First, a definition is in order – what exactly is intensity? Intensity has been identified as the single most crucial factor to success in your training.
Intensity can be defined as the percent of your momentary ability to perform an exercise.
It has nothing to do with how much resistance you are using, nor what percent of your 1 repetition maximum is for a chosen exercise. It refers to the degree of difficulty that you experience during the exercise. The specific intensity required to produce optimal gains in strength is remains unknown. However, if you are a healthy person and perform an exercise to the point of momentary muscular failure (100% intensity), you can be assured that you have attained a level of intensity that will stimulate increases in muscular size and strength.
What is “HIT”?
The acronym “HIT” stands for High Intensity Training.
HIT in extremely basic form means organizing your workouts so that they are:
- Hard – as hard as possible in good form.
- Brief – 1-3 sets of a few basic exercises performed in an hour or less.
- Infrequent – No more than three times per week, often times two, or even one.
- Safe – HIT is intended to be an extremely productive protocol, but also one that stresses safety. One of the fundamental goals of strength training is to act as injury preventative.
That is the essence of HIT. There is nothing complex or “magical”. HIT has been used successfully for decades by many trainees without the acronym, “HIT”.
It must be noted that High Intensity Training is not a set of principles etched in stone. It is a disciplined style of training which is based on the two universally known factors affecting muscular growth – Overload and Progression.
Repetitions should be done in a controlled fashion so that continuous tension is placed on the muscles. Some use a 2 second count for the concentric (lifting) phase while others use a 20 second count. The key is performing quality repetitions to a point of volitional fatigue.
One set is productive, although some high intensity advocates sometimes choose to perform more than one set. Some people may require additional sets. As a general rule, with of course some exceptions, one set performed in a high intensity manner will provide all the stimulation you need for muscular hypertrophy (growth).
The following is a quote from Dr. Ken Leistner which provides a good synopsis of what High Intensity Training is all about.
“High-intensity training is going all-out, not almost all out. It is taking one set to one’s absolute limit, not almost to the limit. It is using whatever equipment that is available, not just a machine or group of machines. It is not the words of two or three men, but a commitment to work as hard as possible while in the gym without socializing, resting excessively between sets, or falling prey to the ‘this isn’t going to work so I’ll copy the star’ attitude”.
When an exercise is performed in the described high intensity manner, one set usually gives your body optimum strength stimulation. Multiple sets of the same exercise are simply not necessary.
Dorian Yates’ (1992-97 Mr. Olympia) trainer, Mike Mentzer, recommends the following:
“Train intensely, train briefly, and train infrequently – it’s valid and will work for everyone.”
A quote from Mike Mentzer about the “copying the star” mindset so prevalent in “muscle mags” and gyms:
” . . . it is a mistake to point to the ‘apparent’ success of a couple dozen top title winners as indubitable proof that a certain training approach is efficacious. If one were to look back through the course of their bodybuilding careers and calculate the hours, months and years of wasted effort resulting from their blind, non-theoretical volume approach, one would have to question whether their achievements could properly be termed successful at all.” Mike Mentzer, IronMan Magazine, March 1994.
20 General Guidelines
There are many variations among HIT advocates, but there is one overriding commonality. They all espouse brief, hard work done infrequently.
When you’re in the gym you want to focus your energies on only performing work that is productive, i.e., growth producing. In good form, you push yourself as far as you can go on every set. Now, by training this way you simply CANNOT do the marathon 2-3 hour workouts the “champs” say they do in the muscle mags.
HIT can be summed up in the following general guidelines. These guidelines – or ones very similar – have formed the basis of strength training programs for years:
1. Train with a high level of intensity
Intensity is defined as “a percentage of momentary ability”. In other words, intensity relates to the degree of “inroad” or muscular fatigue, made into muscle at any given instant.
Research, going back almost 100 years now has conclusively shown that intensity is the single most important factor in obtaining results from strength training.
It has been shown that the harder that you train (intensity), the greater the adaptive response.
A high level of intensity is characterized by performing an exercise to the point of concentric (positive) muscular failure, i.e., you’ve exhausted your muscles to the extent that the weight cannot be moved for any more repetitions.
Failure to reach a desirable level of intensity – or muscular fatigue – will result in little or no gains in functional strength or muscular size as low intensity workouts do very little or nothing in the way of stimulating muscle size/strength. Evidence for this “threshold” is suggested in the literature by the overload principle (Enoka, 1988; Fox and Mathews, 1981; Hochschuler, Cotler and Guyer, 1993; Jones, 1988; Wilmore 1982).
2. Follow the “double progression” technique in regards to repetitions and weight
For a muscle to increase in size and strength it must be forced to do progressively harder work.
Your muscles must be overloaded with a workload that is increased steadily and systematically throughout the course of your program. This is often referred to as progressive overload.
Therefore every time you work out you should attempt to increase either the weight you use or the repetitions you perform relative to your previous workout. This can be viewed as a “double progressive” technique (resistance and repetitions). Challenging your muscles in this manner will force them to adapt to the imposed demands (or stress).
Each time you attain the maximum number of repetitions, you should increase the resistance for your next workout. Progression need not be in dramatic leaps and bounds, although this can happen. The point to remember is that the weight must always be challenging. The resistance should be increased in an amount that you are comfortable with.
One of the biggest mistakes even advanced trainees can make is adding too much weight, too fast. Stuart McRobert espouses the use of very small weight increments – quarter-kilo or even 100-gram discs. One supplier of steel fractional plates – from 1oz to 1.75lbs – that can be added to an Olympic bar (or pinned on a weight stack) is Piedmont Design Associates, which has a website at http://www.fractionalplates.com
Adding 1lb/week to your squat or deadlift may not seem like much, but as Stuart McRobert points out, “How many of you, two years from now, couldn’t be happy with a “mere” 100 pounds on your eight-rep squat?”
A sidebar on PROGRESSION:
There has often been the debate of whether to train for “size” or “strength”. There is no difference in training methodology. Training for size leads to strength increases. Training for strength leads to size increases (although it does not necessarily follow the % increase in one attribute will be equal to the % increase in the other).
The following two quotes illustrate:
Arthur Jones is the creator of the Nautilus line of equipment, former owner of MedX Inc., and considered by many to be the “father” of HIT. Jones has stated that, with barbell curls as the example, when it is possible for a trainee to curl 200 lbs in good form without body swing,
“…then his arms will be as large as they need to be for any possible purpose connected with any sport just short of wrestling bears”.
Dr. Ken Leistner:
“I am fond of telling doubting trainees that it’s just a matter of always adding weight to the bar, adding another repetition, If you could get to the point where you’re squatting 400 lbs for 20 reps, stiff-legged deadlifting 400 lbs for 15 reps, curling 200 for 10 reps, pressing 200 for 10 reps, doing 10 dips with 300 lbs around your waist, and chinning with 100 pounds, don’t you think you would be big – I mean awfully big? And strong? Obviously!”
That sums up progression pretty well.
3. Perform 1 to 3 sets of each exercise
In order for a muscle to increase in size/strength it must be fatigued or overloaded in order for an adaptive response to occur. It really doesn’t matter whether you fatigue your muscles in one set or several sets – as long as your muscles experience a certain level of exhaustion.
When performing multiple sets, the cumulative effect of each successive set makes deeper inroads into your muscle thereby creating muscular fatigue; when performing a single set to failure, the cumulative effect of each successive repetition makes deeper inroads into your muscle thereby creating muscular fatigue. Numerous research studies have shown that there are no significant differences when performing either one, two or three sets of an exercise, provided, of course, that one is done with an appropriate level of intensity (i.e. to the point of concentric muscular failure).
However, as there are always exceptions to the rule. But, as a general guideline the vast majority of people will never need more than 1-3 sets.
4. Reach concentric muscular failure within a prescribed number of repetitions
As stated above, research shows that our level of intensity is the most important factor in determining your results from strength training; all things being equal the HARDER you train, the BETTER your response.
As muscle hypertrophy is an adaptive response by the body to stress, you should always strive to go as far as you can go on that “impossible” rep. Every centimeter matters. Your “impossible” rep should last between 10-15 seconds. One could even call this an “isometric rep”.
