You Don’t Know HIT

Mike Mentzer putting Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates through a Heavy Duty high intensity training workoutConsidering the ignorance of the majority of the fitness industry it should come as no surprise most people writing about high intensity training (HIT) on the internet don’t know what they’re talking about. Almost every week I receive emails from people confused by something they read about HIT on some other site, often variations on the same common misconceptions.

The purpose of this article is to clarify what HIT is and what it is not and address some of the more popular myths and misconceptions.

What is High Intensity Training?

Part of the problem is the term “high intensity training” is currently used very loosely by most of the fitness industry to refer to almost any physical activity performed with a higher than normal level of effort. It has also become popular to market all sorts of things as HIT, from group classes to boot camps to CrossFit to sprint interval training workouts, adding to the confusion.

To be clear, when I write about HIT I specifically mean progressive resistance exercise performed with a very high level of intensity.

The Definition of Exercise “Intensity”

Unfortunately, there is even confusion about this due to misunderstanding of the definition of “intensity”. The most accurate and conceptually useful definition of intensity in the context of exercise is your level of effort relative to your momentary ability. The erroneous but popular definition is the load used during an exercise, usually expressed as a percentage of the maximum that can be lifted for one repetition (1RM). There are several problems with this.

For example, according to the proper definition if you are capable of producing 100 pounds of force at the start of an exercise but you only have to produce 75 pounds to overcome the resistance your starting level of intensity is 75% (75 = 75% of 100). As your muscles fatigue, continuing to produce 75 pounds of force requires an increasing percentage of your decreasing momentary ability (75 = ~79% of 95, ~83% of 90, ~88% of 85, etc.). When fatigue has reduced the amount of force you are momentarily capable of producing to 75 pounds then you are working at maximum intensity (75 = 100% of 75).

According to the more common definition (a percentage of 1RM in this case), despite the obvious fact an exercise becomes harder (more intense) as your muscles fatigue, you would be working at the same intensity at the end as you did at the beginning. Whether you quit after only one or two repetitions or performed five or six or continued the exercise to the point of momentary muscular failure, you would be working at the same intensity. Whether you performed each repetition in strict form maintaining continuous tension on the working muscles or cheated the weight up and dropped it then rested between each rep, you would be working at the same intensity. I could go on and on but by now you should get the point; the common definition is plainly wrong. A percentage of a repetition maximum is a description of the load used for an exercise and not  intensity.

Load Versus Effort?

Which leads to one of the common misconceptions: just because a program involves using high percentages of your 1RM doesn’t mean it is HIT. While load is obviously an important factor in how intense an exercise is, as I already pointed out it is not as important as how you use it.

For example, doing a set of an exercise with 80% of your 1RM might be hard, but if you do it with loose form and quick reps and stop short of an all-out effort you are not training as intensely as if you used only 75% but pushed yourself to momentary muscular failure.

Please note I am using these percentages for the sake of example and do not recommend performing one rep max testing to determine training loads.

Is HIT Dangerous?

A related misconception is that training very intensely is dangerous. Often this is claimed because of two erroneous assumptions; that intense training always involves very heavy weight and that a heavier weight is more dangerous. Once again what really matters is how you use it.

A tissue is injured when it is exposed to a force that exceeds it’s structural strength. Force is the product of mass and acceleration. The heavier the load you use or the more rapidly you accelerate it the greater the force imposed on the involved tissues. Assuming you don’t have any pre-existing injuries you won’t be capable of lifting a weight that is too heavy if you attempt to do so with strict, correct form. The reason heavy weight is often associated with injury is because people often use sloppy form to be able to lift way more weight than they can handle lifting correctly. It is not the weight that hurts them but the horrible form they resort to in an attempt to lift it.

Suppose you were to go outside and attempt to lift the back of an SUV or pickup truck by the bumper. Unless you are a freak of nature you will not be able to get the wheels off the ground. It is much heavier than anything you are ever likely to try to lift during a workout. Whether you are injured attempting to lift it has nothing to do with how heavy it is and everything to do with how you try to lift it. If you attempt to quickly yank or jerk the bumper up as hard and fast as you can you are probably going to pull something. However, if you pull with only a moderate effort at first, and gradually increase your effort until you are pulling as hard as you can then gradually ease off you will not injure yourself.

If you start with a weight you can handle for a reasonable number of reps in strict form and progress gradually the weight will not become dangerous. If you sacrifice form to lift a heavier weight don’t blame the weight if you get injured.

Is Training To Failure Dangerous?

As long as you use strict form and common sense with regards to safety it is not dangerous to train to momentary muscular failure either. Again, the problem is not training to failure in and of itself, but that as people approach failure they tend to lose focus and sacrifice form for the sake of completing more repetitions. Maintain strict form, focus on your muscles not the numbers, and no matter now intensely you train you will not hurt yourself. In fact, as long as your form is strict the closer you get to momentary muscular failure the safer the exercise becomes because fatigue increases the gap between the amount of force the working muscles can produce and the amount required to cause an injury.

If an exercise requires a spotter or specific equipment to safely train to failure use it. Make sure all equipment you use is in good working condition and that anything you stand on, sit on, lay on or hang from will support your weight. Familiarize yourself with the correct operation of equipment before using it with a challenging weight.

When a trainer says high intensity training or training to momentary muscular failure is dangerous that tells me they don’t understand the actual causes of injury during exercise and how to minimize them and have no business training people or giving advice on the subject.

Is HIT Only For Beginners Or Not For Beginners?

“HIT isn’t very hard. Anybody who only works out for less than half an hour is lazy.”

“HIT is too hard and will totally burn out your CNS and wreck your joints.”

“HIT doesn’t work, you have to do a lot more volume to grow.”

“HIT can be an effective way to stimulate new growth if you’ve hit a plateau.”

“HIT is only for beginners, you have to add more volume as you progress.”

“HIT is not for beginners,  you have to build up to that kind of intensity.”

The “experts” can’t seem to make up their minds. Some claim HIT is not for beginners because it is too hard while others claim HIT is only appropriate for beginners because it isn’t hard enough. None of them know what they’re talking about.

There is no reason a beginner can’t or shouldn’t perform high intensity training as long as they start with conservative loads and rest periods and progress gradually while focusing on learning and practicing correct form. The goal is to work up to the point where you’re working out with an all-out, maximum effort but you don’t put someone who has never trained before through that kind of workout without a break-in period.

Also, there is no reason to increase workout volume as you become more advanced. The effectiveness of your workouts is determined by how intensely you train, not the volume of work you perform, and as you become more advanced and are capable of training more intensely it becomes necessary to reduce the volume and frequency of your workouts to avoid overtraining.

Is HIT Only For Lazy People Or Only For Obsessed, Amphetamine-Fueled Masochists? 

The notion that HIT is not very hard or is only for people too lazy to work out longer or more often is utterly absurd to anyone who has experienced a proper high intensity workout. Anyone who says a HIT workout isn’t hard has never done one and doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

While in college I worked as a trainer at a Gold’s Gym in Green Bay, WI (now Titletown Fitness) and several of the bodybuilders who worked out there were critical of our HIT program, often expressing doubt that such brief workouts could possibly be very hard. The few I convinced to let me put them through a workout changed their minds. During one of those workouts the guy only got through four exercises before having to go lay down in the locker room. He came out over an hour later and sat down in the front lobby and called his girlfriend to come pick him up since he didn’t think he’d be able to drive. I didn’t see him in the gym for about two weeks and when he came back he complained the workout was too hard.

Since then I’ve trained quite a few people who know what hard work is, including professional athletes and special warfare operators, and none of them thought their workouts were easy.

While HIT is extremely hard when done correctly you don’t have to be obsessed, a masochist, or hopped up on amphetamines to train with a high level of intensity. You just have to be willing to work as hard as possible and disciplined enough to push yourself through the discomfort no matter how much your muscles burn and heart pounds or how hard you’re sucking wind. As I mentioned earlier, intensity is your level of effort relative to your momentary ability. What is “high” intensity is relative to the individual. While not everybody can lift heavy weights, everybody can train with a level of effort that is high for them.

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82 Responses to You Don’t Know HIT

  1. Sean Rattlehead September 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Just starting out on my HIT journey, so this article is perfect for me. Thanks! Hearing a lot of these ‘misconceptions’ from friends who train.

  2. Dwayne Wimmer September 18, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    Drew,

    Another GREAT Post!!. I will be using this with my staff.

    Thanks for continually posting intelligent and useful information.

    Dwayne Wimmer

  3. Tom Kelso September 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    Drew, in plain English, great fucking article!! The bottom line!

  4. Mark September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Drew,
    This is the spot on type of article that keeps me checking your site with addictive frequency. My discovery of Ken Hutchins and exposure to you have been nothing short of life changing in my personal search for improved health and well being. As I have stated before, I have made the best gains in my life while working with Mr. Hutchins at Overload. A big Thank You for continuing to share so freely with us.
    Respectfully,
    Mark Shear

  5. Dwayne Wimmer September 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Tom,

    Well said my friend!!

    Dwayne Wimmer

  6. james spella September 18, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    drew. great article! reading your articles and answers to replies has cleared up a few of my own misconceptions.

  7. Steven Turner September 19, 2012 at 2:19 am #

    Hi Drew,

    A great article. I think that a lot of the misconception of HIT comes from many of the so-called fitness experts who think that they know everything about fitness. Most of the so-called experts have no idea what a high intensity level of effort most have never experienced an actual HIT workout. I have mentioned to you this before that many of the “advanced bodybuilders” when put through a proper HIT workout they often put the weight down after only a few “proper HIT reps not even sets of HIT exercises.

    I think that one of the biggest problems with the fitness industry is that many of the so-called experts don’t want to admit that they don’t know something especialy when we talk about down right hard work when exercising.

    On the other side of the coin many people who willing to listen with an open mind find that a proper HIT is better than wait for it “sex” (laugh), beat that so-called fitness experts.

  8. Chad G September 19, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    Recently I was doing some research just to get both sides of the story, so I read a couple of critiques of HIT training and very quickly came to the conclusion that the people doing the critiques had NO CLUE about how to do HIT training or even what it was. All they had were straw man arguments against what they ASSUMED HIT was which is exactly what you’ve covered here.

    • Drew Baye September 19, 2012 at 7:11 am #

      Chad,

      Unfortunately there is a lot of that out there. A recent Google search for “high intensity training” turned up over 800,000 results and randomly visiting some of them I found most either used the term vaguely or improperly or contained misinformation or some of the misconceptions above. I love that the internet has made it possible to easily connect and share information with people all over the world, but it also means a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about are able to spread and multiply misinformation as well.

      I’ve got other articles I need to finish first, but I plan to do a few more parts to this one covering a lot of the other common misconceptions in the next few weeks.

  9. Drew Baye September 19, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    Thanks everybody. It’s frustrating seeing the same misinformation on HIT over and over in books and magazines and on the web so hopefully this helps those who might be confused about these things. I’m going to be covering a lot more in the next couple weeks.

  10. Pat September 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    Beautifully explained. Thank You.

  11. Steven Turner September 19, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Hi Drew,

    If I could add a broader context to your article and that is exercise research. Your concise definition of “exercise intensity” means that research into the “causes and effects” of exercise can be properly controlled.

    Without a concise definition of “intensity” other independent variables would mean nothing in explaining results.

    We would continue with this garbage… I mentioned this on BBS, “Over the past decade the fitness industry has moved more towards basing itself around functional movements that mimic real life as opposed to using machines to mimic the movement of only one joint. The kettlebell is at the front of this new wave of functionality”. The article also includes a model of a very fit girl. This would have us believe that the cause and effect of functional movement and body shape is the kettlebell”. Not the strength gained from the kettlebell or the intensity of effort when doing the kettlebell exercises. And most of the exercises are unsafe movemnts I can see a permanent back injury happening.

    • Drew Baye September 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

      Steven,

      The importance of a proper definition of intensity for research was something covered in the excellent review paper Evidence Based Resistance Training Recommendations by James Fisher, James Steele, Stewart Bruce-Low and Dave Smith in the section on intensity load and repetition range.

      I plan to do an entire series of articles and also a discussion with James Steele on this paper.

      The growing popularity of so-called “functional training” and kettlebells just shows how little most people know and understand about exercise.

      • Jim September 21, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

        Drew,

        Great article and excellent research paper. My old strength coach Dan Riley sent me the same paper a few months ago.

        Thanks!

      • James November 28, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

        Drew,

        I found the ‘Genetic Factors and Their Implications’ section of that paper on very interesting. I’m an ectomorph (naturally skinny) and find it quite difficult to gain weight and muscle. I’d like to see an article from you on the different somatotypes, and what someone like me (ectomorph/hard-gainer) can specifically do, in addition to HIT, to maximize gains.

        • Drew Baye November 29, 2012 at 10:31 am #

          James,

          Whether you’re an ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph the principles are the same. The only thing you need to do in addition to HIT to maximize gains is eat enough quality food, get plenty of sleep at night, and minimize other stresses which may interfere with recovery and growth between workouts.

  12. Mike September 20, 2012 at 3:49 am #

    T H A N K S for being such a very inspirational prophet!

    • Drew Baye September 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

      Mike,

      You’re welcome, but I’m no prophet or anything of the sort. I’m just trying to provide good, practical advice and information people can use to quickly, safely and efficiently build muscle, lose fat, and get fit.

      • Mike September 21, 2012 at 5:11 am #

        I understand what you mean Drew but at times there is something “prophetic” about sound advice for *good health*, it leads to smiles and much better chances for happiness. BTW lately I match HIT with barefoot/minimalist-footwear walking/running and it really helps to open up “in all kinds of ways”. I mean the feeling of well being doesn’t stop at a physical level (whatever your age)… ;-)

        • Drew Baye September 21, 2012 at 9:20 am #

          Mike,

          I get what you’re saying, I just get uncomfortable when people start using words like “guru” and “prophet”.

  13. Nate September 20, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Drew,
    As an employee of Dwayne’s and avid HIT-junkie, I’ve been referred to your website often. Great article. My insight:
    -Being young, most of the people I know are HEAVILY confused with what HIT is- “Oh, you mean H-I-I-T?” to which I respond “No, that’s ‘height’, ‘hit’ is MUCH better, demanding, and safe.”
    -I started HIT after reading Darden’s book and was a beginner on my own with HIT. I do think it is for beginners IF AND ONLY IF they have the best resources-books, equipment, kinesthetic awareness/friends with kinesthetic awareness.

    Great post and I feel your frustration

    Nate

    • Drew Baye September 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      Nate,

      That’s a big part of the reason I wrote this article. A lot of people interested in learning about and trying high intensity training are getting misinformation and really bad advice because of all the nonsense out there.

  14. Matt Spriggs September 20, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Drew,

    Great post! I think it’s really important and beneficial to bring clarity to this issue because so many have hijacked or bastardized HIT. I’ve also seen outright lies – the latest of which on youtube claiming that Arthur was in total favor of machines and was completely agianst the barbell. Anyone reading Arthur’s writings will sooner or later realize that he was quite found of the barbell and thought that whoever created it was a genius. I like the direction you’ve taken with your site. It’s a great reference.

    Matt

    • Drew Baye September 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

      Matt,

      Thanks. Unfortunately there are also a lot of myths and misconceptions about Arthur. I might have to do a separate article addressing those. People have claimed Arthur invented HIT to promote Nautilus, claimed he faked the Colorado Experiment, claimed he later said he was wrong about training one set to failure, and all sorts of other nonsense. I only knew Arthur a few years but I work with Ken Hutchins and occasionally talk with Jim Flanagan, Ell Darden and others who worked for Arthur at Nautilus and would be able to debunk all of these. I might try to arrange to interview them on this.

      • Matt Spriggs September 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

        Drew,

        That would be an interview that I would enjoy seeing and I’m probably not alone. It’s odd how people criticize and even make things up in an effort to advance their own ideas and philosophy. I’m a corrective exercise specialist with NASM (unfortunately)and to anyone who will listen – EVERYTHING that Drew is telling you regarding these organizations is true – the leading certifications are full of worthless equivocations and are a huge waste of time and money. To your credit along with Ken’s and Arthur’s – if and when you are mistaken or find a better way, you acknowledge it and share your insights with others. Sorry for the harang.

        • Drew Baye September 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

          Thanks Matt,

          One of the things I admired most about Arthur was his willingness to admit his mistakes when he realized them and correct them. The way I see it, if someone proves me wrong about something they’re doing me a favor and giving me an opportunity to correct an error in my thinking and improve. Unfortunately, many in the industry view being proven wrong as a threat to their (often undeserved) status as experts or authorities. If you’re not willing to take risks and make some mistakes and correct them when you do, you won’t get far in anything.

          • Matt Spriggs September 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

            Drew,

            Very much agreed! I had a phone consultation with Mike Mentzer back in ’96 and this was the catalyst that ignited my passion and ultimately led me to become an exercise professional. Mike said that he didn’t care who was right and who was wrong – he did care about the truth! Only recently have I understood the profound significance of this statement. Many of the methods I use I learned from Arthur, Mike, Ken and you. I initially set out to DISPROVE them – I was in disbelief when I first heard about HIT. I’d encourage anyone to not just take your word for it – try it out, question it, apply it and then come to a conclusion. Lastly, please pardon my horrific spelling errors – this touch screen is terrible – for me at least.

  15. Chris September 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Great article. Another thing I’m tired of hearing is the overused “you need to keep your muscles ‘guessing’ and ‘confused’ so you need to change your workouts constantly.” I don’t want my muscles guessing or confused. I want them doing precisely what I intend: getting stronger and bigger. HIT does it every time.

    • Drew Baye September 20, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

      Chris,

      Well said!

      I addressed the myth of “muscle confusion” in The Ultimate Routine. I may revisit that in this series, however.

  16. ad ligtvoet September 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Hi Drew,
    As a long time HIT trainer and trainee I applaude you for bringing up this issue(again) because it can’t be explained enough so it will sink into the minds of a few and then some more.Explaining and being a example is the only thing we can do ,thinking about it and making the appropriate conclusions has to be done by the individual.This direction to the mind is what Mike Mentzer did to me and I’m still very thankfull for that.At age 48 I walk around with about 8% bodyfat(diet is here the major influence) and have no injuries nor had one since I started with HIT.I could go on about all the benefits of strength training but the key is that these come from short infrequent intense workouts.I train clients in my training facility only HIT based but also work in a commercial facility.I don’t waste my time there to convince others of the value of HIT.Because it pre supposes(in my opinion) a mind that is directed to be concerned with facts and not fads.Being in the middle of it almost every day and looking at human behaviour in general I don’t see a major switch to HIT happen ever.But keeping promoting it to the right people and seeing the results is very worthwhile no matter how few that will be.
    ad

    • Drew Baye September 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

      Ad,

      I don’t see HIT ever being mainstream either for several reasons, but mainly because it is very hard work when done correctly and most people aren’t willing to work hard for anything.

