While working with Pavel Tsatsouline on endurance protocols (e.g., Hybrid Power Conditioning Program, StrongFirst for Crossfit, HIRT), we discovered some interesting side effects of some of the high-intensity repeat (HIRT) protocols.
The right amount of acid buildup led to increases in hypertrophy and fat loss, while also increasing endurance. In this article, I will lay out some of the secrets to building functional muscle. The type of muscle that is like the lean striated muscle of leopards not plumped up chicken breasts filled with water.
In the article HIIT versus HIRT, I laid out reasons to avoid doing too much work in the glycolytic (the burn) system. The focus was on building up the alactic (quick energy system) and aerobic (long and slow) systems, so the glycolytic system is not needed as much. Verkhoshansky found that Soviet sprinters could make greater gains with this antiglycolytic training.
Imagine doing a high-intensity workout without as much burn because your aerobic system is more efficient. These types of programs take patience and perseverance as you have to hold off the throttle. The patience pays off in the long-rung with a much more explosive and efficient system.
In playing with the work and rest intervals, we found one system tended to build muscle fast. We heard ‘complaints’ from male and female participants that their clothing did not fit as well. Shoulders grew bigger, arms were leaner, and waists grew smaller.
I would not recommend this program for the long-term, as the general HIRT protocol is probably best (and it will maintain the gains from this program). Too much of a good thing may limit its benefits. However, this hypertrophy program can be used twice a year to build a beach body or whatever body composition goal you are after.
I will try to lay out the mechanisms simply in this article. If you want a deeper dive, you can attend the All-Terrain Conditioning seminar on this topic. As mentioned above, we want to build the aerobic system so that we can replace our ATP stores as efficiently as possible.
We also want to build the alactic system so we can be explosive and strong. Using the glycolytic system should be minimized because long-term overuse of it can cause oxidative stress and damage to our health. 1, 2
Short-term use of the glycolytic system leads to healthy adaptations. Our response to the stress might be one reason that high-intensity programs are quite successful initially. After a while, we start to lose the adaptive effect and the stressor effects build-up.
If we follow HIRT principles, we can minimize long-term damage by letting the aerobic system clean up the mess made by the glycolytic system. Thus, we are going to push the glycolytic system to the max and then wait 10 minutes to use it again.
The acidic environment created by the glycolytic system allows us to maximally utilize the hormone system to create body composition changes, while the long rest periods allow us to clean up the acid build-up.
For this program, we are going to use kettlebell swings and presses. We could substitute fast bodyweight squats in for the swings, but your squat form must be great before you do them fast. Heavy sled pushes or hill sprints are a better alternative if you can’t do swings.
Here are the basics:
- The burn. Complete 25 heavy kettlebell swings (40-48kg for strong gentlemen; 20-24kg for strong ladies). These swings should be as powerful as possible. You don’t want to lose form or think about having to do another set. Each set should be thought of as a fight to the end. Once completed shake it off for a minute or two before starting the exercises you do in your ‘rest’ period.
- Ten minutes of rest. Between sets of swings, you will do presses. You want your presses to be crisp and powerful. Please don’t grind out your last rep. Leave a rep in the tank on each set. Try to do three sets in that ten minutes:
- Minute 2: 7-8 reps at 65% of 1RM
- Minute 4: 3 reps at 85% of 1RM
- Minute 7: 5-6 reps at 75% of 1RM
Do this program three days a week. Do low (3 rounds), medium (4 rounds), and heavy (5 rounds) volume throughout the week on this program. On other training days, you can weight train with squats and pull-ups if doing swings and presses. We could think of four basic sections of the body to train: 1) upper body pushes, 2) upper body pulls, 3) lower body squats, and 4) lower body pulls (e.g., deadlifts or swings).
You will want to use the above hypertrophy program with one upper and one lower body choice. On alternate days, train the other body movements normally. If you are an endurance athlete, you can train long slow distances. Please avoid other glycolytic (the burn) types of exercises while on this program.
Maintain this program for six weeks. Alternate between it and traditional HIRT training to maintain your gains and to keep progressing.
1. Lo, M.-C., Lu, C.-I., Chen, M.-H., Chen, C.-D., Lee, H.-M., & Kao, S.-H. (2010). Glycoxidative stress-induced mitophagy modulates mitochondrial fates. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1201, 1–7.
2. López-Lluch, G., Irusta, P. M., Navas, P., & de Cabo, R. (2008). Mitochondrial biogenesis and healthy aging. Experimental Gerontology, 43(9), 813–819.