CAUTION: There are a few notable exercises where you should NOT try the “isometric rep”. These include the bench press (and it’s variants) and stiff-legged deadlift. The bottom position of those exercises are where you are most vulnerable to injury. “Failure” for these exercises means completing as many reps as you can without degradation in form and then lowering the weight under control to the starting position. The same rule applies to the squat and deadlift (and their variations). “Failure” means you cannot complete another rep without degradation in form. Do NOT try to go farther than this and try the “impossible” rep or worse, negative reps. You are looking for injury if you do this. Always err on the side of caution.
Regarding the question of partials, i.e., performing as many partial positive reps as possible after the last complete repetition is performed, the general consensus is not to perform them. After performing the “isometric” rep, it’s not likely you’ll have any positive strength reserved for doing this anyway.
If concentric muscular failure occurs before you reach the lower level of the repetition range, the weight is too heavy and should be reduced for your next workout. If the upper level of the repetition range is exceeded before you experience muscular exhaustion, the weight is too light and should be increased for your next workout by five percent or less.
If you’re just beginning an exercise program, or if you change the exercises in your routine, it may take several workouts before you find a challenging weight. Simply continue to make progressions in the resistance as needed.
Repetition ranges differ from bodypart to bodypart, and the recommendation schemes vary according to what source you refer to.
The most important thing to remember here is that it the number of repetitions isn’t the key factor – time is. One can perform a set of 10 reps in as low as 10-15 seconds, or a set of only 1 rep in 60 seconds.
The general recommendation is 8-12 repetitions But this can vary from individual to individual, and from bodypart to bodypart. In many cases people have been known to benefit from higher reps for their lower body (12-15), while lower reps for the upper body (6-8).
So how many seconds per repetition? The general guideline is a 6 second repetition consisting of a 2 second lifting (concentric) phase, followed by a 4 second lowering (eccentric) phase. The emphasis is placed on the lowering, or negative, as research has shown this to be the most productive part of the repetition.
The lowering of the weight should also be emphasized because it makes the exercise more efficient: the same muscles that are used to raise the weight concentrically are also used to lower it eccentrically. The only difference is that when you raise a weight, your muscles are shortening against tension and when you lower a weight, your muscles are lengthening against tension. So, by emphasizing the lowering of the weight, each repetition becomes more efficient and each set becomes more productive. Because a muscle under tension lengthens as you lower it, lowering the weight in a controlled manner also ensures that the exercised muscle is being stretched properly and safely.
Thus in a 8-12 rep scheme with the above guidelines, each set should take you between 48-72 seconds until you reach concentric muscular failure.
However, there are methodologies that have been employed which have been used to find your “optimal” repetition, or more correctly again, timeframe for a set. Please see 3.2 for details.
5. Work to concentric (positive) muscular failure in each set
If concentric muscular failure occurs before you reach the lower level of the repetition range, the weight is too heavy and should be reduced for your next workout. If the upper level of the repetition range is exceeded before you experience muscular exhaustion, the weight is too light and should be increased for your next workout by five percent or less.
If you’re just beginning an exercise program, or if you change the exercises in your routine, it may take several workouts before you find a challenging weight. You can’t avoid that. Simply continue to make progressions in the resistance as needed.
6. Perform each repetition with proper form
This one cannot be stressed enough as it’s such a common mistake, especially among young trainees that has led to many unnecessary injuries.
A repetition should be performed by raising and lowering the weight in a deliberate, controlled manner. “Explosive” lifting is not only non-productive, but also dangerous.
This is one of the issues that is stressed most by HIT advocates. Anytime, anyone, be they Mr. Universe, or some “expert” trainer, whomever, tells you to move a weight fast, “ballistically”, in an “explosive” style just walk away.
That person is a fool.
Remember one thing – free advice is worth what you pay for it. And many times in this field advice that you pay for is worth about the same.
Sidebar on SAFETY
Here’s an excerpt from a letter from Dan Riley, Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Washington Redskins, to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) dated May 6, 1994. Incidentally, Riley is considered by other HIT strength coaches to be the best HIT strength coach ever. He’s HIGHLY respected and because of his efforts and accomplishments, he’s a role model for many coaches and has helped usher in the “next generation” of strength coaches:
“There are many philosophical approaches a conditioning coach can use to obtain the same results. We all have our ‘way of getting it done.’ However when one approach places the athlete in a more potentially dangerous training environment, I will always select the safest avenue available. I would strongly urge you to evaluate the literature and unbiased experts available in several areas. Areas of concern I have include practices in the area of nutrition and supplementation, explosive training, plyometrics, max rep training, speed acquisition, and skill transfer.”
The general guideline time for a rep is as stated above, 6 seconds in length – two seconds up, four down. Two seconds may not seem like a lot of time, but when you’re lifting a weight it is. Try having you’re training partner say “one-thousand, two-thousand” as you lift.
Many people are surprised that they actually lift the weight much faster than this.
Avoid explosive, ballistic movements at all costs. Lifting a weight “faster” does NOT make you more “explosive”. No matter what type of training style you do, you simply cannot bypass the slow-twitch muscle fibers (Type I) and activate the fast-twitch (Type II) fibers. Muscle fibers are recruited in order of size according to the Size Principle of Recruitment.
One can get mired in endless debates about the “exact” or “optimal” rep speed. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding this issue. Just how slow should a rep be? In truth, nobody knows the answer.
However the best general guideline is widely accepted to be the following:
Lift the weight under control and try to reduce the amount of momentum. If in doubt, move slower, never faster. Train with a partner who can reinforce proper form. It is easy to perform a rep “too fast”, but rarely do you see a person performing a rep “too slow”.
7. Use a full range of motion
Perform the rep at the greatest possible range of motion that safety allows – from a position of full stretch to a position of full muscular contraction and back to a position of full stretch. Exercising throughout a full range of motion will has been shown by studies (Project Total Conditioning, done at the U.S. Military Academy) to increase your flexibility which reduces your potential for injury which is one of the goals of HIT – injury prevention.
Using a full range of motion ensures that you are exercising your entire muscle – not just a portion of it – thereby making the movement more productive and thus greater growth stimulation. Studies have shown that full-range exercise is necessary for a full-range effect, i.e., performing an exercise through a limited range of motion, for e.g. the middle portion of a leg extension, will result in a strength increase largely in that range of movement. Studies with individuals who have used this style of training for an extensive period of time have found that they are weaker in the range of motion not worked, e.g., in leg extensions if done as stated above will result in noticeable weakness in the contracted position.
8. Train for no more than one hour per workout
If you are training with a high level of intensity, more than one hour is counterproductive as it increases the probability of overtraining due to a catabolic hormone called cortisol. Overtraining, next to injury, is your worst enemy. Avoid it like the plague. Symptoms of overtraining, and some tips on avoiding it are listed in I) v).
In addition, the faster you can complete your workout, given the same amount of sets performed, the better conditioning obtained.
9. Move quickly between sets
The transition time between each set varies with your level of conditioning. You should proceed from one exercise to the next as soon as you catch your breath or feel that you can produce a maximal level of effort. After an initial period of adjustment, you should be able to recover adequately within 1 to 3 minutes. Training with a minimal amount of recovery time between exercises will elicit a metabolic conditioning effect that cannot be approached by traditional multiple set programs, as was shown by the study at West Point.
10. Exercise the major muscle groups first
The emphasis of your exercises should be your major muscle groups (i.e. your hips, legs and upper torso). You should select any exercises that you prefer in order to train those bodyparts. It is recommended that lower body work be done first, as it is more taxing. This is not always the case, as a technique for bringing up a lagging bodypart is to work it first in your routine, but it is a general outline.
Exercises like the full squat, when properly performed until failure are the most difficult exercises there are, as any experienced lifter will tell you. That’s what also makes them the most productive. Remember, make your exercises harder, not easier, and your results will be in proportion to effort exerted.
