Bryan Haycock has been quietly making waves in the bodybuilding community for over 23 years. He’s a physiologist who’s worked as a writer, editor, and as a consultant for the sports supplement industry. He’s built a reputation on applying hard science to all aspects of bodybuilding.
Recently, there’s been a buzz about Bryan’s new hypertrophy training program, HST. We tracked Bryan down to talk to him about his new program plus a few other things.
Testosterone: Bryan, you come from a pretty diverse educational background. Describe that to us please.
Bryan Haycock: I entered college in 1990 and began my coursework primarily in psychology. Two years later, I considered going to medical school so I added pre-med to my major. Two years after that I added exercise and sport science to the list. I finished my pre-med undergrad work, but finding myself pretty unsatisfied with the pre-med scene I decided to enter graduate school and get a Masters in Exercise Physiology. All the while I continued to take psychology and philosophy classes for my own interests. Finally in 2000 I graduated with a Bachelors in Clinical Psychology and Exercise and Sport Science, and a Masters in Exercise Phys, with a minor in Nutrition.
T: Wow, that’s boatload of degrees!
BH: I’ve got to add something here, though, Chris. What a person actually gets out of their education, no matter what credentials they’re awarded with in the end, depends entirely on the individual. Passion and personal dedication determine what you actually learn in school, not grades or degrees. I know lots of people who are prolific in science and exercise physiology and they don’t have any formal degrees. They’ve simply taken it upon themselves to read the publicly available research and study it for themselves.
T: Very true. Now, for those who don’t know you, tell us how you’ve been involved in bodybuilding and supplements over the years.
BH: I’ve always had a passion for bodybuilding. I got my first weight set when I was eight years old and I’ve never stopped lifting.
T: Age eight? I think I picked up a really heavy Shogun Warrior toy at age eight, but that’s about it. Did you reach a point where you competed, like at twelve or something?
BH: When I turned fifteen I entered my first contest, but I didn’t compete again for another five or six years. The stage didn’t really do much for me so I cut my competitive career pretty short. I still lifted like a competitive bodybuilder, though, and worked at various gyms as a trainer. I got the usual certifications such as CSCS to get better pay.
Later, thanks to my good friend Millard Baker, I began writing for various bodybuilding mags. From this arose the opportunity to work for a consulting firm called Supplement Facts. My job was to provide scientific substantiation (from the medical journals) for supplement companys’ claims about their supplements. Many times there simply wasn’t any, so I’d kindly suggest to them that they drop the claim. The FDA has certain regulations on what are called “structure/function claims” that any supplement company must adhere to whenever they make claims about their products. Over time I learned more than anyone should ever know about herbs and their traditional uses! [laughing]
I’ve continued to write for bodybuilding mags and act as a consultant for other private companies until most recently, when I’ve devoted all my time to helping people with HST through the Hypertrophy-Specific website.
T: In the last ten years or so, it seems like there’s been a shift in bodybuilding. In the “old days” guys learned from other lifters and by trial and error. Then the strength coaches came into the picture armed with flashy studies and unique training programs. But is that what bodybuilders need? I mean, we just want to get big and muscular, so do we need to be following these coaches who work chiefly with gifted athletes on their strength and performance?
BH: You know, that’s a great question. I’ll admit that I’m biased in favor of “good” science. Watching what others do who’ve achieved what you want to achieve is a logical first step. However, it has some glaring weaknesses. After all, how many of us only see what they do in the gym or read about what they do in the magazines? There aren’t many of us who are invited into their homes to see what they do when they aren’t in the gym to help them achieve their freakish size. I’ve seen many, many people do exactly what they see the big guys do in the gym, yet to their surprise they never seem to achieve the same results.
T: Good point. So what about these athletic performance coaches writing about bodybuilding?
BH: If you think about it, this couldn’t possibly be the ideal way to learn about muscle hypertrophy (growth). There’s a principle in exercise physiology called S.A.I.D. It stands for Specific Adaptation to Implied Demands. This principle implies that the body will respond in a remarkably specific way to whatever you demand of it. If you challenge its strength, it’ll grow stronger. If you challenge its endurance, it’ll increase its endurance. Likewise, if you challenge its ability to withstand strain [microtrauma], it grows bigger and more resistant to strain. All adaptation is specific and predictable.
The whole idea of claiming to train pro athletes is, as you said, not indicative of a person’s expertise. In fact, all it really indicates is who your friends are. Most all people who train high-profile people are there because they were a friend of a friend of the celebrity or pro-athlete. I’m not saying they don’t know what they’re doing, either; I’m just agreeing that it doesn’t mean they have all the answers just because they work with high profile people.
