríguez-Rosell D, Ballester-Sánchez Á, Da Silva-Grigoletto ME, Belando-Pedreño N. 2023. Upper-lower body super-sets vs. traditional sets for inducing chronic athletic performance improvements. PeerJ 11:e14636 Upper-lower body super-sets vs. traditional sets for inducing chronic athletic performance improvements [PeerJ]

  2. White, Jason B. Effects of Supersets Versus Traditional Strength Training Methods on Muscle Adaptations, Recovery, and Selected Anthropometric Measures. Ohio University, 2011.

  3. Kelleher, A. R., Hackney, K. J., Fairchild, T. J., Keslacy, S., & Ploutz-Snyder, L. L. (2010). The metabolic costs of reciprocal supersets vs. traditional resistance exercise in young recreationally active adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(4), 1043-1051. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d09d2f.


I’m looking forward to the rest of this article series. If social media trends are anything to go by, there seems to have been a big swing towards the high-intensity/low-volume style of training over the past year or two. It’s not surprising when a lot of people fed with higher volumes switch and notice lots of progression very fast whilst doing “less work”. However, I’m unsure of how sustainable it is for long periods of time for the general population, be this mental or otherwise. In my experience getting more from less IS wonderful, but after a little muscle strain I’m dealing with - possibly attributed to going too hard for too long without ever creating any real distance, intensifying certain exercises whilst expecting similar recovery times - I feel like I’m craving going back to more sets as somehow my mentality has switched and more volume actually presents itself as the “less work” option now. That is not to say the work will not still be comparatively hard, just different.

This is not me shunning low-volume/high-intensity. It’s been my favorite way to train and it was super productive. I guess I’m just supporting the phasing argument. I’m a nobody but even I can work out that becoming unwaveringly attached to an idea can only be a hindrance. We shouldn’t have to be so steadfastly loyal as if we’re rooting for our favorite sports team. I will do a bit more volume for a while, and then I will crave going harder on every set for a while, and then I might switch back. Who knows? As long as whatever I do at any given time in my life helps keep my adherence and I continue to move forward, then no option will ever be the wrong one.


All very good questions/points.

  • I think that training trends (same with nutrition) are cyclical. Low-volume/high-effort work also had a boost in popularity in the late 70s/early 80s. Then again in the mid-90s with the advent of the internet. I think that social media speeds up the cycle.

  • I agree with your observation that people are fed up with doing high volume and being unsatisfied with their gains. But it is my belief that this lack of gain is self-inflicted rather than due to the training style. For example, trying to build muscle while losing fat when you are natural and not a beginner will kill your gains, regardless of your program.

  • There is also the fact that a lot of volume trainees just don’t train hard enough to make their sets effective. If none of your sets are effective, it doesn’t matter how many sets you do. So when they try effort-based training, they get results because they have no choice but to train with max effort. So it’s not that volume-based training doesn’t work, but because they were just not training properly while using volume-based training.

  • There is also some recency bias. People who have been using volume training for years often forget that while they are progressing very slowly now, they actually got very good gains early on from that type of training. So the new shiny approach looks more effective, but both likely worked very well at first.

  • People tend to have unrealistic expectations when it comes to building muscle. So when they “only” gain 2lbs of muscle in 2 months they think their program is not working because they were expecting to gains 10lbs+

  • The sustainability point is valid. But we could say the same with volume work, especially if you have to increase the training stimulus by adding volume to keep progressing. That’s why I personally believe in periodizing training styles.


You gents are, obviously, nailing it. I think what’s difficult for a lot of us is periodization is very counterintuitive to any human heuristic. I have to tell my brain “what you were doing that got you to this point becomes necessarily the wrong thing to do to get you further.” That’s hard for my poor brain!

I really like the key of work at your progression model/ training style so hard that you have no choice but to change. Once I get to a point in my effort-based program that the next session will kill me, I have no choice but to change styles and focus on volume for a bit. My brain can handle that survival mechanism. Similarly, once I’m doing so many sets I have to view my training session with the same fear as a daily marathon, my brain can get excited about just adding some pounds to the bar.

Anyway, just loving these discussions.


That’s a good way of looking at it. Although, in that case, I would probably recommend a “deload” transition week when you switch considering that your recovery is likely maxed out at this point

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You mentioned false sense of security from excess volume training as a result of swelling and inflammation. I have always suspected that from personal experience that but never heard it from any experts. Every time I would switch to a higher volume training my body weight would skyrocket feeling and looking bloated. On the other hand when switch to very low volume but higher frequency I get a lot stronger but I shrink. I choose the latter by default now because of my age (68) and I just feel better. Keep up the great work.

Objectively speaking, if you are getting a lot stronger you cannot lose muscle. While gaining strength is not always a guarantee that you are gaining muscle, it certainly means that you are not losing any.

