Holistic Hypertrophy Revisited: Part 3!

Awhile back I wrote some articles about holistic hypertrophy. Learn more here as I revisit this training method in more detail.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Back a few years ago I wrote two articles on a weight training method that I termed holistic hypertrophy. The basic tenants of the program was that you used a variety of sets and rep protocols for a given exercise in order to ensure that maximum exhaustion of as many fibers as possible occurred during a workout.

Since I have wrote this article I have seen a variety of programs like it and more and more research proving its efficacy as well as the countless individuals who have e-mailed me commenting upon their results. However even though the program was good (even if I do say so myself) there's always room for improvement, considering this I have updated and tweaked the program in order maximise the benefits that you can gain from it.

Quick Refresher

Just so those unfamiliar with the holistic hypertrophy program can gain an insight as to the rationale and benefits of the program I am going to do a quick recap. As stated the protocol for the holistic hypertrophy program involved performing three sets: the first being a low rep explosive set, the next a more stereotypical bodybuilding style set of moderate reps and a controlled rep speed and finally a high rep speed perform slowly so as to accumulate a large time spent under load.

The reasoning for each of these sets was based upon fiber type recruitment and exhaustion times. As shown below a muscle's fibers are recruited in an orderly fashion from the small slow twitch fibers to the intermediary and then the fast twitch fibers as workloads increase or the repetition speed is increased.

Fig 1 - Recruitment & Exhaustion Of Slow & Fast Twitch Fibers.

Not Recruited Recruited Not Exhausted Recruited & Exhausted.
Click To Enlarge.

    A = Single repetition, sub maximal weight.
    B = Non failure, multiple repetitions sub maximal weight (sub maximal effort method).
    C = Failure, multiple repetitions sub maximal weight (repeated effort method).
    D = Single repetition maximal weight (maximal effort method).

It can also be seen in fig 1 that not all the fibers that are recruited are exhausted. The amount of fibers exhausted depends upon the fibers exhaustion time and the amount of time spent under tension. If the time under tension exceeds the fibers exhaustion time then it will be exhausted and therefore there will be a direct metabolic effect to adapt.

As such it can be seen that there is a paradox in that a set with heavy loads will recruit most of the fibers including the fast twitch ones but won't be of sufficient time to exhaust the more fatigue resistant slow fibers. Likewise a low load high rep set probably won't be of sufficient intensity to recruit the fast twitch fibers; either way there's potential growth going untapped.

Differing Kinds Of Hypertrophy

The direct exhaustion and adaptation of a muscle fiber was only one benefit of the program. The second was that you develop both types of hypertrophy which lead to a greater cross sectional area within a muscle. These two types of hypertrophy are termed myofibril hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and both types can be seen from fig 2.

Fig 2 Cross Sectional View Of A Muscle Fiber.
Click To Enlarge.

When a muscle grows it is either because the muscle has added additional myofibrils which are strands of protein within the muscle or due to increased anaerobic energy demands there is an increase in the cellular fluid between the myofibrils.

Heavy strength training tends to develop the amount of myofibrils due to reasons explained later and higher volume training tends to promote sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The holistic hypertrophy program gives you the best of both worlds.

New & Improved - Holistic Hypertrophy V2

As with anything in life experience, new evidence and general passing of time allows for reflection and eventual progression of previous methods, the holistic hypertrophy program is no different. Based upon feedback and my own continuing search for more effective methods I have updated the program.

Heavy Loads & Total Protein Degradation

    The first program asked for the performance of a single set of three reps done explosively with 95% of a three rep max in order to maximally recruit the fast twitch fibers and cause myofibril hypertrophy in those high threshold high fatiguing fibers.

    Whilst I believe the basic tenants of this rationale to be correct in that fast movements and heavy loads recruit and exhaust fast twitch fibers I now believe that the volume of this was far to low for maximal protein synthesis.

    According to one theory the total amount of protein synthesis caused through weight training is directly related to the amount of protein degradation caused during the set. The total amount of degradation that is caused is a resultant of the total weight lifted and the amount of times the weight is lifted.

    Heavy low rep weight training causes the greatest amount of degradation but unfortunately the total amount is limited due to the small number of times the weight is lifted. Stereotypical bodybuilding loads of eight to twelve repetitions causes moderate levels of degradation but because of the slightly higher volume end up causes the greatest amount of total degradation.

    Finally low load/high volume training has little protein degradation per unit, and even though the volume is high the resultant is still smaller than moderate load and volume training - i.e. your three sets of ten styles.

