Interview With Ellington Darden, PhD.

In this interview the author of the best-selling Nautilus book series retraces his early training days with Arthur Jones and Casey Viator and talks about some of the golden-age bodybuilders who inspired him. Then, he discusses how he merged his experiences into his latest publication, The New High Intensity Training


When I found out that Dr. Darden had a new bodybuilding book coming out I was very excited. It had been a while since he had written a book on bodybuilding, and other than the late Mike Mentzer’s last book there hasn’t been any books on the subject worth reading for quite a while that I’m aware of.

Not only was Dr. Darden kind enough to do an interview for this site, he also lent me a recent draft of The New High Intensity Training, which I’ve read three times already. I’ve modified my own workouts and training schedule considerably after reading the book, and am already noticing improvements in my progress. For the first time in years, I’m actually very psyched about my training again. I believe that after you read The New High Intensity Training, you will be too.

Supervision: Necessary or Not?

Drew Baye: Due to the level of motivation required to perform the kind of “outright hard work” involved in high intensity training, do you think most people would get better results training with a partner?

Ellington Darden: The right training partner or supervisor can make a noticeable difference in overall results. Casey Viator’s training history at Nautilus provides an interesting example.

In my new HIT book, I note that Arthur Jones personally trained Casey Viator for 10 months prior to the 1971 Mr. America contest. Actually, the personal-training part was much less than that. Let me explain.

Jones was briefly introduced to Viator at the 1970 Mr. America contest in Los Angeles, where Casey placed third. Jones had driven from his home in Lake Helen, Florida, to Los Angeles and on the way back he stopped by Red Lerille’s gym in Lafayette, Louisiana, and reassembled some of his initial Nautilus machines that he had displayed in California a week earlier. Viator lived nearby so Lerille invited him over to talk with Jones and go though a workout.

And what a training session it was. “Arthur almost killed me,” Viator remembered. “I had a tremendous pump throughout my upper body. I could feel myself actually growing during and after the workout.”

Viator had never experienced a workout like Jones put him through and Jones had never exercised anyone with Viator’s genetic potential. As a result, Jones offered Viator a job with his new company, Nautilus, and assured Viator’s parents that he’d finish his senior year in high school in Florida. Besides training Viator over the next year, Jones would make sure he entered all the national bodybuilding contests. Everyone involved agreed that this was a doable arrangement.

Thus, Viator moved from Louisiana to Florida during the latter part of June 1970. His first scheduled contests under Jones’s guidance were Teenage Mr. America, during the last week of July, followed a month later by Mr. USA.

Jones began immediately training Viator on a three-times-per-week schedule, and true to his expectations, Viator started growing. From an initial body weight of 198 pounds, three weeks later Viator weighed 205 pounds and he easily won the Teenage Mr. America. In New Orleans, a month later at the Mr. USA, Viator weighed 210 pounds and was more cut than he was when he was 5 pounds lighter. Again, he was judged an easy winner.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu visited the Nautilus headquarters in mid-November 1970, Viator weighed 215 pounds and impressed both of the professional champions. Jones predicted that Casey would be more massive, with even more definition, by the 1971 Mr. America contest, which was 6 months away.

In early 1971, because of business and travel commitments, Jones stopped personally training Viator. Viator trained himself and slowly lost muscle and gained fat. In mid-February 1971, Jones noted that Casey was down to 205 pounds and was smoother than he’s been since he moved to Florida. At about the same time, he hired Kim Wood to take charge of the Quonset Hut workout room at DeLand High School, where all the training occurred. Wood supervised Viator for six weeks and reported back to Jones that he had trouble getting Viator to give him his best effort.

Finally, it was the middle of April, a month before the Jr. Mr. America, and Jones realized that if he doesn’t return to training Casey, Casey might get beat at the national event. So, Jones refocused on his personal training, cracked the whip as only he could, and Casey responded. In two weeks, Casey’s body weight was up to 210 pounds. At the contest, he weighed 215 and blew away the competition.

On June 12th, in York, Pennsylvania, at the 1971 Mr. America, Casey weighed 218 pounds and displayed his dominance by winning the main title and five of the six subdivisions . . . all at 19 years of age.

With Arthur Jones’ Supervision, a Little Goes a Long Way

Drew Baye: So, instead of Jones training Viator for 10 months prior to the 1971 Mr. American, it was more like 6 months. Is that correct?

Ellington Darden: It was less than that. Some years ago, I saw all the records Jones kept from training Casey during 1970 and 1971. Jones trained Casey 41 times, which was equal to approximately 4 months at the rate of 2.5 workouts a week. Casey trained himself (with a few others sometimes helping) for 6 of the 10 months.

No one could motivate Casey the way Arthur could. Jim Flanagan and I trained Casey for several months in 1978, and helped get his body weight up to 220 pounds, but it was a real chore trying to get him fired-up for the majority of his training sessions. I don’t believe Casey ever got his muscular, competitive body weight above 220.

I remember one day, we had Casey on the duo-squat machine and our goal was 20 reps with each leg, which would be more than he’d ever done with us training him. He was at rep 15 and Arthur walked into the gym with a couple of people. “Twenty reps,” Arthur repeated, after asking us about his progress, “hell, he can do 50 with each leg.” Over the next three minutes, Viator not only did 50 reps, but 2 more for good measure. With Flanagan and me pushing him, he’d have stopped at 20.

Arthur Jones frequently said that when he trained Viator, Casey got bigger and leaner, by the day. When Casey trained himself, according to Jones, he gradually lost muscle and got fatter.

Something similar to a lesser degree also happened to just about everyone who was trained by Jones. It happened to me, to Flanagan, to Boyer Coe, to Ray Mentzer. Once you had experienced Jones’s brutally hard workouts, it was difficult to duplicate them on your own.