Since the major muscle groups store the highest levels of glycogen, we want to tap these fuel sources first to get the glucose flowing. A secondary reasoning is to raise the lactic acid level and therefore lower blood pH. By lowering muscle and blood pH we lessen the amount of work the remaining muscle groups must do to stimulate growth. The advantages of this are that less work means less glucose is utilized and the risk of tapping into our protein reserves (catabolism) is reduced.
It is especially important to avoid (unless you are using a specialized routine) exercising your arms before exercising your upper torso. Multiple joint (or compound) movements done for your upper body require the use of your arms to assist the movement. Your arms are the “weak link” in the exercise because they are smaller. So, if you fatigue your arms first, you will weaken an already weak link, thereby limiting the workload placed on the muscles of your upper torso.
Similarly, your quadriceps and hamstrings are the weak link when performing exercises for your hips and glutes. Thus *some* authorities recommend avoiding training these muscles, i.e., avoid leg extensions and hamstring curls, before performing a compound, multiple-joint exercise for your lower body, like the squat or leg press.
11. Do not split your routine – do not work your body on successive days
Many bodybuilders practice a split routine. The reasoning is that training their upper body on one day and lower body on the next day allows them additional time to work each muscle group “harder”. HIT advocates believe this NOT to be the case.
First, split routines lead you to believe that more exercise is better exercise. Remember HARDER exercise is better. And if you train harder you MUST train briefer, not longer. You cannot train hard for a long period of time. Thus, out of physiologic necessity, people who use a split routine have to reduce the intensity of their exercise which leads to less growth stimulation.
Second, split routines use up more of your valuable RECOVERY ABILITY. Recovery is the chemistry that is necessary inside your body for the adaptive response to occur. Thus split routines can lead to your worst enemy again – overtraining.
It should be noted that although full body routines are recommended they are not always the rule. For example, some people simple cannot take much in terms of high intensity exercise. To try and workout the entire body in one session would lead to submaximal effort and results.
If this is the case, one might be better off performing “abbreviated” full body routines or “splitting” your routine. The purpose here is NOT to increase the amount of work. It is to “spread out” that work over time. For example, 10 exercises of one set each might be required by a trainee to train the entire body. Instead of doing all 10 exercises during one session, the trainee might split the routine into 5 exercises one session, and 5 the next. Continue by alternating these sessions. The important thing to stress is that these sessions are NOT on successive days for reasons mentioned.
12. Get ample rest after each training session
Believe it or not, your muscles do not get stronger while you workout. Your muscles get stronger while you recover from your workout. After high intensity training your muscle tissue is broken down (a very basic way of describing it) and the recovery process allows your muscle time to rebuild itself, adapt, and with all factors permitting, grow larger.
There are definitely individual variations in recovery ability. A period of about 48 to 96 hours is usually prescribed for sufficient recovery from a workout. It is the feeling of some HIT advocates that muscle will begin to atrophy after 96 hours of high intensity exercise. However, this is disputed by other authorities, who have their trainees workout more infrequently than that. One strength training workout per week or even less, is definitely not unheard of, although this appears to work better for those who have attained an advanced level of development relative to themselves, i.e., have increased their strength by 200-300% relative to their untrained strength.
It is generally said a period of at least 48 hours is also required to replenish your depleted carbohydrate stores. Therefore, it is suggested that you strength train 2 to 3 times per week on nonconsecutive days (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday).
13. Take periodic layoffs
What is “Periodization”? Periodization is not a set routine, but a philosophy or method to vary the volume and intensity of training to optimize training adaptions by avoiding overtraining.
HIT is also a philosophy. HIT advocates frequently make mention to the importance to changing the exercises performed, order of exercises, frequency of training and the set/rep combinations. Thus to say that HIT is “one set of 8-12 repetitions” or a “canned program” is simply erroneous.
HIT does advocate a form of “periodization”. But it is not the 1RM-based, pre-planned workouts of the traditional theoretical models with different “phases” within the “cycle”.
This is not to imply that that these models don’t “work”.
They do. This is an important thing to understand – ANY training system that applies the techniques of overload and progression will “work”. HIT advocates feel that there are some definite shortcomings to periodization models – too much time is spent training submaximally for one thing.
One of the objectives of using a “periodization” program is to “cycle the intensity” to prevent overtraining. The general school of thought on HIT does not believe in this concept of “intensity cycling” – with some exceptions such as Stuart McRobert (see “Hardgainer”).
The real culprit of overtraining is…overtraining, i.e., training too frequently.
To prevent overtraining the cure is rest, or a reduction in training. Train up to 2-3 times/week intensely (generally).
If one is training three times a week and does not feel recovered or one is not making progress, try training two times a week. If that is still too much, try training once every five days. A good rule of thumb is to focus on reducing the volume/frequency. Most trainees find that as they grow stronger training less becomes more of a necessity rather than an option.
Train hard for 6-8 weeks and take a week off of strength training. A week away from training can help tremendously both physiologically and psychologically.
After a week off, gradually start on a new routine. A new routine could mean staying with the same exercises but changing the order or choosing new exercises. Variety is the key. You can call this “cycling your workouts” or “periodization”. It’s the same thing.
Ten days off between workouts might be even better. Two weekends of rest can do tremendous things for your recovery ability, motivation, and future progress. A full 10 day layoff from training is recommended every six months.
This is probably one of the hardest things for a trainee to do, and another factor perhaps why people don’t get the results they aspire for. Trainees tend to find it EXTREMELY difficult to take layoffs from training. The fear is that “my muscles will atrophy” or something to that effect.
That simply isn’t the case. There has even been a study published where a group of elite powerlifters ceased all training for a period of two weeks. Strength losses were found to be very minimal.
Even if you do lose a little muscle, it is FAR EASIER to REGAIN muscle mass than to gain it the first time.
Sidebar on increasing “STRENGTH”:
It is important to understand that progressive resistance exercise with single set training causes beneficial morphological (muscle) changes. If it is the goal of the trainee to improve his/her 1 REP MAX (1RM) on the squat or bench press, then ADDITIONAL SETS ARE REQUIRED to train the specific neural pathways for success in those lifts.
The majority of the strength training literature to date has NOT shown a conclusive difference between multiple set programs and single set programs relative to changes in LEAN BODY MASS.
Varied set/rep training systems produce increases in muscle mass and strength. Single set training also produces increases in muscle mass and strength. How one defines and utilizes STRENGTH will ultimately influence their training protocol.
This FAQ is NOT intended for those who are seeking to improve specifically their 1RM, i.e., competitive powerlifters. This FAQ is intended for those who are concerned with inducing changes in body composition – increases in muscle mass and maintenance or reduction in fat tissue.
If you are interested in specific training for the sport of powerlifting, it is highly recommended you read Bill Piche’s Powerlifting FAQ located on the Cyberpump! website.
14. As you get stronger decrease the frequency of workouts and/or amount of sets
Exercise physiologists have found that your strength increases disproportionately to your recovery ability.
The stronger you get the LESS high intensity exercise you can tolerate. Dr. Ellington Darden has mentioned a “300/50%” ratio of strength to recovery ability potential. Thus – in theory – the average trainee has the potential to increase his untrained strength by a factor of 4, but his recovery ability will only increase by a factor of 1.5. Therefore, as you get stronger you simply MUST do less exercise.
The GENERAL recommendations for number of sets/workout are as follows:
- Beginning level: 12-15 sets
- Intermediate level: 8-12 sets
- Advanced level: 6-8 sets
Of course you may require more or most likely can benefit from LESS, but this is a good general outline.
As for frequency of training general recommendations are as follows:
- 3 times/week (full body)
- 2 times/5-7 days (full body)
- 1 time/4-6 days (full body)
Again, depending on many factors you may require LESS than this. Three times/week is being used successfully by high school and college athletic training programs. However, there are cases of trainees who have made great gains by training less frequently. It is emphasized again that these are GENERAL recommendations. There are cases of advanced trainees who can tolerate and adapt to a 3x/week 15 sets/workout regimes. Others can only tolerate 2x/week 4-6 sets/workout.
As the general rule of thumb for aerobic conditioning is training 2-3 times/week, if you are at the intermediate to advanced level perform some form of aerobic exercise one other day/week.
