Basics of Training For Size, Part 2: Full Body Frequency

By John Romaniello

In the first installment of this series, we covered two very different but very effective means of training for mass gain: high rep and low rep. Today, I want to continue with a brief discussion of some other protocols for gaining size.

In that article, the methods were dependent on a high level of volume in a condensed timeframe.  In order to that to work, the frequency is generally low. 

Put another way, we discussed two training methods that fit well into traditional bodybuilding “split” routine. In this model, each day is dedicated to one to three body parts; and so terms like “chest day” arise.

The set up of these methods is such that are volume for each body part is condensed into a single day, but the frequency is low: you get a lot of work on chest one that one day, but only do so once per week.

Split routines work, but, of course, there is more than way to skin a cat, or, in this case, train a bicep.

Today, we’re going to look at training methods that allow for greater frequency: full body workouts.

In the case of full body training, you hit every muscle in every workout (obviously).  Because you’re working more muscle groups, the daily volume is much lower for each group.  Instead of performing two to three exercises of up to five for a single body part (which can total up to 120 reps, as we discussed last time), you will perform one or two sets for every body part, totaling maybe 20-40 reps per workout.

The daily volume is lower, but the weekly volume is similar and sometimes greater.

For many people, the higher frequency leads to greater gains.  Full body workouts are great for someone who can only train a few times per week, as missing one day will be less detrimental. 

I also like full body workouts for beginners; for those without a lot of experience training, the frequent exposure to movement patters will facilitate increases in motor learning and neurological efficiency, which will have a tremendous impact on results.

And so today, we are going to discuss what I consider to be two of the best methods for full body training.

High Intensity Training

HIT for short, is a hot button in the training community. Developed by Arthur Jones in the 1970s, HIT at its core is a system of training each muscle with one set to the point of momentary muscular failure. The workouts were brief, intense, and infrequent. In the 70s, when Arnold and Company were advocating training twice per day, six days per week for nearly two hours at a clip, this wasn’t just controversial—it was nearly heretical.

You see, the fundamental principles of High Intensity Training (HIT) are that exercise should be brief, relatively infrequent, and intense. This was in direct opposition to what was considered standard bodybuilding training as, or what would come to be called “volume” training, as practiced by The Oak.

Not so with HIT: in the High Intensity model, workouts are less than an hour long, and training is only done twice to three times per week.

High Intensity Training uses a system in which exercises are performed with a high level of  “intensity,” which is more exhausting than volume training, and therefore requires less work and more rest, in order to facilitate recovery.

It’s important to note that HIT principles use the word intensity differently than the rest of the training world: in most weight training contexts, “intensity” refers to the amount of weight you’re using relative to your 1-rep max; whereas in the HIT model “intensity” refers to how “hard” an exercises is, as determined by approaching or achieving momentary muscular failure.

HIT itself is based on the theory that training to failure it will stimulate the body to produce an increase in muscular strength and size. Advocates of HIT believe that this method is superior for strength and size building than most other methods which, for example, may stress lower weights with greater volume.

As strength increases, HIT techniques will have the weight/resistance increased progressively where it is thought that it will provide the muscles with adequate overload to stimulate further improvements. In HIT, it is known that there is an inverse relationship between how intensely and how long one can exercise. As a result, high intensity workouts are kept brief.

After High Intensity training, as with any workout, the body requires time to recover and produce the responses stimulated during the workout, so there is more emphasis on rest and recovery in the HIT philosophy than in most other weight training methods.

While many typical HIT programs comprise a single-set per exercise, tri-weekly, full-body workout, many variations exist in specific breakdowns of set and exercise number, workout routines, volume and frequency of training. Further, in HIT, tempo is generally stricter than most other types of training.

This refers to the cadence of a lift, which will be very slow compared to a non-HIT weight training routine; advocates of HIT stress the importance of controlled lifting speeds and strict form, paying special attention to avoid any bouncing or jerking during a set.  Rather, as soon as it becomes impossible to perform a rep in good form, the set is terminated.