So the “shrinking” you mention can’t be muscle loss. So it can only be from less water retention (due to cortisol and/or inflammation), glycogen storage or fat.

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Coach Thibaudeau: Thank you for another extremely informative, intelligent, and well written article that reflects your extensive knowledge in all of the types of weight training programs and protocols to achieve specific objectives in muscular development and / or strength.
I am 76 years of age and started a basic body building program in 1962 at the age of 14, because my genetic body type is ectomorph. I constructed a simple gym in the basement of my home where I trained for four years and then trained at a YMCA facility before entering the US Army in 1969 at the age of 21.
Over the past 60 years I have read hundreds of articles on weight training, exercise science, sports nutrition, the use of PED’s in sports (etc), and I am extremely grateful for the very informative articles that are published in T-Nation by you and others, as well as the constructive comments that are submitted by the dedicated and experienced lifters that are followers of T-Nation.
I wish to respectfully submit the following observation: When discussing the pros and cons of a specific type of training program - and then integrating specific professional body builders by name in that discussion - it is absolutely imperative for the author and reader to consider the genetic body type of the bodybuilder identified and whether he does (or did) use PED’s.
It is my understanding that Mike and Ray Mentzer and Dorian Yates used PED’s, and I suspect that Casy Viator also used PED’s to some degree. I am not making a moral judgment call on their use of PED’s - that is none of my business. However, it is essential for the author and reader to acknowledge that - without the use of PED’s - these particular bodybuilders would never have achieved their level of strength and muscular development.
Knowing what I know today, if I could go back 45 years - as a genetic ectomorph - I would absolutely seek out a medical doctor who would be willing to place me on a mild protocol of specific anabolic steroids to dramatically increase the effectiveness of my weight training.
I continue to weight train five to six days a week, using mostly a high volume / moderate weight program in which my work sets are 5-6 reps. However, I also incorporate low rep / high to heavy weight sets for the squat and dead lift - never going below 3 reps.
In 1999, I started to experience pain in my right rotator cuff, which led to my first shoulder surgery in 2002. I have since had four additional rotator cuff tears and five more shoulder surgeries, two hernia operations, and a disk fusion operation for a pinched nerve in my neck (C-5/6/7); after which the surgeon told me I was not to perform the barbell military press exercise. All my barbell pressing exercises are now done using a Smith Machine.
I mention the above injuries, because I train with more intensity today - on my work sets - then I probably did during my first ten years of weight training. From my training efforts and experience, I have conditioned my mindset and my perseverance to overcome the inherent discomfort of serious bodybuilding for strength and train harder.
Go into any normal gym in the US - not a dedicated powerlifting gym - and observe all of the people weight training. You will notice that at least 80% of those people are not training with a high level of intensity and are not pushing themselves. Why? Because it simply takes too much effort and discipline to weight train seriously week after week, month after month, and year after year for many years.
I wish to reiterate my major concern: When discussing a specific type of weight training protocol - and identifying professional body builders by name in that discussion - it is absolutely imperative to acknowledge the builder’s genetic body type / profile, and whether he does (or did) use PED’s to some degree to support his training objectives.
Thanks again for your very informative training articles, which are sincerely appreciated!

I will address that exact point in great detail in part II of this series, which has already been written and submitted. Specifically I explain how steroids change physiology and how they impact response to various types of training.

I also want to point two things out:

  1. I think that pretty much nobody who is serious about muscle building/bodybuilding ignores that ALL high-level bodybuilders since the 1970s used (and use) steroids. As such, I don’t think it is necessary to always mention it whenever talking about a pro bodybuilder. Literally, high-level bodybuilding = PED use. No exceptions.

  2. In the article, I’m not using Yates, Viator and Mentzer as proof that this type of training works. In which case it would have been important to mention the caveat that they used steroids on top of their training to get their physique. I merely used them as part of the history of the low-volume vs. high-volume debate; to show that this (the volume debate), that is trendy on social media, is not a new thing and how this type of training philosophy was born and became popular.

This is the exact section mentioning those bodybuilders:

“It first became popular in the early 1970s with the work of Arthur Jones and later Ellington Darden. It continued gaining popularity with Mike and Ray Mentzer, Casey Viator, and Dorian Yates. For the younger generation, effort-based training is reflected by DC and Fortitude Training.”

In no way, shape or form did I infer that these guys’ results were proof (or indication) that this type of training worked. I was only showing how it first came to be popular originally.

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You mention that “higher frequency – hitting a muscle sooner than 72 hours after first training it – makes the second session slightly less effective because of a reduction in protein synthesis”.

I’ve been reading so many contradicting opinions from various fitness influencers on optimal frequency. Could you provide your current views on general optimal frequency from a hypertrophy perspective?