  17. Carlos September 20, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Wow is so REFRESHING to go back to roots – -a lá Mentzer-. Keep on doing it, if not, the system will end up in some class of pilates intensity dancing (Pid)

  18. JLMA September 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Drew,

    I am new to HIT. I am starting out with just a few basic slow body-weight exercises. My aim is, later on, to add weight to these basic body-weight exercises.

    My question is about what to do at the point when I reach muscular failure:

    (1) let’s say I reach failure half way through the Positive phase of the exercise. Meaning: I cannot complete the Positive phase. What am I supposed to do then? contract for 5 secs? and/or start a negative phase right there and then attempt a new positive phase and so on? (my point is: just bc I cannot complete the Positive phase does not mean that I could not start a negative and then maybe a new incomplete positive, and so on…)

    (2) let’s say I reach failure half way through the Negative phase of the exercise. Meaning: I cannot complete the Negative phase. Should I attempt to start a Positive phase right there? Or just consider the set finished?

    Thanks for your great website!

    JLMA

    • Drew Baye September 21, 2012 at 7:54 am #

      JLMA

      When you reach momentary muscular failure you should continue to attempt to move positively for at least another five seconds. If you are able to continue to move positively at all, even if it is very, very slow, keep going. If you are unable to move for more than five seconds then slowly lower the weight.

      If you are unable to complete the negative phase the laws of physics have changed and we are all in big trouble.

      If you are unable to lower the weight slowly enough during the negative despite your best effort, when you get to the start point continue to contract as hard as you can for another five to ten seconds before gradually easing off.

      • JLMA September 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

        Thanks Drew. Your reply (and the rest of this www) is very informative. I look forward to your upcoming book.

        Of course when I said “I cannot complete the Negative phase” I meant “unable to lower the weight slowly enough during the negative despite my best effort”. ;-)

        Thanks again,

        JLMA

        • Drew Baye September 21, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

          JLMA,

          I know, just being facetious.

          You’re welcome.

  19. Steven Turner September 21, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Hope this has some relevance and makes sense I read this in a psychology book.
    Your statement, “The experts can’t make up their minds”. Psychology book, the context is to do with helping a client overcoming an irrational fear, or phobia of elevators. …”a psychologist with no perspective at all would be totally baffled and could recommend to this patient that she take the stairs”….” Perspectives “without them, however, we are totally blind.”

    In this article you have clearly provided the reader with the the HIT perspective, Key figures, Basic principles, metaphors, and methods.

    IMO most of the so-called experts in the fitness industry have no perspectives, have no idea, are leading their clients totally blind, sucking them dry of their money and “sending them up the stairs” so to speak.

    Your article clearly demonstrates your confidence and strong beliefs in HIT and its scientific basis. And that you wouldn’t be sending anyone up the “stairs”.

    • Drew Baye September 21, 2012 at 9:17 am #

      Steven,

      There are a lot of reasons there is so much contradictory advice on exercise, but a lot of it is simply due to ignorance and stupidity. There are a lot of people out there calling themselves trainers or writing about exercise on the internet that simply have no idea what they’re talking about. There are also some very well educated trainers and even professors who have a lot of knowledge of related fields like physiology and biomechanics but don’t get it because they’ve blindly accepted and ingrained into their thinking a lot of the traditional misconceptions about exercise.

  20. Girish Dineshan September 21, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Hi Drew,

    A good article. Can you illustrate further with the help of a Typical HIT routine. sometimes HIT is considered HIT only if we extend a set beyond a level of failure, like drop sets, isomterics, or negatives. I think it would help if you provided a rep by rep illustration of what you would consider a Training to momentary muscular failure is.

    Thanks,
    Girish

    • Drew Baye September 21, 2012 at 9:25 am #

      Girish,

      For examples of HIT routines check out High Intensity Workouts.

      I have another book coming out in October which contains highly detailed explanations of momentary muscular failure and set extension techniques like drop sets and finishing negatives.

  21. Andy September 21, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    Drew,
    I think the last scenario, unable to control the negative and than contraction as hard as possible for 5-10 sec, produces a much deeper inroad than the first example. Why that difference? I believe even intensity can be overdone in the long run.

    Best regards,
    Andy

    • Drew Baye September 21, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      Andy,

      They’d be very similar. The difference between failing during the positive (being unable to continue positive movement) and failing during the negative (being unable to move as slowly as prescribed) is when in the set it happens. In both cases, failure occurs because the strength of the working muscles has been reduced to a point below what is necessary to move positively against or adequately slow the descent of the selected resistance. While it could be argued failure during the negative requires a deeper level of inroad because of the differences in metabolic cost and force production between concentric and eccentric contractions I don’t think the difference is nearly as high as what people might think when using very strict form.

      While it might be possible for some extremely rare individuals to train too intensely they might be one out of every hundred thousand people, and even then it would take them a long time to learn to work that hard. For the vast majority of people the problem is not training too intensely but not training anywhere nearly as intensely as they are capable of. Not even close.

      • Andy September 21, 2012 at 11:47 am #

        Drew,

        thanks for your answer.
        I´m a bit sceptical about your statement of nearly no one can train too intensely. I´m a seasoned athlete and I know how to train intensely and I had phases where I experienced symptoms of overtraining when training very intensely and simultaneously not increasing my volume or frequency of training. In this context: Do you consider all high intensity set variables like drop sets, rest pause, forced reps etc. a reduction in intensity?

        • Drew Baye September 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

          Andy,

          Everybody thinks they know how to train very intensely but almost everybody overestimates how hard they are actually working. I have never had a problem with people training too intensely, almost everybody who thinks they are is kidding themselves. The real problem is getting people to realize just how hard they can work and getting them to do so on a consistent basis.

          In most cases the different set extension techniques don’t increase exercise intensity they just increase the duration of the exercise. All of this is going to be covered in Elements of Form. I’m planning to cut my one-on-one training back so I can focus more on writing for a while and am trying to get this out within the next month and it covers almost all the questions people have been asking about intensity, training to failure, different repetition methods and techniques, etc.

          • Andy September 21, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

            Drew,

            thank you very much!
            I´m very interested in Elements Of Form and already preordered it!

            Andy

          • Jim September 21, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

            Drew,

            I agree. I miss having a workout partner to “push” me to the required intensity level. Although I try to work hard I know deep down that I wimp out a bit when the going gets tough.Any recommendations on overcoming that deficiency?

            Thanks.

  22. Chris Martinez September 21, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Excellent post. Next maybe you should cover the annoying misuse and overuse of “lactic acid” and “fast twitch/slow twitch.” I’m deep in the BJJ/MMA business and that’s all I hear. All day long it’s “you gotta work that lactic acid out, bro” or “we need to develop the fast twitch muscles, bro.” Not sure if you’re into UFC but if you ever watch the Countdown shows you get to see the workouts of the fighters and it’s the most retarded shit you’ll ever see. I can only imagine what a fighter would be like if he had you as his strength coach and Robb Wolf as his nutrition advisor. Bring back Angry Baye and do a “Post Workout Induced RANT”. Oh and keep up the good work. You’re still the absolute best resource on the internet for strength training…”bro”.

    • Drew Baye September 21, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

      Thanks Chris,

      I don’t currently follow MMA but I’m familiar with a lot of the nonsense they practice in the gym; lots of idiotic “functional training”, explosive training, and kettlebell crap. I’m sure there are a few out there that train sensibly but they’re probably a very small minority.

  23. Daniël September 23, 2012 at 5:25 am #

    Forgot about your birthday Drew, hope you had a great day.

    Now, it’s hard to explain to ‘experienced’ muscle heads the definition of intensity. Those that decide to do one set of high intensity exercise under my supervision usually quit before reaching the point of muscular failure without showing significant effort.

    • Drew Baye September 23, 2012 at 10:26 am #

      Daniël,

      Thanks! There is definitely an art to getting people to train as intensely as they are capable of. Most people stop when an exercise starts to get hard and never learn to really push through it. There is definitely an art to getting people to do this.

  24. Darren s September 24, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Hey drew

    loved the post hints of the great Arthur jones in there witch is always good to see.
    i done a hit work out with a steroid filled muscle man and i picked 6 exercises just to prove a point really and his words to me ‘you want me to go round twice’ 4 in and he begged to stop and went home to lie down, after that he went back to what he knew because it was easy!!

  25. Kevin September 25, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Can you please explain the benefit of taking the least amount of rest as possible in between moves? Is the point to keep the heart rate up and increase metabolic rates? Is it useful in fat burning? what would be the difference to each muscle group if you allowed for two-three minutes rest in between moves versus 0-30 seconds?

    • Drew Baye September 25, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Kevin,

      In addition to providing a greater overall cardiovascular and metabolic effect, minimizing rest between exercises slightly reduces the load required on each subsequent exercise to achieve momentary muscular failure within a reasonable time. Same or higher intensity and metabolic work, but less mechanical work and stress on the joints, and far more time efficient.

  26. Steven Turner September 26, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Anthony has asked if I could deliver a HIT presentation at the 21 Convention in Melbourne Australia towards the end of the year. I have commenced putting the HIT presentation together and with you permission I was hoping I could use this article has a handout for the participants to take away with them. I will ensure that your website and yourself recieve the appropriate recognition.

    It will only be the article and not other peoples posts.

    Thanks
    Steven

    • Drew Baye September 26, 2012 at 7:27 am #

      Steven,

      Absolutely. There are going to be a few more articles in this series before then. When they’re all out I’ll put them together as a PDF for you.

  27. Steven Turner September 27, 2012 at 2:09 am #

    Hi Drew,

    Thanks I will look forward to it.

