Focus On Your Muscles Not The Numbers

High Intensity Training - Drew Baye on the SuperSlow Systems Leg ExtensionHow you perform each repetition of an exercise is far more important than how many or your time under load. In fact, while it might sound contradictory, the better you are at an exercise the fewer repetitions you should be able to complete or the shorter your TUL with a given resistance.

This is because the real goal of an exercise is not to make the weight go up and down for some number of repetitions or seconds; that’s just a means to an end. Your real goal is to use the weight to place the greatest possible demand on the muscles worked by the exercise. Rather than think of exercise as being about using your muscles to move the weight, think of it as using the weight to inroad and intensely work your muscles.

If you want to get the most out of your workouts you have to adopt what I call the “high intensity mindset”. From the start of the first rep your goal is not to see how much you can lift, how many reps, seconds, or whatever, but to make every second and every inch of movement as difficult as possible for the muscles being worked. You should be trying to inroad the working muscles as deeply and quickly as possible, trying to achieve momentary muscular failure as efficiently as you can. Your goal is to get to failure so you can continue to contract for another five to ten seconds after and send your body the “message” your environment is making a demand on it that exceeds your current capability and it had better adapt so it can handle it better the next time. Ideally, you also want to get there as safely and efficiently as possible; without excessive wear or injury and without using any more energy than necessary to get to that point.

When you focus more on the numbers than the muscles you will tend to do the exercise in a way that makes it easier to do more reps or go longer – the exact opposite of what you want. When you are able to do more repetitions or go longer it should be because you’ve gotten strong enough that despite your best effort to achieve momentary muscular failure earlier you exceed your upper repetition or time guide number, not because you’ve done things to make it easier.

The majority of form errors people make are because they are focusing on the numbers instead of the muscles;

  • Moving too quickly
  • Throwing or swinging the weight instead of lifting it
  • Dropping the weight instead of lowering it
  • Setting the weight down and unloading between reps
  • Locking out and resting at the end point during pushing movements
  • Altering your body position or movement to reduce the resistance or shift some of it to other muscles
  • Avoiding or rushing through harder portions of the range of motion
  • Pausing or moving too slowly through easier portions of the range of motion (AKA “sandbagging”)
  • Quickly alternating backing off or dropping then heaving at the weight in an attempt to elicit a stretch reflex (AKA “off-onning”)

All of these make it easier to do more reps or go longer but less demanding for the muscles and less effective for the real goal of exercise: stimulating increases in muscular strength and size and through them improvements in the other trainable factors of functional ability. By increasing the length of time it takes to get there they also cause you to waste more energy in the process. While a demand on energy systems is necessary to stimulate some of the improvements we want from exercise there is a point of diminishing returns beyond which you begin to interfere with your body’s ability to recover from and adapt to exercise. Many of these also involve increases in acceleration or changes in leverage which may increase the risk of injury or result in increased wear over time.

If you list the opposites of the above form errors you get the start of a pretty good list of things you should do during exercise:

  • Move in a slow and controlled manner
  • Lift the weight, don’t swing or throw it
  • Lower the weight under strict control, don’t drop it
  • Do not set the weight down or unload between repetitions
  • Do not lock out and rest at the end point during pushing movements
  • Do not alter your body position or movement to reduce the resistance or shift some of it to other muscles
  • Do not avoid or rush through harder portions of the range of motion, “mine” them
  • Do not pause or move too slowly through easier portions of the range of motion, or avoid them altogether
  • Maintain continuous, even tension on the working muscles, do not back off then heave at the weight

High Intensity Training - Drew Baye on the RenEx Compound RowSomewhat ironically, when you focus on these things instead of the numbers the numbers become more meaningful. When you go up in reps or time despite doing your best to inroad as efficiently as possible you will know it’s because you have gotten stronger. Don’t think of the upper repetition count or time under load numbers as goals; think of them as guides for keeping the resistance high enough to allow you to achieve momentary muscular failure within a reasonable time frame.

To put it as simply as possible, the high intensity mindset involves focusing on your muscles, not the numbers.  Don’t think of exercise as using your muscles to do something to the weights – think of it as using the weights to do something to your muscles.

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118 Responses to Focus On Your Muscles Not The Numbers

  1. Ondrej August 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Could it help if one wrote down just the weight and not the amount of reps achieved during last workout? Example: I exceed 12 reps. This means I write down the weight I plan to use NEXT TIME, but not the amount of reps achieved today. If I don’t exceeded rep range, I don’t feel obligated to do more reps next time, can focus on form, but still know which weight to use and still see my progress from weights used. This leads to managable workut length and focus on form, in my opinion. And you still have some clue that you don’t overtrain. In reality, I still write down both numbers, because Drew said so:-) But I might change it, because I do exactly what you said. I try to achieve more reps, which leads to higher speed or worse form.

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

      Ondrej,

      If it helps you to better focus on the real objective then a pass/fail method of record keeping can work. Instead of recording the rep number or time use a check mark if the exercise was performed but you didn’t surpass your upper rep or time guideline or an arrow pointing up if you did to indicate the need for a resistance increase the next time. If for any reason you don’t perform an exercise during a particular workout make sure to record an X in the rep/time space so you know you didn’t perform the exercise and not that you forgot to record a check or arrow.

      I prefer keeping more accurate records, but ultimately what counts is if you are happy with the way you feel, perform, and look. If you are getting the results you want from your training then this type of record keeping is fine. If not, you can use a rep count or time under load while making adjustments to your program then switch back once you’re happy with your progress again. Just don’t prioritize progress on paper over the real objective of safe, efficient, and effective muscular stimulation.

  2. FRANNY GOODRICH August 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    As usual, sound advice Drew. I always look forward to seeing your articles pop into my email inbox. Keep it coming…

  3. Jim August 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    I noticed that I can easily cheat by doing some of those in your error list above especially by working out by myself but the cheating goes down substantially when I workout with partners [which I do now on Mon/Wed/Fri-split routine schedule]. I have seen increase of size and strength since then. BUT we are doing all our exercises through once with body weight or weights then we do a second set of the same exercise with machines or our body weight to MAKE SURE we fatigue and inroad the muscle. If this is not correct, would a second set right afterwards be beneficial to GUARANTEE that I have not cheated or pushed myself enough to fatigue?

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      Jim,

      If you do the first set with enough effort a second set is not only unnecessary but can be counterproductive. Doing more work doesn’t have the same effect as working harder. Make it your goal to completely “empty out” the targeted muscles during the first set so you don’t need a second. Keep going until you are unable to continue positive movement in strict form, then keep contracting for an additional five to ten seconds just to be sure.

  4. Matt McPheely August 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Drew,
    Very helpful list of guidelines, thank you. I understand the concept of concentrating on the muscles rather than TUL or repetitions, but what I am unclear on is how you can determine the most efficient way to inroad the muscle without those things. The amount of weight used will determine how long you can use it to work your muscles, but are you saying that doesn’t matter as long as you work out intensely enough? Can I do 15 repetitions with a lighter weight vs 7 reps with a heavier weight and still expect similar strength gains (assuming i work them with good form to exhaustion)?

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      Matt,

      I’m not saying to not record performance, only that how you perform an exercise is more important than the number of repetitions or the time under load. The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they are helpful for evaluating progress over time and determining when resistance progression is necessary. If you don’t keep track of reps or TUL resistance progression becomes more subjective.

      As far as specific repetition ranges go the exact number isn’t as important as the effort, however there are lower and upper limits. The weight shouldn’t be so heavy that you can not perform at least a few reps in slow, strict form and thoroughly fatigue the lower threshhold motor units, but not so light the set takes more than a few minutes and you are unable to continue due to systemic fatigue or psychological factors rather than local muscle fatigue. I recommend a slower speed (around 4/4) for reasons discussed elsewhere on the site, and although individual response varies a good starting point for most people is around 6 to 10 repetitions on compound pushing movements and 5 to 8 on compound pulling and simple movements, since the squeeze in the finished position increases the rep duration.