T: Do you think that steroid usage screwed up what we know about pure hypertrophy training? I mean, when a certain type of training or dieting stalled out, guys would just take steroids. Maybe without the drugs they would’ve just found a better way to train. Some of these bodybuilders are on so much gear it probably doesn’t matter how they train because they’ll still get results. Now we have natural, genetically average guys following the training advice of drugged up genetic mutants and there’s a lot of frustration out there. What’s your opinion on all this?
BH: Boy, where do I start?! I’ll try to make this brief but believe me, I have strong feelings about how the education of a bodybuilder got so screwed up along the way. About forty years ago, when the powers that be decided they’d try to make money from bodybuilding, truth took second seat to the pursuit of wealth. In essence, they found that they could use kids’ dreams of looking like a super hero to swindle them out of their money. “If you buy this, you’ll look like this guy.” The fact that it took hormones to look like the guy in the ad was kept in the strictest confidence. They’d even go so far as to vilify people caught using steroids to maintain the sparkling image of the idols in the magazine ads. “Pot, let me introduce you to kettle.”
The powers that be also found out quickly that the bigger the muscles, the more influence the ads had on kids. So the idols in the ads just got bigger and bigger. Over time, there arose a culture of gross misrepresentation and subsequent misinformation in bodybuilding. Using professional bodybuilders to sell supplements and weight equipment is a slippery slope.
Sure, it’s inspiring to see your idol in the magazine pages, and it’s also very persuasive to hear him or her say that this product or that allowed them to achieve their success. But what happens when people begin to buy the products and the equipment, yet fail to achieve the results promised them by the ads with their idol so prominently placed with the product? I’ll tell you. Any one of three things must happen. You either lose the customer because they become disenchanted; you must switch the product presented with the idol; and/or you must explain it away in their method of training (i.e. blame the user). This is where “intensity” came in. If you didn’t grow like the ad promised, you simply weren’t “man enough” to train with the intensity of the pros.
It wasn’t until Dan Duchaine and a friend came out with the Underground Steroid Handbook that people began to realize that pro-bodybuilders look the way they do because they use steroids… lots and lots of steroids. It had nothing to do with supplements or training. When Bill Philips introduced Muscle Media 2000 this realization hit the mainstream.
T: Yep, I think you nailed it. I’m asking questions like that because your program, HST or Hypertrophy-Specific Training, seems to be a return to real, bullshit-free hypertrophy training. Tell us how it all started.
BH: It all started out of frustration, really. I’d been lifting naturally for about twelve years and found myself unable to grow further. It was obvious that the only way to get bigger was to get stronger, but I couldn’t get stronger until I got bigger. It was a catch-22. So I began to study all of the methods of traditional training: sets, reps, rest, exercises, diet, periodization, etc.
After I’d put it all into a single picture, I realized that the research we were using to build muscle was never intended to explain muscle growth at all. We as bodybuilders had borrowed it from European strength researchers and coaches and twisted it to conform to our needs. Basically, we interpreted it to say what we wanted it to say. Even worse, we were using outdated research looking at stress and aerobic metabolism to try to grow bigger muscles.
T: Interesting. Give us an example.
BH: One example is the idea of “super compensation. This idea, first described in the mid-50s by a Russian scientist named Yakovlev, was used to explain glycogen replenishment in the liver. It had nothing to do with muscle hypertrophy. The whole concept is just a gross misunderstanding and misapplication of the research and human physiology. Nevertheless, it became the foundation for traditional bodybuilding routines.
About this same time, research looking into the actual mechanisms of muscle growth began to appear. As I compared the research used to justify the training methods of the day, I realized that those studies didn’t say anything about how a muscle grew. They only explained how the body stores glycogen, or if it was actual exercise research, it was about how to train a track athlete for the competitive season. Like I said before, they were simply misapplying research from another field.
Anyway, to make a long story short, after comparing all the research, both good and bad, with current methods of training, obvious holes and unnecessary elements in traditional training beliefs became apparent.
T: So, HST is your answer or “fix” to these problems?
BH: Well, it’s actually just a logical conclusion from the available information. The only way to discredit HST is to discredit the studies that lead to it. People of course will do this and I might have nothing to say. I believe in what we’ve observed about muscle cells; others will choose not to. At that point it really isn’t an argument about HST’s validity; it’s an argument about the validity of science and technology.
T: Bryan, if you could, give us a brief rundown of what HST is.
BH: HST is a method of “loading,” as opposed to simply “exercising” a muscle in order to make it grow larger. This is done without regard to muscle performance, although most people inevitably get much stronger. Each muscle group is trained at least every 48 hours. The easiest way to do that is to do full-body workouts, three times per week. The 48 hour frequency is based on the time course of changes in muscle-protein synthesis after a workout.
The weight is progressively increased each time you train a given muscle group. This is possible because you don’t start using 100% of your max. You work up to it over a two-week period. As the load increases, the reps will drop to accommodate the increasingly heavier weight, until you’re eventually using negatives.
