My most successful muscle building system to date is High Frequency Training (HFT). I spent the better part of 2005 extolling its virtues with some real-world observations. At the beginning of this year I unleashed Bodybuilding's Next Frontier.
No system of mine has accumulated more positive feedback from the muscle building community. I love that system like a hooker loves a guy's midlife crisis.
Since I released BNF, I've compiled even more data that I'm going to pass on to you. You'll build muscle faster than ever with HFT programs, but I have to first take a little time to outline the particulars of HFT.
What is HFT?
My HFT Hollywood soundbite goes like this: it's a high performance bodybuilding system that supercharges your fitness capacity. Specifically, I define HFT as training a body part more than four times per week.
Many people train each body part three times per week, and some train each body part four times per week, but very few take the time and effort to train for five workouts each week. So I consider four times per week to be the point where a whole new philosophy must emerge. That's because most people simply can't recover from five total body sessions each week. Well, that was true before I honed my HFT philosophy.
Okay, so if you train, say, the triceps for five sessions each week, you're in HFT territory. Now the question often surfaces: should the movements be single-joint exercises that primarily stress the triceps (pressdowns), or should the movements be compound movements that stress more than just triceps (dips)? The answer is both.
Movements for HFT
If you're going to train a muscle group for at least five sessions each week, it's imperative that you use as many movement variations as possible. In fact, the greater the difference in movement patterns, the less likely you'll overtrain the motor pattern and/or muscles.
So my first piece of new advice regarding HFT training is that you should alternate between single-joint and compound movements throughout the week. This is only necessary, though, for consecutive days of training. If there's a rest day in between, it's not necessary. For example, a five times per week triceps building plan might look like this:
- Monday: dips
- Tuesday: decline EZ bar extensions
- Wednesday: military press lockouts
- Thursday: off
- Friday: close grip bench presses
- Saturday: incline elbows out extensions
- Sunday: off
You can stay on this plan for three weeks before you choose a new set of movements. The changes don't need to be drastic. You can switch from barbell to dumbbells, dumbbells to barbell, or keep the same "bell" or bar and change your hand position.
For example, move the hands narrower or wider on the barbell, or switch from a pronated hand position to a supinated or neutral hand position. For a movement like the pressdown, you can move your hands narrower or wider, or switch from a pronated hand position to a supinated hand position. The options are extensive so you should have plenty of them, even with minimal equipment.
Reps for HFT
The next step I've developed for those new to HFT is to perform escalating reps on consecutive workout days. So in the above example, you're training the triceps on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Monday is the lowest rep day, Wednesday is the highest rep day, and the reps for Tuesday – as you probably guessed – are between Monday's and Wednesday's.
Let's first look at those three days. How many reps should you choose for Monday? The answer depends on how advanced you are.
Training Age — Reps for First Workout
- 1-2 years — 5
- 2-3 years — 4
- 3+ years — 3
The first question that might come to mind is, "How many reps should I do if I've been training for less than one year?" The answer is zero. If you're new to training, HFT is too advanced for you. Come back to this article after a year of continuous training.
The next consecutive day workout should consist of at least three more reps than the first (Monday) workout. The second workout (Tuesday) should look like this:
Training Age — Reps for Second Workout
- 1-2 years — 8+
- 2-3 years — 7+
- 3+ years — 6+
You'll notice that I put a nifty little "+" sign next to each rep description. That's because it's not required that you do only three more reps, but it's the minimum. If you want to increase your muscular endurance, if you respond well to higher reps, or if you simply want a different change of pace, feel free to increase the reps more than three. In fact, it's the manipulation of the second and third consecutive workouts that allows you to constantly change your parameters.
The third workout, and every workout from here on, follows the same escalating progression (if there are no rest days between the workouts). So the third workout looks like this:
Training Age — Reps for Third Workout
- 1-2 years — 11+
- 2-3 years — 10+
- 3+ years — 9+
Of course, if you decide to increase the reps on your second workout by more than three reps, the third workout should be at least three reps higher than that. For example, if your training age is 2-3 years, and if you decided to go with 8 reps instead of 7 for the second workout, your third workout should be 11 or more reps. Got it?
