Month: June 2014

Up your Training Intensity with HIT

HIT

Are you tired of your current workout routine? Does the thought of doing another chest workout this Monday kill your motivation? Have your muscle or strength gains stalled? If you answered yes to any of these questions, don’t worry because you’re not alone. The human body is a fickle beast that adapts to training without continual variation. If you’re seeing diminished gains or need a change of pace, you should consider bumping up your intensity through the HIT method.

High Intensity Training (HIT) is a form of exercise that utilizes progressive resistance training by way of short, intense workouts that aim to reach and go beyond muscular failure. While there are many iterations of this style of training that have utilized this approach to building muscle and strength, such as DC Training, Dorian Yate’s Blood and Guts system, and Mike Mentzer’s HIT training, High Intensity Training was defined and popularized back in the 1970’s by the founder of Nautilus, Arthur Jones.

Background:

Until Arthur Jones formulated his beliefs on muscle building, the common adage was to train with high volume made popular by fitness mogul Joe Weider. Employing Arnold Schwarzenegger as the face of bodybuilding through magazine publications and supplement/fitness equipment ads, high volume training was regarded as the superior training style. While not considered as “hardcore” as HIT, high volume training is arduous in its own right, consisting of hours, upon hours in the gym lifting with an incredible amount of volume, in order to induce muscular hypertrophy.

Jones saw a flaw in the high volume approach, as it didn’t encourage progressive overloading of the muscle that he believed was necessary. After developing his program, known as the Nautilus Principles (Jones never actually named it HIT) he put his reputation and body on the line, creating the Colorado Experiment in 1973. Performed at Colorado State University, this study examined two subjects, Jones and professional bodybuilder Casey Viator, to test Jones’ method and see how much muscle could be gained in under a month. Needless to say, the results were nothing short of astounding with Viator gaining 63lbs in 28 days and Jones gaining 15 in 22 days.

Photo of Jones before and after Colorado Experiment

Photo of Jones before and after Colorado Experiment

As incredible as these results sound, they should be taken with a grain of salt as Viator was coming off multiple injuries in which he lost substantial muscle he once had.  Both men also strictly dieted for weeks leading up to the experiment to insure a perfect environment to gain weight. Regardless of any controversy or not being entirely “empirical, the experiment gave merit to Jones’ claims.

The Training Philosophy:

High Intensity Training fundamentally relies on the less is more mentality because there is an inverse relationship between the amount of volume versus the intensity one can exert on a given exercise. While the high volume approach advises repeated stimulation of a muscle, Jones’ HIT relies on overloading the muscle over a shorter period of time.

In a given exercise, HIT advocates recommend using the least amount of sets to achieve muscular failure, while performing each repetition in a slow and controlled motion. This all-out set hasn’t been proven to be more effective than multiple sets in building more muscle or greater strength, but the theory behind only doing one set to absolute failure ensures that the workout be kept brief to limit any unnecessary movements that’ll prolong the recovery period (remember that muscle is built during recovery workouts and not the actual workouts themselves).

To ensure maximum recovery to perform at one’s best it’s recommended to rest at least 48 hours in between workouts, while not going beyond 96 hours without training because risk of muscular atrophy increases. This works out to a three-day-a-week lifting schedule with four days of recovery. Jones argues that this schedule is beneficial not only for recovery, but also for preventing the body from becoming adjusted to a regular routine. This, along with added intensifiers, will guarantee continual progression.

The All-Out Set:

After reaching muscular failure on a lift, there are intensifiers than can be added to a set to overload the muscle even further. Say a person performs 10 repetitions on a bench press and cannot do an 11th. To add an intensifier to the set, one could perform a few more negatives (having a spotter pull the weight up during the concentric part of the movement and let you lower the weight to your chest yourself), partial reps (moving the bar from your chest to a few inches off of it, not performing a full repetition), or a drop set (after completing the ten reps, take off a certain amount of weight from the bar and instantly try to get another ten reps with the lowered weight). There are many more intensifiers that warrant their own article, but these are a few that can be added to take a muscle beyond failure.

Training Frequency:

Six time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates is a lifelong HIT advocate.

Six time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates is a lifelong HIT advocate.

