High Intensity Training Heresy?

Nautilus inventor Arthur JonesI’ve recently received a few emails from readers concerned I am straying from Arthur Jones’ original Nautilus high intensity training principles because some of my recommendations are at odds with things he said or wrote. While Arthur Jones was a genius and much of what he said and wrote about exercise almost four decades ago has proven to be correct, he was not omniscient or infallible. To his credit, unlike many people in the field of exercise he was willing to admit it when he learned he was wrong about something or made a mistake and quick to correct it, but there were a few things he got wrong that many of the Nautilus and HIT people out there still believe that have been disproven and a few occasions where he contradicts himself:

The difference between concentric (positive) and eccentric (negative) muscular strength is not due to intramuscular friction, as Arthur claimed, but due to differences in cross-bridge mechanics. Friction in the muscles and joints is way too low to have any significant effect on this.

Maximum motor unit recruitment is dependent on the amount of force a muscle is called upon to produce and not the degree of shortening, as Arthur claimed. It is not necessary to “fully contract” a muscle to recruit all of its motor units, nor is it practical or even possible in the majority of exercises to do so.

Some of Arthur’s equipment designs, most notably the compound biceps and compound triceps machines, violate muscular sufficiency principles (active insufficiency of the target muscles occurs) as a result of this mistaken belief. Ironically, design features of other machines indicate awareness of the need to satisfy active and passive muscular sufficiency, such as the seat back angle on the leg extension machines.

One of Arthur’s original Ten Requirements for Full Range Exercise was the ability to “pre-stretch” which involved quickly lowering then yanking or heaving at the weight to elicit a myotatic reflex to increase the force of muscular contraction. Not only is this not a requirement for any sane kind of exercise, it is a very bad idea because it increases your chances of pulling or straining something.

Despite having said and written that when in doubt of the proper speed of movement during exercise it is better to move too slowly than too quickly and that it is probably impossible to move too slowly during exercise, Arthur criticized SuperSlow founder Ken Hutchins as “taking the slow thing too far”.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point; Arthur Jones got some things wrong, contradicted himself, etc. More importantly, he got the majority of things right, and those principles still form the basis of my training recommendations. Not just because Arthur said or wrote them, but because they’re supported by a large amount of research and empirical evidence.

Speed of Movement

In Testing And Rehabilitation For The Lumbar Spine, The Cervical Spine, And The Knee, Arthur wrote, “Perhaps the most important consideration: a proper style of performance requires a relatively slow speed of movement. Too slow provides all of the benefits and produces none of the potential problems, while too fast avoids some benefits and does produce problems, generally problems resulting from high levels of impact force.” (Page 44) I spoke with Arthur about this and the contradiction with his criticism of SuperSlow on a few occasions and his response was always something to the effect of, “Yes, you should move slowly during exercise but Hutchins has taken it too fucking far.”

Speed of movement during exercise needs to be at least slow enough for you to be able to reverse direction smoothly and with very low acceleration, maintain proper positioning and alignment, and focus on intensely contracting the target muscles. Exactly how slow this is varies depending on a lot of factors, including your limb length and the range of motion, how skilled you are at performing the exercise, and your overall level of motor control just to name a few. Most people’s form is very poor by my standards at any speed, but gets much worse as speed of movement increases. Even people who are  relatively skilled at an exercise and have good motor control have a hard time performing adequately smooth turnarounds and doing other things as well as I’d like them to using cadences faster than 4/4 on most exercises.

Is it really necessary to move as slowly as a 10/10 cadence, though? Did Ken Hutchins really take slowing down “too fucking far” as Arthur liked to say? While it might not be absolutely necessary for everybody and for all exercises to move quite so slowly, there is no downside and several advantages.

I spent a few years (approx 2006 to 2011) experimenting with and comparing the results of a variety of repetition cadences and traditional high intensity training repetition methods and saw no significant difference in subjects’ muscular strength or size gains between different controlled repetition speeds as long as the intensity of effort was high. There was, however, a difference in how some people’s joints felt after performing certain protocols like negative-only and heavy rest-pause. Since one of the goals of exercise is not to wreck yourself in the process or undermine your long term health and functional ability it makes good sense to use a slower cadence. Doing so makes it easier to perform controlled turnarounds, maintain proper positioning and alignment, and detect and correct form problems.

There is nothing about very slow reps that is inconsistent with high intensity training principles.

Isometric Versus Full Range Exercise

One person accusing me of heresy was upset I have been writing about isometrics recently. He felt the emphasis on timed static contractions contradicted Arthur’s writing about full range exercise.

I believe Arthur was wrong about the need for full range of motion. While some studies show isometric exercise results in position-specific strength increases, many don’t and show a moderate to strong correlation between isometric and dynamic performance. MedX research showed this response varied between individuals, with most people having a position-specific response (strength increased within about 15 degrees of the position trained isometrically) while others had a general response (strength increased over the full range of motion of the exercise regardless of the position trained isometrically). Based on my previous experience with Mike Mentzer‘s static hold protocol, Max Contraction training, timed static contractions and the RenEx iMachines I believe position-specific strength increases on tests reported in some studies have more to do with neural adaptations than general improvements in muscular strength.

For the past three months the only direct biceps and triceps exercises I have done have been isometric. During one of two weekly workouts I perform one set of arm curls and one set of triceps extensions on the UXS bodyweight exercise station using timed static contraction protocol with the elbows at approximately 90 degrees. Today I tested myself on the SuperSlow Systems biceps and triceps machines after not having used them for three months and was able to use twenty more pounds on each machine. I had no trouble getting past the mid range position as would be the case if my strength had only increased around that position.

When properly performed isometric protocols like timed static contractions are effective, efficient, and safe and there is a place for them in high intensity training programs.

Nautilus Versus Bodyweight Exercise

A couple people accusing me of heresy were upset I have been writing about bodyweight exercise and think I should recommend everybody only train on machines. While a properly designed machine provides several advantages over training with free weights or body weight there are a lot of people out there who don’t have access to properly designed machines. While a rare few gyms have decent machines most are full of poorly designed crap because most gym owners generally don’t know the difference, or if they do they figure their members won’t know the difference. Some people prefer to work out at home and can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on a line of Nautilus or MedX machines. Some people travel frequently and don’t always have convenient access to equipment. A lot of readers are soldiers deployed in places where equipment is very limited or non-existent.

I’ve either said or written it hundreds of times; how you train is far more important than what you train on. Proper training with just bodyweight or a bunch of heavy rocks will produce much better results than improper training on the most technologically advanced equipment in the world. Having both would be ideal, but that’s not always an option.

Drew Baye performing chin ups on the UXSAlthough I have access to some of the best equipment in the world, to be better able to understand and provide solutions for the kind of training problems the majority of readers face it is necessary to spend time training with more conventional equipment and doing bodyweight training. Just because I’m doing bodyweight training right now does not mean I’m recommending that everyone else do so or saying it is the best way to train. However, it is turning out to be highly effective, efficient, and safe and it is one of the most practical ways for some people to work out under some circumstances. With the economy going the way it is and more people working out at home with very basic or limited equipment there is a need for this kind of information, and most of what’s out there on bodyweight training is utterly idiotic. It makes sense to devote some time to experimenting with and writing about it.

Speaking of experiments, I also tested myself on the SuperSlow Systems leg press and overhead press machines after not having used them for three months and was able to use ten more pounds on each machine for more reps. I stopped after eight reps and probably could have handled a bit more weight. This is after months of slow bodyweight squats and a few workouts doing timed static contraction squats and doing “shoulder push ups” with angled push up handles attached to the UXS. I think many people underestimate how effective bodyweight training can be when done correctly.

Don’t worry, Nautilus true believers. I still plan to write a lot about training with machines.

However, as long as it is done intensely, briefly, and infrequently there is also a place for bodyweight exercise in high intensity training programs.

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79 Responses to High Intensity Training Heresy?

  1. Chad G September 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    I just want to thank you for your recent information on body weight training. I currently do not have the time to travel to any gym nor do I have a good HIT gym anywhere near me. I was trying to develop my own HIT body weight program when I found your recommendations. They have been working great and have saved me weeks if not months of trial and error. While it may not be perfect, remember perfect is the enemy of the good. I may not be able to make gains at the rate i would with machines, but I still make consistent gains and over the long haul it is better than killing myself for hours on a treadmill or sitting on my A**.

    • Drew Baye September 25, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

      Thanks Chad,

      I’m glad to be able to help.

  2. Brad September 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Drew how long did you do the static hold and how many sets of the static hold on each exercise did you do? After reading John’s book I tried static training for bench and military press. I did go up in the amount of time I could hold the weight but when I went back to full range bench and military press I was weaker than previously. I read many posts on forums and a lot of people have the same experience. A few people thought that it might be from getting stronger at one point of the movement. In my experiment I did the static hold followed by a very full range negative down to the pins on a smith machine. I thought the negative would stress the full range of the muscle but results where disappointing.

    • Drew Baye September 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

      Brad,

      I performed only one set of timed static contraction for biceps and triceps every other workout. Although I varied the workouts a few times experimenting with the order and specific exercises, most of the time I alternated between the following two workouts:

      Workout A:

      1. Squats (or TSC Hip Belt Squats)
      2. Chin ups
      3. Push ups
      4. Inverted Rows
      5. Shoulder push ups
      6. One-legged heel raises (I would caution people against performing most leg exercises isolaterally but don’t think this is a problem with calves if done carefully)

      Workout B:

      1. TSC deadlift
      2. Squats
      3. Parallel-grip pull up
      4. Parallel-bar dips
      5. TSC arm curls
      6. TSC triceps extensions

  3. Jim September 26, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    Drew,

    Great article. I have been using the Max Pyramid Protocol (http://www.bodybyscience.net/home.html/?page_id=798) and am having good success with it. I do one of those workouts and one traditional HIT workout in a week. I typically only do three exercises in a Max Pyramid workout (leg, push, pull). My HIT workouts are more time consuming – I am doing 9-10 exercises. I really like the variation and the inroading I am able to achieve in the Max Contraction workouts. I am going give Max Contraction a shot too after I learn more about it.

    Thanks!

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 7:35 am #

      Jim,

      I tried it a few times on John’s recommendation and it is brutal, but I prefer timed static contraction and regular static holds as they’re simpler to perform (no need for repeated unloading and weight switching which also makes it harder to standardize) and like to keep the time under load under 90 seconds.

  4. Ondrej September 26, 2012 at 2:08 am #

    Drew,
    I found only Hammer Strength and Kieser Training facilities in my area. Hammer Strength is about 3x cheaper per year. Are those good enough to abandon comfortable at home training? Thanks.

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 7:24 am #

      Ondrej,

      While the Kieser Training facilities have better equipment and environment if cost is an issue Hammer Strength machines are also pretty good. Before signing up for any gym I would visit a few times during the hours you plan to work out normally to see how busy they are and whether you will be able to train efficiently or spend a lot of time waiting for equipment.

