T Nation

The Specialization Zone by Thibaudeau


Hi folks,

i also read the topic of Christian- sounds good.

I searched the library to answer my questions,but i didn?t find any answers.

Perhaps you can help me out-it?s short:

  1. The recommended sets and reps: Has Christian some guidlines like Waterburys set rep bible? Because he stated fixed numbers and no guidelines in his programm.
    there are based on empirical evid.I think...

2.The subj.intensity: Whats the opinion of christian?
Are all the sets each one rep short of failure,is only the last set to failure,failure in all sets???
Or is this a simple 4x10 scheme?
there is no point on this in the article

3.When you rotate the different boyparts in spec.zones,means:spec:chest triz,the rest for maintanance,after that back and biz spec,the rest maintanance etc.what then? Doesn?t the body also adapts to this stress EVEN if you rotate the bodyparts?

I got the idea of the programm but some things are not THAT clear!

thank you very much for helping me out!!!!!

bulkin up


come on guys one single answer will be nice.=(
I wonder why YOU don?t have also this questions...


No it's not based on empirical evidence but rather on scientific evidense regarding physiology, specifically response to training load and energy systems.

First I'll state that the rep zones assume a controlled tempo (not slow, but not fast either... each rep lasting around 4 seconds, 3 seconds eccentric and 1 second concentric).

Based on this tempo the duration of the different zones become:

1-3 rep range (relative strength) = 4-12 sec.

3-5 rep range (limit strength) = 12-20 sec.

6-8 rep range (functional hypertrophy) = 24-32 sec.

8-12 rep range (hypertrophy) = 32-48 sec.

12-15 rep range (strength-endurance) = 48-60 sec.

15+ reps = + 60 sec.

NOW... The relative strength zone focused only on the phosphagen energy system (ATP-CP) which has a capacity of 9-12 seconds.

The limit strength and functional hypertrophy zones correspond to the early portion of the anaerobic glycolysis pathway and thus still represent intense work.

The hypertrophy zone correspond to the portion of the anaerobic glycolysis pathway where lactate accumulation is the greatest.

The other zones, not as relevent to us, indicate an gradual increase in the utilisation of the aerobic pathway.

THEN ... we must consider the work of Zatsiorsky that explained the hypertrophy stimulation process. In his book (Science and Practice of Strength Training) Dr. Zatsiorsky explains that protein degradation is the trigger to stimulate muscle growth. Protein degradation is a factor of the rate at which protein is degraded during a set, and of the length of the period spent degrading the protein.

The rate of protein degradation is a direct result of the amount of intramuscular tension produced by the muscle (how hard a muscle has to contract to fight a resistance). So the more FORCE one has to produce = the higher the tension and the higher is the rate of degradation. Force = Mass x Acceleration, so in the case of lifting weights for hypertrophy purposes, increasing the amount of mass moved (weight used) is what will increase the rate of degradation the most.

So in simpler terms: big weights = high rate of degradation, small weights = low rate of degradation.

The second factor is obviously related to the duration of the set. The longer the set, the higher is the degradation time. For example, if a set lasts 10 seconds you will not be degrading proteins for as long as if the set lasted 30 sec.

To maximize hypertrophy (muscle growth) you must find the zone where total protein degradation is the highest per set...

HEAVY WEIGHTS = high rate/low duration
LIGHT WEIGHTS = low rate/high duration

Zatsiorsky (and several german sport scientist quoted in the early work of Gilles Cometti) established that the best tradeoff; the training zone where the result of rate x duration occurs with reps of 8-12, with a peak at 10 reps.

This is also backed up by other evidence, namely Dr. Jurgen Weineck who mentionned in one of his book that the beginner only needs 60% of his maximum to stimulate good gains but once passed the beginner stage, 70-80% is required. 70-80% (for most peoples) is, not surprisingly, the 8-12 reps zone.

Then we can also quote some empirical evidence. But empirical evidence based on the work of coaches who worked with hundreds of athletes. I like to base my work on Soviet sport science because their coaches:

a) were also scientists and able to perform proper data collection and interpretation

b) recorded every single detail of the training of their athletes. Reports that were sent to a central comittee for data metanalysis

With Zatsiorsky's work we established that the optimal zone to gain size was the 8-12 reps range. We can now turn to the analysis of top Soviet lifter's training to find the effect of the earlier zones. NOTE that Soviet analysed EVERYTHING... every training session for each athlete was recorded and sent to the misnistery of sport. At the end of the year an analysis was published for each sport (by qualification level) which stated the average training volume (tonnage), sets, reps, reps per set, exercise selection, etc. for each class of athletes.