  5. cavan prescott August 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    i have been training hit for about a year and a half it is the real deal not a gimmick our strength gains are amazing .i train some one else in my own time and at my expense because i wish to pass on the truth! it is hard to make him see what you are saying .it is so ingrained in to people the three times a week mined set that is so inefficient! and i my self am often guilty of wanting gains every time and then find i am cheating the weight to move and have to drop weight back and go slower but going back is the real strength.i have done this on all my sets and then when i get stronger i deserve it i find the best way is to do 2 sec positive and 4 sec negative . all i get from the bad form is injury witch knocks my training back .when my gains slow or stop i have more rest days and guess what the gains start to come .so think of all that the sheep do and do the opposite .forget the sheep and become you !!!

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

      Cavan,

      It helps to keep in mind that progress is about more than weight and reps or time; it’s also about getting better at using the weight to efficiently target the muscles worked during an exercise.

      Part of the difficulty is we tend to associate the numbers on the workout chart with achievement. I think one solution is to change the way we define achievement and prioritize mastery of form over external factors like load. Focus on doing each exercise as perfectly as you can and you will experience real progress faster than if you focus on improving your numbers on paper.

  6. Donnie Hunt August 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    This is great Drew! Your continual refinement of exercise is very much appreciated! I am curious about how you record your reps for your own workouts? Am I the only one that finds it very hard to consciously do this during the workout and still focus on the real objective?

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

      Donnie,

      It is difficult, especially during the last couple exercises when it’s hard just to think straight, but doable. If you aren’t sure of the exact number of good reps you performed (again, only good reps get counted!) then write the minimum number you are sure of completing followed by a plus sign. It only takes a few seconds to record this on your chart, so it won’t slow you down too much between exercises.

  7. Brad August 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    A problem I’ve had with this technique after more than 9 months is getting to a point where no strength improvements are being made and no growth is taking place. I got to the point where I was taking 7 days of rest and still not seeing any progress. And this was with hitting TUL’s in the triple digits – I would not increase the weight until well over 120 seconds (10 or more seconds). Some of my exercises would hit near or above a personal best (deadlift for example) a couple times a month while others just stayed the same or were getting worse and worse (like seated row and bench press). My general feeling (just a hunch) was that the extra rest days were required for my CNS to recover, not my muscles, which seemed to recover more quickly. I don’t know if this is true, but adding more days rest did not seem to help my performance. I can guarantee you the problem was not my intensity level. That was very high. TUL’s were high, and I did at least 5-10 second static holds on the last rep. I’ve often wondered if there are not two distinct systems being inroaded when the resistance is heavy and the intensity level is high. The two being (1)The muscle tissue, and (2)the nervous system or nerves. And what if these two systems have different recovery rates? If you have to wait a long time for the CNS to recover (more than the muscles) then the efficiency of training progress goes down. And if you have to wait on the order of 10 days or more between workouts in order to see some strength improvements then you are not working out frequently enough to help fat loss to any significant degree, ie, if *lean* muscle mass is your goal. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but this is where my thinking is at right now. Please enlighten me if I’m way off the mark. thanks. -Brad-

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      Brad,

      The effects on the central nervous system are related to the recovery of the muscles and not separate, and also tend to be considerably overestimated. See the comments on recovery and the CNS in Q&A: Criticisms Of Training To Failure. Unless you are chronically overtrained the CNS isn’t a limiting factor.

      Some times the solution is not more recovery time between workouts but fewer exercises per workout. Also, while a wide range of repetitions and time under load can be effective depending on genetics some people will find they respond better to higher or lower ranges and some experimentation may be in order.

      Also in many cases where an individual is not seeing muscular size increases despite training intensely and allowing sufficient recovery (assuming they haven’t hit their genetic limits for muscular strength and size) the limiting factor is diet; usually not enough protein or calories overall.

  8. Brad August 19, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    Drew, is it possible the 5-10 second static hold on the last rep can, depending on the person, resistance, and intensity level, be causing an over-training state? ie, inroading to an extent that is increasing the needed recovery time? I would love to be able to do at least two sessions per week to optimize fat loss and other positive metabolic effects. But twice a week just was not working for me, and even every 7 days wasn’t helping on some exercises.

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

      Brad,

      In most cases I doubt it, however if you are one of the people who responds better to lower reps or a shorter TUL then it is possible assuming you are already inroading very deeply.

  9. Craig August 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    I have been trying to employ the methods you advocate in this article and have found after 2 or 3 compound movements I am spent. Is this normal?

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

      Craig,

      It varies between individuals, but that isn’t unusual for someone training at a high level of intensity. We rarely have clients perform more than four compound movements in a workout starting out, and usually less after they become more advanced.

  10. Brendan August 19, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    My question concerns what can be meaningfully recorded if the importance is on inroading. As a person who trains alone, I have to mentally focus on form, cadence, safety, breathing, number of reps, body position etc. Recently, I have started recording only weight and TUL and have found that my performance has improved markedly. I agree that inroading is important, but as a construct how is it measured when training with or without a partner?

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

      Brendan,

      Unfortunately we can only practically record what is happening externally – weight, reps, time under load, force output, etc. – and not the more important internal factors. Inroad in particular is problematic to measure, primarily because to do so you have to perform a test of starting strength and there are various dangers associated with maximum strength tests. As long as you use strict and consistent form between workouts the repetition count total or TUL is a practical if imperfect means of measuring strength increases over time.

  11. Paul Marsland August 19, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    Great article Drew and I’m looking forward to reading about timed static contractions with some interest.

    Paul.

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

      Thanks Paul,

      We’ve been learning some interesting things using the RenEx iMachines, much of which Gus covered on the blog recently. I’ll be writing specifically about how the protocol affects mindset and helps improve the ability to train more intensely when performing dynamic exercise.

  12. Dwayne Wimmer August 19, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    Drew,

    I find this to be the most challenging aspect of effective training to teach our clients. I will be using some of your terminology and examples to help them understand the process.

    Thanks,

    Dwayne Wimmer

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

      Dwayne,

      Thanks and you’re welcome. It’s definitely one of the hardest things to teach but also one of the most important. It takes some work to change the way people think about what they’re doing during an exercise but once they get it their form tends to improve tremendously and they get a lot more out of their workouts.

  13. Steven Turner August 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    In the last few months I have started to focus on the muscles as you have suggested and not how many reps completed or TUL. In the last few workouts I have noticed that by focusing intensly on muscle contraction and inroading the reps and TUL gradually increased.

    Drew, is deep muscle inroading linked to nerve stimulus/action potentials and graded response to stimuli.

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

      Steven,

      Graded response is what occurs as the muscle is inroaded. At the beginning of the exercise the body only recruits as many motor units as it requires to overcome the resistance provided by the weight. As those fatigue the body sequentially recruits more and larger motor units to maintain the required level of force output.

  14. T.J. O'Connor August 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

    I began a routine 3 weeks ago wear my reps changed every week from 21 to 30 reps one week 12 to 15 reps to the next week 8 to 10 reps and now I’m about to begin 3 to five reps this week I always go to complete failure on my work sets but with this article are you saying that regardless of the weight used as long s its controlled reps you don’t think the weight matters for stimulation?

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

      TJ,

      It is unnecessary to switch repetition ranges weekly. While individuals vary and some might do better with slightly higher or lower reps, on average research shows a wide range of repetitions to be similarly effective for muscular strength and size increases and that intensity of effort is more important than the amount of weight used. Although a variety of repetition cadences and ranges can be effective for safety and efficiency I recommend using a slower speed of movement and moderate rep range: approximately 4/4 and 6 to 10 reps on compound pushing movements and 5 to 8 reps with a 3 second squeeze at the end point on compound pulling and simple movements.

  15. marklloyd August 19, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    The internal / external division is a tough one to resolve: On one hand, numbers can divert our attention from proper form, focus, effort & intent; on the other hand, it’s numbers that we look at to ensure we haven’t been kidding ourselves re our subjective experience.

    • Drew Baye August 19, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

      Mark,

      It certainly is. I think the key is to keep in mind the numbers are not the goal but measurements, and imperfect ones at that, and that they are only meaningful if form is correct and consistent between workouts.

  16. Mario August 20, 2012 at 6:09 am #

    This subject was just what I had in mind lately in my own training, thank you for clearing it up and inspiring me to better understanding. I have seen every video that you have on youtube, it would be very helpfull to have a 3-4 min. one with you doing a normal set to failure at an exercise to get a visual ideea of how somebody with 20 years experience at training does a correct set.thank you for all your work.

    • Drew Baye August 20, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Mario,

      Thanks. Once I’m caught up on other projects I have plans for videos for the web site.