  28. Lifter September 28, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    I have taught HIT for 35 years, and the biggest obstacle I faced time and time again was the aversion to hard work. Trainees, in general, tend to avoid eeking out the final reps, hence their lack of progress. The few who used HIT properly were the fast gainers, which the rest spun their wheels and eventually left the gym, never to be seen again!

  29. Lifter September 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    A quick story to prove the point…once a roadie approached me at a new gym I started working at. He was a skinny 68kgs, the same weight he’d been 3 months ago when he started and the other trainees worked him conventionally. He was desperate to gain to help his job. Feeling sorry for this guy I took him under my wing and taught him HIT. Two weeks later he came up to me thrilled…he was 70kgs and loving his new style of training.

    Another was an – almost – doctor. Stressed to the max. during his final exams, he wanted to use his anxiety on the weights. So I showed him the right was to go about it. Far from under-weight, he gained 5kgs in a month.

    Those are just two examples of what I have seen when trainees HIT it hard. I have personally gained 2kgs in 2-weeks on a few occasions in my life, despite already being advanced. Gains aren’t linear, they come in stops and starts, but it shows the efficiency of HIT.

    • Drew Baye September 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

      Lifter,

      Thanks for the examples. Unfortunately most people either aren’t willing to work as hard as required or refuse to believe good results are possible with so little training volume and frequency because they’ve bought into all the bodybuilding magazine bullshit.

  30. Lifter September 28, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    Sad but very VERY true.

  31. james spella September 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    drew. you have helped to convince me, after 35 yrs., that when it comes to progressive resistance exercise, the tortoise beats the hare. it amazes me that bob hoffman began talking about 10 seconds up, 10 seconds down, in 1927 and that everyone isn’t training this way. i actually possessed some of the york barbell courses at one time, and recall the protocol in one of the courses. unfortunately, as with many who placed now valuable baseball cards in their bicycle spokes, i threw those courses away many years ago. i have not fully implemented the protocol. i am resting some between exercises at this point, as i would like to be able to get a full compliment of reps/tut. today i did bw squats, dips, and bb row. after the workout, i plunged into my rocker recliner, a motionless lump. finally motivated by the passing time, i took a shower and made my daily coffee run at dennys to caffiene up for work. sitting at the counter, i found it difficult to get comfortable. after changing positions, left, then right, leaning forward on the counter, leaning back against the chair, i began thinking the only way i’m going to find comfort is in a coffin!! after polishing off a pot or so of coffee, i finally started to feel normal. i am anticipating what a pile of metabolic waste i will become when i begin doing my exercises with little rest in between. thank you drew for your continued effort to raise the bar and dispensing the very best information on high intensity exercise science.

    • Drew Baye September 29, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      James,

      You’re welcome. I’m always glad to hear people are benefiting from the site.

      It is a good idea to allow a little more rest in between exercises at first and to gradually reduce it as your conditioning improves, rather than try to rush between them from the start. Work as hard as you can during each exercise and don’t rest longer than you need to, but give yourself just enough time between exercises so you don’t start feeling nauseous, dizzy, or light headed. Eventually your conditioning will improve to the point where you are able to move from one to the next with no rest at all.

  32. Richard Reitz October 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    A physicist’s nitpick: Force is not, in general, the product of mass times acceleration. Force is the derivative of momentum with respect to time which, with constant masses, comes out as mass times acceleration*. However, even though, in this context, both are equivalent, I find that using the proper definition is often more helpful. In particular, I prefer the argument “to minimize force on the body, we keep the magnitude of momentum near 0, which prevent high forces on the body” over “to minimize force on the body, we minimize velocity, which, on the positive, minimizes the acceleration of the weight stack; the highest force on the body occurs on the positive (unless you have a really jerky turnaround), this represents an approach which minimizes the maximal force on the body.”

    *Assuming constant mass, f=dp/dt=d(mv)/dt=m(dv/dt)=ma.

    • Drew Baye October 5, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

      Richard,

      Thanks for the clarification.

  33. craig giddens October 21, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    I notice HIT instructors like yourself and Doug McGuff recommend resting 5-7 days (or longer) between workouts while other respected instructors (Hahn, Preuss) recommend twice a week training. Is it one of those things where each person has to experiment to see what works best them? I don’t know if this makes sense but if I’m using something like a 4/4 rep speed going to failure I seem to be able to progress training twice a week, but if I use a 10/10 rep speed (as I am currently doing) once a week is about all I can manage. In both instances I go to failure and aim for around 90 seconds. While the the 10/10 speed seems tougher both mentally and physically I find my form is much better.

    • Drew Baye October 21, 2012 at 3:26 am #

      Craig,

      It is possible to get good results training once weekly but I recommend starting with two workouts per week and adjusting from there based on individual response.

      A 4/4 cadence is adequately slow for most people to use reasonably good form with practice, but if you feel your form is better with a slower cadence then use it. I would not recommend going any faster, though.

  34. Josh Lamaro October 27, 2012 at 12:12 am #

    what was the workout that owned the big guy at the gym?

