Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) - Training Program

Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) - Training Program

So you’ve read the Hypertrophy Cluster Training - Key Principles to Growth and you’ve have gotten this far. You understand what makes muscle grow and what makes a program successful. Here is HCT-12 Training Program. We will start at the beginning and leave no detail unexplained.

WARM-UPS

They can be boring. Mobility drills, treadmill or bike — anything that prolongs the time between walking through the door and the exercises that’ll actually make you bigger can be irritating. That said, you would be an idiot not to get prepared for the session ahead and doubly so if you didn’t ensure good long-term joint and muscle function. This is why we recommend (at the very minimum) the following warm-ups.

Note: If you’re interested in a more comprehensive warm-up then check out Nick Tumminello’s Warm-Up articles (Lower Body Warm-Up - 10 Minutes to Better Performance! & Upper Body Warm-Up - 10 Minutes to Better Performance!)

Upper Body Warm-Up

  • Shoulder Circle Big/Little forward and back. 30 sec each
  • PNF diagonals - 15 reps each orientation
  • Wall slides - 10 reps
  • Tumminello’s LYTP Shoulder circuit 8-12 reps each letter
  • Explosive Press-Up (either on the floor or diagonal against a wall. Clap press-ups without the clap!) - 6 reps
  • Dumbbell/ Kettlebell Snatch – 6 reps (weight is not the aim here, speed is, especially explosion when direction changes, at the bottom of the movement - change from eccentric to concentric. Think Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch!)

Lower Body Warm-Up

  • Leg swings front and back - 15 either side
  • Leg swings side to side - 15 either side
  • Glute Bridge - 10 reps
  • Dumbbell/ kettlebell swing - 6 reps. Again speed is the aim here (10-20kg dumbbell/ kettlebell)
  • Moving from Warm-Up to Lifting

You should be warm and fired up for the session ahead by now. This is where it gets interesting. There is only one exercise per bodypart and each exercise is worked up to a 6RM (which is approximately 80% 1RM) for the day followed by six rest pause reps done in a cluster, so 6 + 2 + 2 + 2.

Each day, imagine that you have only a rough idea of what your 6RM is and you intend to beat it. Lets say your first exercise is the barbell bench press. Start with the bar for a rep or two, just to get a feel for the movement and how you feel doing the movement. Increase the load, do another rep, increase the load again, do another rep until you’re ready to start working in sets of six. These single reps are just to get a feel for the movement and the weight on the bar and also for getting up to a decent weight without tiring yourself out.

Then work your way up (ramping) in sets of six reps to a weight that you just manage to complete for six good reps or if you prefer a weight that you know you couldn’t have gotten seven reps.

Here’s an example:

  • Bar x 6 reps (warm-up)
  • 135lbs x 1 (feel set)
  • 185lbs x 1 (feel set)
  • 225lbs x 1 (feel set)
  • 240lbs x 6 (work set)
  • 270lbs x 6 (work set)
  • 300lbs x 6 (work set)
  • 320lbs x 6 (work set)
  • 340lbs x 6 (work set) This was the previous best but the last rep felt easy, so go for another set
  • 350lbs x 6 (work set) Barely got the sixth rep.

Rack the bar. Rest as long as you need before attempting two more reps, approximately 30-60 seconds. Rack the bar, breathe deeply for another approx thirty-seconds and try for another two reps. Repeat. And that’s it.

That’s the outline; we’ll clear up a few specifics now.

Download the HCT-12 Bodybuilding Program (3.29MB)

How many sets should it take to hit my 6RM for the day?

This is the autoregulation aspect of the training. Some days will be easy while others will feel tougher for the same weights and increments. This is the autoregulation aspect, the bio-feedback, the working to your strengths and hitting a higher 6RM on a good day, or hitting the same as you did last time, or even falling short on a bad day and working with whatever 6RM you hit so as not to grind out a session when your body is obviously not up to the task.

This is how each exercise is performed. It is a case of feeling out and working with your absolute best for that training session, working with your body to give it the greatest possible stimulation for growth when it can take it.

Once past a certain amount of training experience, strength gains are not linear, so all you are looking for is a trend upwards. So, over the course of four weeks, you may experience all of the above, but the cumulative result will still be upwards progress.

With that said, the aim is still to attempt to break your records every session. Autoregulation isn’t an excuse to quit when it gets tough. Autoregulation allows your body to make the decisions, not you. So if your body’s ready to hit a PR that session, make sure you put in the effort so that it can. If it is not ready then there will be no PR, but it won’t be for lack of trying. You can’t force progression, but you have to give it a chance to happen. If you are not willing to push for a record every time you hit the gym, this program is not for you.

