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muscled guy curlingSupercharging H.I.T.
by: James Chan, NSCA-CPT

When it comes to program design for hypertrophy, there’s a wide range with regard to sets and reps. After all, you’re playing with numbers, and well, there’s an infinite number of numbers to play with. On the high end there are the high volume workouts: German Volume training, muscle spinning, etc. On the low end are the 2 set programs. These programs require a max of 2 sets for a given variable. Two sets per muscle group, 2 sets per rep range, or 2 sets per exercise. The most famous of the low volume programs, of course, is High Intensity Training (HIT). There are many followers of the 2 set design, each with their own variations on the theme. Ian King prescribes 2 sets per rep range in his programs, Hypertrophy Specific Training (HST) advocates 2 sets per exercise as does Steve Holman’s Positions of Flexion (POF) program.


As a trainer, I usually find set tolerance to be an individual thing. Two set programs are great for:

  1. Beginners – Newbies respond to any stimulus. The number of sets is not as important as the number of reps (10 to 12) and frequency of training (3 times a week).
  2. The Elderly – The older lifter has diminished recovery abilities, so low volume is more appropriate for this age group.
  3. Decompression Programs – Two set programs work well as a strategic deconditioning program that follows a high volume, high density program.
  4. Individuals who have really crappy neural endurance – Some lifters have no strength endurance, no matter what stage they are in their training history.
  5. Busy schedules – If you can train 3 days a week, but no more, then this type of program will give you the minimal amount of volume (2 sets) needed for size and strength.

Whether or not you fall into the above categories, 2 set programs can be great workouts. Even if you’re a high volume junkie, you should incorporate 2 set programs every so often into your macrocycle. There are things, however, that you’ll need to do to supercharge your 2 set program beyond the HIT paradigm. 1) Use primarily compound movements. Think the power lifts and then some. So deadlifts, bench press, squats, pullups, and so on. If you only do 2 sets per exercise, then you have to choose the exercises with the biggest bang for your buck. 2) Cycle your reps. Why perform 8-12 reps every workout? That’s like hitting the same note over and over and calling it a song. If you are a newbie, then you can stay at a rep range for a few weeks and change it up every 3-4 weeks. Over time, however, your body will respond better to smaller, compressed cycles of reps. The more years you put into training, the shorter the cycles. So while you may progress by changing your reps from week to week, you will eventually need to change your rep protocols from day to day. This will be particularly true with 2 set programs, since there is not enough volume to cover various rep ranges. 3) Use set extenders. If you only get 2 sets per exercise, then you might as well pack in as much intensity as you can in those exercises. I like to use my only little variation called 10-5-5. Do 10 reps, and then rest for 10 seconds. Crank out another 5 reps, then rest for 10 seconds, and finally crank out another 5 reps. Instead of 10 reps, you’ve now done 20. Whether or not your reps coincide with this particular breakdown of 10-5-5 does not matter. What matters is that you keep cranking out reps until you reach 20 total reps. 4) Use multiple exercises per muscle group. For muscular hypertrophy, your body loves different angles of movement. Two set programs require 2 set maxes per exercise, but you can certainly do more than one exercise per muscle group. As a general rule: the smaller the muscle group, the greater the number of sets. Two sets of 20 rep breathing squats will take a lot out of you and hit your thighs (and your lungs) hard. If you went balls to the walls, then 2 sets for the thighs would be enough. Your arms, however, can handle numerous sets. So in a 2 set program you would need 2-3 exercises for the biceps and 2-3 for the triceps. Charles Poliquin put it best. To paraphrase the grandmaster: think of muscles as cars. Big powerful cars have more power, but crappy mileage, whereas small economy cars don’t have power, but can run on a tank of gas for much longer. Large muscles generate a lot of force, but take a lot out of you. Smaller muscles don’t generate as much force, but have good “gas mileage.” 5) Use a high frequency program. Because the volume is so low (2 sets), each body part needs to be trained directly or indirectly at least 3 times per week. What you’re doing is spreading the volume thinly across a larger time frame. To accomplish this, do the following: 6) Use a whole body routine. The low volume from 2 set programs allows you to cram in a whole body workout. This, in turn, allows you to have a higher frequency of training which is optimal for hypertrophy and strength: 3 days a week.

The Supercharged H.I.T. Program

Here’s a program that would make the late Mike Mentzer proud. Either that or he’d rise from the grave and lambaste me for being for an over trained imbecile who should reduce his training to every other month and read “Atlas Shrugged” to kill the time in between workouts.