One thing that can be seen in any of the work by old Soviet coaches (Roman, Medvedyev, Oleshko, Laputin, etc.) which is available in translated form at www.dynamic-eleiko.com is that:

1) lighter lifters (those in the lower weight classes) performed more sets above 90% and a much lower number of reps per set (1-3)

2) heavy lifters, especially superheavy lifters who are not restricted by a certain class limit, performed less set above 90% but an higher average number of reps per set: 3-5.

The reason is that ligther lifters cannot afford to gain excessive weight, even if it's from muscle bulk. The Soviet coaches wanted their lighter weight class athletes to be as strong as possible, without moving up a class. So they trained using a lower number of reps with more relative weight. This gave the lifter an adequate strength gain but only a slight increase in bodyweight. Thus it increased relative strength to a higher degree (this is why I call it the relative strength zone).

Heavier lifters did not have the problem of making weight. So they could afford to gain a lot of muscle. However they needed muscle that is as strong as it looked. Working in the Zatsiorsky hypertrophy zone (8-12) provided for more size than strength gains and such work is metabolically costly and thus limit the amount of work that can be done in a week. So they used an intermediate zone of 3-5 reps (assistance exercises were sometimes performed for 6-8 reps) which provided more strength gains than any zone because it did so via 2 factors:

1) Increase in muscle size, which increases strength potential (see it as increasing the number of employees in your factory)

2) Increase in neural efficiency which increases size realization (see it as motivating your employees to work harder)

This is why I called this zone "limit strength".

To make a short reap...

1-3 reps = very high neural adaptations, low muscle gain, very low metabolic adaptations

3-5 reps = high neural adaptations, moderate muscle gain, low metabolic adaptations

6-8 reps = moderate neural adaptations, high muscle gain, moderate metabolic adaptation

8-12 reps = low neural adaptations, very high muscle gains, moderate metabolic adaptation

NOW, for some more empirical evidence. Chris Aceto is widely recognized as one of the the top 3 bodybuilding coaches in the world, having worked with several top ranked pro. In his books he states that the number of reps that stimulate maximum muscle growth is 6-12 per set. Below that you work more on strength and over that you work more on resistance and endurance.

I honestly could go on and on ... even citing some studies by Dr. Kraemer indicating the ideal hypertrophy zones, but I don't whant to turn this into a novel.

Most peoples know my view of training to failure. To recap: train as close to failure as possible: work to the point where you perform as many "COMPLETE" reps as possible. In other words work until a point where you know you would fail on the next rep. This is done for all sets but the last.

The last set is performed to failure, going to the point where you cannot budge the weight an inch on your own during that last rep.

Actually the target bodyparts become more responsive to training after a specialization block. Can I explain it? Probably not entirely, but an educated get would be either IIB fibers overshoot (which has been shown to happend when there is a period of greatly reduced training after a period of excessive training) or better neural efficiency: your neuromuscular system being more effective at recruiting the target muscles because you asked so much from them and stimulated them often. However from what I've seen with all who used this system, I can say that the target bodyparts DO become more responsive afterwards.


Hi chris,
Thank you Very much,that you personally answered m question-thats cool=)

Is the failure set the last set of ALL sets,or the last set of each exercise?

One question wasn?t answered=( :
Do you have guideliness for rep/sets to do on this programm.
Are there limitations like 10-20 sets per spec. workout?
This is missed in my eyes in the article.

If you have two more sentences for me-this will be really nice!!!

bulkin up


Do u think the CNS will be able to handle this stuff???????


i'll try to answer your questions as best I can. Train to failure on the last set of every exercise, not just one per muscle group. Also, Christian laid out very good rep/set outlines in the article itself:
"Session 1 (Monday in our example) is what we'll call the intensity day. Here we'll focus on heavy lifting in the limit strength (3-5 reps) and functional hypertrophy (6-8 reps) zones.

Session 2 (Wednesday) is the volume day, which uses the functional hypertrophy (6-8 reps), the hypertrophy (8-12 reps), and the strength-endurance (12-15 reps) zones.

