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Default How to Prevent a Train Wreck: Playing the Devil’s Advocate
by BendtheBar 05-17-2011, 09:34 AM

How to Prevent a Train Wreck: Playing the Devil’s Advocate

How to Prevent a Train Wreck: Playing the Devil?s Advocate

No matter the athletic background, the list of injuries and impairments encountered is practically endless. Twists, strains, sprains, subluxations, dislocations, rips, tears—all are part of a day’s work for the physically active. Immunity from the nagging injuries that constantly plague the athlete can’t be avoided…or can they?

Since the days of the legendary Jack Lalanne and his chair workouts to the incredibly horrible Tony Horton and his P90X, strength training has become a mainstay accessory in the daily lives of the physically active. Whether you’re a nine-year-old soccer player being forced by your parents to engage in extra training at the local “athletic performance” facility, an aspiring collegiate football player looking to “bulk up” and get shredded before pre-season, or a “past his prime” desk jockey eager to get back in the mix by participating in a triathlon, resistance training has become as common of a trend at home as watching the atrocious excuse of a show Grey’s Anatomy.

Here’s the thing–what do you do? Sure, going to your local commercial fitness center is a good start, but how far can a place like that get you? Any Joe Dokes or Sally Studebaker can get their personal training certification online and can you guess where they get jobs? That’s right—commercial fitness centers. The big problem here is that most of the inexperienced lifters out there think that a direct correlation exists between biceps circumference and strength training knowledge. Not exactly. Of course, this isn’t always the case, as there are many great personal trainers out there. It’s just a matter of picking them out of the crowd of over tanned juice monkeys who don’t know their heads from their asses. Fortunately, if you’re on, this isn’t your problem.

Now that we’ve managed to maneuver away from the Jersey Shore and into the gym, we need to discuss your training plan. With such a litany of variations in training protocols to choose from, who knows what the hell works best. Will you respond best to high volume, low intensity, or low volume, high intensity? With the exception of performing some extensive blood work and a muscle biopsy or two, we have no idea what your muscle fiber type expression looks like or what your baseline hormone profile demonstrates. Do you demonstrate predominantly type I, slow twitch fibers and have an HGH profile of a 25 year old in the middle of his sleep cycle? Or do you demonstrate predominantly type II, fast twitch fibers with so much testosterone that you have more hair on your back and knuckles than your head? In either case, there isn’t any cookie-cutter program that will maximize your potential.

From the perspective of a collegiate strength coach, what is our number one priority? Is it maximizing athletic performance? Well, in a way, yes it is. However, this isn’t possible if your athletes are spending more time with the athletic trainer than they are on the playing field. Our number one goal is injury reduction. Anyone who claims otherwise is either omnipotent or has access to a flux capacitor. In essence, we are here to make our athletes game ready by improving their overall strength and conditioning and minimizing the risk of them getting hurt on the field. Obviously, it isn’t possible to prevent injuries. However, we do our absolute best to improve structural stability at joints, increase bone mineral density through direct skeletal loading, and enhance maximal strength and stamina, all in an effort to keep our athletes ready.

Take a minute and look at your programming. Can you say that your program takes all these things into consideration? I’m not saying get rid of squats and benching in place of TKEs and direct rotator cuff work. That would be stupid. What I’m saying is find a balance of anterior and posterior (if anything, in favor of posterior). Utilize your compound movements intelligently. don’t do any of that circuit crap a la Cross Fit. Take advantage of your accessory lifts. And remember, they’re accessory or complementary to your core lifts. They aren’t replacements.

Find that you’re still encountering some issues? Can’t quite figure out what’s lacking? Take a look at this and see what you think. Remember, claims aren’t being made that this methodology offers any absolute advantages over other methods of training. I’ve seen success using 5/3/1, linear, non-linear, undulating, block, and others. I’m just offering up some food for thought and, as indicated in the title, playing devil’s advocate. Here’s the “quick and dirty” on the history behind the high intensity training (HIT) philosophy

Back in the 1970s, Arthur Jones, Dr. Ellington Dardon, and Dr. Wayne Wescott examined the value behind theories and principles of the “one set” training protocol as they related to Nautilus strength equipment. These gentlemen had the goal of maximizing training efficiency through precisely directed efforts over as short a period of time as possible. Of course, as most new and untested ideas and theories go (remember Darwin?), this method of programming was thrown aside by many of the days traditional strength coaches and resistance trained athletes. However, given its ease of use and emphasis on exercise machines over the ever intimidating free weights, the HIT method was widely accepted by the general population.

It wasn’t until coach Dan Riley at West Point began implementing this technique with his athletes that HIT began garnering a broader base of support. Riley was eventually hired by Joe Paterno at Penn State in 1977, with his team winning the national championship in 1982. Following suit, Riley then moved on to Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins in 1983, the same year in which the team won the Super Bowl. (Obviously, there are many additional factors to consider regarding contributing factors to these championships such as recruiting/drafts, strategy, etc., but it’s always nice for strength coaches to pair on field championships with weight room techniques).