I don’t want to turn this into a history lesson, but it’s really important to stress this point: while the idea of short workouts 2-3 times per week may not seem unusual to you, that wasn’t the case in the 70s.  Again, HIT was positioned as the polar opposite to volume training and in many ways these are diametrically opposed theories. 

At the time it was introduced, this wasn’t just “ground-breaking” – it was so radical that it caused a controversy. HIT proponents—who eventually came to be known as “HIT Jedi”—were led by bodybuilder Mike Mentzer, and espoused that their model of training was the only method that was scientifically validated, and therefore everything else was both incorrect and ultimately irrelevant. 

Suffice it to say that both traditional volume training and High Intensity Training each had their share of advocates and detractors. The storm raging around the debate has never really died down, and the lifters (and trainers) of the previous generation tend to have pretty strong opinions that fall one way or the other.

For my part, I like HIT to a degree.

While I there is a certain skeptical streak in mean that instinctively shudders at the dogmatic approach HIT seems to want to inspire in its practitioners, I take a pragmatic approach to things and use whatever tools seem applicable to the job at hand.

It is for this reason I like to use HIT (or modified HIT principles) with clients who can only train once per week. Because you are training to failure on multiple exercises, your recovery is supremely compromised. So, for someone training once per week, I think this is a great option to allow for continued growth. With the exercises performed intensely and in good form, generally speaking there is an allowance for enough stimulation of muscle tissue to allow for growth.

I wouldn’t really recommend this for people who are able to train or want to train more than twice per week. It’s simply too draining.

For a change of pace or someone with time constraints, I think HIT is an excellent option. For more information on HIT, check out www.drdarden.com, the home of Dr. Ellington Darden, author of numerous HIT books.

Hypertrophy-Specific Training

HST is another training program based around full body training programs. Like HIT, Hypertrophy Specific Training incorporates training to failure, but only once every two weeks.

With HST, you pre-test your maximum weight for 5, 10, and 15 repetitions. You then subtract from these, and work up to them over a two-week period. So, for two weeks you are training in a 15-rep program, then two weeks at 10 reps, and then 5 reps.

Although you are going to failure only once every two weeks, you’re working with near-maximal weight the entire duration of the program.

HST differs from HIT philosophically in that HIT maintains the act of going to momentary muscular failure to is necessary to illicit muscular growth; whereas HST asserts that the stimulation of muscle tissue through the use of near-maximal weight is enough.

I include HST mainly because I have used it with great success. Its structure makes it somewhat ungainly for use with clients, but for the average guy trying to pack on mass, I think it is a great program.

One of my favorite things about HST is the inclusion of an off week, for what is called Strategic Deconditioning. The theory behind this is that by taking periods away from the training effect, the return to training will allow for a greater amount of super-compensation to occur. In this case, more muscle growth.

Even though I rarely find myself going back to Hypertrophy Specific Training, I still schedule myself a period of deconditioning every 9-12 weeks. I believe this single change has done more for my growth than nearly any training program I have tried.

If you’re the kind of person who likes a fairly rigid structure and having everything planned out perfectly weeks in advance, HST is a great choice. Check out www.hypertrophy-specific.com for more information.

I’ll Be Back….

The methods discussed in this are similar in some ways, vastly different in others, but both extraordinarily effective if used correctly. Applying each at the right time during your training cycles is a sure fire way to allow for continued growth.

One of the main advantages of full body training is the increased flexibility that comes from performing a single workout multiple times per week—if you miss a session, it’s easy to make it up.

Further, as mentioned previously, these training methods allow for greater frequency, and you’re often working muscle groups three or even four times per week; for many people, this is surest path to growth.

There are others, of course, some of them very advanced. So far, we’ve covered manipulating volume and frequency, but there are many variables that can be adjusted to allow for greater growth.

Come back tomorrow for the Part Three of Basics of Training for Size, in which we’ll share two incredible protocols for gaining size. Definitely meant for more advanced trainees, the next post will bring insights from two of the worlds best strength coaches as well as my own opinions on their usage. Check back!

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John Romaniello is an angel investor, the author of two upcoming books with HarperCollins, and the founder of Roman Fitness Systems, a training and online coaching company based in NYC. Romaniello regularly works with all types of clients, from youth athletes to social media moguls.

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