HIT or high intensity training, is a style of training that consists of short and intense workouts, lifting to failure, and long recovery periods. It is not to be confused with HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training. It was first popularized by Arthur Jones and other big influencers include Mike Mentzer and Dr. Ellington Darden. Read below to learn more about this effective and underrated style of training.
- Sample Workout
- Which Bodybuilders Use HIT?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- My Personal Experience
The are some difference with HIT teachers and programs, but there are some core principles that we will go over.
The main philosophy of HIT is to workout as intensely as possible and then get in a full recovery before returning to the gym. Due to its high level of intensity, you only do one set per exercise and only around 6-12 sets per session. Why only one set? Because theoretically if you go all out on the first set then you won’t physically able to do another full set. Also, doing two or more sets has not been scientifically proven to be better than one set.
When we refer to intensity, we mean lifting to complete muscular failure. You are going to do as many reps as you possibly can, and this means there is going to be some extreme discomfort and you will have to push through the pain to complete the last full rep. But that extra last rep is going to put your muscle fibers under significant stress, and it’s going to force your body to grow. Once you finish that last rep then you are going to try for another rep, where you will inevitably fail.
You are only doing one set per exercise, then you need to make it count. Every rep should be a slow and controlled movement. It’s recommend that you do four seconds up on the positive (concentric) part of the lift, a two second pause in the contracted position, and then four seconds down on the negative (eccentric) part of the lift. It’s also really important to ‘work the negative’, or the eccentric portion of the lift. This part of the lift often gets neglected. When you lower the weight, there is actually more muscle tearing that occurs and this leads to more growth.
Recovery is so important and so often overlooked. After intense exercise, your body needs to repair the muscle fibers that were torn during the workout. For this reason, a lot of HIT practitioners only train every 5-8 days. This ensures that your body is fully recovered for the next intense workout. The most you should train is three days per week. Generally, the stronger and more advanced you are the more time it will take you to recover. This is why there are some guys who only train once every ten days.
It’s not advisable to train back to back days, even for different muscle groups because it puts strain on your body’s central nervous system.
Other Common Training Practices
- Supersets – Workouts usually consist of 1-2 supersets. The point is to pre-exhaust a muscle during an isolation exercise so that in the next compound exercise the muscle will need to work harder. An example is a leg extension, immediately followed by a leg press. Your quads are ‘pre-exhausted’ and must work harder.
- Assisted Reps – After you have reached muscle failure, your lifting partner will help you complete 1-2 assisted reps. This puts heavy strain on your muscles and should only be done periodically.
- Negative Training – The negative, or eccentric portion of the lift is often ignored. If you have a few reliable training partners, then they can spot you while you workout with negative training. For example, during a barbell bench press you can have two training partners lift up the weight as you lower it for reps.
Differences From High Volume Training
We can contrast the style and philosophy with HVT (high-volume training). With HVT there are no hard guidelines which can be confusing. How many sets are you supposed to do per exercise? How many total per workout? There are guys who lift for 45 minutes, and there are other guys who lift for more than two hours at a time. Also, how many days per week are you supposed to train? Four days, five days, or six days? There is a lot of guessing when it comes to HVT. HIT is a lot more straightforward and it has more scientific backing.
With HIT, it’s easy to do full-body workouts due to the limited amount of exercises. You also have the option of doing split routines, but full-body routines are usually preferred.
Here is an example of a full-body workout. This workout is for intermediates and it is sourced from Dr. Ellington Darden’s book, The New High Intensity Training.
- Leg-extension machine
- Leg-curl machine
- Squat with barbell
- Standing-calf-raise machine
- Bent-arm pullover with barbell
- Incline bench press with barbell
- Bent-over row with barbell
- Triceps extension with one dumbbell
- Biceps curl with barbell
- Trunk curl on floor
Some of the best bodybuilders of all time have used HIT. Read below to learn who they are.
The most recent, famous bodybuilder was Dorian Yates. He is a 6-time winner of the Mr. Olympia title. So if you ever needed proof that HIT can work, then you can look at Dorian’s physique and accomplishments. He’s now a personal trainer and he has done an exercise video series for bodybuilding.com called Blood & Guts where he trains someone HIT style. You can watch the video series here.
Mike Mentzer had one of the best physiques of all time and he it attributed it to HIT. He won the IFBB Mr. Olympia heavyweight championship in 1979. When he was younger he moved to California and did the high-volume approach just like everyone else, and his gym sessions sometimes lasted four hours. This was when he hit a plateau. It wasn’t until he started training with Arthur Jones (the founder of Nautilus) that he started to become a champion bodybuilder. He later got into an argument with Jones and so he then started training on his own and writing his own HIT books. He is the co-author of High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way, and his Underground Seminar is available in DVD format.
Sergio Oliva, also known as “The Myth”, is a three time IFBB Mr. Olympia He won his titles consecutively from 1967-1969. Arthur Jones made a point not to train anyone taking anabolic steriods, but he made an exception for Sergio because he was a genetic freak and one of the best bodybuilders at the time.
- Is it safe? Yes it is safe, as long as you have good form. Going to failure is safe because those last few reps are going to be done very slowly. It’s a controlled movement and this ensures that you don’t jerk the weight. HIT is also safer for your joints and tendons because of the form, and because they don’t get worked too hard or worn down as much. This factor becomes more important the older you get.
- Is it easier than High Volume Training? If done correctly with the right intensity, then no it’s not easier than HVT. It’s arguably tougher, although you do save a lot of time so you don’t have to live in the gym.
- Are there warmup sets? It’s not required to do a warmup set. The belief is that the first several reps of an exercise are considered a warmup. However you can do warmup sets if you want.
- Why isn’t HIT more popular? Mainly because the entire philosophy is counter-intuitive— less time in the gym and better results. And currently, the top professional bodybuilders all do HVT. But for them the training style doesn’t matter as much because they’re all on heavy doses of bodybuilding drugs such as anabolic steroids, growth hormone, peptides, and insulin.
I personally prefer to train HIT style. I was stuck in a plateau doing high volume work, and once I started HIT I was able to get stronger and add a few pounds of muscle mass. I also don’t have any more nagging gym injuries. This is because there is less volume.
Another aspect of HIT that I really like is the focus on beating your own goals. I keep a workout log and I bring it to the gym each session. When you are only doing 6-10 exercises a session, then it’s easy to keep track of the weight and the number of reps that you are doing. Each workout I am either trying to increase the weight or increase the amount of reps from the previous workout. It’s really rewarding to make new personal records, especially in compound lifts like the bench press, deadlift, and squat. I plan to keep doing HIT for the foreseeable future.
The best way to learn about HIT in detail is to read Dr. Ellington Darden’s book- The New High Intensity Training: The Best Muscle-Building System You’ve Never Tried. It tells you the history of HIT and it gives you detailed training routines.