Do not work your way up in tiny micro-increments. If you are particularly strong, you’ll be there all day going up in five-pound steps, but by the same token don’t jump up too quickly. Just feel your way up. So some days, you could be more, the same or fewer sets. I know this is open to interpretation, but it is easier in practice than on paper, which is why you’ll need to play around with it, and get a feel for how to train this way, before settling in to the program properly. We are with you every step of the way. Don’t panic!

Rest periods

On this you have to listen to your body, autoregulate, but I put a hard stop of two minutes between ramping sets and thirty-seconds between clusters. If you’re on fire that day, make the rest periods as short as you want to.

Exercise Performance

Legendary lifter Doug Hepburn liked to master the weight. That is about as simple a prescription as I can give. At 6RM the weight is going to be moderately heavy, but you should be attempting to move it as powerfully as possible.

When lowering the weight, keep it under control. If you needed to stop and push the other way you could. Don’t artificially extend the time you’re lowering it.

For the concentric portion, taking the bench press as an example, when the bar is at your chest, imagine trying to push it forcefully, like shoving someone away. It won’t actually move like you’ve pushed someone off you, but as long as the intent is there don’t worry. This will feel quite different if you don’t already lift this way.

These prescriptions apply to all except calf exercises. Here we recommend a slow negative (5-seconds minimum), a pause of a second or so at the bottom (in the stretch position) and a powerful concentric (as described above).

Exercise Selection

I’m sure you all know enough exercises to populate any program for the next hundred years, but here are our suggestions. You don’t need to follow them slavishly but do use common sense. A leg extension is not the equivalent to a squat or leg press.

First, a word of caution… there is going to be some overlap on exercises. That is just what happens when you have a body that never contracts a muscle in complete isolation. Some muscles are going to get worked alongside the target muscles; it cannot be helped.

A very obvious example is squats and deadlifts. In the program I put squats ahead of rack pulls for the very good reason that, whichever way round you put it, one is going to negatively impact on the performance of the other. You could use a deadlift variation from the floor, but only you can tell how that will be impacted by the squat. If I were to choose a full deadlift, I’d put it first and leg press (not squat) afterwards.

The same goes for chest and shoulders. This is where you get to choose your priorities. How you place exercises is up to you. But again, if you’re confused by what you should do, we’re here to advise.

Some people get really precious about bodypart exercises and splits, so we’ve cunningly disguised our bodypart exercises and gone all-functional by naming them movement-based exercises.

Remember, one exercise per bodypart/movement. We advise that you stick to one exercise per cycle for each program. You can change exercises in the deload week and keep them for the next cycle, or if you feel you’re progressing with the same exercises, keep them.

Bodypart/Movement Exercise
Vertical Pulling chin-up, pull-up, rack chin, pulldown
Horizontal Pulling one-arm dumbbell row, barbell row, low pulley row, Hammer Strength version
Horizontal Pressing incline bench press, flat bench press, dumbbell bench press (flat or incline), most Hammer Strength versions
Vertical Pressing standing barbell press, standing dumbbell press, most Hammer Strength versions
Triceps dips, close-grip bench, reverse-grip bench on Smith machine, overhead dumbbell or cable triceps extension
Biceps barbell curl, dumbbell curl, hammer curl, concentration curl, drag curl
Quad dominant back squat, front squat, leg press
Hip dominant deadlift, rack pull, Romanian deadlift
Calf Exercises standing calf raises on machine or Smith machine, calf press on leg press, seated calf raise
Abdominal Exercises cable crunch, ab wheel or barbell rollout, sprinter crunch, woodchops

The Programs

We have three versions for you. Exercise selection, performance, intensity, reps or sets are constant through each, so this isn’t about confusing you. It is about giving you the best opportunity to get as big as you can and fit it into what works best for your schedule. We will lay them about here for you first and discuss them afterwards.

Program One: A-B-A

An A-B-A split, so week one A gets trained twice, B once and vice versa in week two and repeat.

Week 1

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun
A
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Horizontal Pressing
Vertical Pressing
Triceps Exercise
  B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
Biceps Exercise
Abs
  A
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Horizontal Pressing
Vertical Pressing
Triceps Exercise
   

Week 2

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
Biceps Exercise
Abs
  A
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Horizontal Pressing
Vertical Pressing
Triceps Exercise
  B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
Biceps Exercise
Abs
   

Program One Summary

  • Intensity – approx 80%
  • Frequency – 1.5 times per week
  • Total number of reps – approx 35

Program Two: A-B-A-B

A-B-A-B, alternated throughout the week, and repeated.

Week 1

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun
A
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Horizontal Press
Vertical Press
Triceps Exercise
  B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
Biceps Exercise
Abs
  A
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Horizontal Press
Vertical Pressing
Triceps Exercise
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
Biceps Exercise
Abs
 

Program Two Summary

  • Intensity – approx 80%
  • Frequency – 2 times per week
  • Total number of reps – approx 50

Program Three - 5 Day Cycle

No different to the others except, the days are further split, but follow a five-day cycle, not seven, so you’ll be spending different days in the gym. We have laid it out over four weeks so you can see just how it works.