Training three times a week is the general recommendation given for increasing cardiovascular endurance. If your strength training sessions are performed in a manner such that your heart rate is maintained at the target level for your age (by keeping the rest between sets as short as possible; 1-3 minutes is recommended), then your strength training sessions “count” as part of your aerobic conditioning.
If your strength has increased to the level where you are training less than 3 times/week, additional aerobic exercise can be done for conditioning purposes.
15. Use high intensity techniques sparingly
Too many people make the mistake of using advanced techniques like those mentioned below too often, which quickly leads to overtraining. Another reason perhaps why some people fail to meet their expectations using HIT.
This cannot be stressed enough. Learn through experience how hard you can push yourself. Do not even attempt these methods until you have established a good “base” strength. And even then, it is emphasized that these are used sparingly. Over the course of your training career you will learn to be able to push yourself harder on straight sets. Going to failure on straight sets should be the mainstay of your training program.
Use these techniques to bring up a lagging bodypart, and use them infrequently. The following are some of the advanced high intensity techniques. Descriptions are provided later in this FAQ:
- Super-slow reps.
- 1 1/4 reps.
The above techniques should as I said before be used infrequently. Do not perform them every workout as many bodybuilders do. It’s very easy to overtrain using these techniques. Use them for specific bodyparts that are lagging behind the rest of your body. This is so important to remember. You should train to positive failure on all your sets. But going beyond positive failure is extremely taxing on the body. So use these techniques sparingly, or you’ll end up overtrained. The point is not to work your body into the ground. The goal is to elicit a training response so you will be able to add more poundage/more reps next workout. Keep the goal clear in mind.
For descriptions of these techniques see the section in Advanced HIT, section 1.
16. Perform a Proper Warmup and Cool down
Warming up is a safeguard against injury. The change to higher temperature also augments speed of movement and power potential.
Almost any sequence of light calisthenic movements can be used as a general warm-up preceding a high intensity training session. Suggested movements include head rotation, side bend, trunk twist, bodyweight-only squat, and stationary cycling. Doing each movement for a minute or so will be sufficient. Specific warming up for each bodypart occurs during the first few repetitions of your set. Thus, a “warm-up set” is usually not deemed to be necessary.
Cooling down after your workout is also important. This prevents blood from pooling in your exercised muscles. After your last exercise, cool down by walking around the workout area, getting a drink of water, and doing some easy movements, like moving your arms in slow circles. Continue these easy movements for four or five minutes or until your breathing has returned to normal and your heart rate has slowed.
17. Keep Accurate Training Records
Training records are a way to measure your progress.. It is important that you keep an up-to-date, written record of each exercise that you perform during every workout. In the organization of your workout chart, you will need to make not of the following factors: date, exercises, order of exercises, seat position (if applicable), resistance, repetitions, sets, overall training time, and any other specifics such as bodyweight, time of day, outside temperature, and aches and pains that may affect your performance.
As you review your progress from month to month, the accuracy of these training records will prove to be invaluable in providing you with problem-solving information.
As mentioned in the “Books” section, Stuart McRobert’s, “Muscle & Might Tracker” is a great tool for this.
The strength of a muscle is the best measure of progress. This is best measured, not by seeing how much you can lift ONCE (referred to frequently as your “1RM” – one repetition maximum), but by seeing how much you can lift for your prescribed number of repetitions, e.g., 10 reps, in good form. Why shouldn’t you peform maximum single repetitions as a measure of strength? In short, because they are DANGEROUS.
Attempting a 1RM with heavy weights can place an inordinate amount of stress on the muscles, bones and connective tissues. An injury occurs when the stress exceeds the tensile strength of the structural components. Additionally, a 1RM attempt tends to increase blood pressure beyond that which is normally encountered when using submaximal weights.
Another concern is that a 1RM lift is a highly specialized skill that requires a great deal of technique.
Now there is another way to predict your 1RM max – from reps to failure, using what has been called the “Brzycki Formula” (created by Matt Brzycki).
The following is the formula:
Predicted 1RM= Weight Lifted/(1.0278 – .0278X)
where X= the number of reps performed.
This formula is based on noted near linear relationship between the number of reps to failure and the percentage of maximum load. It appears as if the relationship is not quite linear beyond about 10 reps. Therefore, this formula is only valid for predicting a 1RM when the number of reps to failure is less than 10. If the reps exceed about 10, then the test becomes less accurate. So if what you have determined as your “optimal” rep scheme based on section III) i) is greater than 10, than this test becomes less accurate.
18. Get a good Training Partner
A good training partner will help you immensely. You can then push each other one at a time through hard workouts. Once you’ve trained together for a length of time, you will know each other well enough to organize productive training sessions. Having a training partner will allow you to go to failure without fear of “dropping the weight” on exercises such as the bench press.
A good partner will also monitor your form and give you feedback. A partner will also be useful when you need assistance in using advanced techniques such as negatives, breakdowns, manuals etc., mentioned later in this FAQ.
19. Do not try to “mimic” a sports skill in the weightroom
Strength training should be GENERAL and requires HEAVY RESISTANCE
Skill training should be SPECIFIC and requires NO ADDED RESISTANCE.
Do not try to mimic a certain sports skill in the weight room in an attempt to improve performance in that particular sport. A common example is the use of power cleans. Power cleans have been touted by some parties as being specific to an incredibly wide range of skills from the breast stroke to the golf swing to the shot put. It’s absolutely impossible for one movement to be identical to such a broad group of differing skills. The PRINCIPLE OF SPECIFICITY states that an activity must be specific to an intended skill in order for maximal improvement – or carryover – to occur. Specific means exact or identical, not similar or just like. So, performing power cleans may be just like driving towards the basket, but the truth is that power cleans will only help you get better at doing power cleans and lunges will only help you get better at doing lunges.
There is NO exercise done in the weight room – with barbells or machines – that will expedite the learning of sports skills. Skill training and conditioning is SPECIFIC to a sport, but strength training is GENERAL.
Strength training, as well as most other conditioning movements, should differ from skill practice as much as possible in content, meaning, form, method of execution, and environment.
If you want to perform better at a certain sport for example like basketball, EMPHASIZE those muscles involved in basketball, specifically the buttocks, thighs, calves, back, shoulders, arms, and lower back, in your training.
To improve the skill component simply keep PRACTISING the skill, such as shooting the basketball, or doing layups.
20. Avoid Orthopaedically Unsound Movements
Scientific, athletic and rehabilitative professionals have questioned certain exercises and drills – such as power cleans, snatches and plyometrics – in terms of being safe for years. The potential for injury from most of the movements practised by competitive weightlifters is positively enormous. When performing such exercises, the muscoskeletal system is exposed to repetitive trauma and extreme biomechanical loading.
The sport of weightlifting carries a certain degree of risk. Competitive weightlifters accept those risks as being part of the sport. However, athletes who aren’t competitive weightlifters shouldn’t have to assume such an unreasonable risk of injury. Therefore, for reasons of safety, movements done by competitive weightlifters should only be performed by competitive weightlifters, and only because it relates to their sport.
There are other “standard bodybuilding” exercises which also are inherently dangerous. These include:
- Behind-the-neck press
- Barbell Bent-Over Row
- T-Bar Row
- Machine Hack Squat
- Upright row
- Good mornings
- Smith Machine Squats
- Sissy squats
- “French” press variations for the triceps
For further explanation of why these are inherently dangerous movements, please refer to books by Stuart McRobert and Matt Brzycki.
What are some Sample HIT Workouts?
Don’t be misled by the brevity or simplicity of a program that calls for one set of an exercise done with a high level of intensity. An exercise performed with a high level of intensity can be very productive and effective. In fact, Michigan State Strength Coach Ken Mannie has stated that HIT is “the most productive, most efficient and without a doubt, the most demanding form of strength training known to man [and woman].”
A sample HIT routine for the beginner to intermediate level:
- Squat/Leg press or Deadlifts
- Overhead Press
- Regular Chin-up
- Bench Press
- Row or rear shrug
- Biceps Curl
- Triceps Extension
- Lying l-flye
- Calf Raise
- Abdominal Crunches
Note the above are done for only ONE SET each. As you move to the “intermediate/advanced” stage you will most likely eliminate direct arm work, i.e., biceps curl and triceps extension.
