When I was training hard last year for my IRON MAN cover shoot, I experimented with a new training style called HRT—Hell Raiser Training. Basically, it was eight regular reps on an exercise followed by four forced-negative reps. On each forced-negative rep my training partner would push or pull down on the weight, and I had to resist the force for a four-second negative rep.
The concept of HRT was developed by Tom Fuller, a competitive bodybuilder with 30 years of experience who’s also the senior sales executive of Universal Nutrition, and Michael Palmieri, a graduate student in biomechanics and the founder of The Institute of Sport Science & Athletic Conditioning. They came up with the HRT program while seeking a more productive method of getting a pump in the muscles during a workout.
Extending a typical set with forced negatives helps the sarcoplasmic portion of the muscle cell (the area between the muscle fibers and the muscle cell wall) expand and develop due to accumulating fluids. Although not a lot of resistance is used with HRT, the muscle pump is substantially increased, leading to greater muscle size.
Since the concept of HRT was developed, Tom has advanced the program by adding a new twist. He calls his new system “Hellcentrics.” It’s the advanced version of Hell Raiser Training.
With Hellcentrics you start with the standard eight normal reps; however, before doing a full forced negative, you add a forced partial rep, with your training partner applying pressure on the negative portion of the partial, before moving on to the first forced negative. You do a forced partial before each of the four forced negative reps, and that’s Hellcentrics.
To understand exactly how to apply this exciting new approach, I talked with the creator, Tom Fuller.
JH: What was the idea behind Hell Raiser Training?
TF: As a trainer, I was getting frustrated with athletes not growing the way they should, hitting plateaus, hitting lagging bodyparts. I was even hearing complaints from guys who were not able to get a pump. The program modified itself over the course of five years. I wanted to come up with something that would guarantee breaking through those barriers and accomplishing their goals on a more consistent basis. That’s why I ultimately ended up developing Hellcentrics training, which is primarily geared toward physique athletes.
JH: One of the things I liked about HRT was that I didn’t have to use really heavy weights to increase the intensity of the workouts. Is that one of the reasons you developed the program? Did you have injuries or joint problems that prevented you from training really heavy?
TF: I did have my fair share of issues from relatively minor injuries, but they really had nothing to do with the reason why I developed the technique. I was focused on one thing and one thing only: getting a pump. I know how important that is to a physique athlete—accomplishing that pump and taking it to the next level with driving force. So the weight became secondary. The more the training style developed, the less weight you actually needed to accomplish that end.
JH: Would it be possible to get a better pump by more traditional techniques like supersetting two exercises together or doing drop sets?
TF: One of the things I did in researching this was digging into other people’s materials, like Jim Stoppani. I’m a big fan of his work, and I liked his approach. In his Encyclopedia of Muscle and Strength he noted that the majority of growth programs for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy coupled with myofibrillar growth had rep ranges between eight and 15. That became one of the basic building blocks of Hellcentrics.
The other thing was the number of sets. I found that it only took two working sets for each exercise. I wanted to create a training style that basically made the most of the productivity of these two building blocks. In my research, I was noticing more and more the importance of doing concentric and eccentric training together. That was part of the reason that the rep scheme ended up being eight plus four. It’s also within the rep range of that first building block I mentioned—eight to 15.
A Hellcentric is an extreme forced rep that has two parts—a partial rep followed immediately by a full negative. It’s a forced partial eccentric, followed immediately by a forced partial concentric, followed by a forced full eccentric. The Hellcentric begins when the muscle is in a fully contracted state.
JH: Give me an example of how you would apply a Hellcentric rep to an exercise.
TF: Let’s take a pulling movement like barbell curls. The bar is hanging down with the palms up. You perform eight regular reps and then on the eighth rep you hold the bar up at the top—and by at the top, I mean both biceps are in a fully contracted position. This fully contracted position is where the Hellcentric begins.
Your partner begins to pull on the bar. While you’re still in a power range, you begin to pull on the bar, causing a “forced eccentric.” Your partner then allows you to pull the bar back to the start position. That motion of a partial eccentric followed by a partial concentric cinches the muscle fibers.
We’ve shown with Michael’s research that you end up engaging and cinching more muscle fibers for the full force eccentric that follows that partial. Emphasizing the three movements causes the most microtears in both the muscle tissue and the fascia without actually damaging anything else.