    Considering this information it's obvious that the best results will be to use a heavy weight and perform a large volume with it. Unfortunately you are limited in how many repetitions you can perform with a heavy weight or we would all be performing sets of ten reps with close to our one rep max. As such the answer is to use a heavy load and perform multiple low rep sets in order to try to achieve an overall high degradation to the fast twitch fibers.

    With this in mind I would now recommend changing the single set of three explosive reps with 95% of your three rep max to three sets of two explosive reps with the same load.

Eccentricity Inaction

    The second factor that was missing relates to a significant eccentric load. An eccentric load is usually greater than that of conventional concentric loading during exercise.

    The reason that an eccentric load is important is that firstly heavier weights can be employed as more force is able to be generated during a maximal eccentric contraction as opposed to a concentric contraction.

    As stated above the total amount of weight dictates the total protein degradation and as such a heavy eccentric load will create a greater total net protein synthesis.

    The second benefit of including a heavy eccentric load would be due to eccentric loading preferentially recruiting fast twitch fibers, and it's these fibers which have the greatest capacity for growth.

    Lastly the supramaximal loading imposed through eccentric maximum repetitions will potentiate the nervous system and allow heavier loads to be used during the other subsequent sets. This is because the heavier load has primed the nervous system and allowed maximal rate coding, intramuscular and intermuscular coordination as well as causing a greater level of calcium within the muscle which will all lead to greater force outputs.

    It is vital that this eccentric type of contraction is included as only eccentric contractions will develop significant strength within eccentric movements.

Holistic Hypertrophy V2 In Action

Considering what is noted above the new program will be performed as in Fig 3 after performing thorough warm-up sets as indicated in the old holistic hypertrophy articles.

Fig 3. Sets, Reps & Loading Parameters For A Holistic Hypertrophy Exercise.
Set Load Reps Eccentric Tempo Midpoint Pause Duration Concentric Tempo Rest (seconds)
1 120% 1RM 1 Slow (4-5 seconds) Absent Absent 60
2 95% 3RM 2 Controlled (1-2 seconds) Absent Explosive 90
3 120% 1RM 1 Slow (4-5 seconds) Absent Absent 60
4 95% 3RM 2 Controlled (1-2 seconds) Absent Explosive 90
5 120% 1RM 1 Slow (4-5 seconds) Absent Absent 60
6 95% 3RM 2 Controlled (1-2 seconds) Absent Explosive 60
7 80% 1RM 8 Controlled (2-3 seconds) Short (2 seconds) Controlled (2-3 seconds) 60
8 40-50% 20 Slow (4 seconds) Long (4 seconds) Slow (4 seconds) 120 until next exercise

Like the previous program I still believe that different exercises recruit certain motor units with differing recruitment patterns, as such I would still stick with the original exercise and frequency outlined in the first article which I have reproduced below in Fig 4.

Fig 4 Suggested Exercises & Split For Holistic Hypertrophy Program.
Workout Exercises
Upperbody 1 Bench Press
Bentover Row
Lowerbody 1 Back Squat
Romanian Deadlift
Upperbody 2 Pull-ups
Incline Press
Lowerbody 2 Bent legged deadlift
Front squat

The preferable way of splitting up these workouts would be as seen in Fig 5 working with a two on, one off, two on, two of split so that both upper and lower body gets training twice within the week.

Fig 5 Frequency Over A Typical Week.
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Upper Body 1 Lower Body 2 Off Upper Body 2 Lower Body 1 Off Off

Considering that only one exercise is being performed per session for a given body part, even with the eight sets and high eccentric loading there should still be sufficient recovery to enable the two sessions per week.


This program should allow you to see greater hypertrophy gains than the original holistic hypertrophy program but a nice side effect to the increased volume of high loading parameters means you should get greater strength gains as well. Progress in all avenues of life mean change, for you a progression of the holistic hypertrophy program should mean a change to larger sized clothes to accommodate the extra growth.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


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  3. Nardone, Romano and Scieppati 1989. Selective recruitment of high threshold human motor units during voluntary isotonic lengthening of active muscles. JAP 409, 451-71

  4. Sale 1992. Neural adaptation to strength training. Strength and power in sport. Blackwell science

  5. Foss and Keteyian 2000. Foxs physiological basis for sport and exercise. Lippincott and Williams.

  6. Hortobagyi, T. Barrier, J. Beard D et al 1996. Greater initial adaptations to submaximal muscle lengthening than maximal shortening in humans. Journal applied physiology 81, 1677-1682