This is just an example. The important point is that it is a full body workout, brief, and centered around the major growth producing exercises like the squat, chin, row, bench, etc. Of course you can substitute other exercises in, but try and keep the “big” exercises in there. You might want to alternate the squat with the deadlift which is another very productive exercise.
Another routine, suggested by Dr. Ken Leistner:
- Full Squats – 15-20 reps
- Pullovers – 10 reps (preferably on a quality machine version like Nautilus, Hammer, or MedX.)
- Standing Overhead Presses – 10 reps
- Chins – 10 reps
- Dips – 12 reps
- Barbell Curls – 10 reps
- Shrugs – 15 reps
- Stiff-Legged Deadlifts – 15 reps
How many sets of each exercise in this routine? One. Two. Certainly never more than three, and if you are working hard enough according to Leistner, one set of most of these exercises should be more than enough for anyone.
The following routine is very brief, but extremely productive when executed properly. This routine consists of two training days/week and slightly different exercises on each day:
- Day One
- Day Two
- Deadlift (with a Trap Bar if available)
- Leg Press
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
- Rowing movement
- Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Close Grip Pulldown
- Triceps Pressdown
Both days also include the following exercises:
- Standing Calf Raise
- Reverse Curls (with a Thick Bar if you can find one)
- Abdominal Crunches
Remember only one set. This routine is low volume, but the intensity of the program is so high that little else can be done productively. You don’t perform any negatives, 1 1/4s etc. The squat and deadlift are performed with as heavy as weight possible for a relatively high amount of reps – 12-20. You push yourself as hard as you can, maintaining good form all the time to failure. If done properly this is an extremely productive program. Stuart McRobert is one proponent (among others like Peary Rader, and Dr. Leistner) of the high-rep (20+) “breathing” squat, which you simply cannot perform more than one set of (and properly performed you would not want to). It’s tough to describe this type of training; one has to see it to believe it.
Incidentally, this is almost identical to the routine Dr. Ken Leistner used with trainees like Greg Roman. Greg Roman is (at the time this was originally written – 1996) a 5’8″, 235 lb noseguard for John Carroll University. In an article I have he is performing Trap Bar Deadlifts with 445 lbs – for over 20 reps. As far as rep speed goes for high repetition work that Leistner recommends, it is a 1-2 second raising, and a 1-2 second lowering. Thus a 20 rep squat would most likely be within the period of time where the anaerobic component of the energy cycle is greatest.
There are also routines to emphasize a lagging bodypart. But these should not be performed until you have built a solid foundation first and advanced to the intermediate level. If done properly (i.e., to failure and in good form) this is one of the most growth producing workouts you can ever do for your arms.
Try one workout and see what happens:
- One-repetition chin-up (30 seconds up, 30 seconds down) immediately followed by:
- Biceps Curl
- One-repetition dip (30 up, 30 down) immediately followed by
- Triceps extensions
- Leg press
- Calf Raise
- Lateral Raise with dumbbells
- Overhead Press
- Bench Press
- Ab Crunch
Try this routine for ONLY three to six consecutive workouts. Or you could try it once a week for 3-6 weeks in a row.
The point is that with the general guidelines outlined above YOU can design your own routines tailor made with what you have available and what your needs are.
What Equipment Should I Use?
There are some good equipment lines out there by Hammer, MedX, Nautilus, Southern Xercise, etc. If you have them available to you they are highly recommended by many strength coaches (especially, the low-friction Nautilus machines, and the Hammer line, if you want to perform Super Slow).
Remember, there are many machine movements which are also dangerous. Stick to quality name brand equipment mentioned above. Many of the Universal pieces are fine. This is not to say that ALL other brands are contraindicated, but again, always err on the side of caution. Use a machine that forces you into a dangerous movement pattern, and you are headed for certain injury.
One machine in particular should be pretty much avoided (except by the companies mentioned above) and that is the leg press. Most of them are very poorly designed and will inevitably lead you to knee and/or back problems.
Most gyms today have Hammer, Nautilus or Universal. Avoid the “exciting” new machine that supposedly can do wonders that free weights and other machines cannot.
But, the equipment you have available doesn’t really matter. You can gain size/strength with any equipment, machines or free weights as long as you progressively increase the resistance. For example Greg Roman used to train in an unheated shed with a dirt floor next to his house which contained a barbell, a pair of squat racks, and some dip and chin bars.
What is “Overtraining” and How to Avoid It?
Overtraining is the trainee’s number one “enemy” next to training injuries. Overtraining results from an imbalance between the amount of stress applied to your body, and your ability to adapt to it. Overtraining results in losses in size and strength and actually also increases the probability of illness.
Here is a list of some of the symptoms of overtraining:
- Decreased muscle size and strength
- Longer-than-average recovery time after a workout
- Elevated waking pulse rate
- Elevated morning blood pressure
- Increased joint and muscle aches
- Hand tremors
- Loss or decrease in appetite
So what biochemical mechanism leads to this overtrained state?
After the onset of high-intensity training exercise the body pumps out cortisol which breaks down protein into their constituent amino acids and routes them to the liver for conversion to glucose.
The longer the workout, the more cortisol is pumped in and the more protein is destroyed.
This causes a “catabolic state” as the largest supply of protein lies in the muscles so that is where the cortisol goes first.
Research by Costill and Nieman et al., has shown that one hour of intense strength training will increase the protein stores in our immune and skeletal systems, but that any further training will only begin to deplete these stores.
Overtraining can force the body into a weakened physical state, which, at best can produce a cold or the flu and, at worst, can tear muscles ligaments, and tendons once these bodyparts lose their structural integrity protein loss.
The culprit is a built-in “survival” drug hormone called cortisol. Immediately following a high intensity effort, the body pumps out this hormone whose function is simple: It carries off the proteins to the liver, where they are converted into glucose, for energy use in the body.
Why does this weaken our defense mechanisms? Because all our immune systems are based on proteins, and the influx of control in our biological mix steals the proteins that make up our immune system.
Nieman, a researcher at Loma Linda University found that athletes who train twice as intensely as normally prescribed will wind up with twice as many colds, and viruses.
Nieman investigated the athletes for cortisol. He found that astonishingly, after only ONE grueling strength training session, their bodies revealed a 60% increase in cortisol production.
Among the first proteins to go were the T-cells that make up our front line of defense against viruses. This watchdog system was depleted by more than 30 percent. However, this shortfall lasted only 6-8 hrs.
So you’re probably thinking “What’s the big deal? Is putting your body at risk for only 6-8 hours such a high price to pay?”
Well, Nieman and other researchers found that after a few days of such exercising, the “at risk” time became longer and longer, until the T-cells stopped rejuvenation.
In addition, the body’s first line of defense against bacteria and viruses an antibody known as IgA, which is found in the saliva, was reduced to nearly non-protective levels.
The conclusion of the researchers was that athletes can overtrain themselves into illness.
Thus the logical conclusion would be that high intensity strength training should be limited to one hour or less to restrict the amount of protein destruction.
Other ways to reduce the risk of overtraining:
- Emphasize carbohydrates: make them 60-70% of your total diet.
- Take carbohydrates two hours prior to exercising and immediately following exercise. Research has shown that your fatigued muscles seem most responsive to energy storage within the first 30 minutes following your workout. There is a lesser response for the next 10 hours.
- Take protein one to two hours before and immediately following exercise. Again I use regular food, but I see no problem with supplementation to save time (at the expense of more money however). Research has also shown your body to be more receptive to protein immediately following a workout.
- Continue eating high carbohydrate foods every 2 hours during the first 4 to 6 hours after hard training. During the first 6 hours post-exercise, simple sugars appear to replace muscle glycogen better than complex carbohydrates.
- Post-exercise muscle glycogen storage can be enhanced with a combination carbohydrate-protein supplement as a result of the interaction of carbohydrate and protein on insulin secretion. The addition of protein with carbohydrates can allow for a more rapid return recovery.