If you feel recovered, is it ever advantageous to hit a muscle once per week rather than two?
Thank you so much!

It really depends on your main training goal.

Higher frequencies (e.g. 3+ stimulations per week for the same muscle/movement) has benefits when it comes to the neuromuscular aspect. Both centrally (better motor pattern and more efficient signaling) and peripherally (increases in synaptic efficiency: essentially a muscle responds better to the excitatory neural drive the more you use a muscle/train a movement).

This later point is especially interesting for strength as it can reduce the required magnitude of neural drive required to tell the muscle to produce maximum tension/force. Basically, this means that the more you train a movement (or a muscle) the less neurologically demanding it becomes… this is one of the reasons why high level olympic lifters can snatch and clean & jerk daily without feeling drained.

A higher frequency can also be beneficial for technical efficiency on a lift (provided that you practice proper technique, of course).

From a hypertrophy standpoint, a higher frequency can improve your capacity to produce tension in a muscle. Basically, the more frequently you train a muscle, the easier it is to create maximum tension, thus improving growth potential. That doesn’t mean that a higher frequency is better for hypertrophy, but that if you have a lagging muscle group in which you have a harder time creating a high level of tension or have poor mind-muscle connection, a higher frequency of practice might fix that issue. And once it’s fixed, you can go to a more optimal frequency for hypertrophy.

On the other hand, if you don’t have enough time between two stimulations for a muscle, the protein synthesis triggered by the second session will be inferior to if you use a sufficient period between both stimulations.

72h between two bouts of stimulations for a muscle seems to be what is needed to optimize protein synthesis. So that would be something like hitting a muscle every 3-4 days (but waiting 5-7 days is likely not going to hurt, nor help).

So a frequency of hitting a muscle every 4 to 7 days is very likely optimal. Honestly, hitting a muscle every 3 days will likely be close to optimal too.

So if total volume is equated, hitting a muscle every 3-7 days can be equally as effective strictly for hypertrophy stimulation. This means hitting a muscle once or twice per week.

A higher frequency can be used for specific goals or to fix a specific issue.

ONE THING I WANT TO POINT OUT: It doesn’t mean that using a higher frequency of work than hitting a muscle twice a week doesn’t work. It can actually be somewhat beneficial if the higher frequency allows you to have a higher volume of work of a muscle.

A friend of mine made very impressive gains in arm size, on an already big arm, by training them every day for a while. Each stimulation likely led to lower-than-maximal protein synthesis. But when added up, the weekly total of protein synthesis was higher than hitting that muscle once or twice. But rather than being 3-7 times more effective it likely was 1.5- 2 x as effective.

But this is mostly applicable to specialization as it can be impractical to do it for every muscles at the same time.

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Very informative article, is this Effort-Based Hypertrophy Training a method to consider for someone 65? I don’t see why it wouldn’t be effective for me if the overall approach/process was performed “wisely” to get optimal benefit with reduced risk of injury at my age. My long term goal (if the GOOD LORD allows) is to continue resistance training well into my 70s, but I realize I have to be smart about the overall process which includes nutrition, recovery, sleep, reduced stress etc. again, to minimize risk of injury. I do work a lot with cables and bands for my joints. What is your general advice based on what I’ve stated. Thanks. Jim

First of all, hi everyone.

And thanks Christian for this very informative article. Hope to read the rest soon :slight_smile: .

TBH i feel I’ve always trained with HIT philosophy. Started with Stronglifts ; then switched to mike mathews’ training regimen before (humbly) doing my own programming with sets of 6 to failure.
Just didnt know it was generally called HIT until pretty late…

My point is that i’ve been doing it for a significant time and the one thing i’m struggling with this training method is plateauing.
It’s pretty impossible (for me at least) to add a few kgs to the bar/machines after a while and the only thing that gets me to push through those plateaux is to increase my workload capacity by … doing volume work for a while.

And i feel this very problem is often discarded (or not talked enough about) by people who are adamant defenders of HIT.
Well maybe thats just me who is struggling with that but i felt i’d share here in the hope i’m not alone.

genuinely eargerly waiting on next article about volume because i sincerely feel there’s good and things to learn with each training method.

Hello, Chirstian: OK, very good - thanks very much for your response!

All of your training articles are consistently very well written and extremely informative.

Thanks again for taking the time to response to my comments regarding the use of PED’s!