Session 3 (Friday) is the density day, which uses a giant set of three exercises performed without any rest. The zones used are the same as in the volume session, but there's no rest between the three exercises."

He even wrote out a sample program. What more could you ask for? Usually a little ingenuity is required to tailor the volume recommendations to match your recovery ability, but if you are fairly new to lifting you probably should not be considering this program in the first place. Generally speaking, the lower the reps the higher the number of sets needed to elicit optimal gains, and vice versa. For instance, on the limit and functional hypertrophy days, I would think 10-14 sets per muscle group would suffice, while the second day focuses more on higher reps in the various upper level hypertrophy zones, so less sets are needed to elicit the same protein degredation: 8-11. For the last day a triple-set is being utilized, which drops the rest period to zero and thus an extremely long TUT for one giant set that hits your muscles in a variety of training zones, so even less is needed.

It's all laid out right there in front of you. Christian's stuff is very easy to understand, just peruse the article and some of his past work with a closer eye. Hope this helps, and I wrote this on the fly, so if anyone has anything to correct or add please don't hesitate.


Oh, and do you really think that he would write a program that would fry 99% of trainees central nervous systems? You know the answer to that, but I suppose you want the why. If every one of the three days had you working in the intensity zone, sure...you'd burn out, but there is only one day that really stresses the CNS, and that's the intensity day. The other two days are radically different and give the CNS a break(variety is key, remember Chad's recent article) and stress the metabolic systems to a greater degree, and then that system will get a break on the intensity day for a good cycle of recovery provided that you don't work more on other muscle groups than prescribed.


Hi,thank you VERY much for your long answer-thats really nice from you =)

I got the points.
I am not a newbie on training I am in there about 6 years-so i am pretty critical about programms.

Thank you very much again for the answers but one point:

Its right that because of the variety and the only one intensity day,the cns is not THAT stressed-but the cns gets not only stressed because of the weight but also of failure training.
If chad will see the programm he will be very sceptical about it-don?t you think so?
Chads recomm.are MUCH lower than chris-which doesn?t mean it is no good-but different.

Thank you very much again for the answers-do you think the volume in his sample programm will fit my needs?Sure u can?t know-but so do I!
I reached a plateau for about 2 years now(!!!) and i cannot go any further-so this programm will be intersting for me.

Thank you very much again!


Great reply! I am not sure but i may have asked this question before but do you believe in Verkhoshansky's linked successive system for let's say an American football player? I was told that many in the former USSR disagreed with Dr.V.
Brandon Green


Oh and btw do you disagree with Dr.V's "specialized" exercices?
Brandon Green


What are your goals? What's your height, weight, and bodyfat percentage. The fact that you haven't made progress in two years means something is definitely wrong in your regimen.

Don't worry about your CNS while on this program as long as you follow the recommendations. That is one thing that has been stressed a bit too much on this site.

On failure training: I train every muscle group 3 times in 10 days, which is a relatively high frequency. I do one rest-pause set for almost every muscle group in which I do one set, rest 30 seconds, do another set, rest 30 seconds, and then one last set. I go to failure on all sets. Then , I proceed to do one isometric rep for time with certain exericises. That would scare most people to death, and a lot of people are skeptical at first, as was I, but you realize that the lower volume of training mitigates that effect, so I can go balls to the wall for about 8 weeks before having to take it easy for 2, then back at it again for another 8 weeks fully refreshed.

I also rotate 3 exercises for each bodypart, so I only do one particular exercises once before coming back to it two weeks later to try and beat my previous performance. So variety in exercises and lower volume take care of my CNS. In Christian's program, variety in intensity and exercises and the lowering of volume of other bodyparts help the CNS. Chad's programs vary intensity(rep ranges) and exercises and avoid failure, therefore avoiding CNS burnout; See what I mean? Each has its own built in way to avoid burnout.

On Chad's disapproval of this program. Does it really matter? Chris and Chad agree on a lot of things but have different training methodologies for bodybuilding in general. Both work, that's a fact, but which one works better for YOU is something only you can know through empirical evidence. That's the great dichotomy of T-Nation: wealth of knowledge but no way to figure out which one works best but through time under the bar. Use these programs as guidelines to find what works best for you.


Hi again,
Thank you very much again for your reply-good spoken!
You have helped me out-thank you and suxess!