- Drink a rehydration beverage during and after exercise, for example, Gatorade.
- Take periodic layoffs.
- Use the best “miracle supplement” there is – WATER. You can’t “overdose” on water. The worst side effect you can get as mentioned previously, is a few more trips to the washroom. Your body functions optimally when it is fully hydrated. A general recommendation is to consume at least 128 ounces (one gallon) of water a day. During hot weather you should double or triple this amount.
- LEAVE YOUR WORKOUT IN THE GYM. Give your undivided attention to your training when your in the gym. But when you’re outside the gym, cast your attention to other things in life. Establish your other priorities, set goals, and keep busy. There are many athletes who fall into the trap of letting their mind continually dwell on training. Train hard when your in the gym, but try and relax more when your not. Stress has been shown to increase levels of CORTISOL in the body – the catabolic hormone, so try to find ways to manage stress in your life and relax, and your results will be improved.
Food and Nutrition
I would first recommend you peruse the writings of Lyle McDonald, CSCS, who has a column on Cyberpump, entitled “Nutrimuscle”. At the time of the latest revision of this FAQ, Lyle has a book due released on the “ketogenic diet”. Further information can be found on the Cyberpump web page.
For the strength-trained athlete attempting to increase muscle mass, probably the most important nutritional considerations are to obtain sufficient energy and protein. Adequate amounts of both may be obtained simply by increasing the amount of complex carbohydrates and healthful protein sources in the daily diet.
The topic of dietary considerations is covered in many of the books in the “Reference Section” of the FAQ. One other book you should have is “Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill”, by Udo Erasmus.
How much Protein Do I Need?
The answer is probably not as much as you think you do. For sedentary (non-active) individuals the most recent studies show that the RDA for protein of .36 g/lb bodyweight is adequate.
The most recent research has shown that athletes DO require more protein than the RDA, but not excessive amounts.
It should also be pointed out that it is incorrect to rely on nitrogen balance results as a means of determining increases in strength and muscle mass. It is simply not validated by scientific research. Studies have shown that nitrogen balance is not a relevant factor. So forget about those “Nitro Strips” – they are a waste of money.
How much protein? Studies have shown that the optimal protein intake for athletes undergoing high intensity exercise is 1.35g/kg/day which translates into 0.6136 grams/pound/day. Therefore a 200lb athlete would require 122.72 grams of protein.
What these studies also indicate however, is that although protein intakes should be higher than the RDA for strength training athletes, the protein intakes of most strength trained athletes is already at or above this level.
One must remember that protein intake is not the rate limiting factor in muscle mass development.
A diet which provides adequate calories will general provide enough protein as most research studies have indicated.
Thus you definitely don’t need 300-600 grams of protein as I’ve seen some of the muscle mags suggest. And you probably are getting enough protein as it is if you are an athlete.
One possible exception is the athlete who must restrict his/her food intake to lose a great deal of weight in a short time to make a certain weight class. In this case, a small amount of supplemental protein may be warranted.
Remember more is not better when it comes to protein intake. In fact, excessive protein intake over extended periods of time can possibly seriously damage your liver and kidneys.
What guidelines do I use for my diet?
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for athletes. From 60-65% of your diet should be carbohydrates, 15-20% fats and 15-20% protein.
How do I estimate my Caloric Intake?
A good estimate uses the following procedure:
– Multiply your present bodyweight in pounds by 20.
For a 200lb man this is equivalent to 4000 calories. This is how many calories you need to maintain this bodyweight.
But to build muscle, and thus gain weight, you need slightly more calories to allow for extra growth. Add from 400-600 more calories to this total. Taller, younger, heavier, and more active people generally require more calories per day than do shorter, older, lighter and less active individuals.
Some guidelines. If you weigh:
- 175 lbs or under, add 400 calories
- 176-200lbs, add 500 calories
- 201 lbs or more, add 600 calories
If you’re getting bigger and stronger, without adding noticeable fat to your waist, you are okay. If you notice you are gaining fat, then cut back by 100 calories, or until the fat disappears.
How do I Up My Calories?
Get a blender!
This is one of the best ways to add calories to your diet. Here’s a drink you can make that gives you 200 calories:
- 8 ounces of 2% milk
- 1/2 banana
- 1 egg white, cooked
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- A dash of cinnamon and
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Combine all of this into a blender and mix.
There are also “portable” caloric substitutes that you can buy at you local drugstore. I would favour them over what you buy at a supplement store, as you notice, the ingredients are basically the same, and it’s cheaper at the drugstore.
The Importance of Water
It’s almost impossible to drink too much water if you are an athlete. In fact, most people simply don’t consume enough water. Water is of vital importance to the human body. There have stories of individuals who have gone weeks without food, but without water you will only last a few days.
For your body to function optimally, the cells of your body must be fully hydrated.
Water also helps in the loss of fat. do not cut back on your water consumption.
Restricting your water intake causes your body to retain fluid. The less water you drink the more your body feels deprived and the more water it stores.
Restricting your water intake promotes fat retention. Since your body uses water as the major component of blood to transport nutrients and wastes, a lack of it can cause your body to perceive it as a major stress. To adapt your body will preserve fat.
Restricting your water intake makes you constipated. When deprived of water, your system pulls it from the lower intestines and bowels, thus creating hard stools.
How much water should you drink each day? Activity and environmental conditions are the two most important factors that determine your body’s need for water. During study, rest, and sleep, the loss of water is much less from the body than during strenuous activities, such as training. When the temperature is hot and the humidity is low, more water evaporates from your body’s surface.
In sedentary individuals, thirst is an adequate signal of the needs of the body. But with serious athletes, and all people using high intensity training, the desire for water is not an adequate indication of the body’s requirements.
A good general recommendation for serious athletes is to consume at least one gallon (128 ounces) of water a day. During hot weather, this recommendation may need to be doubled, or even tripled.
Here are some tips that will help you in consuming more water:
- Carry an insulated container, the quart size with a plastic straw, with you for sipping water throughout the day.
- Keep the water ice cold.
- Do not substitute coffee, tea, or caffeine-containing soft drinks for water. Fluids containing caffeine tend to dehydrate the body.
- Drink 75% of your water between 7AM and 5PM. That way you won’t have to get up after you’ve gone to bed to go to the bathroom.
- Understand that it takes several weeks for your kidneys to become less sensitive to an increase in your water intake. At first you’ll be going to the washroom 20 or more times a day. Within two weeks, your bladder will become less sensitive and you’ll be voiding less often but with greater volume.
One of the very best articles I’ve ever read on anabolic steroids was written by Mark Asanovich, Strength Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The article was published in the volume 2, number 1 (1989) issue of the HIT Newsletter. By calling, you can order back issues of the HIT Newsletter, and I’m sure you’ll find this article informative.
Steroid abuse is the fastest-growing form of drug abuse in the U.S. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates 1 million steroid abusers nationwide compared to 500,000 heroin and 500,000 crack cocaine abusers. An unbelievable statistic.
And the highest misuse occurs in adolescents. The use of anabolic steroids is the fastest growing drug abuse problem in the U.S. today. Hard to believe.
It is extremely difficult to accurately discuss the use of anabolic steroids. Why? Because there really is a lack of scientific information on steroids – particularly in the way that they are used by athletes. Most information is based on anecdotal evidence, word spread in the gym, underground “handbooks”, etc.
You hear a lot about the side-effects of steroids. Just what are the KNOWN adverse side effects associated with steroid use?
Note that these side effects are attributed to normal, therapeutic dosages:
- Liver dysfunction
- Prostate enlargement
- Severe acne
- Acceleration of Male Pattern Baldness
- Connective tissue catabolism
- Kidney dysfunction
- Cardiovascular dysfunction
- Gastrointestinal dysfunction
- Immune system dysfunction
- Water Retention
- Gynecomastia (fatty deposits under the nipples)
- Testicular atrophy
- Spermatogenesis dysfunction
- In adolescents, the added danger is of premature fusing of epiphyseal growth plates.