JH: When you do the partial rep, do you come halfway down, or is it more like a quarter rep?
TF: It’s more like a quarter rep. What you’re doing is moving within a power range. All movements, with the exception of anterior and medial delts, have that power range in which you can essentially engage even more muscle fibers by contracting the muscle once again and then doing the full negative.
Michael and I have learned that Hellcentric training has a much more powerful effect on muscle conditioning, size and strength than we ever thought it would. At first, we thought it was going to affect sarcoplasmic hypertrophy; that was the primary goal. Then we learned that when you couple the two techniques, you actually end up working myofibrillar hypertrophy as well. That is just beautiful!
Using a smaller weight and working the muscle, as opposed to just trying to power through the reps, as a lot of us have done in the past, actually conditions the muscle differently; it can accommodate a larger load in general for a one-rep max. It’s crossed from bodybuilding to powerlifting, but we’re applying it to some other sports as well. Right now, we are working on football players. We’re finding that its application is farther reaching than we thought it would be. The rep scheme is the thing that varies, depending on the sport, and that’s what we’re working with right now.
JH: How many sets would you recommend people do—or does it depend on the size of the muscle group? You said two working sets for each exercise. Is there a limit to the number of exercises you would use to train a muscle group?
TF: Yes. There is no need to do more than six sets even with a big muscle group like quads. That’s difficult for a lot of guys to swallow right off the bat. There’s no shortage of people wanting to do work. If anything, most people overwork. But by the time you finish a sixth set of what I’m describing, you just have nothing left.
JH: Are there certain exercises that work better than others? For example, could you do lunges for the glutes with this type of training?
TF: Sure, it can be applied to any exercise. Whatever the exercise is focused on is what is going to be affected the most. The thing that comes most into play with Hellcentrics is a good, reliable training partner. With an exercise like lunges, it’s difficult but possible. I’ve used Hellcentrics on everything. On Bodybuilding.com we have a Hell Raiser Training forum within a forum. It’s dedicated to anything anybody wants to know. If someone wants to see an exercise, I put it on there. I’ve done Hellcentrics on everything. .
JH: Please list a couple of sample Hellcentric training programs.
TF: Here are a few from the Bodybuilding.com video series. It’s all two working sets per exercise:
Shoulders, biceps and forearms
Shoulders: Military presses, lateral raises, barbell front raises
Biceps: Barbell curls, reverse curls
Forearms: Reverse wrist curls, wrist curls
Quadriceps: Leg presses, hack squats, leg extensions
We’re focusing on the medialis (leg press), the lateralis (hack squats) and the rectus femoris in the middle (leg extensions).
Hamstrings: Stiff-legged deadlifts; standing, lying or seated leg curls
For stiff-legged deadlifts the training partner stands in front of the bar off to one side and pushes down on it for the forced negative. We recommend that you do these on a Smith machine so your partner can press on one side of the bar and provide evenly distributed resistance instead of standing directly in front of the bar. I haven’t had one person yet complete this leg workout. That’s a challenge I throw out to anybody.
Chest and triceps
Chest: Decline presses,bench presses, incline presses
Triceps: Skull crushers, overhead dumbbell extensions
Back, traps, rear delts and calves
Back: Pullups (pulldowns for alternate if you can’t do pull-ups), seated cable rows, T-bar rows
Rear delts: Rear laterals
Calves: Seated calf raises, leg press calf raises
JH: Do you train abs with Hellcentrics?
TF: We don’t want any size in the waist, so we just do a normal ab routine. I like to do oblique crunches for 100 reps on each side and then leg raises, knees up, for another 100 reps. So it’s a grand total of 300 reps for three exercises.
JH: You mentioned that you don’t need to use heavy weights with Hellcentrics. Do you find that you lose strength on this program, or do you eventually get stronger?
TF: Initially, your strength will go down, but then it will go up. Just as with any different training style, the muscles get shocked right away. As your body becomes accustomed to the routine, your strength will go up—but we’re talking bodybuilding, we’re talking muscle size. You don’t have to lift huge amounts of weight; you just want to look as if you can. That’s so true with this. The weight doesn’t matter, really.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s radio show, Natural Bodybuilding Radio, at NaturalBodybuildingRadio.com. IM