I must point out this about Viator’s courage and fortitude. He accepted Jones’s pushing to a magnitude that few people could have stomached. And he did so 41 times in 1970-71.

Drew Baye: Are you saying that you absolutely have to have help in applying high intensity training the Arthur Jones way?

Ellington Darden: Actually, I guess what I’m saying is that if you want to get the best-possible results from HIT, you must have Arthur Jones as your personal trainer. I guarantee . . . that would be a real eye-opener.

Seriously, I know that most people will have great difficulty even locating a knowledgeable trainer, much less ever getting a personal training session from Arthur Jones.

The primary reason I wrote The New High-Intensity Training was to help bodybuilders learn how to train, and more importantly, how to train themselves. I do this by sharing stories, techniques, and routines – the basics of which I experienced from being around Arthur Jones for more than 30 years.

Sure, if you can afford the luxury of having a knowledgeable personal trainer, or can team up with a great workout partner, take advantage of the opportunity. But in my experience, sooner or later, you’re going to have to train alone and you’re going to have to push yourself.

With the do-it-yourself approach, your results will probably never be maximum. But they can be fairly close – and still very significant.

So, be prepared to train alone. Learn all you can about what motivates you. And arm yourself with The New High Intensity Training. With The New HIT, you’ll have the next-best thing to thing to being personally trained by Arthur Jones. (No commercial intended, but the book will truly help.)

With Jones, Intensity Was Supreme

Drew Baye: When Jones trained someone, was he a stickler for form?

Ellington Darden: Jones’s specialty was intensity. He had the knack of saying or doing whatever was necessary to get the desired response, which in most cases was more repetitions. When a trainee thought he was finished, Jones could always get at least two more reps from that individual.

Jones’s personal form when he trained himself was impeccable. In fact, I’ve never seen anybody better at keeping a relaxed face during HIT than Jones. But with Viator, Sergio Oliva, Boyer Coe, and the other athletes I watched him train, a small amount of cheating was acceptable. I’m not sure why he permitted it because he certainly understood what proper form was. Perhaps during the early 1970s, when he was training so many bodybuilders, it was simply easier to drive home intensity, than be so concerned with form.

Intensity or Form?

Drew Baye: Dr. Darden, which do you think is more important in getting the best results from HIT, intensity or form?

Ellington Darden: Great question, in fact, I could make a winning case for each one, or the idea that they are equally important.

My first response is to say that intensity is more important when you’re younger (from 15 to 40 years of age), and form is more important when your older (over 40). My reasoning is that a younger body can handle cheating much better than an older body, so as you get older, you’d be wise to focus more on form than intensity.

But as I look back on my 45 years of bodybuilding experience, combined with the thousands and thousands of individuals I’ve trained (and observed training), I can say with confidence that more people would profit from an understanding and application of proper form, than from proper intensity. Of course, in the long run, you’re going to need large amounts of both.

Reduction of Volume and Frequency

Drew Baye: While it’s important not to workout too long or too often, do you think that many high intensity training enthusiasts have gotten carried away with reducing the volume and frequency of their training?

Ellington Darden: Yes, I believe you’re right, especially those who recommend only three exercises once a week, or even once every-other week. For those recommendations to come close to producing maximum results, the trainee would have to extremely big, strong, and advanced.

Concerning volume, if you’re on a reduced-calorie diet to lose fat, you can shorten your HIT routine to only 4 or 5 exercises per session and make excellent results. But once you increase your daily calories to the 3,000-plus range, then the number of exercises should double.

Concerning frequency, I believe the results from the vast majority of the once-a-week training could be improved with the addition of one not-to-failure (NTF) session each week.

Not-To-Failure Training

Drew Baye: Can you tell me more about this NTF workout.

Ellington Darden: A NTF session is where on each exercise, you stop the set two repetitions short of an all-out effort. You take your normal weight or resistance and instead of going to failure or beyond, you simply quit two reps short of your previous best effort. If on Monday, for example, you performed 200 pounds for 10 repetitions on the bench press with a barbell, then on Wednesday, you still take 200 pounds, but you stop the set after repetition 8.

The idea is that by stopping short of failure you spare your recovery ability the task of having to overcompensate from a much deeper inroad. In fact, NTF workouts may speed recovery by supplying some of the chemistry to guard against atrophy and to facilitate active rest.

Jones applied this concept frequently in the early 1970s, but seldom mentioned it in his writings and lectures. I talked about not-to-failure training in the middle of my first Nautilus book, but it wasn’t emphasized. We both should have discussed it more.

Drew Baye: Did you use NTF workouts in training David Hudlow, who in your HIT book gained 18-1/2 pounds of muscle in two weeks and 39 pounds of muscle in 6 months?

Ellington Darden: I certainly did. As a result, Hudlow made steady progress for the entire 6 months that I trained him. All of his strength plateaus were small and easily broken.

18-1/2 Pounds of Muscle in Two Weeks

Drew Baye: That 18-1/2 pounds of muscle built by David Hudlow in two weeks seems almost too good to be true. Is there anything I’m missing here?

Ellington Darden: Actually, I understated the time period. The 18-1/2 pounds of muscle occurred in 11 days, not 14. He registered no weight gain during days 12, 13, and 14, so I just called it two weeks to keep it in line with the other two-week plans in the book. I took accurate measurements of Hudlow before and after, as well as photos of him from the front and back, which you can examine in the HIT book on page 202, so I’ve tried to present the results in as factual a way as possible.

I know a lot of people believe that adding that much muscle so quickly is impossible. That’s why I had Hudlow’s resting metabolic rate checked before and after the 14 days. Not surprising to me, the addition of 18-1/2 pounds of muscle increased his resting metabolic rate by 530 calories, or 28.6 calories per pound of added muscle per day. That reinforced to me that the weight gain was added muscle and not just water brought about from the creatine loading. (The before-and-after photos confirmed that also.) I do think, however, that the creatine monohydrate formula was responsible for from 25 to 30 percent of the results.