Best Regards,

Roger Ryder

Intensity can be taken to mean weights at a higher percentage of a one rep max, but in terms of the “HIT” philosophy that is often talked about, it is lower volume than things like StrongLifts and Mike Matthews BLS whilst maintaining a very high effort. I don’t doubt that all of your sets were of a very high effort running these programs - although as you get stronger it is not wise to do that much volume with that much effort as it can quickly lead to burnout, or as you’ve experienced… plateaus, sometimes even regression. It’s all about recovery and adaptation. You may not be fully recovering in between sessions so therefore the necessary adaptions needed to continue progression have not happened. There are a ton of solutions to this, but you cannot simply keep doing that many sets that close to failure on an individual exercise, especially in the frequency that many of these programs like you to do. Starting Strengths progression usually switches from 3x5 on Squats 3x a week, to having a much lighter day on the Wednesday to get around this. Eventually the volume is then pushed down to things something like 3x3 with a little bit of periodization. If people like to keep grinding progression out on that style of programming it eventually becomes one day of 5x5 (leaving reps in the tank on most sets) and then one day of a tough grindy new PR set of 1x5 later in the week (this is called the Texas Method). This is not directly relevant to you, but I used it as an example to explain how programs sometimes need to evolve as you get stronger. They can become extremely brutal very fast if you keep trying to progress linearly with them.

You say you are now doing sets of 6 to failure. Dependant on your volume, it might not be a great idea anymore. I suggest you look into double progression. Or better yet, hop onto another program more suited to you.

Mike Matthews himself moves people onto Beyond BLS once they have reached a certain strength standard on the major lifts, meaning they have exhausted the purpose of his first program. If you have enjoyed his work in the past, that could be the next step for you. There is a book you can buy that will have all the details you need.

Alternatively, there are an endless amount of other programs you can try to keep moving forward. Many of which you can find for free in the articles here.

Wow thank you so much for the thorough response. You are the absolute best!

Do you believe the body adapts to training frequencies? If so, from a Hypertrophy standpoint, is there benefit in cycling between higher and lower overall frequencies for different blocks?

I get what you’re saying and i agree.
As i said this is was what i started with.
And while i still adhere to the high loads task failure philosophy, i currently never go past 2 sets per muscle group per session and about 4 to 6 sets per week depending on muscle group.

I like your answer a lot and its very nice that you’re trying to asses whether i overtrain or not first.

But believe it or not, its the cookie cutter answer i get from most insta/tiktok HIT guys and gals when talking about plateau.

And it feels like the whole point is (purposely ?) dismissed.

call me a realist if you want but i dont believe anyone can linearly progressive overload to infinity whatever the program. We are bound to plateau somewhere.

And I havent yet read a HIT related book that has a take on this subject interesting enough for me to remember. I hope Paul Carter’s one (havent started yet) will tho. fingers crossed.

Thats why i’m eagerly waiting on christian’s take about volume (and Cody McBroom next articles . loved reading his recent article too).
Because, as i said weaving volume for a few blocks when plateauing, is the only solution that did the trick for me.

Edit : I’ll look into double progression ASAP. I forgot but thanks for the advice man. Much appreciated.

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People have managed to eke out hypertrophy progress on basic double progression with low-moderate volumes or the exact same program for decades. What actually often happens is the natural slowing of gains and expectations are no longer realistic. Things are no longer “linear” in the ilk of adding weight or a rep every week, sometimes an extra rep might take 3 or 4 weeks. If all other variables are met it will eventually come. Adding just 10 reps a year on an overhead press could be fantastic progress dependant on training age, but the majority of people who could get that kind of progress just end up wanting to change something after “not progressing” for 2-3 weeks and call it a plateau.

If you paraphrase this to something like “only get 1 or 2 reps in a month they think their program is not working”, hopefully, that will clear up what I’m trying to tell you.

With that said, if you’ve done the same style of programming for a while - more volume and keeping some reps in the tank on some sets could spark some new gains because of the novelty factor. You will get to the exact same situation eventually though.

EDIT: After just reading your edit. If you don’t know what double-progression is, you may have found your solution. Instead of trying to grind out sets of 6, work in a rep range of something like 6-8, or 8-10, or even 6-12. This is up to you! Only add weight when you hit the top end of that rep range. Your progression on a weekly exercise may then go something like this:

200lbs x 6
200lbs x 7
200lbx 8 (you hit the top end - add weight next session)
205lbs x 6

a +1 might not come every week, but if sleep, diet, consistency, and form are dialed in then it will likely happen more often than not for a long while.

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I also forgot to mention that I train exclusively with free weights mostly dumbbells an EZ curl bar and an overhead cable attachment which basically makes it very hard to train to failure like I used to with machines but I enjoy it better. I also no longer follow a particular set split, i train every other day whatever muscle feels recovered. I can train back more often than chest and arms more often than legs and I keep things very simple training whatever muscle group I am doing with just one movement, it’s challenging and fun and at my age 68 you have got to stay motivated.

For sure. I tend to think boredom or injury are usually what stops us, long before a program stops working.

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