  17. james spella August 20, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    excellent as always drew. a friend of mine who i have been advising, (hit convert) has been using his phone to record his workout and counts reps later. he just focuses on the exercise instead of counting cadence or reps.

    • Drew Baye August 20, 2012 at 10:44 am #

      James,

      It might not be practical for people working out in some gyms but for home training that is a great idea. In addition to eliminating the need to count reps or record TUL during the workout having video would allow you to analyze your form afterwards.

  18. John tatore August 20, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Drew

    Get article Drew.

    One thing that helps people I train to slow down is to tell them what Gus mentioned in one of his articles … push or pull harder … not faster … this gets them to focus a little more on the internal contraction and not the external .. the weight moving.

    Thanks
    John

  19. Mattman August 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Might be a question with an obvious answer but, can this also be done with bodyweight exercises?
    I don’t lift weights anymore, no longer enjoy them, but am definitely intrigued by this workout approach =)

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Drew Baye August 20, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

      Matt,

      Yes. I do bodyweight-only training periodically and am currently training only with bodyweight exercises and the same principles apply.

  20. Nick August 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Drew,

    I just started HIT and one thing I noticed is that I’m not getting the same type of “pump” that I would get if I just trained a specific muscle group in one workout. Does that mean that I’m doing something wrong?

    • Drew Baye August 20, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

      Nick,

      The pump has nothing to do with exercise effectiveness. It’s possible to get very pumped without training effectively, and it is possible to train very effectively and not experience much of a pump.

  21. Steven Turner August 20, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    Thanks for response above I have been trying to get a better understanding of the inroad process. I will await your article on TSC as I have a few more questions in relation to the inroad process with TSC.

    I am not sure if this helps anyone but what I try not to do is not look at my previous reps/TUL. Also I write in my weights before the workout commences. Once I have completed the exercise I than write in the reps/TUL. I also stay consistent with my exercises and order of exercises.

  22. Lou August 21, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Interesting article Drew. Just this past week I reconsidered my approach to a few of the exercises I perform. Case in point: I have been following the BBS Big 5 for many months. Fact is that I have increased every single week on all of my reps/weight save for one or two weeks when I was wiped out…probably should have taken the week off. In any event, I use a Bowflex Ultimate II machine and felt that on 1 or 2 of the exercises I was not completing the rep properly. As I increased the resistance, I was unable to fully contract. The two exercises were the seated row and the lat pulldown. I was steadily increasing the resistance but not getting full extension (for lack of a better word). Unwittingly I had fallen into the trap of looking at the numbers and not focusing enough on doing the movement properly. Caught myself and reduced (considerably) the resistance yet still found it very challenging to perform. My tempo is 4 up/4 down count, 8-12 reps then add resistance by 10 lbs(or more if possible). I’ll know in a few weeks if I see gains. At my age (57) and health (in the midst of losing weight – 20 lbs so far over last 3 months) I need to try not to kid myself by playing the numbers game too much.

    By the way, I tried the 10/10 method, found it just too hard to count and concentrate on TUL as well as the resistance amount. Somebody should make an iPhone app that incorporates some sort of metronome/counting system whereby one can set it to say 10/10 reps or whatever, it beeps when 1 rep is done and also helps with your cadence.

    • Drew Baye August 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

      Lou,

      As the weight goes up it tends to become more difficult to reach the end point on compound pulling exercises because the resistance is too high around that position on most machines and many free weight pulling movements. The resistance provided by the rods on a Bowflex isn’t just a little too high towards the end, it is completely backwards for pulling and simple (rotary) movements. When using these I recommend only performing the top half to two-thirds of the movement, as there is too little resistance at the start relative to the strength of the muscles in that position to benefit from. Also, you should not count a repetition on pulling movements if you aren’t able to get to the end point and hold there motionless for a few seconds. Back the weight down until you can do this on enough repetitions before going back up in weight.

      If you have the space for it I recommend getting a basic cable and pulley pull-down and seated row machine. These have a completely flat resistance curve which is not ideal but still a huge improvement over the backwards resistance provided by the Bowflex.

      It would be nice to have an app to help track reps, however most people who do SuperSlow do not consistently perform perfect 10/10 reps even with instruction, but rather tend to hover somewhere between 8 and 12 seconds each direction, and different exercises may or may not also require a hold at the start and end points or a squeeze at the end point on different repetitions. If a person isn’t sure about their speed and doesn’t have a trainer or training partner to time and count cadence for them I suggest using a basic metronome app to get the feel for the proper speed of movement. After getting a feel for the speed it would be best not to rely on it though, as it can eventually become more of a distraction than an aid.

    • Brad August 23, 2012 at 6:31 am #

      Drew, the HIT Log Pro iPhone app does have a cadence beeper, that defaults to 10 seconds by the way, but you can adjust it to whatever you want or disable it (silent mode). This app works OK (just barely) for people training for TUL/TUT. People have found it to lose data (workout results) at times though. The workaround for this bug I have found is to hit the back-button (to go back to the list of exercises) after hitting the stop-timer button. Otherwise it loses your result data sometimes. The app is very simple – it just records weight, reps, and seconds TUL. Despite the bug I found it better than using a stop watch. It’s costs $2.00. Maybe if it sold more the author would be inclined to improve it. He told me he really just created the app for his own use and has not sold very many copies.

      • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

        Brad,

        Thanks for the heads up. I don’t remember if I looked at that one before.

    • Les October 7, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

      I have the same challenge! App would be a big help.

      • Drew Baye October 8, 2012 at 8:33 am #

        Les,

        If I can figure out a way to design one to do what is required and if it can be developed for a reasonable price I’ll do it.

  23. George Sheehan August 22, 2012 at 2:25 am #

    Hello Drew…sound advice, as always! After reading an article by Mike Mentzer in 1994, I began concentrating on static contractions. I found that this is really the way to go. Looking forward to your next installment; thanks!

    • Drew Baye August 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

      George,

      You’re welcome. I was hoping on starting the timed static contraction post today but still have work to do on Elements of Form and the UXS web site redesign so it might not be up until Saturday. There are some important differences between static holds and timed static contractions I’ll be discussing there.

  24. Lou August 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Thanks Drew. I will follow your suggestions on completing the full ROM on the 2 pulling exercises I mentioned. Even with the “issues” inherent in Bowflex resistance I do believe it is possible to get a legitimate resistance workout on it. My point too was that your post got me thinking about exactly what I was doing and how to focus on the actual feel and effort as opposed to just the numbers.

  25. Lori Jackson August 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    This is really a great article Drew!

    • Drew Baye August 22, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

      Thanks Lori,

      I’m thinking of making it required reading for new clients :)

  26. Peter King August 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    High Intensity workouts are very demanding and this simply technique really helps as I have been doing this for years.

  27. Blain August 22, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    Drew,
    After reducing the volume of my workouts over the years, I’m finally considering trying only the BBS “Big 3″ once a week through the month of September to see what kind of results I get, how I feel, etc… Personally, I have never done such a small amount of exercise. I guess I’m looking for some sort of experienced HIT reassurance. I’ve never done any workout without any type of isolation movements and in the back of my mind want to make sure that I don’t “lose” anything I guess you could say. Is doing just the pulldown, chest press, and leg press enough to fully stimulate all of the bodyparts and enough to ensure that I don’t lose any size or strength? As always, thank you for your time and thank you for keeping such a great blog. I love reading it and keeping up with what everyone in the HIT world is up to. Thanks again.

    Blain

    • Drew Baye August 22, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

      Blain,

      It takes very few exercises but I would vary them rather then do the same three each time. Check out the consolidation routines in High Intensity Workouts for examples.

  28. Andy August 23, 2012 at 3:26 am #

    Hi Drew,
    Congratulation! Great article…you have a great talent to make relatively complicated aspects of HIT clear!

    One argument for 10/10 cadence is that the average tension the targeted muscles experience is higher than on quicker cadences. Besides the Safety aspect, could it be that the possibly higher spikes of tension on quicker cadences are important for muscle growth?
    Some German Natural bodybuilders use a technique called PITT Force … Rest pause from rep one on, training hard but not to failure and are experiencing new muscle growth. I think their philosophy is not deep inroading but high tension for many reps made possible by short pauses between all reps. What do you think about that technique?

