Q: I’ve been checking out a lot of the high-intensity-training (HIT) stuff on the Web. Using one all-out intense set per exercise makes a lot of sense. But doing only one exercise per bodypart, as in most HIT programs, does not make sense to me. That’s why I want to try the more abbreviated HIT approach combined with 3D POF [training each muscle in three positions for full-range activation]. Any suggestions?
A: What you’re talking about is a key reason 3D Positions of Flexion evolved. It attacks the full contractibility range of a muscle for maximum fiber recruitment as well as accelerating other anabolic effects in as few sets as possible—efficiency of effort! For the uninitiated, that means training a muscle in its midrange, stretch, and contracted positions for full-range work and total development (we’ll get to the new one-set HIT application in a moment). Here’s a sample 3D triceps workout…
Close-grip bench presses hit the midrange, arms moving perpendicular to the torso
Overhead extensions hit the stretch, arms overhead for maximum muscle elongation
Pushdowns attack the contracted positions, arms down and slightly behind the torso
With those three exercises you train your triceps at three distinct points along the muscle’s full arc of flexion—from arms overhead to arms perpendicular to arms down and back. That prioritizes different heads of the muscle as well as different fibers, although some of the same fibers work at each position.
Nevertheless, each position can involve different fibers and different recruitment patterns for more extreme development. Need scientific validation? Here’s a quote from Designing Resistance Training Programs by Steven J. Fleck, Ph.D., and William J. Kraemer, Ph.D., two of the most respected researchers in the strength-training field:
If the body position is changed, the order of recruitment can also change (Grimby and Hannerz 1977). The order of recruitment can also change for multifunctional muscles from one movement or exercise to another. Recruitment order in the quadriceps for the performance of a knee extension is different from that for a squat. The variation in recruitment order provides some evidence to support the belief that to completely develop a particular muscle it must be exercised with several different movements or exercises.
So, yes, if you’re interested in the fastest, fullest muscle development possible, you should use more than one exercise for each muscle. And the 3D approach makes the most sense from efficiency and precision standpoints.
What about number of sets? Most HIT advocates recommend (some demand) only one work set per exercise. For example, one work set for each of the three triceps exercises above. For that to be effective you must warm up thoroughly so you can generate all-out intensity to kick in enough high-threshold motor units at the end of the set. In other words, you must be able to push through the pain barrier to get at as many fast-twitch growth fibers as possible. A good warmup helps make that happen…
Studies show that a warm muscle contracts up to 20 percent more effectively than a cold muscle. That means concentrated warmup sets are mandatory for HIT to work. How many warmup sets? If you’re trying to trigger maximum growth with only one work set, we recommend two to three progressively heavier warmup sets on the first exercise—the big midrange movement, like close-grip bench presses. You absolutely must push plenty of blood into the muscle for enough neuromuscular activation to allow the target to contract to the max on your one work set. Everything must be as perfect as possible, although sometimes the stars won’t be aligned just right, but that’s out of your control. Okay, enough explanation; let’s lay out a 3D HIT triceps routine…
Midrange: Close-grip bench presses, 1 x 10 (warmup), 1 x 8 (warmup, add weight), 1 x 6 (warmup, add weight), 1 x 9-12 (intense work set)
Stretch: Overhead extensions, 1 x 10 (optional warmup), 1 x 9-12 (intense work set)
Contracted: Pushdowns, 1 x 15-20
As we explain in our e-books, 3D POF is more than just training a muscle through its full range of contractibility; each position has specific anabolic triggers: midrange is for max-force generation; stretch is for additional force production and stretch overload, which can trigger the emergency myotatic reflex response, activating more fibers (and maybe fiber splitting!); and contracted is for continuous tension/occlusion for extreme blood influx after the set (max pump), which develops endurance components like capillary beds and cell mitochondria. Here’s the 3D Maximum Mass Hierarchy that shows those specific—and often dramatic—anabolic/hypertrophic triggers:
Midrange Exercise = Max Force
Stretch Exercise = Full-Stretch Overload
Contracted Exercise = Continuous Tension/Occlusion
If you want a proven POF program with all of the 3D positions for each muscle in place, the Every-Other-Day POF Split in 3D Muscle Building is a good choice). It’s a two-way split with a day of rest after each workout. With either program simply adjust the sets and reps to the HIT recommendations as listed in the above triceps routine. One work set for each exercise should allow lots of recovery energy for new muscle growth!
Keep in mind that with 3D HIT your workouts will be short and extremely effective—but brutal if you generate enough intensity! Speaking of brutal, we also suggest you add X-Rep partials to at least the one work set of the first exercise (midrange). That will ensure that you generate maximum intensity and force at the precise spot where significant fast-twitch fiber activation can occur. (For more on that, The Ultimate Mass Workout e-book is the original X-Rep manual—and the Ultimate Direct/Indirect Mass Workout 2 on pages 69 and 70 in the e-book is an excellent fit for the 3D HIT approach as well.)
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson