High Intensity Training – HIT. High Intensity Training (HIT) is a form of strength training popularized in the 1970s by Arthur Jones, the founder of Nautilus. The training focuses on performing quality weightlifting repetitions to the point of momentary muscular failure.
The training takes into account the number of repetitions, the amount of weight, and the amount of time the muscle is exposed to tension in order to maximize the amount of muscle fiber recruitment.
Principles of HIT. The fundamental principles of High Intensity Training (HIT) are that exercise should be brief, infrequent, and intense. Exercises are performed with a high level of effort, or intensity, where it is thought that it will stimulate the body to produce an increase in muscular strength and size. Advocates of HIT believe that this method is superior for strength and size building than most other methods which, for example, may stress lower weights with larger volume (reps).
As strength increases, HIT techniques will have the weight/resistance increased progressively where it is thought that it will provide the muscles with adequate overload to stimulate further improvements. In HIT, it is known that there is an inverse relationship between how intensely and how long one can exercise. As a result, high intensity workouts are generally kept brief. After a High Intensity workout, as with any workout, the body requires time to recover and produce the responses stimulated during the workout, so there is more emphasis on rest and recovery in the HIT philosophy than in most other weight training methods. In any workout, not just HIT, training schedules should allow adequate time between workouts for recovery (and adaptation).
While many typical HIT programs comprise a single-set per exercise, tri-weekly, full-body workout, many variations exist in specific recommendations of set and exercise number, workout routines, volume and frequency of training. The common thread is an emphasis on a high level of effort, relatively brief and infrequent (i.e. not daily) training, and the cadence of a lift, which will be very slow compared to a non-HIT weight training routine.
Most HIT advocates stress the use of controlled lifting speeds and strict form, with special attention paid to avoiding any bouncing, jerking, or yanking of the weight or machine movement arm during exercise. Variations of HIT will vary in advice from lifting the weights smoothly but at a natural pace, others will time the lift, peak hold and descent. In extreme cases, it may take up to 30 seconds to complete a single repetition. While high intensity training is strongly associated with Nautilus exercise equipment, advocates vary in their equipment recommendations.
Also emphasized when near exhaustion, doing static holds for periods of time, and negative reps (lowering the weight) are all methods to further exhaust the muscle or muscles exercised. This will stimulate further growth and strength because muscles are weakest in positive/contracting movements (sometimes referred to as first stage failure of a muscle). Although you may not be able to lift a weight for another rep you will almost certainly be able to hold it statically for a further period (second stage of failure) and finally lower a weight at a slow controlled speed (third stage of failure). Until all three (lifting, holding and lowering) parts of an exercise can no longer be completed in a controlled manner a muscle cannot be considered thoroughly exhausted/exercised.
Controversy. There are a large number of skeptics who dispute the methodologies and results claimed by HIT advocates. Some of the criticism asserts that HIT violates much conventional “wisdom” in weight training, by always using a weight that one can lift 8-12 times, using 4 second negatives, and so on, it has flown in the face of the exercise establishment.
In the first few years, HIT became increasingly extreme. At least one form of HIT designed by Mike Mentzer was thought to be so brief and intense that only a very advanced bodybuilder with tremendous genetics could hope to get results from it. Practical application of Mentzer’s principles on HIT prove this to be false, with hundreds of “everyday” practitioners making better results than they had ever before using the “traditional” methods of training. In subsequent decades the routines have been refined by HIT Jedi (a nickname some have given the advocates of HIT), and some have evolved into HIT-based systems that tend to produce more consistent results for recreational bodybuilders and athletes of average genetic potential. And indeed, many HIT routines can be customized for any particular body type.
There exists also a controversy related to the development of HIT and its originality. Near the close of the 19th century, a medical doctor by the name of Gustav Zander developed a complete set of machines similar to Nautilus and also a workout method remarkably close to that promoted by Arthur Jones in the early 1970s. Jones stated:
So, in attempts to improve my exercise results, I designed and built a total of about twenty very sophisticated exercise machines, then believing that these were the first exercise machines ever built by anybody. But many years later, I learned that a doctor named Gustav Zander had designed and built a number of exercise machines in Europe nearly a hundred years before I built my first one; I did not copy Zander’s work and learned nothing from him, was not even aware of his work until long after I had made the same discoveries that he had made. But if I had known about, and understood, Zander’s work, it would have saved me a lot of time and a rather large fortune in money, because the man was a genius; his only problem was that he lived about a century ahead of his time, at a time when very few people cared about exercise and even fewer knew anything about it.
Regardless of who originally developed the systems (and machines) it is clear that through Arthur Jones and his company and a crew of HIT advocates, the principles and concepts of HIT became popularized.
HIT and other training routines. HIT will target a single body part with a single exercise, and generally a single set of 6-10 reps for the upper body and either 8-15 or more commonly 12-20 reps for the lower body, done to momentary muscular failure. (reference the book “The Wisdom of Mike Mentzer”). Dead Lifts usually have a rep range of 5-8 reps, and calves are sometimes trained with 1-2 sets of failure. Older HIT workouts consisted of whole-body workouts which later changed to split-body routines. Opposite of HIT, a conventional routine will target a single body part with 1-3 exercises, with 3-5 sets of 6-12 repetitions. Cadence for a HIT workout is supposed to be smooth, but not always Super_Slow. If done correctly the ‘time under tension’ or the actual amount of time a muscle is working in a HIT routine compared to a ‘typical’ weight training routine, the amount of time would be very similar or in some cases greater, though it is unknown to the author if there are any actual studies or other neutral findings that this is the actual case, it certainly is a common belief amongst the HIT faithful.
A standard HIT cadence is usually 3-1-4-1. For clarity, here are two examples of how the cadence would be for an exercise. On the Lat Pulldown exercise the cadence is as follows: 3 seconds pulling down (Positive movement), followed by a 1 second pause & squeeze (at full contraction), followed by a 4 second return (Negative movement), followed by a 1 second rest. This completes 1 rep.
On the Barbell Squat the cadence is as follows: 4 seconds lowering the bar (the Negative movement), followed by a 1 second pause (at the bottom), followed by 3 seconds raising up the bar (the Positive movement), followed by a 1 second rest at the top. This completes 1 rep.
HIT stresses intensity over repetition. Many weightlifters will use a HIT routine to help break a ‘plateau’ – meaning they will use HIT temporarily when another routine stops giving desired results. Some HIT trainees will use HIT exclusively as well – Arthur Jones himself believed HIT was all that was required.
Rest-pause. Mr. Universe, Mike Mentzer achieved his lifetime best condition from performing rest-pause, an old system of lifting involving single-rep maximums interspersed with brief (10 second) rest periods. Rest-pause has the advantages of old-school power training while also allowing for enough overall reps to be performed for hypertrophy and cardio purposes.
- Fredrick Hahn’s website
- Stuart McRobert’s Hardgainer website
- Ellington Darden’s High Intensity Training
- Drew Baye’s High Intensity Training
- Pure-HIT High Intensity Strength Training Forum