    Thanks Andy

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

      Andy,

      Higher force from greater acceleration would not provide better stimulus but does increase risk of injury. There are other problems with rest pause having to do with efficiency which are covered in Elements of Form.

      • Brad August 27, 2012 at 6:48 am #

        “Higher force from greater acceleration would not provide better stimulus”

        Drew, Setting aside the obvious topic of increased risk of injury. I have heard this claim many times, and have even read in BBS how supposedly this works at the muscle fiber and cellular level, but I still don’t understand the why/how of it. Is this just based on your experience with past trainees? Certainly the stimulus would be different given one technique is training the muscles more for maximum momentary force and recovery ability while the other is training the muscles more for endurance of force and efficiency of force due to no rest. I liken it to sprinting versus jogging. So you are saying the latter stimulus benefits hypertrophy more than the former?

        • Drew Baye August 27, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

          Brad,

          Unless you’re getting way out past the three minute mark it doesn’t appear to make much of a difference in the short term, and in the long term it would make little difference at all. I’ve experimented with a lot of high intensity training protocols over the past few years and have had good results with trainees using all of them and between that experience and the research it seems relative effort is by far the most important factor.

          What I’m saying is, there are a lot of ways to get as strong, muscular, and fit as your genetics will allow, but the details don’t make as much of a difference to the end results as how hard you push yourself. The details do, however, have a lot to do with the wear and tear imposed on your body in the process and the efficiency of your program overall. Lots of things work, not everything works as quickly, safely, or efficiently.

  29. Craig August 23, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    What is your opinion on Fred Hahn’s recommendation in his “Slowburn” book of using a 10/10 cadence, but moving only an inch for the first three seconds at the beginning of the rep and after each turn around?

    • Drew Baye August 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

      Craig,

      As a general rule you should barely move as you begin the positive but it isn’t necessary to go quite that slowly to adequately reduce the force from acceleration. This is covered in detail in the section on turnarounds in Elements of Form.

  30. Thom Tombs August 23, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Drew,
    I love this article!
    Thanks,
    Thom

  31. Steven August 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    I am a personal trainer who has been working out himself for over 20 years. This might be the best article/advice on weight training I have ever read. Should be posted in every gym right on the entrance to the weight room. Thanks.

    • Drew Baye August 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Thanks Steven,

      Maybe this weekend I’ll put together a PDF people can print out at poster size with the “dos” and “don’ts” listed on it.

      • Steven August 25, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

        Drew, I would put a trademark on it and then sell it to all the major gyms in the country !

        • Drew Baye August 27, 2012 at 12:31 am #

          Steven,

          If there’s enough interest I’ll design a poster for the store but I’ll still upload a free printable PDF in the downloads section.

          • Steven August 28, 2012 at 11:33 am #

            That would be amazing. Its mandatory reading for anyone who lifts to build muscle. Not so much for power lifters, athletes etc, but for pure hypertrophy. Thanks.

            • Drew Baye August 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

              Steven,

              The same principles apply for strength training for power lifters and other athletes, they just have to also include skill training for their sport. Powerlifting is an area which tends to cause confusion on this topic because the mindset is the complete opposite; the focus is almost entirely on the numbers and training for the competitive lifts involves performing the exercises in a way that makes it easier to lift the weight while complying with the rules and requirements of the sport.

  32. Brad August 28, 2012 at 6:52 am #

    Drew,
    About your comment “efficiency of your program”, I have been thinking a lot about this lately due to hitting a performance plateau, perhaps I’m getting near my genetic potential though I doubt it. One thing I would like to see addressed by you on this site or in your book is the importance of recuperation and finding the proper balance of intensity and recuperation duration. It seems most HIT proponents stress maximum intensity almost to the exclusion of everything else. I think once a trainee becomes more experienced/advanced, is able to train with very high intensity, and is approaching his genetic limits, the time lost to recuperation becomes a much bigger factor in the average efficiency of one’s program overall and whatever further growth they can get over a long period of time (months/years). It’s stands to reason if your intensity level is at the point where you have to rest much more than 7 days (and I think I heard that 10-14 is not uncommon) that your growth is going to be much slower than if you are able to recover fully in less time and thereby able to workout and stimulate the muscles more often. When performance falls, the thing I always hear recommended is to just increase the number of rest days. But wouldn’t reducing the training volume AND intensity also have the same effect? Ie, excluding set extenders from one’s program if one is needing to rest more than 7 days. Things like the 5-10 second static hold at the end of a set, and throwing out any rest-pause sets, or isolation sets before/after the primary compound exercises. And if this doesn’t help enough, going even further by terminating sets just shy of failure (gasp! blasphemy! you say).

    In short, I think the main goal of HIT, and all training really, should be finding the proper balance of volume AND intensity that will provide a sufficient stimulus to growth, while at the same time limiting the amount of damage done so that this stimulus can be more frequently applied. In this regard I think minimizing recovery time is EQUALLY important to intensity of effort for the advanced trainee, though perhaps not for the less advanced.

    I have talked to a couple other people who stopped doing TUL training to failure and went back to volume/rep NTF training for this reason. They said it was due to the systemic/CNS fatigue caused by TTF training, which may or may not be true. But whatever the cause, the important point is that the required increase in recovery time was hurting their overall program efficiency and progress. They were training too intensely and in-effect over-training. At least that’s what it looks like to me. And I’m now wondering if I haven’t been doing the same thing.

    I’ve recently gone back to rep training but am thinking of cycling back to SSTF TUL training to test this out on myself – cutting back the volume/intensity while increasing the workout frequency.

    Just some things I’ve been thinking about and would appreciate your feedback on this.

    cheers, -Brad-

    • Brad August 28, 2012 at 6:59 am #

      For context here’s the full quote I was referring to…

      “The details do, however, have a lot to do with the wear and tear imposed on your body in the process and the efficiency of your program overall. Lots of things work, not everything works as quickly, safely, or efficiently.”

    • Drew Baye August 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      Brad,

      Some of these things like the set extenders I cover in Elements of Form. I would discourage most people from using many of them, especially rest-pause, drop sets, forced reps, forced negatives, finishing negatives, etc. There are a place for a few of these but they are usually done incorrectly and for the wrong reasons and and most are unnecessary or even counterproductive.

      As I mentioned in another comment, reducing intensity is not the answer. If anything, most people don’t train nearly intensely enough. It is the single most important factor where results are concerned. If you want the best possible results train as hard as you can and adjust your volume and frequency of training to allow for adequate recovery, rather than sacrificing intensity to do more. No increase in volume will make up for a reduction in intensity because it isn’t the amount of work done that matters but the relative effort put into that work.

      The are only two practical minimums where volume is concerned, and those are a program (although not a single workout) needs to involve enough exercises to effectively address all the major muscle groups (which is fewer than most people seem to believe) and the exercises need to be of adequate duration to keep the loads within reasonably safe levels.

      These are good questions and ones that come up frequently and deserve an entire article. I still have to finish the article on timed static contractions but will add this to the list.

      • Joel August 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

        Working out alone at home, I find that set extenders (for me rest pause, static contraction after positive failure, and negative only) help me to really ensure I’ve worked as hard as I can on a set.

        Rest Pause has also helped some friends i’ve walked through HIT basics to understand the inroading that can be achieved with one set to, or close to failure. When 10 seconds after the set, they are barely able to complete one positive rep, they begin to get it.

        • Drew Baye August 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

          Joel,

          I’m not going to go into it too much here on the site because I cover it in a lot of detail in Elements of Form, but most set extenders tend to detract from rather than improve exercise intensity and overall workout effectiveness. In most cases they improve the amount of work without actually increasing intensity in any meaningful way, and are often done in a way that increases the tendency to perform common errors and the risk for injury.

          Under some circumstances they can be useful for teaching or to demonstrate a point, but I wouldn’t recommend making them a regular part of your training program.

        • Brad August 28, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

          Joel, my personal experience with set extenders is that they just did more muscle damage necessitating longer recuperation (more rest days between workouts). I think they hurt my progress more than they helped. I’m not saying that’s true for everyone, but that’s the effect they seemed to have on me, at least for most of my upper body exercises. Oddly, they may have actually helped my leg development. Perhaps this is because my legs can take more damage and/or recover more quickly? dunno, but I suppose it’s possible.