The volume (number of sets and exercises) is kept low in order to accommodate the frequency of training. The payoff (i.e. growth) from more frequent training outweighs the payoff from increasing volume. Then there’s a week or so of strategic deconditioning. This is done to deal with what’s called the “rapid training effect” or sometimes called the “repeated bout effect.” Strategic deconditioning is a way of making the muscle more sensitive to the growth stimulus of training, making the muscle more like when you first began training.
Probably the most important elements or principles of HST are progressive load, training frequency tuned to take advantage of post-workout protein synthesis rates, and strategic deconditioning.
T: Frequent training and negatives – sounds like those would lead to overtraining. How does HST get around that? The low volume?
BH: Exactly. Overtraining is a neurological and psychological issue. So, in order to minimize the stress on the CNS, HST tries to minimize “exhaustion.” After all, the point of HST is not to increase endurance; it’s about getting as big as you can from your efforts in the gym.
T: What kind of feedback are you getting from those who’ve tried it?
BH: The feedback is very positive from all kinds of people. But this shouldn’t surprise anybody if HST is actually based on how muscle cells grow, and not on Bryan Haycock’s imagination. I didn’t concoct HST. HST is simply an outgrowth of the peer-reviewed research on muscle cells.
T: Would HST work for natural and “enhanced” trainees?
BH: Yes, muscle is muscle. The principles of mechanically induced muscle hypertrophy don’t change from person to person or from natural to “enhanced.” There are some modifications, though.
It appears that HST’s effects on strength are greatly enhanced by steroids. So you end up with guys using insanely heavy weights. This just isn’t advisable or necessary. The steroids more than make up for any reduction in load taken for the sake of safety. Guys cycling androgens generally cut out the negatives and sometimes the 5’s [reps] and stick with 8’s and 10’s. The androgens really overcome the need to lift heavy as well as strategic deconditioning. Progressive load and adequate frequency are most important, not to mention diet, but that’s a whole other story.
Guys really need to understand what all the anabolic drugs do. The drugs take over the nuclear and protein synthetic machinery of the cell and simply make it start growing and dividing. The more you take, and the more protein you eat, the bigger you’ll generally get. Training is necessary, but it’s really just used to “coax” the growth, not cause it.
Natural guys don’t have the luxury of growing in spite of their training. They’re forced to rely on the weight itself to get the muscle to grow. That’s why most of the effort is centered around reps of five and even negatives. Without the constant heavy loading of the muscle, it just won’t grow.
T: What’s the advantage of whole-body workouts? Those are really out of style these days, so to speak.
BH: The advantage doesn’t lie in the fact that you’re training your whole body all at once. The important thing is to be able to train each muscle group every 48 hours. This generally means three evenly spaced sessions per week. Training each muscle group every 48 hours necessitates training more muscle groups at a time, or going back to the gym more often. Either way works.
T: Some experts have said that whole-body workouts are only for beginners.
BH: This argument is totally unfounded, and is based purely on tradition and the aforementioned misunderstanding and misapplication of inappropriate science.
T: Okay. Given the low volume, some are going to think of HIT when they see this program. What makes it different from HIT? What do you think of HIT overall?
BH: I used HIT-type training principles before I began to analyze muscle-cell research. It should be understood that HIT and Heavy Duty are not based on muscle-cell physiology. HIT and HD are actually based on Selye’s GAS (General Adaptation Syndrome) more than anything. Jones and Mentzer loved to talk about philosophy and logic, but seldom ever mentioned a sarcolemma, MAPk, myogenic stem cells, or even such obvious things as intracellular IGF-1. The reasons they chose to ignore such basic principles of muscle cell physiology remain with them.
HST differs methodologically from HIT primarily in the fact that HIT uses extremely infrequent workouts and requires that the lifter always use 100% RM weight loads regardless of the condition of the muscle. Conversely, HST incorporates a training frequency based on the time course of elevated protein synthesis after training, and weight loads sufficient to induce hypertrophy based on the muscle’s current condition. These types of things can’t be determined without acknowledging how muscle cells respond to loading, so HIT and HD couldn’t be expected to incorporate these methods.
My only other problem with HIT is its blind devotion to “intensity.” Intensity as described by Jones, is based on perceived effort, and doesn’t necessarily measure a set’s ability to stimulate growth of the tissue itself. The authors of HIT and HIT-type routines believed fundamentally in GAS, supercompensation, and the intensity myth perpetuated by popular muscle magazines in the 80’s. All three of these principles are, at best, only indirectly related to muscle growth.
T: One of the things that shocked me about HST is you say to train through soreness. Explain that.
BH: First let me qualify that statement. A person should never train a muscle if there’s a risk of injury or they simply feel that it needs more time to recuperate. We all need to use common sense and our own best judgment each and every time we go into the gym or attempt a lift.