      • Jim December 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

        Drew,

        I thought I read somewhere that Hammer equipment is not ideal for the 10/10 protocol- something about resistance curves being wrong. My gym offers free weights, Hammer, Cybex (I think) and a Smith Machine. There are no Nautilus, MedX or RenEx machines. I believe in the slow protocol and apply to bodyweight exercises like chins and pushups, but wonder what equipment available to me offers the best option(for now.)

        Thanks for your thoughts.

        • Drew Baye December 28, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

          Jim,

          The resistance curves on most machines are not optimal for very slow repetitions but Hammer Strength are pretty good compared to most of what’s out there. Ultimately, how you use the equipment is far more important than what equipment you use.

  5. Brian Barlow September 26, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    Hi Drew,
    Off the subject a little bit, what is this fad with crawling and stuff on the ground. There is a trainer where I do some work that has his people crawl around. Crab walk, hands and feet crawl etc. R u kidding me? Also do you believe that We can teach peoples rotator cuffs to fire properly? Also what are people talking about with inner and outer core muscles. Am I missing something?
    Thanks bro,
    Brian Barlow

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 9:01 am #

      Brian,

      I know some martial arts schools use these for conditioning and am not surprised they’ve made their way into personal training. They’re a relatively poor and inefficient way of stimulating any kind of general physical improvements, however. It would be especially stupid to have clients perform those kind of drills in a gym surrounded by perfectly good equipment, like trying to eat soup with chopsticks while ignoring the spoon right in front of you.

      Unless there is some kind of neurological injury or disorder your rotator cuff muscles shouldn’t need to be taught to fire properly.

      The whole inner versus outer core thing, like much of what is popular in personal training, is bullshit. It is unnecessary to perform separate exercises for each and even direct abdominal exercise is not necessary if you’re performing other exercises with significant abdominal and low back involvement. See The Myth Of Core Stability

      • Brian Barlow September 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

        Thanks Drew,
        I can’t believe what people pay for. I always wonder why with all of the “scientific” training that goes on now, how anyone ever gets injured. Such bullshit.
        Thank you for your time,
        Brian Barlow

        • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

          Brian,

          While the vast majority of personal trainers have no idea what they’re doing neither does the general public so they don’t know what they’re paying for is silly bullshit.

  6. Sean Rattlehead September 26, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    Another bodyweight workout guy here (well, weights in a backpack plus bodyweight workout). Currently my routine is:

    Squat
    Push-up
    Overhead push-up
    Chin-up
    Plank
    Side planks

    I switch the order of push-ups and chin-ups each week to try and keep the level of involvement from all muscles consistent.

    I’m thinking of making the squats static. Even with extra wieght they are getting too easy now. Good idea?

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

      Sean,

      If you’re doing the squats exactly as described in Bodyweight High Intensity Training Workouts and they’re getting too easy I recommend either getting a good high capacity weight vest or trying TSC hip belt squats.

      • Sean Rattlehead September 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

        Thanks Drew.

        I’ve been doing them with a 4-2-4 cadence. I’ll try 10-3-10 to up the intensity.

        • Sean Rattlehead September 26, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

          Oh dear God, that’s killer!

          • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

            Sean,

            Yeah, it definitely turns the intensity up a bit.

  7. Jonathan September 26, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Drew thanks alot for this.

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

      Jonathan,

      You’re welcome.

  8. David Sears September 26, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Drew,

    On the TSC for arms are you always doing the prescribed method of 30 seconds at 50%, 30 at 75%, and 30 seconds at 100%?

    I’m glad to see someone post some actual results from their TSC experiments. At the normal rate of progress you would usually show with dynamic movements how much would you have expected to improve on those two arm movements if you had been using the SS equipment the regular way instead? At your level of experience 20 pounds in an arm movement seems pretty good. Have you figured what the percentage increase would be?

    Thanks,

    David

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      David,

      Prior to switching to the bodyweight training I was at a point where I might go up 2 or 2.5 pounds on an exercise only every month or two so I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I was excited about the leg press in particular because I was concerned that despite the bodyweight and TSC squats being brutally hard it might not be enough to maintain what I had. On the SSS biceps and triceps machines I went from 120 to 140 and 80 to 100, so about a 16 and a 25% improvement.

      • David Sears September 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

        Drew,

        For an advanced trainee that’s a good increase. Did you notice any size increases in your arms from this experiment?

        Are any of the RenEx team doing these same kinds of experiments and reporting results in the manner you have? I’ve heard reports that they’re making excellent strength increases but it means more when someone like you reports tangible results. I’m not bashing RenEx, I’m really curious as to the potential of TSC. I’ve tried them in the past but not stuck to them long enough to tell much about them.

        Thanks,
        David

        • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

          David,

          I haven’t noticed much increase in arm size, but I’m not eating or sleeping anywhere near optimally so I haven’t been expecting it. When I am able to do so consistently I plan to take proper measurements for comparison.

          I think RenEx has their own timeline for writing about the experiments with TSC and I don’t want to jump the gun on anything they’ve got planned but as soon as something is published on the RenEx site about it I will link to it from here.

  9. John Stchur September 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Drew, thanks so much! What a bonanza of information that actually addresses the kind of questions most
    old-timers (like myself) of the “been-there-done-that”
    persuasion want answered! The fact that you quantified
    results (if not with poudages, at least with a percent) is sooo refreshing! My hope is that someday
    you will take the time to assess transference from
    super-slow and/or TSC to a few basic free-weight move-ments, because anyone over 50 will get MUCH more
    excited about that. According to what my peers tell me,
    you would generate a whole new following!

    I’ve always been a believer in “holds” (for me, optimal time for most exercises was 72 sec.) But they
    have only seemed to work well in single-joint exercise. That, of course, is because different muscles do the majority of the work at different
    points throughout the range in coumpound movements.
    Perhaps you could address that someday.