          • Drew Baye August 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

            Brad,

            I’ve found the same thing with a lot of people I’ve trained. What most people don’t seem to get is that the set extenders don’t make the exercise more intense, they just unnecessarily prolong it. Add that to the fact the way most people do forced reps, rest-pause, forced negatives, finishing negatives, etc. is really horrendous from a safety standpoint and you’ve got a recipe for overtraining and injury.

            • Joel August 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

              Thanks for the responses on set extenders guys. One of the two friends i’m currently introducing to HIT is taking a bit long to recover, set extenders may be the culprit. The other is doing quite well, but he’s great candidate: he’s got good genes, recently lost a lot of fat through dieting, was once an athlete, but hasn’t strength trained in 9 years. Unfortunately, a once dislocated shoulder has been limiting our exercise selection.

              I got into HIT about 2 years ago at 145 lbs and am currently over 165 lbs, while staying lean. Set extenders worked well for me, and I’ll admit I use them more frequently than Dr Darden would recommend.

              But if as Drew says, there is no such thing as too intense, you are able to recover in a reasonable time, and given that we have more negative strength than positive…..after reaching or nearly reaching positive failure on say a barbell curl, why not pause at the midpoint/parallel for a static contraction on that final lowering portion? Or ending a working set of weighted dips with a couple negative only reps?

              This was a great article Drew. As I got further into HIT training, I found myself inadvertently focusing too much on the load. I’ve recently been experimenting with Jreps/Zone Training, which is helping me to re-focus on the muscle, form, etc.
              I know we’re not in the gym to have fun, but its psychologically so much nicer to not be worrying about beating load PRs every workout.

            • Drew Baye August 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

              Joel,

              The intensity of an exercise is the degree of effort you are applying relative to your momentary ability. For example, if you are capable of exerting 100 pounds of force at the beginning of an exercise but the resistance is 70 pounds your intensity at the start is 70 percent (we’ll ignore strength and resistance curves, force/velocity curve, friction, etc. for the sake of example). As you perform the exercise fatigue reduces the target muscles’ momentary strength. When your momentary strength has been reduced to 90 pounds of force contracting against the 70 pounds of resistance requires about 78 percent of your momentary ability (70 divided by 90 = approximately 78 percent). The deeper you inroad the strength of the muscles being worked the higher a percentage of your momentary ability 70 pounds becomes. Ideally, you would want to continue the exercise until your momentary ability to produce force is reduced to a level equal to the resistance, at which point you are contracting with a maximum effort, 100 percent intensity. Most people stop short of this for various reasons, but a big part of it is they underestimate how hard they are really contracting and how much deeper they can inroad before true momentary muscular failure.

              When you do rest-pause, the rest provides a momentary respite which allows you to increase your momentary ability. When you do a stage rep (J-reps and Zone training are just attempts at making stage reps more sophisticated) you move to an easier portion of the range of motion which reduces the resistance. When you perform a forced rep, someone else assists you to a degree by reducing the resistance. All of these allow you to perform more work by reducing intensity in different ways.

              You are better off continuing to contract against the resistance for another five to ten seconds working on continuing to inroad the muscles and increase the intensity in the process than to reduce intensity to do more work. This is why I recommend this; not as a post failure set extender, but because I don’t believe most people really work to failure and this is a more efficient way to ensure thorough inroad. I teach clients to do this and frequently have people performing one or two more reps after they believe they can’t do another one. The reps end up being really slow, barely moving, but they manage to complete them in strict form. Without continuing to attempt to contract at this point they would not have inroaded nearly as deeply or worked as hard.

              Another negative to many set extenders is they get in the way of learning to contract more intensely and inroad deeply without them, and when a subject starts expecting to be required to perform them post failure there is a tendency to hold back and not inroad as deeply to keep some energy in reserve for the set extender. I am trying to get Elements of Form finished as best I can around training and other projects and it will answer a lot of questions people have about this.

      • Brad August 28, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

        Drew, in McGuff’s book he talks about the dose-response relationship of strength training. That optimally, one should apply just enough stimulus (dosage) that triggers the adaptation/growth (response). And any amount of applied stimulus over this optimal (dosage) just causes more recovery to be needed. It seems like you are saying that INTENSITY is the stimulus that must be *sufficiently* high to trigger adaptation. This makes sense to me. But what doesn’t make sense to me is ignoring that INTENSITY is also a component of (dosage) just like VOLUME and FREQUENCY is. All three combined equates to the amount of work, or damage, seen by the muscles. Given this, how can we know that going to failure is not going too far for some people?… that it isn’t causing too much damage and in turn needless extra recovery time?

        thanks, -Brad-

        • Drew Baye August 28, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

          Intensity is a component of dosage, but you adjust volume and frequency based on intensity, not the other way around. Nobody trains too intensely. I have never had someone get better results because they’ve backed off on how hard they train – always the opposite. I have, however, consistently had people get better results by reducing either the volume or frequency of their workouts.

          • Joel August 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

            “Ideally, you would want to continue the exercise until your momentary ability to produce force is reduced to a level equal to the resistance, at which point you are contracting with a maximum effort, 100 percent intensity.”

            “You are better off continuing to contract against the resistance for another five to ten seconds working on continuing to inroad the muscles and increase the intensity…”

            You’re referring to the point at which you can’t physically complete another positive repetition, but continue to struggle against the resistance, essentially holding the contraction for an additional 5 to 10 seconds?

            So rather than thinking you’re not going to complete another full tricep cable pushdown and holding the contraction at the bottom, you would advocate attempting another positive rep and holding the contraction at whichever point you get stuck?

            “When you do a stage rep you move to an easier portion of the range of motion which reduces the resistance.”

            Not sure I follow you here. Working in zones seems to give you the ability to make the easier portion of the ROM much harder, the top portion of a barbell squat for instance.

            • Drew Baye August 29, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

              Joel,

              I recommend continuing to contract for five to ten seconds because often people believe they have failed when they have not and they just need to gradually attempt to increase their effort. Some times you will think there is no possible way you can complete another repetition in good form but if you just continue to try the weight might start to move a little and you will find you are capable of completing the rep and maybe even another one. It takes some people a while to learn to contract as intensely as possible.

              As for stage reps, consider you don’t need a full range of motion to effectively work all the muscles involved. If you reach failure in one portion of the range of motion then switching to another part of the range of motion doesn’t increase the intensity of the exercise, just the work being done. If you are able to continue by switching to another portion it is because doing so reduces the resistance (by reducing the lever/moment arm you work against). There have been people who have had good results doing this but it isn’t necessary to continue with additional stages after failing in one. Our work with timed static contraction on the RenEx iMachines is suggesting you don’t need any range of motion at all provided you use a position where all the target muscles are significantly involved and work at a high enough level of effort.

  33. Brad August 28, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    This begs the question of what is “sufficient stimulus to trigger growth”? Is going to failure in sets a *strict requirement* (for everyone) or can some people get sufficient stimulus by having an intensity that is HIGH but less than an all-out (failure) effort? If the latter is possible I would think it leads to a better stimulus-recovery balance and increase in overall program efficiency. -Brad-

    • Drew Baye August 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      Brad,

      It isn’t necessary to go to failure to stimulate improvements in muscular strength and size or any of the other factors of functional ability, you just have to work harder than you are accustomed to. However, how effective a workout is for this purpose is related to intensity of effort and the harder you train the better your results will be. If you want the best possible results you should be training as hard as possible – to the point of momentary muscular failure.

      Reducing intensity of effort for the sake of being able to do more is a step in the wrong direction. Most people, even those who have been doing high intensity training for a while, don’t train nearly as hard as they are capable of to begin with.

      • Brad August 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

        Thanks for the reply Drew. I’m willing to accept the hypothesis that the harder you train the better your results will be for_any_given_workout. But if you can only workout 3 or 4 times per month because of intensity-induced muscle damage, how good are your results going to be that month? Forget “most people”, I’m talking about guys who hit it HARD!

        The purpose of reducing intensity in the instance I’m talking about here isn’t so you can do MORE, it’s so you can do LESS…but more often. Does that make sense?