    • Drew Baye October 27, 2012 at 9:45 am #

      If he had made it all the way through I believe the plan was for him to do stiff-legged barbell deadlifts, then Hammer Strength leg press, pull down, chest press, compound row, and overhead press.

  35. Joe November 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Great article and better discussion. I just re read this yesterday and realized I has been cheating myself in the rush to elevate my numbers. Was a good self check that I wasn’t increasing my rep speed just to achieve more.

    Also good point on trying at least 5 seconds of positive on last rep. I often find it nearly impossible to budge the weight after what I deem as all out effort, but I don’t necessarily give it 5 seconds.

  36. JLMA December 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    Drew,

    This is a bit off-topic, but not totally as the question refers to HIT.

    What is your opinion on using the HIT-approach (one set to failure every 3 or 4 days) for the PC-Kegel exercises (instead of the classical so-many-reps for so-many-sets a bunch of days a week)?

    Maybe instead of to-failure it would be best to use the 90 (30/30/30) second approach…?

    I’d like to know your opinion, please.

    Thanks,

    JLMA

    • Drew Baye December 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

      JLMA,

      Timed static contraction on a few non-consecutive days of the week would probably be just as effective as the traditional approach of multiple reps, but I don’t think the usual graduated effort is necessary for the pelvic floor muscles. Just take a few seconds to build up to a maximum effort and hold it for sixty to ninety seconds.

  37. Craig Murway December 27, 2012 at 12:28 am #

    Great article Drew!

  38. moshe December 28, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    hi Drew

    Is there any links of HIT on youtube or one of your own where i can see a full video that you approve of for a visual and full routine to get an idea of HIT? As great as your articles i need the visual to really understand enough to try it.
    Btw- where do you train if i want to be trained by you in person?

    • Drew Baye December 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

      Moshe,

      Most of the form in exercise videos on YouTube is pretty bad except for the stuff by Bill De Simone and RenEx. I plan to add videos to this site eventually but it’s at the end of a pretty long to-do list right now.

      I am not taking new clients at this time.

  39. Nils Bokström July 31, 2013 at 1:42 am #

    Hi Drew

    Again, thanks for sharing your knowledge, I appreciate it a lot.
    I have a question regarding “other” activities linked to HIT. I guess more people then me like physical activities of other kinds too, like boxing, mountain bike etc. Some of my clients do this in between the HIT sessions, not on a professional level, just for fun. What would be your recommendations with regards to this? Should they avoid exerting them self? Should they do it right in the middle of the HIT sessions? Should they do it one day before HIT? I seem to fumble a bit since I can not see any clear pattern.

    BR
    Nils

    • Drew Baye August 2, 2013 at 9:12 am #

      Nils,

      The whole point of exercise is to improve your functional ability and health so you can enjoy life. It is not an end in itself, but a means to enjoying all of these other things. If you like to box, cycle, play a sport or engage in other physically demanding recreational activities then plan your workouts around those activities, not the other way around.

      • JLMA August 3, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

        Hi Drew,

        Your comment makes total sense.

        However, Nils’ question still remains (I understand if it is not appropriate for this COMMENTS section, though):

        If one wanted to do HIT once a week and another physical activity (say, one 3-min sprint) once a week too, would it be better to do those two activities on the same day? (if so, which one first?) or several days apart?

        Thanks on Nils’ behalf ;-)

        • Drew Baye August 5, 2013 at 9:49 am #

          JLMA,

          All of this depends on the activity, the individual, their schedule, and other factors. There is no single answer that is best for everybody under all circumstances. You might be able to do some activities the same day of the workout, either before or after, with varying amounts of time in between depending on the type of activity and how demanding it is. Some activities might benefit from schedule that is more spread out. Some individuals may have to plan their workouts and other activities around work or family schedules which limit their options.

          I will add this to my “to write about” list for blog posts, and will probably go into more detail in it in the next edition of High Intensity Workouts.

          • JLMA August 5, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

            Thank you very much for this reply, Drew.

  40. Nada January 2, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Hi Drew,
    Great article. Beautifully explained.

    Got a question for you regarding the previous post, if it’s okay to ask here.
    Since you have tried both, is TSC belt squat very different from TSC on the RenEx Leg press with load cells and feed back ? Other than the obvious of course, is it more effective?

    Thank you!

    • Drew Baye January 2, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

      Nada,

      I suspect TSC hip belt squats might be more effective than TSC leg presses for improving muscular strength and size because while TSC leg presses are purely overcoming isometrics, during which the muscles attempt to shorten, TSC hip belt squats shift from overcoming to yielding isometrics, becoming a static hold (SH) during which the muscles attempt to resist lengthening, which might result in more microtrauma.

      This is only a hypothesis and I have not tested it, but despite a possible short term advantage I think the results from both methods would be similar in the long run provided they are both performed for similar durations and with similar levels of effort.

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