Interestingly, I replicated the 14-day experiment with another Gainesville Health & Fitness subject, Michael Spillane. Spillane was younger, 21, lighter, 132 pounds, and had less genetic potential than did Hudlow. But he still added 11-3/4 pounds of muscle in 14 days.

In 1990, I worked with Keith Whitley, a bodybuilder from Dallas, Texas, who added 29 pounds of muscle in six weeks – 11-1/4 pounds of it occurred during the first two-week period. And Whitley achieved that without the help of creatine.

But Dave Hudlow certainly set my personal-training record for the most muscle built in two weeks.

Two Weeks of the Colorado Experiment

Drew Baye: In Jones’s 1973 Colorado Experiment, how much muscle did Casey Viator gain during the first two weeks?

Ellington Darden: Now we’re talking about a probable world record for muscular growth, but as I point out in chapter 3 of my book, Viator had been in a disabling accident and his muscles had atrophied. So, during the experiment, he was rebuilding previously existing levels of muscular size. That stated, Casey Viator gained 39.87 – that’s right, just 0.13 shy of 40 – pounds of muscle in two weeks. That’s an average of 2.85 pounds of muscle a day for 14 days. Viator more than doubled Hudlow’s rate of growth.

A little known fact is that Arthur Jones went through the same training program in Colorado as Casey, with one exception: He did no lower-body exercise. He performed one set of 11 or fewer HIT upper-body exercises, three times per week. The result: Jones built 11-1/4 pounds of muscle in 14 days, which is not bad at all for a man almost 50 years of age.

Drew Baye: Why didn’t Jones train his legs during the Colorado Experiment?

Ellington Darden: Jones said he had every intention of training his legs, but when he arrived he had a bit of a chest cold. Then, the high altitude associated with being in the mountains of Fort Collins, Colorado, had him feeling somewhat dizzy, especially during his workout. Thus, he simplified his routine to upper body only.

Champion Bodybuilders at Nautilus

Drew Baye: Did you ever train Arnold Schwarzenegger when he visited Nautilus?

Ellington Darden: Arnold spent a week with Jones in November of 1970 and, unfortunately, I wasn’t around then. But I heard about his visit from Jones, Viator, and Larry Gilmore. There’s a lot of the interesting stuff concerning Arnold and Arthur in chapter 5: “How HIT Humbled Schwarzenegger.” Arnold, for perhaps multiple reasons, couldn’t get the hang of high-intensity training the Arthur Jones way.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve been around Arnold four or five times. But I’ve never had the chance to train him, or train with him.

Drew Baye: Besides Casey Viator, Sergio Oliva, and Mike Mentzer, who are some of the other big-name bodybuilders that you worked with?

Ellington Darden: I’ve trained Boyer Coe, Joe Means, Scott Wilson, and Ray Mentzer to name four. Also I put Steve Reeves through a workout in 1978, as well as Frank Zane and Bob Guida. Also, I’ve worked out with Ken Leistner, Pete Grymkowski, Robby Robinson, Jim Haislop, Richard Baldwin, Chris Dickerson, and Lee Haney.

There’s probably a few more, but I can’t recall them right now.

The Biggest and The Best

Drew Baye: How about a little word, or phrase association test that relates to the bodybuilders you’ve trained or seen?

Ellington Darden: Okay.

• Best arms: three-way tie among Casey Viator, Sergio Oliva, and Boyer Coe
• Best chest: Arnold Schwarzenegger
• Best shoulders: Scott Wilson
• Best back: Dorian Yates
• Best thighs: Tom Platz
• Best calves: Chris Dickerson
• Best forearms: Casey Viator
• Best abdominals: Frank Zane
• Most muscular: Sergio Oliva
• Best overall first impression: Boyer Coe at the 1965 Mr. Texas contest
• Strongest during multiple workouts: Ray Mentzer
• Best consistent workout form: Robert Berg, a bodybuilder and a medical doctor from Stuart, Florida

Big Arms!

Drew Baye: I’m surprised you failed to place Schwarzenegger’s arms in the top category as Viator’s, Oliva’s, and Coe’s. Didn’t Jones measure and compare all of their arms?

Ellington Darden: Arnold had a great peak on his right arm. But I don’t think Arnold’s triceps, nor forearms, were in the same category as Viator’s, Oliva’s, and Coe’s. Jones’s measured Arnold’s flexed right upper arm “cold” at 19-1/2 inches. His left arm was 19 inches.

In peak condition, Casey’s right arm was 19-5/16 inches, Oliva’s was 20-1/8 inches, and Coe’s was 18-7/16 inches. Coe had more flat, oval-shaped, peaked upper arms than did either Viator or Oliva. Oliva’s arms were round like a couple of bowling balls and Viator’s were massive and rock hard.

Coe’s arms, because of their unusual shape, always looked bigger than they measured. What muscular biceps and full triceps he possessed.

Oliva’s arms, from any angle or position, both relaxed and contracted, were absolutely HUGE. Surprisingly, he moved them around his body as he talked and listened with an unassuming, childlike glee. There was none of this flexed posturing that you normally see among men with big arms.

Viator’s arms reminded me of Popeye, because his hanging forearms appeared disproportionately large and impressive. When Jones asked him to flex his arm, his forearm mass seemed to jettison his biceps into a much higher than anticipated mound of muscle. Casey could make his biceps, in a series of three distinct contractions, grow more massive as he moved his forearm closer to his shoulder. I’ve seen visitors at close range, suddenly back off, as if they thought his gradually contracting biceps was going to explode.

Today’s Mr. Olympia Contest

Drew Baye: What’s your take on the current Mr. Olympia competitors?