    Also: “active insufficiency” If memory serves, this
    would be the reason calf raises on a machine where the
    knees are at 90 degrees cannot recruit the gastrocs.
    The problem of active insufficiency has been ignored many times over the years in recommendations on the BBS site. You are held in high enough esteem to correct this; I obviously am not (I won’t even go into
    that here).

    Finally . . . I was seriously considering at least
    TRYING to get my money back for the Oct 6 & 7 event in
    Cleveland. This piece by you changed my mind. Still,
    I may have to keep my mouth shut while I’m there or
    be viewed as an annoyance. I worship pure strength,
    not inroad or floor time or how my muscles look . . . and in that way I feel like a dinosaur.

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

      John,

      I plan to have a safety rack built to train with here and will do exactly that once I get it and start training with free weights again.

      Regarding transfer to compound movements, check out the section on Compound Movements in an article I wrote back in 2008, Isometrics: Static Holds and Static Contraction Training I am going to be updating a lot of this in the upcoming article on TSC, including my thoughts on this.

      Because the gastrocnemius crosses the back of the knee and contributes to knee flexion when the knee is flexed 90 degrees they are in a position of active insufficiency; a muscle can only shorten so far, and if a muscle that acts on two or more joints is already shortened enough across one it is unable to act as effectively on the others. This is not an issue with the soleus, which only crosses the ankle.

      On a somewhat related topic, most of what personal trainers tell people about stretching is also bullshit because very few muscles (only a few of the multi-articulate ones) can be effectively stretched. You can’t really stretch your soleus because it only acts on one joint and unless you break your ankle you can’t bend it far enough. You can only stretch your gastrocnemius because it also acts on the knee, and only if the knee is straight.

      As for Cleveland, speak your mind! None of us deserves to be up there speaking about the subject if we aren’t capable of handling challenging questions or criticism and in my opinion those are the most important things to address.

  10. John Stchur September 26, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Thanks Drew. And I goofed — you DID express, in pounds, your improvement. Somehow I read “percent.”
    Blame it on my 65 year-old eyes (wish I could weight train THEM!) By the way, when you tested your biceps/
    triceps strength was it tested at a certain speed-of-
    movement?

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

      John,

      I tested all exercises at a 10/10 cadence, which is what I’ve been using. Same settings, same protocol, only the weight changed.

  11. Andy September 26, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Drew,

    in your article you mention the strength difference between positive and negative muscular contraction. When understanding the RenEx team right, they mention that when a muscle contracts he produces the same strength as well during the positive as the negative phase of movement!?

    Thank you very much!
    Andy

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

      Andy,

      There is a difference in positive and negative strength, it just isn’t necessary to hyperload the negative.

      • Joe A September 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

        Drew,

        Care to elaborate? If there are differences, why would one not exploit them? Your RenEx contemporaries have explained their reasoning for the non-need for hyper loading on the basis that there is not a strength difference. This deviation in thought would seem to have huge implications on ideal exercise performance.

        • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

          Joe,

          The reasons are pretty simple. As long as the relative effort at the end of the set is just as high hyperloading the negative provides no advantage in terms of growth stimulation but increases risk of injury due to the often relatively poorly controlled transfer or increase in load between the positive and negative and due to the greater tendency for people to perform all sorts of form discrepancies. If you’re good enough at exercise you don’t need to do those kind of things.

        • Craig September 27, 2012 at 9:18 am #

          The RenEx folks appear to disagree with the idea that eccentric strength is higher than concentric strength largely because Aurthur Jones drew that conclusion from work done with Nautilus machines which had high levels of friction that unintentionally unloaded the negative. But it seems that this idea was around for a long time before Aurthur Jones started talking about it, and it seems that most scientists who study this stuff professionally still believe it to be true. So I think it would be fair to observe that it is the RenEx folks, rather than Drew, who seem to be taking a contrarian view of this issue.

  12. Andy September 27, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Just for my understanding: Are there differences in strength or not?

    Andy

    • Drew Baye September 27, 2012 at 11:34 am #

      Andy,

      Yes, however I believe the difference has traditionally been overestimated due to failure to appreciate the effects of friction in equipment and the inefficiencies of protocols like negative-only and negative-accentuated. Also, with proper equipment design, efficient form, and proper use of the squeeze technique the difference is barely perceptible and muscular failure can and does periodically occur during the negative (subject becomes unable to slow the negative to the prescribed cadence). In other words, with ideal equipment and performance the difference doesn’t appear to matter.

      A difference in positive and negative strength does exist, though, and is easy to demonstrate:

      Please exercise caution if you attempt this!

      Using either an arm curl or leg extension machine with fused movement arms and very low friction, like the Hammer Strength seated biceps or leg extension (NOT the iso-lateral designs) carefully test yourself and find a weight that is just heavy enough that you are unable to even start a repetition in strict form with only your dominant arm or leg. Rest several minutes so any acute effects from testing can be ruled out as contributing factors. Increase the weight by about twenty percent then slowly lift it with both limbs, stopping at the end point. While holding the weight motionless, gradually transfer all the resistance to your dominant limb without altering your body position. You will find despite being unable to even start lifting the weight you are able to lower it slowly and under strict control.

      In anticipation of further questions:

      I am not recommending isolateral or negative-accentuated training, this is only for the purpose of demonstration.

      Could it still be equipment friction? No. The friction in better machines like Nautilus, MedX, Hammer Strength, etc. is too low to account for this much of a difference.