Now, in the above example, Thursday is an off day. So with an off day, you can start the rep progression over. You could return to say, 3 reps, if your training age is 3+ years, but it's better if you choose another rep scheme. Altering the reps by just one is enough. So you can either go with two reps or four reps. From there, you'll use the same progression of 3+ reps with each consecutive day.
Here's what we have so far for a lifter with 3+ years of training experience:
- Monday: dip for 3 reps
- Tuesday: decline EZ bar extension for 6 reps
- Wednesday: military press lockout for 9 reps
- Thursday: off
- Friday: close grip bench press for 4 reps
- Saturday: incline elbows out extension for 7 reps
- Sunday: off
If this seems complicated, don't get freaked out, as I'll provide a sample program later in the article.
Set-Rep Volume per Workout for HFT
Up to this point I've shown you how to choose movements (alternate between single-joint and compound), and I've shown you how to arrange your reps (augment the reps with each consecutive workout day). Now it's time to look at sets.
The set-rep volume range I prescribe is, once again, based on your training age. I recommend you use the same basic range for all workouts, based on your experience. Here's how it breaks down:
Training Age — Set-Rep Volume per Workout
- 1-2 years — 15-24
- 2-3 years — 18-26
- 3+ years — 24-32
Let's use an example with someone whose training age is 3+ years. For him, each workout should consist of a set-rep volume of 24-32. Whether he chooses a set-rep volume that's closer to 24 or 32 depends on the reps for that workout. The lower the reps, the higher the load. And the higher the load, the lower the set-rep volume should be. In other words, the set-rep volume progresses the same way the reps do: they escalate with each consecutive workout day.
Since Monday is a three reps day, and since three reps is the lowest rep scheme for the week, Monday also has the highest load. So the lowest reps pair with the highest load, and the highest load mandates the lowest set-rep volume. On the same note, the highest rep day pairs with the lowest load, and the lowest load mandates the highest set-rep volume. Here's how it looks:
- Monday: dip for 8x3 (24)
- Tuesday: decline EZ bar extension for 4x6 (24)
- Wednesday: military press lockout for 3x9 (27)
- Thursday: off
- Friday: close grip bench press for 7x4 (28)
- Saturday: incline elbows out extension for 4x7 (28)
- Sunday: off
As you can see from the above example, the set-rep volume progression doesn't perfectly fall within a continuum from 24-32. That's fine. Just keep in mind that the rep example I gave limits how much I can merge up and down the 24-32 range. If I chose, say, 7 and 10 reps for the Tuesday and Wednesday workouts, respectively, I could've chosen 4x7 (28) and 3x10 (30) for a different progression. The point is to show that many different set-rep volume combinations can, and will, work.
The key point is that you should stay on the lower end of the set-rep volume range for the lower rep/higher load workouts; and stay on the higher end of the spectrum for the higher rep/lower load workouts.
Workout Design for HFT
Okay, now we're up to the actual workouts. After all, I'm sure you want to work more than just your triceps. Or maybe you don't want to focus on your triceps at all. That's fine too.
At this point I could merge into a discussion between total body workouts and body part splits. But who wants to rustle up those demons? My advice is to follow these HFT guidelines for the body parts that you want to improve most. If your triceps, chest, and hamstrings are your weakest parts, use these HFT principles to bring them up.
All other body parts should be trained two to three times per week with any of the above parameters. It's best, though, if you limit your total body sessions to the days that have the least amount of sets. So if your biceps, back, and quads are all well developed, train them on Wednesday and Saturday since those days require the fewest sets. This will allow you to perform a total body workout in minimal time.
Speaking of working out in minimal time, you should notice that I pulled a sneaky little trick with my movement choices: I chose compound movements on the days that require the most sets. On Monday, for example, my "triceps" exercise is the dip. Since this is the workout with the highest sets per body part, I chose an efficient triceps movement that also challenges the anterior deltoids and pectorals.