Ellington Darden: The last Mr. Olympia contest that I attended was in 1995 in Atlanta. It was starting to become a sideshow then. But now, judging from the photo spreads in the magazines, it’s ridiculous.

I admire big, muscular arms, broad shoulders, thick chests, and great legs – but I don’t admire them when they’re connected to bloated, 42-inch waistlines.

Drugs, hormone injections, implants, and who knows what else, have destroyed professional bodybuilding today. I want no part of it.

I choose to remember the drug-free bodybuilders who influenced me when I was growing up. Bodybuilding was a lot healthier then.

Great Physiques From The Past

Drew Baye: Who were some of the bodybuilders that you admired when you began training?

Ellington Darden: When I became interested in bodybuilding in 1959, I naturally started reading the muscle magazines. The men in the magazines that I admired were the classic physiques, such as Steve Reeves and John Grimek, as well as Ron Lacy, who won the Mr. America in 1957 and had terrific calves.

When I went to Baylor University in 1962, there was a guy on the football team named Bobby Crenshaw. He played defensive tackle and was about 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 230 pounds. Crenshaw had 18-inch upper arms and 15-inch forearms, which were mighty impressive; but even more impressive was his neck, which must have measured at least 20 inches. Crenshaw inspired me to work my neck. To this day, I’m a firm believer in strength training the neck, for both athletes and nonathletes.

Recently, I attended a reunion of Texas bodybuilders and lifters from the 1960s, which was held at Ronnie Ray’s home in Dallas. About 75 of my old friends were there and we had a great time reliving “the good old days.” One of the highlights was a film that Terry Todd, of the University of Texas, had assembled that showed black-and-white movie clips from the AAU Mr. America contests, 1940 through 1954. All of these champions were drug-free and I must emphasize that there were some very well built men in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Of course Grimek and Reeves stood out, but so did Steve Stanko, Mr. America 1944, who was more massive than Grimek. There were Clancy Ross (’45) and George Eiferman (’48), with their massive chests, as well as John Farbotnik (’50). Roy Hilligen (’51) impressed me with his overall muscle density combined with extreme definition. And there was Marvin Eder, who never achieved Mr. America, but it was clear from the film that he should have won in the early 1950s.

Sitting beside me as we watched the movie clips was a 69-year-old lifter from Kansas (yes, there were a few out-of-staters who attended). His name was Wilbur Miller and in 1964 he deadlifted 715 pounds, while weighing 245 pounds, which was a world record at that time. The amazing thing about Miller was that he never worked out in a commercial gym and never had a training partner. For 90 percent of his exercising, he never used an Olympic barbell. He always trained alone, after finishing his day job. Wilbur was, and still is, a wheat farmer. Today, he weighs a lean 220 pounds and has muscular forearms, thick wrists, and a vise-like grip. He sort of reminds me of the character John Wayne played in his old western movies.

Miller can’t understand why anyone interested in lifting and bodybuilding would want to get involved with drugs. “All it takes to get bigger and stronger,” Miller says with his friendly demeanor, “is an understanding of weight-training basics and hard work.”

As much as any of those Mr. America winners, I appreciate and admire Wilbur Miller.

The plain truth is that hundreds of thousands of men throughout the middle of the last century strengthened and built their bodies – without drugs. And it can still be accomplished without drugs today.

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Drew Baye: Ken Hutchins, the architect behind the SuperSlow philosophy, and you grew up in the same town in Texas. Was their something in the environment or education system that motivated you guys into weight training?

Ellington Darden: It is interesting that both Ken and I were raised in Conroe, Texas, which is 30 miles north of Houston. I was 8 years older than Ken and I didn’t really didn’t have much contact with him until my fourth year of college. When Ken started high school he became a friend to one of my Conroe classmates, Philip Alexander, who was in medical school in Houston. Ken’s dad was a physician in town and Philip visited him often to gain practical knowledge.

In late 1967, Alexander invited Hutchins and me to his wedding and at the reception afterward, Ken began talking to me about strength training and bodybuilding. Hutchins was a beginner and I had been training seriously for a number of years. He had a lot of questions for me and I had to dig pretty deep for some of the answers.

Concerning the educational system in Conroe, small-town football was big in Texas. Some of the football coaches, who encouraged me to lift weights from 1958 to 1962, also encouraged Hutchins in the late 1960s.

Hutchins and I both has access to weights through the school system. Plus, I had a fairly good setup in my parents’ garage, and when I visited my parents during the holidays and summer, Hutchins would often join me for workouts. During one of my stopovers in 1970, I introduced Hutchins to several Nautilus-styled HIT routines and I could tell he was impressed. As a result, I gave him some articles by Arthur Jones to ponder. Ken always came back for more, and perhaps most importantly, asked intelligent questions.

When Hutchins was a senior in high school, Conroe had one of the best football teams in Texas. The team was composed of several all-state players, each of whom weighed well over 225 pounds. Ken’s parents would not permit him to play football. But Ken often strength trained with the team and was significantly stronger than the top players.

Conroe’s head football coach, W. T. Stapler, who had been there for 10 years, told me that Hutchins bench-pressed 50 pounds more and dealifted 100 pounds more than the strongest guys on the team. Hutchins’ lifts, he said, always motivated the players to get stronger, but none ever exceeded Ken’s poundages.

When I graduated from Conroe High School in 1962, I was the strongest student athlete in most of the basic strength-training exercises. In 1970, when Hutchins graduated, the high school was five times larger and Ken was the strongest male in school. Furthermore, he bench-pressed and deadlifted significantly more weight in 1970 than I did in 1962.

In a local physique contest, however, Hutchins would have been pressed to finish in the top 10 (just kidding, Ken). Make no mistake – Ken Hutchins was one strong, Texas teenager.

Florida Beckons

Drew Baye: When Nautilus hired you, did Ken visit you in Florida?

Ellington Darden: When I joined Arthur Jones and Nautilus in 1973, it wasn’t long before Hutchins drove to Florida to see for himself what was happening. After multiple visits, Hutchins was hired in 1977 by our sports-medicine orthopedist to be his assistant. Hutchins was mostly involved in the physical therapy side of Nautilus, which finally led to his supervisory position in a Nautilus-sponsored osteoporosis research project at the University of Florida Medical School in 1982. It was during this project, which continued for four years, that Hutchins tested and applied the initial SuperSlow protocols.

During the 10 years that Ken worked at Nautilus, he and I were involved in four major strength-training and fat-loss projects, as well as dozens of Nautilus-related seminars and workshops. Today, I live approximately 25 miles from Ken. We remain great friends and I try to see him once a month.

Opinion of SuperSlow®

Drew Baye: What’s your opinion of Hutchins’s SuperSlow?

Ellington Darden: I like SuperSlow. I apply many of the techniques in my workouts each week. Without getting into the finer points of the SuperSlow philosophy, I want to say simply: Ken Hutchins carefully studied repetition form, which was and is a subset of HIT, and turned it into a full-fledged business. And I’m glad he did.

If Arthur Jones’s specialty is intensity, then Ken Hutchins’s forte is form. I’m grateful that I’ve spent as much time as I have with both Jones and Hutchins.

A Stormy Night In Georgia

Drew Baye: Do you have an interesting story about Ken Hutchins that you could share?

Ellington Darden: The first thing that pops into my mind happened in Atlanta, Georgia, one night in February 1980. Ken and I had been involved in a Nautilus seminar and we were waiting to fly back to Daytona Beach. It was about 20 degrees outside and the Atlanta airport was the middle of an ice storm, so all flights were delayed. There we were with thousands of frustrated people and a couple of hours to burn.

Ken was sitting next to me and we began sorting through our strength-training slides, since we had both given talks using a 35mm-slide projector earlier in the day. After a while, Ken asked me what I thought about his new section, which he called “Exercise Versus Recreation.”

A little background is necessary here.

Ken and I, for several years, had tried various approaches during Nautilus seminars to debate people who believed they needed daily aerobic activity to be healthy. Proper strength training, we felt, was more than an adequate way to work the muscles and heart. And strength training was a lot safer than the most popular aerobic activities, such as jogging and aerobic dancing, which were the latest crazes. Ken’s exercise/recreation section explained how to define exercise (which involved disciplined overload and was not fun), and then how to separate it from recreation (which required no overload and was enjoyable). His conclusion was to accept exercise for what it is, hard work, and not try to make it recreation or fun.

I told Ken that compartmentalizing exercise and recreation was on-target and I thought his new concept was going to help our cause. As we discussed the topic further, I glanced across the lobby, which was in the center of four departure-arrival gates. Sitting about 30 yards away was a man who was also examining slides and arranging them in a carousel. As I focused on the guy, I recognized him. It was Dr. Kenneth Cooper.

At that time, Cooper was the #1 running guru, as a result of a couple of best-selling books on aerobics. Furthermore, he was generally thought of as being anti-strength training, anti-HIT, and anti-Nautilus.

A couple of years earlier, at one of the industry’s annual fitness conventions, Hutchins had been involved in a panel discussion that included Cooper. Cooper, answering a question, knocked strength training. Hutchins wanted to respond, but didn’t. Since then, he’d regretted not speaking up.

As a result, Hutchins and I improvised a plan.

We figured Cooper did not know how to define exercise clearly, at least not in the vernacular that Hutchins had conceived. Hutchins was going to ease over and take a seat beside Cooper. After some small talk, he was going to ask him bluntly to define exercise. We then expected some locking of horns to occur.

I was going to watch the deliberations from my angle for 10 minutes, and join the action. We’d effectively double team Cooper – and help him understand exercise, generally and specifically, and then share with him the advantages of strength training on Nautilus equipment.

With the plan in mind, Hutchins hurried over – but just as he approached, an older woman took the seat beside Cooper. No problem, he simply dropped down on one knee in front of Cooper and continued.

I noticed that Cooper was being very animated and seemed to be expressing himself well. But since Hutchins had his back toward me, it was difficult to gauge what was happening on Ken’s side. At the planned 10-minute mark, I walked over. The lobby was even more crowded, so I had to kneel on the floor beside Hutchins.

There we were: Ken Hutchins and Ellington Darden kneeling at the feet of Dr. Kenneth Cooper, while he lectured to us on aerobic exercise. We both tried at least a half-dozen times each, to wedge a comment into Cooper’s dissertation. But it was no use. The man seemed to project a mesmerizing spell on us and we soon found our heads nodding to concepts that were directly against what we believed. After another 30 minutes had passed, all the seats in the lobby were overflowing with people, and we had little to do but keep kneeling and nodding. It felt like we were in the middle of an old-fashioned tent revival.

Finally, the storm cleared, and the three of us boarded the same plane to Daytona Beach. (Cooper was speaking at a hospital’s grand opening the next morning.) Thank goodness, Hutchins and I were not seated near Cooper, as our heads and necks needed rest.

Our double-team plan had failed. We had been steam-rolled, and worse – captivated somehow by what we heard. In fact, we ended up chauffeuring Cooper to his hotel. We bid him good night and invited him to visit us the next day at the Nautilus headquarters, if time allowed. We never heard from him.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Four years passed . . . and a mutual friend told me that Cooper still didn’t care for strength training. But he had recently signed off on the purchase of two lines of Nautilus machines for his Aerobics Center in Dallas, primarily because of two hospitable Nautilus guys he’d talked with one stormy night in the Atlanta Airport. One thing Cooper appreciated, our mutual friend noted (and this was no joke), was that we had not raved to him about Nautilus.

Sometimes, being unable to express yourself can produce an unexpected benefit.

Timed Static Contractions

Drew Baye: Thanks, that’s a fascinating story. I’ve heard Hutchins blast Cooper’s philosophy, but I never knew he had an influence on the Aerobics Center in Dallas purchasing Nautilus. To change the subject . . . timed static contractions have become popular with some instructors for use with clients who can’t perform certain exercises through a full range of motion due to physical problems or injuries. Since they involve no movement and have no potential for negative work, which hypothetically would produce little microtrauma, what do you think of their value for stimulating muscular size increases relative to full-range exercise?

Ellington Darden: I certainly think timed static contractions have value. I’ve tried them several times and I’ve definitely felt the tension. Someone somewhere should be doing a large-scale research project to help us understand more about their place in short- and long-term exercise.

Compared to full-range exercise, I’d have to say that full-range exercise – given that you’re dealing with healthy trainees – would supply many more benefits. For example, full-range exercise provides more thorough muscular strengthening, more stretching for flexibility, more work for the cardiorespiratory system, and more calorie-burning ability from the overall workout.

Arthur Jones noted more than 30 years ago that negative-work potential was perhaps the most important aspect of the muscle-building process. Studies since then have confirmed much of what Jones believed concerning negative work. So at least from that perspective, static contractions are lacking.

As you stated, however, there’s a place for timed static contractions in exercising people who have certain limitations.

Arthur Jones and Negative Work

Drew Baye: In your book, you discuss the importance of negative work in building muscle. Was Arthur Jones the first person to introduce negative work to bodybuilding?

Ellington Darden: Negative work (eccentric muscle action) was kicked around haphazardly in the physiology world before Jones came on the scene. But it wasn’t until Jones started experimenting and writing about negative work in 1972, that any bodybuilder took it seriously. I read all the bodybuilding magazines from 1959 until 1972, and I never came across anything remotely similar to the emphasis and guidelines Jones placed on lowering a heavy weight.

Today, if you walk into any serious gym in the United States (or in the world), “doing negatives” is a regular part of a lifter’s vocabulary. We can thank Arthur Jones for that.

Mike Mentzer and Nautilus

Drew Baye: In chapter 9 of your new HIT book, you talk about meeting and working with Mike Mentzer. I thought Mike would have thrived being around Nautilus and Arthur Jones. What happened?

Ellington Darden: Mike moved to Lake Helen, Florida, in 1983 and worked for Nautilus approximately 6 months. And you’re correct, you’d have thought that with his devotion to hard training, he’d have been on cloud nine.

When I was around Mike, we got along fine. Mike and his girlfriend, Julie McNew, came over to my home several times for dinner and we had some far-reaching conversations, none of which had much at all to do with bodybuilding.

The strange thing was that the entire 6 months Mike was at the Nautilus headquarters, I never saw him take an intense workout. There were several times when he appeared to be interested, but it quickly faded. He seemed to be in a perpetual training drift, looking for someone or something to take his oars and row him to shore. But when someone or something emerged, Mike would jump overboard or make himself invisible.

After Mike left Nautilus and returned to California, I heard he experienced severe depression and went through lengthy periods of drug therapy. I also read that much of his depression was related to Arnold Schwarzenegger defeating him in the 1980 Mr. Olympia, a contest Mike thought he should have won. (By the way, I agreed with Mike’s assessment.) During the competition, Mike and Arnold had a bitter argument that was never settled, and worse, continued to fester.

None of that helped Mike’s health, and unfortunately, he died of a heart attack in 2001 at the age of 49.

Heavy Duty Books

Drew Baye: What did you think of Mentzer’s Heavy-Duty books?

Ellington Darden: I was a fan of Mike’s books, especially the ones that chronicled his training for the 1978 Mr. Universe and the 1980 Mr. Olympia. Who knows? If Mike would have won the Olympia, the world of professional bodybuilding might now be significantly different.

Generally, Mike Mentzer’s writings, success in contests, and inspiring photographs influenced bodybuilders everywhere to train harder and briefer. In 1978, at Sean Harrington’s Nautilus club in Los Angeles, I witnessed Mike go through a true HIT workout. He handled almost the entire weight stack on every Nautilus machine and his workout was almost equal to what Casey Viator could have done in his prime. I was impressed.

Ray Mentzer’s Strength

Drew Baye: In your book, you also mention Mike’s younger brother Ray. Ray Mentzer was even stronger than Mike, right?

Ellington Darden: Yes he was. While Mike showed little desire to train intensely in Lake Helen, Ray was just the opposite. He was frequently up for a hard workout. I trained him multiple times. After a while, we would have to pin additional weight on most of the Nautilus machines. He was that strong. Ray handled the entire weight stack, 500 pounds, on the Nautilus duo-squat machine with ease. I never witnessed anyone else get a single rep with the entire stack – and there were a lot of big, strong athletes who tried.

Ray was the first bodybuilder I ever saw who weighed 250 pounds or more, in fairly lean condition. There are a few in that category today, but there weren’t any in 1983.

Joe Mullen, a former Nautilus club owner, recently told me that he saw Ray go through a HIT workout in 1999. “On our Nautilus leg-extension machine, Ray did 290 pounds for 10 good repetitions,” Mullen said, as he paused and cleared his throat.

In my mind, I’m thinking . . . “290 pounds on the Nautilus leg extension machine, I believe I’ve done that much.”

Having cleared his throat, Mullen continued . . . “With one leg.”

That’s right, Ray Mentzer did single leg extensions in a normal positive-negative manner with 290 pounds, which is equivalent to handling 580 pounds with both legs.

That reinforced to me that Ray Mentzer was the strongest man I’ve ever trained, and I’ve been training people for more than 40 years.

More on Ray

Drew Baye: I’ve read that Ray Mentzer was somewhat of a comedian. Did he ever do any amusing things around Nautilus?

Ellington Darden: Ray did have a sense of humor and he often had a joke up his sleeve. He prided himself in being able to “keep a straight face,” which threw you off, until you figured out his style. Arthur Jones had some of that ability, too.

One of the funniest Ray Mentzer/Arthur Jones stories occurred during the summer of 1983. At that time, Nautilus had three, state-of-the-art television studios in Lake Helen. Jones had an interest in producing how-to videos on many aspects of sports medicine. It wasn’t unusual for Jones to discuss various deals with well-known athletes, or their agents.

One day, Martina Navratilova, the famous tennis player phoned. She was intending to do a series of instructional videotapes and wanted to check out the studios in Lake Helen. Could someone from Nautilus pick her up at the Orlando International Airport the next day at 11:00 AM?

Maybe it was Martina’s tone of voice, or maybe she forgot to say please, whatever it was, it didn’t set right with Jones. The next morning he instructed Ray Mentzer to meet Martina at the airport and escort her back to Lake Helen. Ray had massive 20-inch arms and 30-inch thighs. He was so big that all he could wear to work were stretchable Ban-Lon shirts and Bugle-Boy pants.

Arthur told Ray to put on his brightest, horizontal-striped shirt (he didn’t want Martina to miss him) and be sure and drive the old, unwashed, company car, which had a broken air-conditioner (that meant he’d have to roll down all the windows so air could circulate).

Finally, Jones informed Ray that once he was back in Lake Helen, to give the lady a tour – starting with the barn. In the middle of the Nautilus compound was a non-descript, 30- by 50-foot, metal building, which was the home of 40 large crocodiles that Jones had brought in from Jamaica.

By now, you should get the picture.

According to Ray, he got more attention at the airport than Martina did, the dirty car turned her off, and the ride back to Lake Helen was hot, both in temperature and in conversation.

Then, there was the tour through the barn. Ray neglected to tell Martina that there were dangerous crocodiles inside. Instead, he announced that combating successfully what was on the interior was the final test of a Nautilus obstacle course, and let her enter ahead of him. That curveball sent Martina scrambling for a phone. Evidently, her interest in seeing the video studios had vanished. She called a cab and within 15 minutes, was on her way to Orlando.

“I offered to drive her back – even told her I’d run the car through a Jiffy Wash,” Ray deadpanned afterward. “She had promised to help me later with my tennis serve. I don’t know what went wrong.”

New High Intensity Training Book Differences

Drew Baye: How is your book, The New High-Intensity Training, different from other HIT books, such as those written by John Little, Stuart McRoberts, Brian Johnston, and Matt Brzycki?

Ellington Darden: I cover some similar topics, such as intensity, form, and progression. But my book’s differences can be grouped as follows:

• History: In my opinion, Arthur Jones, more than any single individual, developed high intensity training. Thus, I spend about half of my 272-page book relating the stories and experiences of Jones. No other training book has this type of history or background material, which I believe is worthwhile and meaningful in understanding the why of HIT.

• Photography: To illustrate the history, I also have more than a hundred photographs from the 1970s that are placed throughout the text.

• Whole-body routines: To quote Arthur Jones, “Split routines make about as much sense as sleeping with one eye open.” Each routine in the new HIT features at least some exercise for both your upper body and lower body. Why? Because organized properly, you get better results. All the other HIT books eventually have you performing split routines.

• Not-to-failure (NTF) workouts: Several chapters and a detailed chart illustrate precisely how to integrate NTF workouts into your standard HIT routines for best-possible results. Furthermore, the chart and routines extend for longer than a year. No other HIT books covers NTF training.

As you can see, my book is distinct from the others.

Andy McCutcheon and High Intensity Training

Drew Baye: I also think that the bodybuilder you use to illustrate your HIT exercises has an outstanding build. Who is he?

Ellington Darden: He’s Andy McCutcheon and he’s been using HIT principles since 1988, when he trained at Dorian Yates’s gym in Birmingham, England. McCutcheon placed high in a few contests in Great Britain and relocated in 1992 to Portland, Oregon, where he became an engineer for Novellus Systems. I first noticed McCutcheon six years ago, when close-ups of his arms and torso were featured on the award-winning Bowflex commercial.

“Who is that muscular guy?” I thought to myself.

I found out in 2001, when Andy was selected to demonstrate the exercises for my book, The Bowflex Body Plan. After working with McCutcheon for week, I knew he’d be ideal to use for The New High-Intensity Training. When we took the HIT photography, 38-year-old McCutcheon weighed 184 pounds, at a height of 6-feet even, and I personally measured his body fat at 3.4 percent.

Drew Baye: Shoot straight with us. Does McCutcheon actually train on Bowflex?

Ellington Darden: People ask him that all the time, and I’ll shoot straight with you. McCutcheon trains by himself in his basement. He has a Bowflex Ultimate machine and he uses it two or three times a week. He also has several bars and 400 pounds of free weights. His overall routines include about 50-percent Bowflex exercises and 50- percent free-weight exercises. McCutcheon believes in simple, get-as-strong-as-you-can, basic exercises. And, he’s into the martial arts, so he does some of that several times a week.

Specialized Routines

Drew Baye: In part IV of your book, you devote a chapter to each of eight different specialized routines. As examples, you have a routine for thighs, calves, chest, arms, and waist. Out of curiosity, which one do you like the best?

Answer: To paraphrase Arthur Jones, “Rather than the best, I’ll tell you the one that I like the least, which will be the routine that I need the most.”

That being the case, then I must go with chapter 16: shocking your hips and thighs. This chapter describes a three-exercise leg cycle. The last of the three exercises: extremely slow leg presses, 4 repetitions in 120 seconds, will rock your world but good. I’ve experimented with all styles of leg presses and this one is the hardest of all.