        Perhaps using a skin tanning analogy will help show what I’m talking about…

        Suppose when you lay in a tanning bed for 1 hour with the level set to (high) you get burned. Then because of the burn you can’t resume tanning sessions for a week while your skin recovers. If you do this on a consistent basis you will not effectively build a tan over the course of a month. Now suppose instead you were to tan for only 15 minutes at the same high intensity level. You would not burn which allows more frequent tanning sessions, but (assuming) 30 minutes is the minimum time to trigger sufficient adaptation that causes the skin to appreciably darken (tan), this would be ineffective at building a tan in a month. Now suppose instead you were to tan for 1 hour but at lower intensity setting. This would not cause burning allowing for more frequent tanning sessions and the session duration is sufficient to trigger sufficient skin adaptation and darkening, and so…this protocol efficiently allows you to become more tanned over the course of a month. Roughly speaking, in reality this is how you safely build a good tan.

        With this example I’m just trying to show that intensity (as well as volume and frequency) can impact recovery, which in turn, impacts the effectiveness of a protocol over time – a longer time than just one session. If this type of relationship *cannot* apply to muscle adaptation I would like to understand why not?

        thanks! -Brad-

        • Drew Baye August 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

          Brad,

          I think you’d be surprised. With very intense training very, very little exercise is required in terms of either workout volume or frequency. I remember during phone conversations with Mike Mentzer in the late 1990s he was getting really good results with some clients training once weekly or even as little as once every ten days doing only a few exercises per workout, and I’ve made good gains and had good results with some clients doing as little as three exercises a workout once weekly. This is something that really deserves a separate article because I don’t think a lot of people read this far down in the comments and it is something that keeps coming up.

          As for the suntan analogy, it doesn’t quite work with this because while it is easy to sunburn under bright sunlight if you have a light complexion it is almost impossible for people to train too intensely.

          • Brad August 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

            Drew,
            I believe both you and Mike got good results with low frequency. I myself had great results with one Big-5 workout every 4-7 days… for the first 3 months. Then the following 6 months almost no progress despite increased intensity of effort and going to 1 workout every 8 days. And as I said in another post above I’ve talked to two others who had a similar experience. These are the exceptions to the expected results I’m trying to understand. Ie, why this protocol/technique stopped working for us?

            In the analogy a person with a light complexion that burns easily is like the person who takes excessively long to recover from a workout. In both cases the prescription IMO would be to lower the dosage (which includes intensity).

            I’m not sure what you mean when you say “it is almost impossible for people to train too intensely.”. What does (too intensely) mean to you? To me it means the level that requires excessive rest days when volume and frequency is already at a minimum. This is where I’m at. And so, what else can I do but reduce the intensity? Or should I only work out every 14 days???

            Sorry if I seem argumentative. I’m just very frustrated with my lack of progress and not being able to understand the logic of parts of this regimen/protocol. I really think there is a huge hole in the regimen as it’s currently defined, taught, and implemented. That huge hole is not placing equal focus on recovery that is placed on dosage. They are two sides of the same scale and a balance has to be struck. And just saying “add more rest days” is not really managing the process for optimal results if rest days are already at or above 6 days.

            In any case, thanks for your patience and many responses to my ramblings.

            regards, -Brad-

            • Drew Baye August 29, 2012 at 10:19 am #

              Brad,

              Don’t apologize! You’re not being argumentative you’re questioning and thinking critically – something most people don’t do enough of. If I didn’t question and if I hadn’t done a lot of really hard thinking about the subject (and if I was not fortunate to meet and have the sense to listen to people like Mike Mentzer, Ken Hutchins, Ell Darden, Arthur Jones, Jim Flanagan, etc. – have to give credit where it is due!) I would not be getting nearly as much out of my training nor would my clients. This subject is one I beat myself up over for a long time while having similar frustration with my progress a while back.

              First, it is important to clarify I define intensity as the percentage of momentary ability one is working at, or their momentary effort relative to their momentary ability and not a percentage of one’s one repetitions which is the popular definition but completely wrong. When I say most people don’t train nearly intensely enough I mean most stop far short of a true, all-out effort.

              I think a lot of this also has to do with inefficient exercise performance resulting in people wasting more energy than they should in the process of inroading, a problem which set extenders makes worse, not better. Improving the efficiency of exercise performance would have the benefit of simultaneously increasing intensity and reducing wasted energy (and the demands on recovery) and improving results.

              It is not as simple as adding more rest days. It usually helps, but often a bit of experimentation is required and before reducing frequency I would suggest cutting back on the workout volume. For example, if someone is doing a full body routine twice a week and starts to experience a reduction in progress despite proper nutrition and rest I would reduce the volume of their workouts before adding rest days (which doesn’t necessarily mean reducing the number of exercises – think of volume as a measure of the metabolic demand rather than the number of exercises, sets, or reps).

              I started working on a series of articles on the research review Evidence-Based Resistance Training Recommendations which includes observations based on training hundreds of people with various high intensity training protocols over the last two decades and when I get around to working on those again this is a subject I’ll give a lot more attention to.

  34. Steven Turner August 29, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Brad has raised some great questions but if I can put a different perspective to “training with intense effort”. The other day at my work one of the teachers a pilates follower showed a photo of Joseph Pilates at age 57 and said look at Joe what a great physique for a 57 year old. My response was well I am 57 and I would say I am in better shape than Joe was when he was 57.

    Drew, viewing your recent photos on the website I would say that your also looking in great shape, strong fit and healthy for your age. I know that Doug McGuff has written about BBS/HIT reversal of aging process. The more I see of the “older HIT trainers” the more I think that “intensity of effort” must be a factor/link that reverses ones genome/DNA, at same time maintaining/increase muscle size.

    I agree with you that reducing the intensity for more volume/frequency is heading in the wrong direction, as you mentioned the set extenders are adding more volume to the workout. I think that what Brad is trying to find is that required level of effort that provides the stimulus for growth. It has taken me sometime to find that level of intensity I try to feel that deep muscle inroad without losing form. I asked you a while back about the “size principle” and “action potentials” your responses gave me a better understanding of what is occuring during the “muscle inroading process”. Maybe that could also help Brad.

    • Drew Baye August 29, 2012 at 10:50 am #

      Thanks Steven,

      I’m not ready to step on a bodybuilding stage right now, but between refining my form and getting my diet back on track I’m definitely not feeling old. My birthday was yesterday and when my wife asked me how it feels to be thirty nine I told her I don’t feel any different than when I was eighteen.

      As for size principle and action potentials, there is some discussion of this in Elements of Form but I’ll probably expand those comments into a Q&A post for the site. I currently have over 130 older articles in draft form that I have to either update, rewrite, or consolidate before re-posting and might have covered this in a few of those as well.

  35. Ondrej August 29, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    Drew,
    I do read down, it’s worth it. But my question is different, related to activity vs. exercise. I feel many people use HIT as an excuse to lay on the couch all week and I’d like to ask whether you have some recommendations for additional activity during the week, if HIT is enough as a stimulus and the rest should be percieved as fun, leisure time activity with almost non-existant exercise benefits. I try to do some daily walking for health and I’ve read Clarence Bass incorporated interval sprinting once a week along with one HIT session, but I am not sure it makes a difference in terms of progression. It’s fun, it has exercise effect, but a bit risky. But after all, the same applies for sports. Do You perform any other activities that are scheduled, with health/performance goals in mind? How does Your week look like in terms of activity?

    • Drew Baye August 29, 2012 at 10:38 am #

      Ondrej,

      I’ve found the opposite. Instead of becoming couch potatoes people tend to become even more active after starting a high intensity training program because they can. Giving a person a stronger, tougher, fitter body then telling them to sit on the couch all week is like giving someone a Bugatti Veyron (currently the fastest street-legal car in the world) and telling them to leave it in the garage most of the week.

      I’ve studied numerous martial arts since I was young and still practice Wing Chun and Jun Fan Kung Fu, Pambuan Arnis, Inosanto-Blend Kali, and Maphilindo Silat a few times a week and I perform the Wing Chun form Siu Nim Tao once or twice a day. If the new UXS and other projects I’m working on do well enough I plan to cut my weekly personal training hours by more than half so I can resume studying Wing Chun with Karl Godwin in Sanford, FL. I also used to train regularly with the Zoic Nation parkour team in Orlando and still do parkour occassionally but not nearly as often as I would like. When the weather is better I like walking outside while reading and when I am able to start cutting my schedule back I plan to spend more time hiking and cycling.