- There are also dangers related to the self-administration of steroids:
- Infection/reaction as a result of contaminated product
- Spread of communicable disease (even AIDS) as a result of unsanitary, shared needles
- Nerve dysfunction as a result of improperly placed injection
Remember these potential side effects are attributed to normal, therapeutic dosages. The long-term, cumulative side effects are not known. Unknown also is the increased risks of serial, multiple dosages that is common among steroid abusers. And since most of these drugs are purchased on the black market, the associated risk potentials are even greater.
Self-administered dosages are “stacked”, “staggered”, “pyramided,” and/or “shotgunned” in dosages ranging from 10 to 100 times higher then therapeutic dosages. The risks obviously become even greater.
This is not a speech, or a “scare” tactic. This is reality. Steroids are DRUGS. ANY drug has potential side effects, even in small dosages, and thus have a risk associated with their use. And the potential for abuse is very large, as many fall prey to the “more is better” attitude.
One should also remember one other very important point – steroids are illegal to distribute and to possess in most countries.
Yes, steroids obviously do “work”. That can’t be denied. But this too varies from individual to individual. Some individuals make large gains in strength/size in a very short period of time – others don’t. The same with side effects. Some people can take normal therapeutic dosages of steroids, and encounter little if any side effects. Others can have a severe reaction. Such is the case with ANY DRUG.
The choice is obviously yours. One can make tremendous changes to their strength, physical appearance and overall fitness by following a logical scientific approach to training without steroids. Results that would surpass most expectations.
If you are intent on taking steroids, I don’t believe anything I say will deter you. I feel the risks are not worth the potential “benefits”. In fact, every study I’ve seen has not shown that there is a permanent gain in size/strength from taking steroids once one has stopped taking them. You are putting your body in an unnatural state – and it has to return to normal. How much of these “gains” are really water weight? Unknown.
But the bottom line is: Are the risks worth what is very likely a temporary increase in size/strength?
Use these techniques INFREQUENTLY. This can never be stressed enough. Too many trainees fall into the trap of using these too often. Remember, these are advanced techniques, and should be used sparingly:
1. Breakdowns. Breakdowns are also referred to as “triple-drops”. Basically you perform a set in the regular protocol manner mentioned above. Once you have gone to failure have your training partner quickly reduce the weight on the barbell or machine by approximately 20 percent. Do not take longer than 3 seconds rest. Then you work to failure once again, exactly as you did on the first set. You should only be able to get a couple of reps in. If done properly your muscles will start to really “burn”. Resist the temptation to cheat (have your training partner help you). After you performed this “second” set, drop the weight again another 20% and work to failure again. At this point it gets pretty painful, but try to perform as many reps as you can in perfect form.
You have just performed “3 sets” going to failure on each one with no rest between. Here’s an example set:
- 200 lbs – 8 reps to failure
- 160 lbs – 3 reps to failure
- 130 lbs – 2 reps to failure
Another variation from Dr. Ken Leistner: Perform a regular straight set to failure. IMMEDIATELY reduce the weight by 50%. Perform the EXACT number of repetitions you did on the first set.
2. Super-Slow Reps. The positive movement is performed in 10 seconds followed by a 5 second negative movement. However, this timeframe has been changed in the most recent work of Ken Hutchins. More about that in the next section.
Performing this type of set requires intense concentration and willingness to put up with a lot of discomfort. For more details on this type of technique see the Super Slow web site.
Initially, you’ll have to reduce the resistance that use normally by 30-40 percent. Super slow reps are a great way to minimize momentum and involve muscle fibers that you might be “skipping over” due to faster movement speeds. It’s useful also to help “learn” an exercise and find out just what point of the movement you are “skipping” over during regular speed sets.
One of the best things about super slow is that it’s perhaps one of the safest ways to train, as well as being extremely productive – especially for advanced athletes who are suffering joint pain from the use of extremely high weights. It’s also useful when coming back from an injury.
You should perform about 2-3 less reps than you do in a regular set, e.g. if you regularly perform 6-8 reps use 4-6 for super-slow.
Super Slow does not work well for all exercises. It is near impossible to use for a regular deadlift, for example. The more “skill” component required for an exercise, the less applicable this technique is.
Many people lift weights too fast, I have yet to see one lift a weight too slowly. Never, ever let anyone tell you to lift a weight “fast”. Next time someone says that just smile and walk away. Don’t bother arguing. Lifting the weight fast is a good way to injure yourself. It is tough on the ego to lower the weight by 30-40%. But, you will find that eventually you can lift greater poundages in a controlled manner than you did before normally. “Cheat artists” can “lift” enormous amounts of weight by jerking and bouncing the weight. These people are doing themselves alot of harm that they may not notice now, but they’ll pay for it in the long run.
3. Pre-exhaustion. Normal pre-exhaustion is practiced when a single-join movement for a specific muscle is immediately followed by a related multiple-joint exercise. The multiple-joint movement brings into action surrounding muscles to force the previously exhausted muscle to a deeper level of stimulation.
This is also a technique used to get around the “weak link” in a compound exercise. For example, your upper back muscles (lats) are far stronger than your biceps. During a chin or pulldown movement, the weaker biceps will fail before the lats limiting the potential stimulation of the larger upper back muscles.
Pre-exhaustion can be a useful tool for this problem. For example, to pre-exhaust the lats perform a normal set of machine pullovers. Immediately with no rest perform lat machine pulldowns (or chin-ups). Another example is performing dumbbell flyes for the chest immediately followed by bench presses. For shoulders, perform lateral raises immediately followed by overhead presses.
4. Negatives. You are 40% stronger negatively than you are positively. That’s why you can lower slowly a much greater weight than you can lift. It has been demonstrated that increasing your negative strength automatically increases your positive strength. There are three ways you can perform negatives:
1) Two training partners lift a heavier than normal weight than you would use for a regular set (30-40% heavier). You would then proceed to lower the weight slowly (8-10 seconds) for the desired repetitions (about 2 reps less than in a normal set). You can perform negative dips and negative chins without the aid of a training partner by using your legs to climb to the top position.
2) After a normal set of reps to failure your training partner lifts the weight back to the top as you do 2-3 slow negative reps.
3) Negative accentuated reps. Use approximately 30% less weight than you would use in a normal set. Lift the weight in the normal style (2 seconds) and then lower the weight in 8-10 seconds using ONE appendage. Repeat the lifting and lower the weight using the OTHER appendage. Perform 8-12 reps (lifting). Obviously this works only with certain exercises, specifically machines.
Negative training is the one of the most difficult, intense training modalities you can perform.
In addition, method 1) is very difficult unless you have a couple of really strong people who are willing to lift the weight for you. Negative training can make you extremely sore. You will take a long time to recover from this type of exercise. If you performed it regularly you would very quickly overtrain. Use it sparingly.
An example of what an elite athlete has accomplished using negative-only training is Tom Laputka – a former professional football player. In 1972 Laputka was involved in one of the Nautilus research projects involving negative-only work, and was personally trained by Arthur Jones.
“At that time in my life,” Tom recalls, “I wanted to get as big and strong as possible. And I wanted the results as fast as possible.”
Laputka’s NEGATIVE-ONLY poundages done, FOR REPS:
Nautilus Hip and Back (single movement arm version) – 700 lbs with ONE LEG. That required the entire 500lb weight stack plus a 200lb man riding the stack. And he worked each hip separately.
Nautilus Leg Extension – 500lbs, which included a 300lbs weight stack and a 200lb rider.
Nautilus Leg Curl – 350lbs, 150lb weight stack and a 200lb rider.
Nautilus Pullover (plateloading version) – 700lbs, 300lbs of plates and two 200lb riders
Dip – 463 lbs, 263 lbs bodyweight, and 200lbs around the hips
Nautilus Torso Arm – 350lbs, 150lb weight stack and a 200lb rider
Nautilus Triceps Extension (plateloading version) – 150lbs of plates
Nautilus Biceps Curl (plateloading version) – 150lbs of plates.
Tom makes a few important points emphasized throughout this FAQ:
“One important rule I learned from the research project was that it was very easy to overtrain using negative-only exercise. For example, my strength plateaued after four weeks of training. That indicated to me that my strength had improved to the point that I was now overtraining. To make continued progress I had to reduce my workouts from three days a week to two days a week.
