Bodyweight training program review — Project Kratos

Continuing on with my theme of bodyweight training, I thought a series of reviews of programs and books might be useful. In istallment numero uno I’ll look at a great new program outlined in the book “Project Kratos” by Drew Baye.

Project: Kratos Program Handbook — Bodyweight High Intensity Training by Drew Baye.

The usefulness of any physical training program, in my opinion, is its versatility and flexibility. It should be easily picked up by the beginner and adaptable to the needs of more advanced trainers. With this criteria, Project Kratos is a real winner.

The Name “Kratos” comes from the Greek god of the same name, who was an enforcer of Zeus. Drew Baye contrasts Kratos with Adonis, who is traditionally associated with muscular physiques, but “has more show than go”. Kratos on the other hand was a powerful warrior god who could take care of business when challenged.

The strength of Kratos is that it offers the best methods for progression and increasing the load intensity of any exercise. This feature of the book makes it stand out markedly from other systems.

Rather than simply adding reps, Drew Baye has created a structured 5-level system of progression by altering the way in which you perform reps. At level 5 you’re really demanding that your muscle fibres extract every bit of juice they can muster.

Changes involve cadence, an elegant approach to partial reps and ways to increase the load of a exercise by manipulating leverage and shifting from bilateral to unilateral movement (two legs to one).

All programs mention some of these factors. In bodyweight training there are no plates to add to the bar. Eventually bilateral movements will become too easy to perform and you’ll need to up the ante so to speak. Unilateral movements and increasing the lever of an exercise are methods that advanced trainers learn to master progressively.

Emphasis on intensity

Kratos is a tough program, but it is a brief one. Intensity is at the centre of everything that you’ll do in the routines that Drew prescribes. His High Intensity Training (HIT) approach will be suited to both the strength trainer and to those seeking muscle gain.

Kratos is chiefly centred around Time Under load (TUL) with the notion that only quality, well-controlled reps will do and working out to failure is encouraged. In fact, the book does a pretty good job of debunking the idea that going to momentary muscular failure will destroy you. On the contrary, high intensity means less volume in an HIT routine. As long as your form doesn’t collapse you can safely keep stimulating your muscles with further reps.

Cool techniques

Project Kratos also contains a lot of other cool little techniques that assist the bodyweight training devotee in developing impressive levels of muscular tension. One such technique is the Timed Static Contraction (TSC), which as far as I know is unique to this program. I won’t go into it further because I don’t want to give all of Drew’s best ideas away but essentially it offers another way of replacing a weighted movement with a high tension bodyweight one.

It is little hacks like this that really set Project Kratos apart from many of the other programs out there.

Final comments

The program is primarily about building absolute strength and muscle gain. These are two worthy goals and the fact this program addresses the left end of the strength-speed continuum needs to be accounted for in program design.

Absolute Strength => Strength Speed => Speed Strength => Absolute Speed

If you’re after athletic ability also, strength alone isn’t enough so the Kratos program would be insufficient. It doesn’t claim to make you an outstanding athlete and it sticks to its core purpose quite tightly.

Adding sets of explosive reps and performing plyometric exercises would be one avenue into taking the strength you gain via a program like Project Kratos and increasing your power and speed. This is very doable but you need a base of lean muscle mass and strength first and Kratos handles those goals admirably.

In fact, the book doesn’t touch on the idea of periodization, which I think is necessary to get the most out of every program. Punching in weeks of variations — be they more sets, higher reps, different exercises, plyometrics and not going to failure — will enable you to get the most of any program. As long as you stick to your main plan most of the time, these periods of change will ensure you stay fresh mentally and physically.

Despite that omission, Project Kratos  will definitely be a great addition to your fitness arsenal. It is packed with sensible nutrition advice as well as a host of novel exercises and approaches. There is plenty on offer for the novice and advanced trainer to sink their teeth into.

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6 responses to “Bodyweight training program review — Project Kratos

  1. “It is not necessary to train in a variety of repetition ranges, or “periodize” training as is often recommended. Even if you were to always perform the same number of reps, if it resulted in a time under tension your body was most responsive to you would improve all factors of functional ability as a result (and some people do just this, using single-progression with good results). However, since HIT involves performing a single set to failure rather than stopping at an arbitrary repetition number, and uses slower repetitions, this variation in reps and time under load occurs any way.