Week 1

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun
A
Horizontal Press
Triceps Exercise
Biceps Exercise
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
  C
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Vertical Pressing
Abs
  A
Horizontal Press
Triceps Exercise
Biceps Exercise
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise

Week 2

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun
  C
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Vertical Pressing
Abs
  A
Horizontal Press
Triceps Exercise
Biceps Exercise
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
  C
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Vertical Pressing
Abs

Week 3

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun
  A
Horizontal Press
Triceps Exercise
Biceps Exercise
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
  C
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Vertical Pressing
Abs
  A
Horizontal Press
Triceps Exercise
Biceps Exercise

Week 4

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
  C
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Vertical Pressing
Abs
  A
Horizontal Press
Triceps Exercise
Biceps Exercise
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
 

Week 5

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun
C
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Vertical Pressing
Abs
  A
Horizontal Press
Triceps Exercise
Biceps Exercise
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
  C
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Vertical Pressing
Abs
 

Program 3 Summary

  • Intensity – approx 80%
  • Frequency – 1.4 times per week
  • Total number of reps – approx 35

WHICH PROGRAM IS FOR ME?

In simple terms, they are pretty much identical: one exercise per bodypart, ramping up to 6+2+2+2 for twelve total reps at 6RM for the day. So the last twelve reps are all above 80% 1RM and a few of the preceding ramped sets will be between 70% and 80%.

In summary, that is (give or take) twenty-four reps above 70% 1RM and twelve above 80% 1RM per bodypart. If you recall what was written above, that sits right in the rep totals and intensity requirements for growth. But we gave you three for a reason. Here’s why;

Program 1 – Three days is easy to schedule into anyone’s lifestyle (at least if you’re serious about putting on muscle).

Program 2 – A fourth day, and each bodypart is trained twice per week. If you can handle the additional frequency (and only you can tell that) and fit in the extra day, then this is for you.

Program 3 – This splits the bodyparts down further, giving you less to do each session, but allowing you to focus more on each exercise. The frequency is roughly the same as Program 1. If you can fit this into your schedule and prefer spending less time in the gym per session, then this is for you.

Ultimately you get out what you put in. If you apply yourself to them consistently, all three will get you bigger than you’ve ever been before. Choose one.

The Deload Week

This applies to all the programs but at different times. Program 1 and 2 get one at the end of the fourth week. Program 3 gets one at the end of the fifth week.

The aim of the deload week is to back off a little and work a slightly different aspect of growth that occurs when the load or intensity is lighter and requires fatigue to really kick in, while giving your connective tissue and joints time to adapt to the previous weeks (connective tissue adapts at a far slower rate than muscle tissue).

The deload week looks like this:

Deload Week

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun
A
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Horizontal Press
Vertical Press
Triceps Exercise
  B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
Biceps Exercise
Abs
  A
Vertical Pulling
Horizontal Pulling
Horizontal Press
Vertical Pressing
Triceps Exercise
B
Quad dominant
Hip dominant
Calf Exercise
Biceps Exercise
Abs
 

One exercise per bodypart again, except this time the rep range is fifteen reps for two sets. Again, you are not going to failure, just work up to a weight you can hit fifteen reps comfortably for two sets. Do this for a week and then restart your program of choice at week 1.

Other Activities

Like warm-ups (possibly even more so), cardiovascular or energy systems work is at the bottom of the likes list. However, just like a proper warm-up, cardio is important for longevity and doing it, in whatever form you like best (or hate least), also improves your ability to lift. If you get breathless and nauseous doing biceps curls, then you know what we mean.

This is a program for muscle gain, so the recommendations are about thirty minutes two or three times a week. More specifically, for the guys with very little muscle and very little fat, at most one session of thirty minutes a week. For the guys carrying a lot of extra body fat, two or three sessions a week. For the guys in-between, don’t neglect it and don’t go overboard; one or two times per week for you.

Here are two great articles detailing how to implement Kettlebells (Kettlebells for the Uninitiated) and Complexes (Complexes for Fat Loss) for conditioning. Be aware that any loaded exercise will impact on your recovery, so follow the guidelines carefully. Our bodies are awesome machines, but they are not perfect, so while concentrating on building as much muscle as you possibly can, you are going to have to minimize the time and effort you put into other activities or risk compromising your results. Don’t spread yourself too thinly.

If you’re ready to commit to this and work hard, then you’re going to need the other half of the “secret” to getting big; food! - Hypertrophy Cluster Training - Nutritional Program

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question about this article or would like to discuss or ask anything about Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12), head on over to the Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) Forum.

You may also want to read Hypertrophy Cluster Training (HCT-12) - FAQ.

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