First, you need to have access to an efficient leg-press machine, one that you can adjust by moving the seat forward to prevent you from locking the knees. Use about half the weight (50 percent) that you’d normally use. Important, you must have a clock or a watch with a second hand that you can place in plain sight. Or a training partner with a watch can talk your through each phase.

Your goal is for each repetition to take 30 seconds: 15 seconds on the positive and 15 seconds on the negative. The entire movement needs to be fluid and controlled. Pay particular attention to the bottom turnaround. Stay focused and keep the tension and the movement smooth and slow. That fourth repetition will be a bear, but you should be able to finish it – which will build your confidence for your next workout.

For your next workout, I want you to increase the resistance by 25 percent (which is 75 percent of your normal resistance for 10 repetitions). Now, you’ll experience some of the reasons why this is my least favorite routine. If you can accomplish 4 repetitions with this weight in 120 seconds, you’ll be ready to add the two pre-exhaustion exercises before you do the leg press.

Anyway, review chapter 16 to find out all the how-tos.

Rodale’s Marketing Plan

Drew Baye: The publisher of your new HIT book is Rodale. Rodale also is behind a number of magazines, such as Men’s Health and Prevention. How were they to work with? Are they planning anything special to promote your book?

Ellington Darden: Over the last 25 years, I worked with a lot of major publishing houses, such as Little Brown, Simon & Schuster, Contemporary Books, and Putnam. Rodale is the best of the bunch. They have a New York City office, but the majority of their publishing house in located in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, which is a quaint community in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

My initial contact with Rodale occurred 5 years ago when Ken Hutchins introduced me to a Bill Stump, an editor from Men’s Health (a Rodale magazine), who was in Orlando interviewing Ken. Stump later introduced me to the guy who eventually became the editor of The New High-Intensity Training.

When I visited Rodale’s main photography studio in Emmaus, I met with my editor, Lou Schuler, who also is the fitness director for Men’s Health. I assumed one of the Men’s Health design team would be assigned to do the layout of my book. Instead, the book was assigned to Carol Angstadt, of Rodale’s women’s publishing group, who had never before been involved with a bodybuilding book. In the past, with my bodybuilding books from other publishers, I had always worked with a man on the design and layout. I was a bit worried.

Halfway through the photo shoot, I could tell that Carol was quickly getting a handle on the subject matter. Once I saw her creative design and layout, I realized that she had leapfrogged significantly my other bodybuilding books.

Thanks to Lou Schuler, who did a superb job with editing my words, and Carol Angstadt, who made the format and illustrations pop with excitement, The New High-Intensity Training is going to be, in my opinion, my best book yet.

Rodale’s marketing team assures me that the book will be:

• Excerpted in Men’s Health MUSCLE magazine (September issue).

• Advertised in Muscle & Fitness and Ironman magazines (November and December 2004 issues).

• Targeted to fitness and bodybuilding press, newsletters, and Web sites

• Promoted with an extensive Internet media campaign.

Overall, I’m very pleased with what’s happening with the book.

Number of Bodybuilders Using High Intensity Training

Drew Baye: How many bodybuilders do you figure are interested in HIT?

Ellington Darden: Lou Schuler, who was recently appointed editor of Rodale’s newest magazine called, Men’s Health MUSCLE, asked me the same question a while back. We researched the HIT interest and here’s what we concluded about our audience:

In the early 1980s, when HIT was at its height of popularity, about 16 percent of bodybuilders in the United States were involved with it. Today, that percentage of involvement has shrunk by half, which leaves approximately 8 percent.

The latest statistics from the Sports Goods Manufacturers Association reveals that approximately 20,000,000 males in the United States are actively involved in bodybuilding and strength training. Thus, taking 8 percent of that number indicates that 1,600,000 males are into HIT.

But perhaps more importantly, research shows that with that sliding 8 percent, if there was a unified HIT push, it could rather quickly increase back 16 percent, or 3,200,000 trainees.

It would be impossible to sell a book to each of those existing, 1.6 million trainees. But I believe it’s a reasonable goal to aim for one-tenth of that number during the first year after publication. That would amount to 160,000 copies sold of The New High-Intensity Training in 12 months.

My original Nautilus book, initially published in 1980 and revised five times, sold more than half a million copies. A goal of 160,000 for The New HIT seems reachable.

High Intensity Training Versus High Volume Training

Drew Baye: If you place those potential HIT users on the far left side a normal, bell-shaped curve, what would you label those on the far right side – high-volume trainees?

Ellington Darden: Yes that’s precisely what we were thinking. As HIT decreased its following from 16 to 8 percent, high-volume training (HVT) increased its numbers from 16 to 24 percent. All of us should strive to win back those previous HIT believers.

And of course, let’s not forget about that middle 68 percent, the wishy-washy majority, who have trouble believing seriously in any training philosophy for very long. Surely, with the correct instruction and motivation, we can turn a reasonable percentage of them into HIT believers.

New Projects

Drew Baye: Are you currently working on anything new and exciting?

Ellington Darden: I have a couple of projects in the formative stages. One deals with a follow-up to my 1995 book, Living Longer Stronger, which was written for men between the ages of 40 and 60. This new one will be directed to men over 60 years of age. Why? Because that’s now my age and someone needs to write sensibly for this group of men. The other project is best described by its working title: Accentuate the NEGATIVE: The Negative Way to Positive Fat Loss.

Also, I’m in the process of updating my Web site, which was called Classic X. It will be reintroduced under the name of, and it will include a lot of new and old stuff related to HIT.

When Joe Cirulli, Jim Flanagan, Joe Mullen, and I visited Arthur Jones on July 29, 2004, some thought-provoking discussion took place concerning a new HIT concept. In fact, Cirulli has been testing it for the last six months in his fitness center in Gainesville. It involves a very unique way to vary the repetition number, as well as the slowness of each repetition. I’ll report on the discovery this fall, so I encourage interested readers to give me a holler at

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