    If you’re using a 4/4 cadence and a rep range of 6 to 10 on pushing exercises and a 4/3/4 cadence and a rep range of 5 to 8 on pulling and simple exercises your time under tension will vary by up to half a minute on an exercise from workout to workout.” Drew Baye on his FB page.

    • viewfromreality

      There are two issues I have with what you’ve quoted:
      Firstly, training approach depends on goals. For instance, bodybuilders train one way, powerlifters train entirely differently. One maximizes hypertrophy the other – strength and power. Their training is not only different it changes throughout the year depending on what cycle they are in (pre-comp, recovery, development towards maximum muscle/personal bests).
      HIT addresses some of these goals. It is not the only way to train and for some goals it isn’t the best way either. What we know definitively from exercise science is that some repetition ranges, all things being equal, induce different changes in the muscle. We know heavy loads that recruit more motor neurons and performed explosively maximize power output. We know a higher repetition range that induces a “burn” and stimulates muscular damage is good for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. In between repetition ranges will hit sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (not as effecitively) and myofibrilar hypertrophy (more muscle fibres) which adds up to more density and strength.

      So HIT is ONE way of training and it is good for what it does but it isn’t the best for other training goals and phases for athletes. That is periodization. Furthermore, periodization addresses the fact that muscle adaptation cycles require novel stimuli to maximize development. No novel stimulus = stagnating growth. Simply changing exercises from time to time and progressing them will do the trick.

      Also, time under load is one variable. Cadence is one variable. By themselves they mean nothing. Optimal training regimes require specialization in order to meet their specific goals and that means a range of variables. Again, the HIT way is only one way and it is good for SOME goals, SOME of the time. If HIT were the be all and end all, then Pavel Tsatsouline’s “Grease the Groove” method would be worthless, but it isn’t. Powerlifters employ this training style all the time in order to stimulate the nervous system without smashing the muscles too hard. It enables them to train more frequently. Practise makes perfect.

      Again, training slow is ONE way to train, and it leads to a specific kind adaptations. If exercise was as clear cut then athletes would all use the same routines. The fact they don’t says a lot about how complex training design can be.

  2. Lot of what you say we know, I think is “What ASCM pushes as truth because of tradition and folklore, while evidence is not present”. In review, you say “despite this omission”, my point is Drew Baye considered all this much more than you think and it is not an omission, but making it as simple and safe as possible without compromises. The goal is improvement in all GENERAL trainable factors and this is accomplished with simple stuff. I could probably find evidence to the contrary for most of these “advanced” techniques, but one example: rep speed doesn’t affect hypertrophy
    http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2014/01/30/repetition-speed-hypertrophy/ (Bret Contreras site!)
    “Personal trainers may recommend slower, more controlled repetitions for achieving hypertrophy with their clients if they wish, as repetition speed seems to have little effect in untrained subjects for body composition goals.”

    I am not HIT dogmatic, but folklore and tradition is problem of both sides of the barricade, you seem to accept everything by Bret/Brad as 100% true. I saw lot of stuff by Schoenfeld debunked by other scientists, unfortunately.

    • viewfromreality

      A few things, you say:

      “I am not HIT dogmatic, but folklore and tradition is problem of both sides of the barricade, you seem to accept everything by Bret/Brad as 100% true. I saw lot of stuff by Schoenfeld debunked by other scientists, unfortunately.”

      Umm, while this is a blog post on Contreras, I’ve never really mentioned Brad. On the contrary, you refer pretty much exclusively to Drew Baye and I want to know why you think he is a superior source of information? Isn’t he open to biases like any other human being? What I like about Brad and Bret’s approach, since you bring them up, is that you can check their work because they will always point to the research as the support for what they claim. If you disagree with something they say they’ll show you WHY they think that, which to me makes them credible sources. But I’m not exclusively fixated on what they say.

      If they were debunked in any way then you should let Bret and Brad know as I’m pretty sure they’ll change their opinions if better research exists.

