11 March 2009

Exercise Protocols

Jeff had a good post recently discussing various exercise protocols. Been meaning to revisit this and don't want to forget it. So unabashedly, I'll cut and paste from his posting and add my comments in blue:

Devany Hierarchical: This is the method where you go 15 reps or so at a lightish weight, then with no rest up the weight and do around 8 reps, then no rest up the weight to something pretty heavy and do 4 or so reps. Reps are done with concentric motion as fast as you can and somewhat slower on eccentric. If you can, this is followed by some explosive move, but not all exercises are available for that. I like this method and it is what I did for a good while in the beginning of 2008. This method consistently gives a good burn and seems less risky. The "power law" aspects of it make perfect sense to me as well and seems to hit all muscle fiber types as a result. The idea of no rest and moving quickly through the exercises feels like I get more done in the 30-35min I have available.
Personally, I find focussing on the burn is the key plus to keep moving. Takes some motivation sometimes to meet these two keys. Especially if doing something demanding. I've also noticed that some muscle groups like legs can get into the burn zone very quickly with challenging weight, where other muscle groups are harder to get the burn, but the weight is challenging. Feels like I've been at the same weights for a while, though.

Stronglifts: Here it is 5 sets of 5 reps per exercise with some rest in between. I found myself dialing in a weight that wouldn't be too hard by the 25th total rep. I also found it rather boring and l was resting too long. I tended to pair up exercises as a result, which you can't always do in a crowded gym. I did this one a while ago and quickly moved away from it.
I didn't mind this as much as Jeff, though it does get routine after a while. I did it for about a month at the end of 2008 and into 2009. I did see some improvements in squats and deadlifts. Also, I think it gets the body accustomed to handling the heavier weights when it starts getting challenging. After reading a different slant on the 5x5, I probably went up in exercise weight too quickly. I may revisit this.

Huge in a Hurry: Here is doesn't matter the reps per set as long as you get to 25 reps total or so. Another focus is with speed of lift. The method here is to lift fast to engage fast twitch right from the get go and stop the set when you slow down or shorten the exercise. It is nice not to have to change the weights, but the rest periods were still to long so I tended to pair up or circuit several exercises together, which I liked. One issue was with burn. I just didn't get the same burn. Stopping early resulted in less burn and the long rest resets you, lactic acid wise. I feel I bulked up some on this.
I do this off and on. First time I did it, I just tried to power through 25 reps in a single set. That worked great for the burn, but was definitely past the point where I should have stopped, since the speed of the reps was quite diminished. On the other hand, when I rack the weights after speed starts decreasing, I don't seem to get the burn. Also, I don't seem to be able to do deadlifts quickly without the risk of sacrificing form. Haven't done it often enough to make a judgment on benefits.

Rest-pause/Alactic: Idea here is to lift something heavy once then rest a bit. Number of total reps varies from 5 to 15. I have been mixing these in and I like it. I sense it gives a signal different than the lactic signal to result in more strength.
Seem like deadlifts are just geared for this and I've unintentially done rest-pauses doing some heavier sets. Also seems like I feel it the next day, but haven't incorporated this formally into a routine.

SuperSlow/Slow Burn: Might be good, but I never tried it. This is one set to failure with a heavyish weight and slow movements up and down. Seems boring to me, but if results are better I would try it. Maybe I should mix a set in here and there and see.
This almost seems like a hybrid between the rest-pause and the Devaney slow eccentric style workout. I could see how this will cause one hell of a burn, but it also seems like it would take forever to get anything done at the gym.

Some others worth mentioning:
Classic Pyramid: Basically starting out with 10 reps then 8, 6, 4, 2 all while adding weight in between at whatever speed you want. Who hasn't done this. Way back when, I had some decent gains in exercise weights, but body composition was not what I was looking for - too much fat. Sure, some of that has to do with diet. But the Devaney protocol seems to emphasize this with the right speed of motion and fast twitch development.

Sets of 3... or 8.... or 12, etc.: I've heard several variations and recommendations for this - almost like the 5x5, but with different reps per set.

So, which is right? Which one works? Are any correct or effective? I believe all have their merits and I think it really comes down to what works for an individual. Even now, as I like to think I'm a little more educated than I used to be, I still find myself questioning my time spent in the gym.


  1. A few comments
    Devany Hierarchy - perhaps I need to focus on the burn more. I seem to pick a starting weight that doesn't get lactic buildup soon enough. I tend to use free weights and I worry about injury as you up the weight each set though. Do you use machines when you do these?

    Stronglifts - I did it for 2x months and liked it, though I think it promotes a bit of "over use" as you do the same basic things all the time.

    HIAH: In the book, he does mention you should not do them in a single set. I suspected you figured out why :). I like this method, though I tend to end up doing 5x5. I have no idea on effectiveness b/c I don't bother measuring stuff. But my deadlift contiunes to rise each week.

    Slowburn - actually it's rather fast. You end up doing 5/6 very slow reps per exercise (1 set) before you can't do any more. This style REALLY cranks up the heat - it induces a lot of sweat and a ton of lactic acid. body by science (BBS) recommends 5 exercises 1x a week so it's very quick. While tiring, mentally I feel like "that can't be enough". I have done BBS workout 3 times and I use machines - it seems the burn you get is very dependent on the type of machine you are using. For example, the hammer strenght bench machine I use is one hell of a chest workout but the row machine is not as good. McGuff talks about this point in the book - he says use Nautilus machines, but my gym doesnt have any.

  2. Mark,

    Thanks for the input - especially on the slowburn method.

    I mostly use free weights. The few machines I use are for leg extension, leg presses, calf raises, occassional military presses and chest flys.