      Could it be the cam profile? No. Even if the resistance is relatively high at the start point making it harder to begin the positive, if you can control the speed all the way down this wouldn’t account for the difference. I have tested this on a few different brands of machines including SuperSlow Systems machines with adjustable cam timing and each time the result has been the same.

      Could it be increased intramuscular friction due to the pump or congestion in the body? No, because even with a massive pump friction in the body is way too low to cause this much of a difference and with a few minutes rest any pump from testing should have mostly subsided. This is also very easy to test. Repeat the above but allow for an hour or more of rest, which is plenty of time to allow a pump or other acute effects to subside. Your results will still be the same.

      • Andy September 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

        Excellent answer Drew…I agree with you!

        Thanks a lot!

        Andy

      • Joe A September 27, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

        Drew,

        Your example does not demonstrate a difference in strength (volitional ability)…you have demonstrated the human body’s wonderful ability to absorb force.

        Volitional concentric effort is contraction that overcomes a given resistance, all the way up to a resistance that cannot be overcome (volitional isometric). Any volitional eccentric effort is an uncontraction of that concentric effort.

        The fact that we can absorb greater loads eccentricly, is a testament to the design or evoultion (whichever you believe) of the species…as it is an extremely improtant protective mechanism. But it is not a difference in ‘strength’…we could debate the semantics, I suppose, but so far as exercise is concerned- the crux of the activity is volitional contractile ability (fatiguing one’s self by way of it)…of which eccentric ability is not greater than its concentric counterpart.

        Or at least that is the way I understand it…

        • Drew Baye September 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

          Joe,

          I consider strength the ability of the muscles to exert or withstand force, which includes the ability to resist or control the speed of eccentric contraction. Whatever we choose to call it or however we describe what is happening, we are capable of lowering a heavier weight under control than we can lift, and able to resist more force eccentrically than we can exert concentrically.

          • Joe A September 27, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

            The problem I have with your inclusion of “withstand/resist” (exerting force in opposition) in this context is that it implies a greater *muscular* capacity to do so.

            Observing that “we are capable of lowering a heavier weight under control than we can lift” does not qualify this ability as muscular…or even a comparison of the same musculature involved in lifting.

            As an example: successive recruitment/substituion is not volitional and therefore not predictable and will change and happen in different ways. Lifting x weight concentrically may demonstrate the capacity of abc musculature. Adding 20% and lowering y weight may demonstrate the capacity of abcd musculature (possibly recruiting musculature no where near the joint you are observing). OR the force may be absorbed by (or distributed to) structures that aren’t even musculature.

            “Strength” in the context of a building’s readiness for a hurricane would be relevant to “resist/withstand”…but in the context of volitional exertion (exercise), this would seem only to add confusion about what is taking place, what is within our muscular capacity and the manner in which we should load ourselves.

            I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t, technically, disagree with what you are saying…I am just not seeing how this distinction aides in furthering the understanding of the exercise protocol being espoused (non-need for hyperloading negative).

            • Drew Baye September 27, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

              Joe,

              It is both muscular and volitional; you must deliberately contract your muscles to resist or control the rate of eccentric contraction. However the muscles do this (and it appears to be due to a variety of things, differences in cross bridge mechanics, stiffening of titin, etc.) the practical result is the muscles can resist or control more resistance during eccentric contractions than concentric contractions. If during the test I were to stop contracting the elbow flexors or quadriceps on the dominant side after transferring the resistance completely, the weight would not go down slowly, it would drop.

              While substitution would probably occur to varying degrees under these circumstances in different exercises, in something as relatively isolatory as machine arm curls or leg extensions done in very strict form it can be ruled out as an explanation.

              As for the implications for exercise protocol from a safety standpoint there are plenty of reasons not to hyperload the negative which I won’t retread right now and with low friction and balanced resistance curves (or, as I’m finding using my comparatively low-tech bodyweight station, good biomechanics) the inroad is efficient enough not to require it.

  13. Craig September 27, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Aurthur Jones belief that muscles needed to be fully loaded through a full range of motion for proper exercise was fully consistent with his designs for single joint, cammed exercise machines. But that belief didn’t keep him from also building and selling compound joint exercise machines. And while you can use cams in compound machines to more effectively load the multijoint structure through it’s full range of movement, that does not ensure that every muscle being trained by that movement is fully loaded throughout the range of movement. In fact, it seems pretty well accepted that different muscles assume greater or lesser roles as the biomechanics change during the exercise. Despite this, few HIT enthusiasts today dispute the effectiveness of compound joint machines. So the widespread acceptance of compound joint machines as the best way to do abbreviated HIT routines seems to largely say that AJ was wrong on the need for fully loaded movement through a full range of motion.

    • Drew Baye September 27, 2012 at 11:47 am #

      Craig,

      Full range of motion is definitely not necessary for general muscular strength and size increases, and in some cases it is either impractical or impossible to effectively work certain muscles through the entire range of movement they are capable of. Simple (rotary/single joint) exercises have their uses, but for most people focusing primarily on basic compound exercises is the best way to go.

  14. Bill September 27, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    I’m glad to see your focus on bodyweight. For exercise to be more available to the masses who are greatly in need, it has to be accessible and affordable. Nearly anybody can come up with an effective BW routine. But if you need to pay and to have access to expensive machinery, then you aren’t going to reach nearly as many people. A very small percentage, actually. There’s some machine snobbery out there.

  15. Joe A September 27, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Craig,

    I don’t disagree with you, but that is my point. Drew is listed as a contributing author on multiple installments of the RenEx ‘Dumpers’ series, a series that is based on this contrarian view. I don’t see how you can separate the basis from the conclusion…a disagreement on this point will have implications on ideal exercise equipment and performance.