      Doing HIT doesn’t mean killing yourself in the gym for 15 to 30 minutes a few times a week and sitting on your ass the rest of the time, it means killing yourself in the gym for 15 to 30 minutes a few times a week so you can spend the rest of your time more productively or enjoyably :)

      • Will August 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

        A very straightforward and, seemingly, simple point – yet, it was lost on me for the longest time. I now get it. Nicely put.

      • Brad August 31, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

        Drew, I don’t know if this speaks to me doing a good job at intensity, but I find that I’m so sore/worn-out after a routine including either leg press or deadlift that the most I can do is walking or light jogging for up to a few days after, and if I do sprint intervals between my once a week (previous schedule) leg routine I find it hurts my progress. I’m talking 100% full speed sprint-walk intervals.

        • Drew Baye August 31, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

          Brad,

          The more intensely you train the more wiped out you should feel for a brief period of time after the workout but you should feel fine within a few hours and able to do most regular physical recreational and athletic activities during the following days. Hard leg training will make sprints a bit tough, though. If you’re training for a race or sport you’ll need to balance the frequency of leg training against running practice.

  36. Brad August 29, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Drew, your 4th paragraph and the sentence preceding it make a lot of sense to me. One thing I did notice in my routine was that for some exercises it was working well even at the 9+ months point. I was hitting at or above personal bests on a weekly basis with three exercises; pulldown, deadlift, and dips. Not every week, but at times (in cycles). But on other exercises (seated row, chest press, leg press) I was not progressing at all. So this tends to make me think the routine was just not optimal for all body parts. I suppose different body parts may recover at different rates? One potential problem that seems kinda obvious to me now in hindsight is that I had two alternating routines (A & B) but both of them were full body routines having a big compound leg exercise (A-leg_press and B-deadlift) and so it could be that this was not allowing me to increase my frequency above once per 7-8 days because of those routines working the same muscles, and perhaps the metabolic demand as well. Similarly both routines had a compound pulling movement (A-pulldowns and B-seated_row) and both had a compound pushing movement (A-chest_press, and B-dips). I’m now thinking about going back and redesigning my routines to have a split where each daily routine does not overlap in the muscles being worked. Ie, one day for pulling movements (back, biceps), one day for pushing movements (chest, shoulders, tri’s), and one day for legs. This *should* allow me to increase my workout frequency to 3 days per week without increasing my volume at all. I’d still be working each muscle group only once per week giving ample time for recovery, I hope. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

    Thanks! -Brad-

    • Drew Baye August 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

      Brad,

      Yes, it is possible for different body parts to recover at different rates; muscles which are predominantly fast twitch appear to recover more slowly than those which are predominantly slow twitch. That would be a situation where a split routine would be advantageous.

  37. Eric Lepine September 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Drew, given all the talk about the many factors that we need to account for in recording our progress which, as you have alluded to, is much more than simply increasing reps and load, would you also be of the opinion that we certainly also should take in consideration that, even if we feel rested and ready for our next workout, we might not necessarily obtain the same “numbers” yet, as long as we keep with the goal of maintaining perfect/optimal form, then all that really matters beyond that is giving our max for that day (as opposed to actual max, or competitive max, or any other such max you can think of)? I know this can be a slippery slopes of sort, since one could then come to the conclusion that they can simply train at any given frequency, as long as they give their maximum, and this could easily lead to overtraining. But, as a general guideline, would you say this is another fair way of looking at things, assuming we still take all the other usual factors in consideration?

    • Drew Baye September 5, 2012 at 9:09 am #

      Eric,

      Yes. The focus during each workout should be to perform each exercise as perfectly as possible to achieve the real goal of exercise: to place the greatest possible demand on your body without wrecking it in the process or undermining your long term functional ability and health. The better you get at doing this the harder the exercises become and despite steady strength increases the numbers on paper might not show it from workout to workout.

      It is better to compare exercise performance over a period of several weeks than from workout to workout while also directly observing or measuring progress towards goal-specific physical changes like improvements in body composition and other markers of health or the performance of other physical activities.

  38. james spella September 5, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    drew, i have worked out for the first time using the recommended 10/10 cadence with 5 second holds in the contacted position on BB rows, and in the extended position on squats and pushups. i was impressed by the intensity. i was very suprised that i experienced NO muscle soreness. it causes me to wonder whether the muscle stimulation is as much as with a protocol of a 2/4 or 5/5 for instance. also, i wonder about slowing bone loss as i continue to age. what are your thoughts?

    • Drew Baye September 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

      James,

      Muscle soreness isn’t an indicator of exercise effectiveness. Subjects often experience considerably more soreness when starting out despite not training with a high level of intensity and less as they become stronger and more skilled and capable of training harder.

      Any strength training done with at least moderately-heavy loads will maintain bone mass. While some research suggests heavier loads are required, these studies are often performed with older women for whom “heavy” means a much lower resistance than for men.

  39. Matt McPheely September 6, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    Drew,
    Ive heard It mentioned that there is no difference between muscular strength, power, and endurance. Can all 3 be enhanced simultaneously through this workout? And if someone, like my wife for example, wants to avoid any hypertrophy, how might that be possible through intense progressive exercise?

    • Drew Baye September 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

      Matt,

      If you increase your muscular strength you will also improve your power and endurance.

      Your wife shouldn’t be worried about muscular hypertrophy, she should aggressively pursue it. Most women do not have the genetics to become overly muscular and if anything tend to have too little. If your wife is one of the very rare women who does have the potential to become very muscular the answer is to keep overall food intake low. It is extremely difficult to build a large amount of muscle without at least a slight calorie surplus.

    • Steven September 7, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

      wants to avoid any hypertrophy ? Code words for “I don’t want to train hard” Why is it that the people who will have the toughest time gaining mass also are the one’s who don’t want it !

      • Drew Baye September 8, 2012 at 7:37 am #

        Steven,

        Sadly, the myth that strength training will make women overly muscular is a persistent one. The topic deserves its own article.

        • Matt McPheely September 8, 2012 at 9:18 am #

          Drew, an article dedicated to women would be great. No matter how wrong it may be, most women are scared to death of getting bulky. I used your answer above to convince my wife that she won’t, so thanks for that.

          Steven, not sure how you got to “I don’t want to train hard” from the fact that my wife doesn’t want to get bulky. It’s a misconception about muscle building, not an issue with work ethic. I do agree most people probably have no idea how to train hard enough, but that’s a separate issue.

        • Steven September 8, 2012 at 11:17 am #

          Drew, so true. Do they realize how hard it is to “get bulky” ? Without the benefit of drugs and eating beyond reason, its nearly impossible for women to get too muscular. Matt, not being critical of your wife, but its really an excuse not to train hard with the weights.

  40. Nick Miller September 8, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    Hey Drew, I’ve been following several of your topics since I started training HIT style a few months ago. I train with a guy out here in Phx, and I must say the nautilus machines are no joke. I love this topic as when I first started I was used to exploding with the weight instead of slowly pushing it off the rack from start to finish. Ensuring I was going slow and not rushing on the negative part of the rep. I have been using Mentzers style but I wanted to ask you what you thought about Dorian Yates version, as you are a big fan of him as well?

    • Drew Baye September 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Nick,

      I’m a big fan of Dorian and like his overall approach with a few exceptions: I only recommend one set instead of two, I recommend a much more controlled speed of movement than Dorian used and believe he would have avoided some serious injuries had he used better form, and I recommend a full body routine for most people and have a different approach to splitting routines.