With this style of training, frequency becomes one of the most important aspects of it. In a higher volume approach to strength training, it isn’t uncommon to see people lifting anywhere from 4-6 days a week (even 7 for the crazies out there) for an hour to multiple hours at a time. If proper rest and nutrition are implemented, this isn’t a big deal, as high volume training doesn’t use as heavy of weights that tax the CNS system and require more rest.

When training with high volume and not using maximal effort in every set, muscular fatigue is an issue that requires rest to recover from but CNS fatigue is much less common. Often brought on by lifting too heavy, too often with inadequate rest times, CNS fatigue affects one’s neurotransmitters, which send signals from the brain to the muscles. With compromised neurotransmitter function, one might feel constantly exhausted while being well-rested and reduced cognitive abilities.

Because of the increased risk of CNS fatigue and injury, advocates of HIT believe that training should occur no more than three times a week, limiting an hour (at the absolute most) per workout. This will help ensure a proper amount of recovery time per workout and reduce the risk of injury or overtraining.

Risk and Controversy:

Arguably, these techniques this will elicit a greater increase in muscular strength and size since the body will be taken beyond muscular failure, while high volume training will not generate the intensity. This form of training has proven to be very effective, but it’s also very hard on the body and requires far more precautions than a high volume training method. One’s risk of injury will be reduced if proper warming up, impeccable form, and proper rest and nutrition aren’t adhered to.

Sample Workouts:

With one of main principles of HIT being variation, there are is an abundance of ways to set up a workout routine that adheres to the HIT philosophies. Based off the recommended three-day-a-week schedule, workouts can be set up as a three full body workouts, an upper/lower body split (two upper, one lower), or a push/pull/leg split. Exercise choice can be tailored to fit the equipment available or to personal preference, but here’s an example of a week using each routine:

Full Body:

Day One:

1. Barbell Squat

2. Bench Press

3. Pullup/Chinup

4. Stiff-Legged Deadlift

5. Seated Shoulder Press

6. Bicep Curl

7. Triceps Extension

Day Two:

  1. Leg Press
  2. Bent-over Row
  3. Chest Press
  4. Lying Hamstring Curl
  5. Military Press
  6. Skull-Crushers
  7. Concentration Curls

Day Three:

  1. Deadlift
  2. Bench Press
  3. Low Cable Row
  4. Lunges
  5. Upright Row
  6. Dips
  7. Barbell Shrugs
  8. Preacher Curl

Upper/Lower Split:

Day One:

  1. Bench Press
  2. Bent-over Row
  3. Shoulder Press
  4. Pullup/Chinup
  5. Dip
  6. Barbell Curl

Day Two:

  1. Barbell Squat
  2. Stiff-legged Deadlift
  3. Leg Extension
  4. Lying Leg Curl
  5. Standing/Seated Calf Raise

Day Three:

  1. Incline Barbell Press
  2. Single Arm Dumbbell Row
  3. Dumbbell Pullover
  4. Upright Row
  5. Skull-Crushers
  6. Preacher Curls

Push/Pull/Leg Split:

Day One (Push):

  1. Bench Press
  2. Shoulder Press
  3. Incline Dumbbell Fly
  4. Dip
  5. Triceps Rope Extension

Day Two (Pull):

  1. Bent-over Row
  2. Lat Pulldown
  3. Low Cable Row
  4. Barbell Shrugs
  5. Hammer Curls

Day Three (Legs):

  1. Barbell Squats
  2. Stiff-legged Deadlifts
  3. Leg Extensions
  4. Lying Leg Curls
  5. Standing/Seated Calf Raise

Takeaway:

Arnold vs Mentzer

Arnold and Mentzer. Two great bodybuilders built using very different systems.

Since being conceptualized in the ‘70s, High Intensity Training has become an increasingly popular method of training, largely attributed to its versatility. While high volume training’s merits are limited to bodybuilding and physique enhancement, HIT can be used as an effective bodybuilding or strength/powerlifting program. HIT’s benefits aren’t limited to physique and strength development though; High Intensity Training has been shown to improve metabolic conditioning and cardiovascular health as well.

Despite numerous success stories and proven benefits, HIT isn’t without its flaws. The risk of injury is greatly increased with this form of training, as the intensifiers take the body beyond failure and perfect form becomes hard to maintain as the body reaches this threshold. But with strict adherence to proper form, rest and recovery, High Intensity Training is a training method that can produce dramatic changes in body composition and physical strength.