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Examining Some Popular Hypertrophy Programs

In this article, I want to look at three of the more popular hypertrophy programs that are out there on the internet. The first is Doggcrapp (or DC) training which is the brainchild of Dante Trudeau (he also runs Trueprotein.com). The second is Bryan Haycock’s Hypertrophy Specific Training or HST.  Finally, of course, I have my own approach to muscle mass gains which I’ll talk about a bit too.

Each program share several fundamental similarities, as all programs that work should.    All are based around the idea of progressive muscular tension overload, for example.  But each also has its own distinct approach to generating hypertrophy.  This reflects the realities of training.  All programs have to find some balance between frequency of training, intensity and volume.

So if you want to use a higher volume of training, either frequency or intensity have to be decreased.  If you want to use a higher frequency, either intensity or volume have to be decreased.  I think you get the idea.   So let’s look briefly at the three programs.

Hypertrophy Specific Training (HST) by Bryan Haycock

The basic HST program entailed training each muscle group three times per week.  The volume per exercise/muscle was relatively low in any given workout.  The program utilized progressive 2 week cycles starting at 12-15 repetitions and working down to 5’s over roughly 8 weeks.   The final week of 5’s was followed by supraximal eccentrics.

During each 2 week phase, the trainee would start submaximally in Workout 1 and add weight at each workout, hopefully hitting a new PR on the 6th workout.    Then they would drop the repetitions and repeat that cycle.  Then they’d drop again and repeat.  After the final workout of eccentrics, the trainee would take 7-10 days completely off from detraining.

Bryan called this “Strategic Deconditioning”, an attempt to essentially “detrain” the body and reverse something called the Repeated Bout Effect (RBE).  The hope was that the muscle would respond to the next training in more of a “newbie” state.  The idea has been resurrected in recent years but it didn’t work then and doesn’t work now.

After the SD phase, the trainee would start over again, presumably working up to a new peak weight on the bar with growth following along.

In a general sense, Bryan’s HST traded intensity and volume for frequency.  Only the final workout of every 2 week cycle was anywhere close to maximum and the per workout volume was relatively low at 2-4 sets per muscle group.  This was compensated by the three times per week frequency of training.

Doggcrapp Training (DC) by Dante Trudell

In contrast to HST which trades intensity for frequency, DC training is all about intensity.  Specifically, DC training is based around relatively low volumes of training per workout but the intensity is through the roof.   In most exercises, DC calls for a rest pause (RP) set.  Here the set is first taken to concentric failure.  Then a brief rest is taken after which 3-4 more reps are done.  Another brief rest is taken with another few repetitions.  Another rest, another few reps.  Depending on the exercise that might be repeated a second time .

Dante’s basic premise was “To generate the greatest growth stimulus with the lowest training volumes.”  The RP sets are usually followed by a loaded stretch, essentially a maximal eccentric repetition where the lifter fights a heavy weight as it pulls them into a deep stretch and there was certainly more to the system including the diet.  Given that intensity each muscle group was only trained once every 5th day or three times every 2 weeks.  There was also an exercise rotation where a lifter would pick three exercises per muscle group and rotate them every workout.  So the same exercise would only get done roughly every 2 weeks.

The key to DC training was getting the lifter to “beat the logbook”.  That is, the goal was to make an improvement at every workout, to either do more repetitions or use a heavier weight. Basically, he was forcing lifters to focus on progressive tension overload, the key to muscle growth. 

As he so simply put it “Growth occurs when you get stronger in moderate repetitions ranges.”  So if you take your best bench press from 185X8 reps to 225X8 reps you’ll grow.

DC training cycle ran on a 2 week cruise, 6 week blast rotation.  For the first 2 weeks, the trainee only went to the point of failure on each exercise. For the next 6 they would perform the RP sets and attempt to beat the logbook. Then they could drop back into a cruise and then go again.