  41. Prof January 2, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    In more than one of your posts you define intensity and the goal of each set as
    follows: “You should be trying to inroad the working muscles as deeply and
    quickly as possible, trying to achieve momentary muscular failure as efficiently
    as you can.” I agree with this 100%, however I question the best way HOW to
    achieve this. The standard HIT or SuperSlow argument is that by performing reps
    at a slow cadence (6 up to 20 seconds per rep), the steady tension of the weight
    on the muscle along with strict form will provide the most efficient way to
    reach failure, in other words the time under load (TUL) will be minimized.
    However, I challenge this assertion and have data to show exactly the OPPOSITE:
    Faster rep cadence (3 seconds per rep) will produce significantly shorter TUL to
    reach failure and as such is the most time-efficient and intense way to perform
    a set. I would welcome feedback and sharing of results from other trainers to
    see if they find similar results. Let me summarize my results. Data was
    collected during my workouts over a several-month period, during which time I
    had been training regularly for several years (I was not coming off a lay-off,
    etc.) using typical SS (super-slow) or HIT-style workouts (one set to failure).
    I compared my TUL using SS reps (20 second rep cadence) during one workout
    session to fast reps (~3 seconds per rep) using the SAME WEIGHT on another
    workout day. I did this for 22 different standard barbell and machine
    exercises. The results: Without exception, the SS TUL was always longer (by
    55% on average) than the fast-rep TUL. Let me describe a couple examples to
    make my point clear. For Cybex machine calf raises with the entire weight
    stack, I reached failure after 6 SS reps (122 seconds TUL). The following week,
    using the same machine and weight, I reached failure after 25 fast reps (~2
    secs/rep) for a TUL of only 48 seconds. Thus the same level of inroad was
    reached more than twice as quickly as the super slow set with the same weight.
    Another example is machine chest press with 195 pounds. For the SS set, failure
    was reached after 4 SS reps for a TUL of 73 seconds. During a different
    session, the same weight (195 lbs) was used to reach failure after 13 fast reps
    (3 seconds per rep) in only 40 seconds. As mentioned above, I found the same
    results without exception in all 22 exercises I tested: Fast rep cadence will
    produce momentary muscular failure more quickly (more efficiently) than super
    slow reps, and thus could be argued to be a more intense protocol. I found
    these results somewhat surprising, as I expected super-slow reps cause failure
    more quickly than fast reps. I only compared the 2 extremes: SS (20 sec reps)
    vs. fast-reps (2-4 sec reps) and did not try other intermediate rep cadences
    such as the recommended HIT protocol. I offer 3 possible explanations for these
    results and welcome your feedback:

    1. The 10-second long negative portion of a super-slow rep may allow some
    recovery during each repetition, thus allowing the muscle to take longer to fail.

    2. The fast-rep set involves many more reps thus more mechanical work (force x
    distance) against muscular friction (more heating). Thus the muscle works harder when it does more reps during some time interval.

    3. Fast reps involve more force during the acceleration phase, which may tire
    the muscle more quickly.

    • Drew Baye January 2, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

      Jerry,

      I define intensity in the context of exercise as the level of effort a person is working at relative to their momentary capabilities (intensity of effort, specifically).

      I came to a similar conclusion several years ago regarding repetition cadence and inroad after performing similar experiments (comparing 2/2, 2/10, and 10/10 cadences in a variety of exercises) and have written about this elsewhere. As speed of movement decreases you quickly reach a point of diminished increases in safety and beyond some point inroading becomes less rather than more efficient.

      Friction in the muscles is so low as to be a non-issue, and while there appears to be a relationship between mechanical and metabolic work during dynamic exercise it is certainly not direct.

      Fast reps require more force during the initial acceleration, but the kinetic energy imparted to the mass being moved reduces the force proportionally afterwards so you end up with inconsistent tension and higher peak forces increasing risk of injury.

      I recommend a three to four second cadence on most exercises in most cases, as it is adequately slow for most people to 1. maintain strict body position and alignment throughout the full range of motion, 2. turnaround with very low acceleration, and 3. to be able to focus on contracting the target muscles throughout the movement, without being so slow that inroading starts to become less efficient.

      If a person is unable to do these three using a three to four second cadence safety takes priority over everything else and they should move as slowly as necessary to do so.

      I also suspect there may be a benefit to more mechanical work because of the potential for greater microtrauma, however this would still have to be balanced against safety, thus the need to err on the slow side.

      • Prof January 2, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

        Drew – Thank you very much for the prompt and detailed response, I appreciate it. You mentioned that you have compared/discussed 2/2, 2/10, and 10/10 cadences elsewhere. Was that elsewhere on this website, or somewhere else? I would be very interested in seeing your results if you could kindly redirect me there. You also mentioned above that you typically recommend 3-4 second cadence, is that for both positive and negative for a total of 6-8 seconds, or is the total rep time 3-4 seconds? Please clarify. The distinction is important, since I would classify a 3 second rep as “fast” and a 6 second rep “slow”. Regarding safety with fast reps, I would argue that if you can do 15-20 fast reps in good form in 45-60 seconds, the first 10 reps will feel light and provide the “warm-up” for the subsequent reps, but this is a matter of opinion based on my own personal experience.

        • Drew Baye January 2, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

          Jerry,

          I would have to search for it. The experiment, which I conducted with several clients, was done as follows:

          Several compound and simple exercises were performed on Nautilus Nitro machines at a 2/2 cadence to the point of concentric momentary muscular failure, using a weight the client was able to perform between six and ten repetitions with using about a 4/4 cadence (based on recent workout records). A stopwatch was used to count cadence and record the time to failure. About one minute rest was allowed between exercises. After about thirty minutes the exercises were repeated in the same order, with the same settings and weight, and the same rest periods, but at a 10/10 cadence. Everyone was able to perform the set for a longer time using the 10/10 cadence, with the average being about thirty to forty percent longer. I suspected this would be the case, which is why I had them perform the 10/10 set second, to show they could go longer despite having performed the same exercise to failure only half an hour earlier.

          This was repeated with a smaller group later to compare 2/10 to their previous times, and it was on the longer side, so I suspect the longer negative and/or longer relative time spent performing the negative was the problem.

          I also asked people I knew through the internet to try this, and people generally had the same results regardless of the equipment used. I have performed the same experiment myself (not with groups) using other equipment, including MedX, SuperSlow Systems, RenEx, and free weight and bodyweight exercises, generally with the same results.

          By three to four second cadence I mean for both the positive and negative, but this would be for longer than six to eight seconds if you include a slow turnaround and either a pause/hold at the start point of pushing movements (without setting down the weight or unloading) or a pause/squeeze at the end point on pulling and simple movements.

          While most people could probably move faster than this and do so reasonably safely, since there appears to be little difference in long term results between different cadences, rep ranges, etc., I prefer to err on the slow side for the sake of safety.

    • Steve January 26, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

      A quicker acceleration requires linearly increased force (F=ma, with a fixed acceleration from gravity), so comparing different cadences with the same mass is not actually comparing apples-to-apples regarding instantaneous stress on muscle fibers.

      You’d need to compare a rapid cadence to a 20s cadence with a MUCH higher mass to be comparing the same force production.

      An explosive positive could even be generating a force equivalent to a slow cadence using twice the mass.

      Ultimately, it is much safer to use slow reps with lots of mass than fast reps with lower mass.

      • Drew Baye January 26, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

        Steve,

        The point of the experiment was to compare the rate of fatigue with different cadences using the same loads.

        While slower reps with a heavier weight are safer than faster reps with less weight moving more slowly than about a three to four second cadence over the average exercise range of motion does not significantly reduce the peak force assuming proper turnaround performance. Exercise should not be performed in a fast, jerky manner, but it is not necessarily to move extremely slowly either.

  42. AC May 29, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    Earlier this week a female colleague of mine talked to me about her latest exploits in the gym. She performs resistance training 2 or 3 times a week. One of those sessions is with a personal trainer.

    On the leg press she has been doing 4 sets of 12 reps.

    She hasn’t leg pressed on the session with her trainer for a number of months as they have been doing other things like squats, lunges and some other stuff that was utter nonsense.

    As a challenge her trainer kept the leg press weight at what she was using for 4 sets of 12 and got her to do 7 sets of 35 reps with it. She completed all 245 reps and they have now agreed that she needs to increase the weight she’s using.

    I agree.

    But what horrified me was:

    a) The fact that the 7x 35 reps would have put my colleague in the mindset of “completing reps” rather than fatiguing the muscles.

    b) Why would the trainer not terminate the challenge after the first set of 35 reps and then point out that they can definitely increase the resistance? Why go through another 210 mindless, low quality reps?

    It’s the antithesis of what this post is about.

    • Drew Baye May 29, 2014 at 10:27 am #

      AC,

      Unfortunately, most people, including personal trainers, are clueless when it comes to the purpose of exercise. The mindset of just “getting reps” as opposed to achieving efficient muscular loading is completely backwards.

  43. Al Coleman June 11, 2014 at 7:49 am #

    Drew,

    Just re-read this article. Good stuff. I enjoy your site.

    Al

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