    You must understand how this can be confusing to your viewing audience, right?

    • Drew Baye September 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Joe,

      The main focus of the dumpers articles was not whether positive and negative strength differs but the relative merits of equipment which hyperloads the negative. I am in agreement with their concerns about such machines and think the companies selling them are exaggerating the strength differences, making unsupported claims about advantages of hyperloading the negative, and are either downplaying or ignorant of the risks. This is especially true of the X-Force machines which I think are dangerous and should not be used by anybody and are terribly designed even if you ignore their weight stacks.

      As for the implications for equipment design and performance, when using RenEx machines and protocol the inroad is so efficient any difference quickly becomes imperceptible and I’ve experienced “runaway” negatives (inability to adequately slow the negative to maintain the prescribed cadence) even on the leg press and overhead press machines where no squeeze technique is performed. Like I wrote in response to another comment, with ideal equipment and performance the difference doesn’t appear to matter.

      • Joe A September 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

        While that may have been the main focus, the underlying premise to the series was the presumed difference in strength (positive vs. negative) is not real.

        At any rate, I agree about the dangers of choosing to hyperload the negative (which exceeds one’s concentric ability).

        The false benefits and inherent risk reminds me of the idea that stretching is healthy, improving range of motion, etc. In reality, one is simply becoming more tolerant of the body’s signals to stop (analgesia). Similarly, the inhibitions present with eccentric contractions can be down regulated by training…but why would anyone want to (even if there were a hypertrophic benefit)?

        There exists a reason for the gap between volitional capacity and absorbative ability…testing the limits of the one is inadvisable, both damaging and dangerous.

  16. Steven Turner September 28, 2012 at 5:27 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Not sure of why people have called you on “Heresey” of HIT. To me all your articles on exercise fit into HIT principles with or without out the use of machines. Arthur often gave advice to people on training if they did not have access to Nautilus equipment.

    Back in the 1940/50s I beleive that computers were the size of houses big cumbersome and slow not something that many people could use. It was not until the 1970s Bill Gates and others were able to develop “the computer chip” to make computers available. That is what is happening in the HIT world with RenEX they beleive that they have solved many mechanical problems with exercise machines. Although RenEX believe strongly that they have removed a lot of the mechanical issues with exercise machines I still beleive that the intensity/effort and progression of HIT protocols are being followed.

    From what I read Arthur always said that the biggest problem with many of his ideas on exercise is that he didn’t have the tools to measure what was actually occuring inside the muscles. I think that Arthur often had to make educated guesses sometimes these guesses might have been wrong and sometimes he was right.

    I don’t see it as Heresey but I see it as “technological progress” maybe sometime in the future we will have all the answers. Arthur did write that computers would play a bigger part in “exercise” of the future. Something else he got right.

    • Drew Baye September 28, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Steven,

      I think it is because some people interpreted certain things they have heard or read about HIT in a very specific way and think that’s how it has to be and are not comfortable with any ideas that challenge their view of it.

  17. Brad September 28, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    In my mind, thinking about how I’m performing a turnaround is taking ‘form’ a bit too far. For me, concentrating on intensity and the muscles being worked is the primary focus and everything else is just a distraction. If my cadence is sufficiently slow to significantly reduce momentum and keep an average/sufficient tension on the muscles that is good enough for me. If I lose a hair of tension in the turnarounds, hopefully I’m making up for it with one or two more rep’s.

    It’s accepted that faster cadences and heavier weights increase risk of injury.

    That aside, I would love to see someone address the fact that a very slow cadence is not the natural form of human movement – ie, how humans have adapted and how our ancestors behaved much of the time was not in a slow fashion, particularly when a matter of life and death, which is what would have affected natural selection. It seems logical that there would have been a survival advantage to being strong in a fast-twitch way and hence we would have inherited an ability to perform fast, forceful, movements and our muscles the ability to adapt to such movements – maybe even more efficiently than slow movements. This is purely hypothetical.

    Have there been studies that PROVE that faster movements versus slow movements are less efficient at providing muscle growth stimulus?.. or vise-versa?

    • Drew Baye September 28, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

      Brad,

      Whether it is common for people to move slowly during normal daily activities is irrelevant to the speed of movement during exercise. How slowly or quickly you ought to move during any activity depends on that specific activity and the goals of exercise – stimulating improvements in functional ability while minimizing risk of injury – benefit from a slower speed of movement.

      Regardless of the speed of movement and even if no movement occurs at all, as long as the muscles are contracting intensely enough for an adequate duration all the fast-twitch motor units are recruited and stimulated.

      Most of the research on rep speed is poorly designed and conducted and the results are contradictory. Empirically, it doesn’t appear to make as much of a difference in muscular strength and size increases as some claim. People have gotten pretty big and strong using both fast reps and slow reps. Slower is more efficient, however, and much less likely to get you hurt, which I think is pretty important. When I started HIT I used a cadence that wasn’t fast or explosive, but not what I would consider adequately slow either. I got good results with it. During periods of time when I am able to sleep normally and eat well I’m able to quickly get back into top condition using very slow reps as well. I choose to train very slowly and recommend it because it is safer and if I live another forty or fifty years I’d like to still be able to move around well.

  18. palo September 28, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Hi Drew, great article.

    I have a question: What do you think of Static Isometric Postures (i.e. wall sits)?

    Thanks!