If I chose, say, dumbbell triceps extensions for this highest set day, I would still need to use a deltoid and chest movement (if you're training the total body).
Since I chose a compound movement for the triceps on the highest set day, I recommend you choose compound movements for all your other body parts too. So stick with chins for back/biceps, full squats for quads/hamstrings, and a few more compound movements that hit the other body parts you want to improve.
When you organize the workouts, you should use antagonist movement pairings whenever possible. Use antagonist pairings for every workout of the week, if you can. If you do, you'll be able to manage fatigue much better. By alternating between antagonist movements you'll maintain your strength levels that will allow you to recruit more motor units with each set.
This is made possible by reciprocal innervation: a nervous system organization that forces your antagonist muscles to relax when you're training the agonist (pectoral muscles relax when training the upper back; triceps relax when training the biceps).
Take advantage of reciprocal innervation whenever it's possible. If you do, you'll build more strength while truncating your workouts.
At the very least, alternate between upper and lower body movements. That works very well, too.
Sample HFT Microcycle
Now I'm going to take everything that we've talked about and arrange a weekly plan (microcycle) so you can see how it all works. If you want to follow a pseudo-total body HFT plan with an emphasis on the triceps, here's one way it could look for a person with 3+ years of experience:
Set-Rep Volume: 24-32
Day 1 or Workout 1
- Sets: 8
- Reps: 3
- Load: 5RM or 85% of 1RM (repetition maximum)
- Rest: 45s between pairings (A1, rest 45s, A2, rest 45s, A1, rest 45s, etc)
- A1. Dip
- A2. Back squat
- B1. Military press
- B2. Chin-up
Day 2 or Workout 2
- Sets: 4
- Reps: 6
- Load: 8RM
- Rest: 55s
- A1. Romanian deadlift
- A2. Decline EZ bar extension
- B1. Hammer curl
- B2. Bulgarian split squat
- C1. External rotation
- C2. Reverse crunch
Day 3 or Workout 3
- Sets: 3
- Reps: 9
- Load: 11RM
- Rest: 60s
- A1. Military press lockout
- A2. Lunge
- B1. Calf Raise
- B2. Row
- C1. Leg curl
- C2. Barbell curl
- D1. Ab wheel
- D2. Dumbbell bench press
Day 5 or Workout 4
- Sets: 7
- Reps: 4
- Load: 6RM
- Rest: 45s
- A1. Wide grip pull-up
- A2. Close grip bench press
- B1. Front squat (wide)
- B2. Reverse hyper
Day 6 or Workout 5
- Sets: 4
- Reps: 7
- Load: 9RM
- Rest: 55s
- A1. Good morning
- A2. Incline elbows out extension
- B1. Incline DB bench press
- B2. Neutral grip pull-up
- C1. Seated calf raise
- C2. Reverse crunch
- D1. Reverse curl
- D2. Dumbbell side raise
- Repeat cycle
Twice Daily Sessions
If you want to merge into a HFT plan, and if you have the luxury to train twice each day, you can take those same workouts and arrange them like this:
- AM: Workout 1
- PM: Workout 2 (at least 6 hours after workout 1)
- Workout 3
- AM: Workout 4
- PM: Workout 5 (at least 6 hours after workout 4)
For the vast majority, the above plan will be easier in terms of recovery. If you can make the twice-daily plan work, do it instead of five separate sessions spaced over five days.
Once you're accustomed to five workouts per week, or once you've done the above plan for six weeks, add one more workout (per week) with the same parameters that I outlined in this article. Every six weeks you can add another weekly workout until you reach eight total workouts each week.
It's imperative, however, that you leave at least one full day of recovery each week. So once you merge into seven and eight workouts each week it's necessary to use twice-daily sessions.
Get ready to grow muscle and boost your fitness levels faster than you ever imagined!