Now, my comments about training a muscle while sore come from research showing that muscle tissue is designed to recover from microtrauma even while it’s still being traumatized. This is a fundamentally foreign idea to most, if not all, bodybuilders. Heresy! they cry.
Without going into detail, animal studies of overload-induced muscle growth use models that don’t remove the load for anywhere from one week to eight weeks. Later studies on humans demonstrated that after eccentric-exercise induced muscle damage, a second workout of eccentric reps didn’t hinder the recovery from the first workout.
Now, considering that training only elevates protein synthesis for about 36 hours, and muscle is able to be trained again within 48 hours without negatively effecting recovery, training a muscle every 48 hours becomes a viable and desirable method to maximize the rate of muscle growth. Of course, sometimes some residual soreness will occasionally still be present after the previous workout. From what we now know about how muscles recover, having to train a muscle while still sore from the previous workout doesn’t seem so outlandish. It actually makes sense.
T: So, you think most guys trying to gain muscle don’t train muscle groups often enough? Most seem to train chest, for example, once every five to seven days.
BH: Well, it’s not just a matter of not training often enough; they train with way too high volume per workout. They feel that if they can just completely exhaust the muscle (and themselves), it’s gotta grow. Unfortunately, the high volume creates such a drain on their CNS that they can’t train any sooner than a week or so later. Then the muscle begins to grow for about two days after their workout, but returns to normal and stays that way for the next three to four days before they train again. They never seem to get ahead and they never seem to make any progress.
The whole point of training a muscle more frequently than say, once per week, is to take advantage of the anabolic effects of resistance exercise. The anabolic effects, if we consider that to mean elevated rates of protein synthesis in the muscle, only lasts about a day and a half. Then it stops and everything is back to normal. If you go on to wait an entire week before training again, you simply won’t grow as fast as you could. Training too infrequently is like taking two steps forward and one step back.
T: What about training to failure? Does HST use failure?
BH: Clearly, if you’re going to continually increase the weight, you’re eventually going to be training at failure or your strength limit.
With HST you’re probably going to train to failure at least once every two weeks. Generally you’d go from between 75 to 100% of your max in two week cycles. Then at the end, when you’ve ramped your weights as high as they’ll go, you’ll be doing sets to failure each workout. How many workouts you’ll train to failure depends on whether you’re still making progress or not.
Keep in mind that “failure” is an indicator of central fatigue, not muscle strain. If you want to increase your resistance to fatigue, train to failure all the time. If you’re only interested in effectively straining the muscle so that it’ll get bigger, just focus on that and try to get past feeling like every set has to be a test of your manhood.
All this takes us back to the misguided faith in intensity. Intensity, also known as “training to failure,” is simply the scapegoat of the drug lie we talked about earlier. It’s a decoy to get people’s attention away from the real reason they don’t look like a pro bodybuilder no matter how hard they work in the gym.
T: Let’s talk more about the importance of strategic deconditioning within HST training. Give us some more info on that.
BH: The muscle will adapt in two ways whenever you lift to get it to grow. It’ll increase in size – what we want – and it’ll also increase its resistance to the growth stimulus – what we don’t want. So in essence, it’ll act on the message to grow, but then it’ll also reduce the effectiveness of future messages to grow. We see this often in physiological systems of the body. This one happens to be a structural change/resistance, rather than a receptor or enzymatic change as seen in other systems like beta-receptors.
So when you load a muscle you cause what’s called the “rapid training effect” or the “repeated-bout effect,” two names for the same thing. Either name you choose, it spells plateau. What happens is that there’s a rapid growth of connective tissue that reduces the strain transferred to the delicate muscle cells. That strain is required, if you’re natural anyway, to activate the cellular pathways that lead to hypertrophy.
The only way to get it to grow, once it’s already grown and become resistant to future growth, is to either continue to increase the strength of the stimulus by lifting heavier weight, or try to get the muscle to become more sensitive to the previous stimulus (i.e. the same weight you used before). This is where strategic deconditioning comes in.
The idea of strategic deconditioning is to remove the training stimulus temporarily so that the muscle will actually decondition and become more vulnerable to microtrauma. The trick is to stop lifting long enough to sensitize the muscle, but not so long as to lose too much hard earned muscle.
Many people have stumbled onto this principle accidentally when they’ve been forced to take a layoff for whatever reason. When they get back into the gym they experience rapid growth and generally new levels of muscularity. This is because the layoff made their muscle sensitive to the stimulus of lifting, but this time they started with more muscle than before because of their previous training. I guess you could call that “haphazard deconditioning.” [laughing]
T: Okay, I’m intrigued. Would you consider writing an article for Testosterone readers and giving them a basic HST program to follow?
BH: I’d love to, Chris.
Look for a sample HST program here at T-mag soon.