In an overall sense, DC training trades frequency and volume for intensity.  The intensity of every set is near maximal but this necessitates a relatively low per workout volume along with a reduced training frequency of once every 5th day per muscle group. I’d note that while many thrive on DC training, an equal number tend to burn out with the constant training to failure.

The Generic Bulking Routine (GBR) by Lyle McDonald

I wrote up the GBR over a decade and a half ago and still stand by it in its most general form.   Like DC training it runs on an 8 week cycle consisting of 2 submaximal runup weeks followed by 6 weeks of trying to add weight to the bar as consistently as possible.     After each 8 week cycle, the trainee drops the weight again and starts over, trying to reach a new peak during the next cycle.

Where it differs is that I use a moderate per workout volume with roughly 6-8 sets or 40-70 repetitions per muscle group.   Workouts consist of both tension (sets of 6-8) and fatigue (sets of 12-15) focused sets.  Sets are meant to be stopped 1-2 reps short of failure although some sets will end up at failure as fatigue accumulates.

In the majority of cases I recommend people train a muscle group twice weekly using some sort of Tw0-way split routine.  My go-to is an Upper/Lower split but there are other workable options.  For those with poorer recovery, doing each workout every 5th day is also acceptable.

Basically my GBR strikes the middle ground between HST and DC training in all aspects.  I split the middle on frequency and intensity and use a slightly higher volume per workout than either.    The focus is still on progressive tension overload over time, just as in the other two systems.  The ideal is to reach a higher peak weight on the bar with each cycle.  Since this occurs in a moderate repetition range, growth will follow.

Which Hypertrophy Program is Better?

So, you ask, which program is better?    Or perhaps, is one better than the other?  In the long-term I doubt it.  Over 2 years of using any of the three programs if a trainee continued to focus on progressive tension overload and ate sufficiently to fuel muscle growth, I suspect they’d end up in about the same spot.  Whether they get to 275X8 in the bench with HST, DC or the GBR, their chest will be equally big.

Beyond that I’d offer that choice of this, or any program, would then depend on factors such as psychology and individual recovery.

Psychology

Some trainees are not happy unless they feel absolutely exhausted after every workout.  That person would hate HST since only one workout out of every 6 is maximal.  They might tolerate my GBR since it’s pretty heavy most of the time.  But they would probably LOVE DC training.  It’s all failure or past failure all the time.

In contrast, some people prefer training a given lift or muscle more frequently.  For them, DC with it’s once every 5th day frequency and exercise rotation would be a poor choice.  My GBR would allow a given lift to  be trained twice weekly but they might prefer HST more.  From memory, one of Bryan’s modifications allowed for training 6 days/week at a very low volume.     I don’t think that much of high frequency training but it was an option at one point.

For people who prefer volume, or just to be in the gym longer for some reason, my GBR might be the best choice.  Relatively speaking, the workouts are longer than for DC or HST so that’s a consideration.

Individual Recovery

There is also the issue of individual recovery.  As I said above, DC training tends to work well when it works but badly when it doesn’t.  The intensity can burn some people out and they just can’t recover from it.  My GBR tends to be right in the middle in this regard.  The twice weekly frequency might overload some older trainees but since few sets are to true failure, it’s usually tolerable.  Someone who really didn’t recover well from near limit training might do best with something like HST in this regard.  With only one truly maximal workout every 2 weeks, recovery is unlikely to be overloaded.

Other Issues

And there are assuredly other considerations.  Someone who trains in their garage at home might not have the ability to rotate three movements per muscle group as in DC training and either HST or my GBR would be a better choice.  HST’s eccentric cycle was always problematic since you needed training partners to do it and that’s not always an option.

Once again, all three programs share the key fundamentals that stimulate muscle growth in terms of volume, intensity, frequency and progression.  Over a long enough time, I consider it unlikely that one would generate vastly superior results to another.  More importantly is picking the program (or another program that fits the same guidelines) that the trainee can and will do consistently.

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