  19. John Stchur September 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    Drew,

    I am fascinated by your experiment regarding TSC’s carryover effects on full range motion strength. I
    want to fully grasp what went on, though.
    1) Was the TSC training for biceps and triceps done with free weights, a machine with some form of “stop” at the 90 degree mark or what?
    2) Assuming the 30 sec/30/sec/30 sec protocol, how hard were you going during the last 30 sec? Hard enough to elicit the val salva effect or were you breathing normally? If the latter, HOW DO YOU DO THAT? I cannot, going all-out, 100%.
    3)Do you think there would be the same degree of im-
    provement for a single rep done just slowly enough
    to eliminate momentum (say a 2 – 3 sec concentric)?

    Also, on a curl machine where one’s upper arms are
    laid across — and thus supported by — a pad out
    in front of the torso, is maximum involvement of
    the long head of the biceps somewhat compromised
    since a secondary function of that head is shoulder
    flexion? My experiences in the past have that con-
    clusion kind of HALF-formed in my mind . . .

    • Drew Baye September 28, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

      John,

      The TSC for both biceps and triceps was performed on one of the dip bars on the UXS bodyweight exercise station. I also performed dynamic chin ups, parallel grip pull ups, and inverted rows, but all the direct arm work was done with TSC only.

      During the last 30 seconds I contracted as hard as I could. I’m able to do this without val salva, which is just a matter of breaking the association between contracting intensely and breath holding with practice.

      I would imagine there would be just as much carryover to a faster rep.

      Even using a preacher-curl style biceps machine if the load is adequate and the set is performed with a high enough level of effort the entire biceps will be trained effectively.

  20. Scott September 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Let’s not forget that AJ himself said that one could get quite near their full potential by the proper application of BW exercises, namely Dips, Chins, and Squats*,
    (*first 2-leg, then advancing to 1-leggers as you get strong enough).

  21. Mario September 30, 2012 at 5:49 am #

    Hello Drew. I had a question: if full range of motion is not necessary, than why not use only isometric holding of weights for any exercise, why move at all? Is isometric a better way to increase muscle strenght and size?

    • Drew Baye September 30, 2012 at 6:53 am #

      Mario,

      It certainly appears to be highly effective. Whether it is better would require a lot more time and a lot of experimentation to determine, and it might not be better for improving all aspects of functional ability. I’m excited about the potential but, as with most things, prefer to err on the skeptical side.

  22. Mark October 2, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    I find that barbell squats are the most recommended exercise when trying to gain muscle. Has there been evidence that barbell squats are detrimental to health, if not now maybe down the road? Specifically, risks with loading the spine(I have slight scoliosis)?

    I know you like hip belt squats but can they really replace proven barbell squats? What is you opinion on Mark Rippetoe and his thoughts on squats?

    Thank you

    • Drew Baye October 2, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

      Mark,

      When properly performed barbell squats are a safe and highly effective way to improve the strength and size of the hip, thigh, and trunk musculature and overall metabolic conditioning. When improperly performed they can wreck your spine and joints. Unfortunately, most people don’t perform them properly.

      Hip belt squats are just as effective for the hip and thigh muscles and easier on the spine. I’m currently working on a design for a power rack which will incorporate a flip down hip belt squat platform as an alternative for those who can’t perform traditional barbell squats.

  23. Craig October 8, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Regarding speed of movement and slow turn arounds: the usual explanation is that this is to reduce momentum effects, which can unintentionally & momentarily increase force experienced during an exercise.

    Recently, I read something about the stretch-reflex response which has me wondering if the real advantage of slow movement with a focus on turn-arounds is actually to deactivate the stretch reflex response. In the particular study I saw, it was demonstrated that a brief eccentric movement prior to a concentric move will significantly increase muscle activation (and maximum strength potential) for the concentric. In the same publication, they said that a pause > about 1 second before commencing the concentric would eliminate this extra activation. If one were concerned about limiting the forces experienced while fatiguing muscle, then deactivation of this reflex response might be more important than reducing momentum.

    I’m curious if this is an idea that has come up before in HIT circles?

    • Drew Baye October 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

      Craig,
      If the speed is adequately slow and proper turnaround technique is used it is rarely a problem, however I recommend pausing briefly at the start on exercises where the weights or weight stack can’t be set down to avoid this.

      • Andy October 9, 2012 at 8:53 am #

        Drew,

        Does that mean, on exercises where you can set down the weight stack you recommend to do that?
        Even if that could mean a reduction of muscular tension for the time of the setdown (around 2 sec. )?

        Thanks Andy

        • Drew Baye October 9, 2012 at 9:08 am #

          Andy,

          No. Exactly the opposite. I don’t recommend a pause on exercises where you can set down the weights to avoid unloading. You should allow the weights to touch but only for an instant and without unloading, then immediately but slowly start the positive. If the weights don’t touch you should gradually slow to a stop, then briefly hold the weight motionless to avoid bouncing or jerking before slowly starting the positive.

          All of this is covered in Elements of Form, which I kicked ass on this weekend and am on track to have out before long. I also mention this in another ebook I’ve almost completed which will be going out within the week.

          • Andy October 9, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

            Thanks Drew!

            I have already preordered Elements of Form and I will order your new ebook as well…I´m sure it will be a helpful source of information too.

          • marklloyd October 11, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

            I’ve been taught to avoid stack set-down by listening for a ‘ringing’ made by plates brushing each other. As far as unwanted rest & re-tracing, I’ve encountered an opposite effect: When I’ve accidentally set-down well into a set, I’ve tended to ‘shut off’ & not be able to turn back on, when all other indications were that I had at least another rep.

            • Drew Baye October 16, 2012 at 8:28 am #

              Mark,

              It’s not uncommon for it to be harder to continue a set after briefly unloading at bottom-out beyond some point. I noticed this happening frequently with some people when we were experimenting with rest-pause training.

  24. Jonas October 16, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    Hi Drew, how come you dident attend the RenEx workshop?