From here, many of Riley’s assistants/disciples carried the philosophy of HIT with them wherever they went, including but not limited to the Steelers, Bengals, Texans, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Toledo, the 1992 Olympic Bobsled Team, and bodybuilders Casey Viator, Mike Mentzer, Dorian Yates, and Sergio Oliva (Philbin, 2004).

HIT is defined as a strength training philosophy focusing on high intensity work that entails performing high quality repetitions to momentary muscular fatigue (Philbin, 2004). The goal is to develop balanced strength throughout each muscle group by developing maximum strength and power through the safest medium possible. Through what is defined as the “triple progressive overload process,” which takes into account not only reps and weight but time under tension, the HIT philosophy claims to improve not only strength and endurance but explosive power, speed, quickness, reaction time, coordination, agility, balance and movement efficiency, lean muscle mass, flexibility and joint stabilization, tolerance for muscular discomfort, anaerobic threshold, and basal metabolic rate (Philbin, 2004). In addition—and most prominent to the theme of this article—HIT boasts a reduction in risk of injury in the weight room or playing field, reduced low back and shoulder complications, decreased recovery time from injuries, reduced body fat, and significant reduction in training time (Philbin, 2004).

I’ll admit that I find some of these claims to be a bit shady, but as I said before, I’m presenting an unbiased summary of the HIT philosophy. If you think physiologically about some of these claims, they do make sense (e.g. increased time under tension equals (potential) metabolic acidosis equals greater GH release equals increased lipolysis equals decreased body fat).

HIT utilizes what is called “the perfect rep.” What this repetition entails is a slow, controlled repetition that minimizes momentum and maximizes muscular tension and fiber recruitment (Philbin, 2004). The perfect rep is claimed to maximize strength gains through the strength curve targeted while performing the lift, minimizing the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. During the positive phase of the lift, it is essential to establish proper body alignment while moving the weight in a slow, controlled, concentric contraction. Bounces and/or extraneous movements aren’t permitted aside from the essential “squeeze and pause” at the end of the range of motion to ensure that the athlete has complete control of the weight and has maximized fiber recruitment. Upon completion of this isometric pause, a slow, controlled, eccentric contraction is utilized to lower the weight, maximizing force production (less than 40–60 percent greater than concentric) and time under tension (Philbin, 2004).

HIT utilizes the specific adaptation to imposed demand (SAID) principle as a means of justification, stating that an increase in any one component of the “triple progressive overload” (e.g. reps, load, time under tension) implicates an improvement in overall strength and performance.

Below is an example of the desired repetition range paired up with the estimated time under tension:

As with all training methodologies, a comprehensive programming or periodization scheme exists within the philosophy of HIT. The authors recommend that whole body workouts be utilized twice per week for no more than six weeks, interspersed with six weeks of traditional resistance training (Philbin, 2004).

Breakdown training (drop sets) is utilized to extend the duration of the particular exercise set by reducing the resistance while performing a few post-fatigue repetitions. For example, ten repetitions are performed to fatigue with the addition of three reps with 10–20 percent less weight at the end of the set. A total of 10–12 exercises are utilized, with a total training session duration of 20–24 minutes.

Assisted training extends the exercise set by receiving help from a partner, specifically during the concentric phase, for only a few post-fatigue repetitions. For example, ten repetitions are performed to fatigue with an additional three repetitions performed with a partner’s assistance. A total of 10–12 exercises are utilized with a total training session duration of 20–24 minutes.

Pre-exhaustion training extends the exercise set by performing two successive exercises for the target muscle group, specifically a rotary followed by a linear exercise. For example, ten repetitions are performed to fatigue followed by five repetitions of a second exercise. A total of 14–16 exercises are performed with a total training session duration of 24–28 minutes.

Slow positive emphasis training extends the exercise repetition with a ten-second lifting movement followed by a four-second lowering movement. For example, five repetitions are performed to fatigue, each with a ten-second concentric and a four-second eccentric component. A total of 10–12 exercises are performed with a total training session duration of 20–24 minutes.

Slow negative emphasis training extends the exercise repetition with a four-second lifting movement and a ten-second lowering movement. For example, five repetitions are performed to fatigue, each with a four-second concentric and a ten-second eccentric component. A total of 10–12 exercises are performed with a total training session duration of 20–24 minutes.

As I mentioned before, this article isn’t meant to persuade anyone to utilize HIT in place of other training philosophies. Instead, it is a dialogue/introduction to an additional training technique to add to your toolbox. It’s our responsibility to perform the research, whether through reading or “in the trenches” experience, to develop for ourselves the most complete and well-rounded understanding of all things strength. Hopefully this article provided some additional insight for the forever hungry strength training enthusiast, the old and broken, and the young, dumb, and full of…muscle.


* Philbin J (2004) High Intensity Training: More Strength and Power in Less Time. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL.

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