Density: Weeks 1 and 2
Workout #1 A) Bench press: 2 omni-sets*, 90 seconds rest *With a bench press omni-set, perform 6-8 reps of Gironda neck presses, then rack the weight for 10 seconds. Take the weight again and perform a bench press lowered to the nipple line. Rack the weight for 10 seconds, then perform close grip presses. B) Pec deck: 2 sets, 10-12 reps + 3 negatives at higher weight, 90 seconds rest C) Pull-ups: 2 sets, as many reps as possible (AMRAP), 90 seconds rest D1) Dumbbell pullovers: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, no rest D2) Stiff-arm pulldowns: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, 90 seconds rest E) Breathing squats: 2 sets, 20 reps, 90 seconds rest F) Lying leg curls: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, 90 seconds rest G) Upright rows: 2 extended sets of 10-5-5 reps, 90 seconds rest H1) Zottman curls: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, no rest H2) Lying dumbbell curls: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, 90 seconds rest I) Lying dumbbell extensions: 2 extended sets of 5-5-5 reps, 90 seconds rest J) Standing machine calf raises: 2 series of descending sets (1 initial set and 4 drop sets), 10-12 reps each drop, 90 seconds rest between each series Workout #2 A1) Front squats: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, no rest A2) Sissy squats: 2 sets, AMRAP, 90 seconds rest B) Leg extensions: 2 series of descending sets (1 initial set and 4 drop sets), 10-12 reps each drop, 90 seconds rest between each series C) Seated leg curls: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 90 seconds rest D) Romanian deadlifts: 2 sets, 10-12 reps, 90 seconds rest E) Incline press: 2 sets, 10-12 reps, 90 seconds rest F) Seated cable rows: 2 sets, 10-12 reps, 90 seconds rest G) Bent over dumbbell laterals: 2 sets, 10-12 reps, 90 seconds rest H1) Incline hammer curls: 2 sets, 5-7 reps, no rest H2) Spider curls: 2 sets, 5-7 reps, 90 seconds rest I) Close grip half press in power rack: 2 extended sets of 10-5-5 reps, 90 seconds rest J) Seated calf raises: 2 extended sets of 10-5-5 reps, 90 seconds rest
Workout #3 A) Blitzkrieg Triple Dumbbell Press: 2 sets, 6-8 reps each drop, 90 seconds rest between each series B) Close grip pulldowns: 2 descending sets, 6-8 reps each drop, 90 seconds rest between each series C) Barbell Hack squats: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, 90 seconds D) Standing leg curls: 2 sets, 3-5 reps, 90 seconds E) Dumbbell laterals: 2 extended sets of 10-5-5, 90 seconds F) Reverse grip EZ-bar curls: 2 sets, 5-7 reps, 90 seconds G) Body drag cable curls with lat bar: 2 descending sets, 6-8 reps each drop, 90 seconds rest between each series H) Decline dumbbell extensions: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 90 seconds I) Elbows out pressdowns (a.k.a. cheat pressdowns): 2 descending sets, 6-8 reps each drop, 90 seconds rest between each series J) Leg press calf raises: 2 extended sets of 10-5-5, 90 seconds rest between each series
Decompression: Weeks 4 and 5
Workout #1 A) 20° DB press: 2 sets, 8-10 reps, 2 minutes rest B) Close grip pulldowns: 2 sets, 8-10 reps, 2 minutes rest C) Deadlifts: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 3 minutes rest D) Seated leg curls: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 3 minutes rest E) Seated calf raises: 2 sets, 10-12 reps, 2 minutes rest F) Lean away laterals: 2 sets, 10-12 reps, 2 minutes rest G) Zottman curls: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 2 minutes rest H) Decline extensions w/ EZ-bar: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 2 minutes rest Workout #2 A) Front squats: 2 sets, 5-7 reps, 3 minutes rest B) Good mornings: 2 sets, 5-7 reps, 3 minutes rest C) Incline press: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, 2 minutes rest D) Seated rows: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, 2 minutes rest E) Leg press calf raises: 2 sets, 8-10 reps, 2 minutes rest F) Bent over laterals: 2 sets, 8-10 reps, 2 minutes rest G) Incline curls: 2 sets, 5-7 reps, 2 minutes rest H) Military press (partials from head to lockout): 2 sets, 5-7 reps, 2 minutes rest
Workout #3 A) Bench press: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 2 minutes rest B) Pull-ups: 2 sets, AMRAP, 3 minutes rest C) Back squats: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 3 minutes rest D) Lying leg curls: 2 sets, 3-5 reps, 3 minutes rest E) Standing machine calf raises: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, 2 minutes rest F) Wide grip upright barbell rows: 2 sets, 6-8 reps, 2 minutes rest G) Standing dumbbell curls: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 2 minutes rest H) Close grip barbell press: 2 sets, 4-6 reps, 2 minutes rest

Following 2 set programs exclusively isn’t going to transform you into Dorian Yates, but they can certainly be a much needed change for the high volume junkie. Give 2 set programs a try. Just don’t turn to the dark side and become a H.I.T. Jedi.

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