    I got the impression you worked with them, maybe change of plans?

    Im just curious because I always liked your writing and I was happy to see you joining RenEx which seems to push HIT forward today.

    //Jonas

    • Drew Baye October 16, 2012 at 8:56 am #

      Jonas,

      My father-in-law was attacked by a neighbor’s pit bull in the beginning of September. During the attack he was knocked to the ground and suffered a fractured skull and severe brain injury and has been in the hospital since then. We are helping with bills and although I was looking forward to the conference I had to prioritize finishing the books I’m working on and making progress on other projects. I find it very difficult to write without large blocks of uninterrupted time, which my current training and consulting schedule and other responsibilities rarely allows unless I sacrifice even more sleep than I already am, and since I already blocked off those days for the conference it was a rare opportunity to get a lot of work done.

      • palo October 16, 2012 at 10:35 am #

        Drew, sorry to hear about your father in law. I’m praying for him, you and your family.

  25. Anthony Maldonado November 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I am curious as to your opinion on the meta-analysis done by Krieger et al. 2010; which found that multiple sets are better than one set to failure specifically for muscle hypertrophy.

  26. Karl December 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Hello
    I was wondering if you have any sprinters that train this way? there is so much out there about type 2b fibers and you have to lift super heavy with few reps to gain strenght and not size etc etc.

    In terms of TUL and rep speed i feel like its better for me to just do the exersices controlled and aim for reps of 20 wich will bring me a great time under tension and also make sure i increase weight each session.
    Training alone and thinking to much about seconds on doing each exersice i think wil ruin the progression in terms of each time you workout. Training with heavy weights will make you move slow enough after the first reps.

    But yes back to my question would be great to hear about sprinters since i want to improve my acceleration and sprinting speed when i play soccer.

    • Drew Baye December 6, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      Karl,

      I’ve used these principles training professional and recreational athletes and many collegiate and professional sports teams have similar strength training programs. Although anecdotal, with only high intensity strength training and no specific running practice I am able to run at least as fast now if not faster than when I was half my age and thirty pounds lighter and ran a lot.

      It isn’t necessary to train super heavy to recruit and stimulate strength increases in the fast twitch fibers, you just have to train with a high level of intensity (read You Don’t Know HIT for an explanation of the difference between intensity and weight). Focus on increasing your hip extension strength and improving your hip flexor flexibility, learn and practice good running mechanics, and your acceleration and speed will improve.

      As for rep speed, using a consistent cadence helps you evaluate exercise performance between workouts, but as long as you are moving at least slowly enough to reverse directly smoothly, maintain strict body position and proper movement, and focus on intensely contracting the target muscles throughout the exercise your workouts will be safe and productive.

  27. Michael December 23, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    I’d like your opinion on my current workout. Day one consists of Incline Press, Seated Row and Leg Press. Day two consists of Reverse Grip Front Lat Pulldown, Seated Front Press and Trap Bar Deadlifts. I’ve been enamored of late with using single heavy reps. Usually, after I warm up, I will do three single reps using the same weight with about two to three minutes rest between reps. I pick a weight that by the time I get to that third single, it takes everything I have to complete it. Then, after another two or three minute rest, I reduce the weight to 70% of whatever weight I used on my single reps and will rep out with that weight. This typically ends up being a set of 5 to 8 reps before failure. The only exercise I do differently is the leg press, where I stay away from single reps and do 5 sets of 5 with the same weight. I have definitely seen some improvements as far as size and strength, but wonder if this is a routine that can be sustained. I used to do 4 or 5 sets of singles only, but then cut down to three single reps and added the back off set of 5 to 8 reps. I’ve recently given thought to dropping the singles and just doing a set of 5 to 8 reps to failure and then taking a brief 30 to 45 second rest and following with another set of 1 or 2 reps with perhaps a static hold or slow negative on the last rep of that set. What positives or negatives can you point out regarding my current routine with single reps.

    Thanks Drew and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family.

    Michael

    • Drew Baye December 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Michael,

      I hope you and your family are having a happy holiday season as well.

      While a variety of repetition methods and ranges can be effective if done hard and progressively I don’t recommend heavy singles for lower reps for safety reasons and you have to be careful with rest-pause as well. Instead I recommend a repetition range of six to ten on compound pushing movements and five to eight on everything else (due to the additional time spent holding and squeezing at the end point). Using a 4/4 cadence and a three second hold on simple and compound pulling movements this ends up being around 50 to 90 seconds time under load which is a good starting point.

      • Michael December 28, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

        Drew,

        Thanks for your response. Instead of doing heavy singles followed by a back of set, what would you think about doing a set of approximately 3 to 5 reps to failure, then following a brief rest doing a “back-off” set of somewhere between 8 to 10 reps. I’m not really looking to add volume to my workout, but sometimes I feel like if I do a single set to failure, especially if it’s only 5 or 6 reps, that I haven’t done enough to tax the muscle. The next logical step to me then would be to do that second set with slightly higher reps to failure. If you feel a second set is unnecessary and detrimental, how about doing that first set in the rep ranges you recommend and then resting only enough time to take a few deeps breathes and then following up with a set of 1 to 2 reps and possibly including a hold or negative on the last rep of that set. I realize that can still be considered a rest pause technique in some ways, but perhaps it would be less taxing on the system long term than doing the standard rest pause method. As always, thanks for your time Drew.

        Michael

        • Drew Baye December 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

          Michael,

          Rather than look for ways to do more work, try to make that one set as hard as humanly possible. If you’re using a slow, controlled speed of movement you’re already doing a lot more metabolic work than most people do in three or four sets.

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