      Speaking of which, you quote this conclusion as an example of “folklore”:

      “Personal trainers may recommend slower, more controlled repetitions for achieving hypertrophy with their clients if they wish, as repetition speed seems to have little effect in untrained subjects for body composition goals.”

      I find it interesting that you label this folklore given that sentence appears at the end of a lengthy literature review where the author (Beardsley) is not giving his opinion. This is what those studies showed, whether I, you, Bret or anyone else wants to believe it or not, it doesn’t make any difference. That’s what those studies showed, it isn’t folklore. These studies only confirm what we’ve seen from experience — You don’t need slow, one set to failure training to induce cumulative muscular fatigue (which is the determining factor in gaining muscle).

      You’ve concluded slow training and HIT are superior to other methods but on what basis? The literature doesn’t support that view and the routines of bodybuilders and other athletes don’t rely on such techniques. That’s a general statement and I know there are bodybuilders who lean on HIT more but the point is that’s a personal choice. Most guys won’t do that sort of training exclusively.

      I would be more inclined to agree with the slow training ethos if it was practised a lot by elite trainers but the fact is athletic trainers — including powerlifters, hockey players, football players, olympic lifters… Those guys focus on explosive training for their strength and power gains (which Beardsley also refers to at the end of the literature review).

      And finally, neuromuscular adaptations are highly specific. Train a certain way you will get adaptations specific to those movements, speeds and ranges of motion… Remember, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and Myofibrillar hypertrophy are NOT exclusive And/Or propositions, but the way you train will lead to adaptations on that continuum somewhere. Bodybuilders know this, which is why they’ll periodize their training. If I train with 50 rep sets I’ll get a different muscular composition response than if I trained with a 5×5 scheme using >85% RM loads. That’s not folklore.

      WHERE I AGREE WITH YOU: As a GENERAL training strategy, I have no trouble with the simple approach you support. About 80% of my training is similar in nature and those high intensity techniques are great for bodyweight training where adding plates to a bar isn’t an option. I will, however, not be afraid of adding sets and changing cadences, exercises and workout split.

      You could have this very same debate with the HIIT camp versus other styles of conditioning. My conclusion is the same there too — HIIT is good for some things but not the only style of conditioning that an athlete should work on.

      P.S. I noticed Drew refers to the papers of Carpinelli in his HIT articles. Having researched this previously, I stumbled on this article, which pretty much sums up the selection bias Carpinelli uses to show HIT is as good as or better than multiple set regimes. Noteworthy:

      “In 1998, Carpinelli published a review paper noting that the vast majority of studies that compared single sets to multiple sets found no significant differences in strength or muscle mass gains between the two protocols. Since that time, at least 10 studies have emerged showing superior strength gains with multiple sets, although Carpinelli does not seem to acknowledge these studies.”

  3. Btw, again, Drew’s FB:

    In a recent discussion someone made the claim that HIT fails to address sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Despite having spent a lot of time reading research over the years I have yet to see anything that supports the claims that one can preferentially train for sarcoplasmic versus hypertrophy, but just to be sure I’ve spent a few hours reading studies (time I should be writing ) and still, nothing that would suggest it is possible, but rather that sarcoplasmic proteins (as opposed to transient changes in fluid volume) generally increase or decrease in proportion to myofibrillar proteins.

    Despite my challenges to provide good studies or evidence supporting claims one can train specifically for myofibrillar or sarcoplasmic hypertrophy nobody did so, and I was unable to find any.

    However, just to be sure I also e-mailed Ryan Hall, who I know has read extensively on this.

    I asked if there was any new information that would challenge this, and the following is his reply, reposted here with his permission:

    “Yes. You are correct as far as the data I have seen. Admittedly, I haven’t look into that specifically in a while. All of the data I searched before concluded the sarcoplasm increases in proportion to the myofibrillar proteins. That doesn’t mean that temporary cellular swelling doesn’t occur. In animal models concerning compensatory hypertrophy, for example where the gastrocnemius is removed, rapid hypertrophy occurs. However, the extent of the hypertrophy is not permanent. This is due to temporary cellular swelling.”

  4. Pingback: The High Intensity Training Debate | Blood and Iron

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