A month later my strength plateaued again. At the second plateau, I reduced my training from twice a week to three times every two weeks. Almost immediately my strength increased. I never reached a third plateau, as I had to report to football camp before the end of that month. Even then, my strength on some exercises was so great it was scary: 700lbs on the hip and back, and that was with one leg only, and 700lbs on the pullover.
I’ve often wondered what would have happened after the next plateau. Or if I’d gone to once-a-week training. Arthur [Jones] would have had to redesign some of the machines so we could get more helpers around them. Or we would have had to rent a forklift to do a majority of the lifting.”
5. Manuals – Dan Riley, the strength and conditioning coach of the Washington Redskins, can perhaps be thought of as a pioineer in this strength training approach as he was one of the first in the past few decades to give it the exposure it deserves. Matt Millen, former great linebacker of the Los Angeles Raiders, Redskins, and 49ers uses manual resistance almost exclusively for all deltoid raising exercises.
The deltoids will be used as an example to illustrate this technique. One of the most effective ways to increase the intensity of one’s deltoid training is to go to a point of momentary muscular failure/fatigue in the lateral raise movement and IMMEDIATELY follow it with two or three manual repetitions.
Whether you are using dumbbells or a machine, as with any high intensity set, push yourself to the point that does not allow for the completion of another full lateral raise and the push even further, until almost no movement at all is possible. At this point, immediately step away from the machine, or place the dumbbells on the floor and have a training partner apply resistance so only two and perhaps three manual resistance reps can be completed.
These reps should be agonizing, with the limbs moving quite slowly to the completion of the movement. Resisting in the lowering phase will insure very slow movement upon the return to the starting position. As soon as the hands or arms touch the side, begin the next repetition. In fact, an effort to “push upwards” should be made during the entire exercise.
The manual resistance can be applied above the wrists, with your arms and forearms being fully extended, or above the elbow, with the forearms flexed. the latter will protect against elbow stress or injury. Adding a few manual resistance reps as a completing “touch” to the regular lateral raise movement, will result in a much higher level of intensity and give concomitant results. Your deltoids will burn and it should be literally impossible to raise the arms away from the body upon completing this finishing movement.
Methodology for Determining your “Optimal” Number of Repetitions
How many repetitions? The general consensus is 8-12 repetitions at a speed of 2 seconds on the concentric phase and 4 seconds on the eccentric phase. The importance is not the number of repetitions, actually, but the amount of time you perform a set.
Basic muscle physiology says that skeletal muscles hypertrophy more readily when they are taxed within their anaerobic pathways of 30-90 seconds with approximately 60 seconds being the average time required.
Any exercise that is carried beyond 70 seconds utilizes more aerobic than anaerobic pathways, and, consequently the trainee’s endurance is increased at the cost of size/strength. Likewise, a set performed for only 10 seconds has little, if any benefit. The only time you need to perform a “single” rep is if you are a powerlifter, and you are training yourself on the skill component.
There are several powerlifters (Dr. Ken Leistner comes to mind), who very rarely perform singles. In fact to increase the amount one can bench press Leistner has recommended practising the bench press as little as once every 3 weeks! Dips, and other exercises for the involved muscle groups are performed instead.
The time factor for the transfer to the anaerobic threshold (the “window” during which the greatest amount of muscle size/strength stimulation takes place) can vary greatly from individual to individual, depending on factors such as neurological efficiency and muscular endurance.
The most widely accepted guideline as stated previously is to select resistance for each exercise that allows the performance of 8-12 repetitions in a 2 second up, 4 second down style. When 12 or more repetitions can be performed increase the resistance by approximately 5% at the next workout. This tried and proven repetition scheme is effective for 70% of the population.
However, there are those people that obtain better results using lower or higher repetition guidelines. It is speculated that this is governed by your “neurological efficiency” and muscle fiber type. Remember that the goal is to make an inroad of approximately 20% into your starting level of strength.
Research shows that most people make about 2% inroad/repetition and fail at 10 repetitions. People who can involve more muscle fibers make a greater inroad per repetition and fail sooner. There are those that reach failure in as low as 3 repetitions. There are also those that could do 20-30 repetitions before they reach failure.
However, these are extremes, there are not that many people who fail at 3 repetitions and 30 repetitions. But they do exist. And they need to be trained accordingly.
Here is a simple testing procedure that you can use on almost any barbell or weight-machine exercise to determine your optimal repetition guideline. Single-joint exercises are said to work better than multiple-joint exercises. To test a multiple-joint exercise you have to avoid the lock-out position:
Determine your 1 repetition maximum on any exercise.
Rest 5 minutes
Take 80% of this 1 repetition maximum and perform as many repetitions as possible in proper form. Do not cheat.
Make a written note of this number of repetitions
Multiply the number of repetitions by .15.
Round off the resulting figure to the nearest whole number.
Add this whole number to your 80% repetitions. This becomes the high end of your repetitions guidelines.
Subtract the same number from your 80% repetitions. This becomes the low end of your repetition guideline.
The number of repetitions that most trainees perform with 80% of their 1RM on the leg extension correlates well with their performances on other lower-body exercises. The standing biceps curl with a barbell also correlates well with other upper-body movements. Thus, by testing yourself on only the leg extension and biceps curl, you have established the repetition guidelines to apply on most other exercises.
Many trainees require higher repetitions for their lower bodies than their upper bodies. Some trainees are just the opposite. Others show no differences. The only way to find out is to test yourself according to the described instructions.
Whatever your repetition guidelines turn out to be, it is important to understand that you should not stop an exercise simply because you’ve completed a certain number. Always perform as many repetitions as possible – and then attempt one more. Make sure each set is your best effort.
For example, say your 1 rep max is 100 lbs in the barbell curl. 80% of that is 80lbs. Suppose you can perform 6 reps (2 secs up, 4 secs down) at this weight to failure. 6 x .15 = 0.9 which we round off to 1.
Thus your lower rep limit would be 5 reps (6-1), and your upper limit would be 7 reps (6+1). So you would perform between 5-7 reps in this exercise. Once you can perform more than 7 reps you would increase the weight.
CAUTION: As stated prior, performing a 1 repetition max (1RM) is a dangerous procedure. Thus caution should be taken if you wish to try this methodology due the risks inherent in performing a 1RM. A safer way to determine which rep scheme works best for you is to try either lower or higher reps for a few months.
It should be noted that Dr. Ken Leistner and others has espoused the use of high repetition ranges for exercises that involve a significant amount of muscle mass, such as the deadlift and the squat.
In fact, his trainees have performed up to and above 20 reps in the squat. Leistner has obtained great results using this approach. Stuart McRobert, Randall Stroessen etc. have also recommended using high repetitions for this exercise. Stroessen has written a book on this technique that you can find in the book catalogue within IronMan magazine.
So, the logical conclusion is for YOU to decide upon what best suits your particular needs.
The key is you are trying to stimulate muscular growth. You never need to perform singles unless you are a powerlifter.
Super Slow (TM) Training
The man credited with “creating” Super Slow (and who has trademarked it) is Ken Hutchins. However, there are definitely anecdotes of others who have used this technique prior to Hutchins. Going back to the 1960s it has been reported that one of the great powerlifters, Ronnie Ray, used Super Slow in his training. Ray was reported to have performed 3 strict super slow reps using 405 lbs (!) on the bench press, with a full pause with the bar resting on his chest between reps.
Here’s the analogy used about speed of movement. When you pull a trigger on a rifle or gun, you’re supposed to pull with a slow, steady squeeze to the rear – if you jerk the trigger than the shot will be off. Same thing when lifting weights – each repetition should be a slow, steady squeeze of the muscle with no jerking.
Momentum is an asset in athletic endeavors. Its utilization is part of the skill component. In the weight room, however, the emphasis should be on constant tension flow through the muscle, along the entire range of movement.
In the lifting phase, move slowly, continuously and fluidly. The equipment you use must have the smooth, low friction feel of Hammer Strength machines, MedX, Southern Xercise Tru-Line, or Nautilus Next Generation Machines or your efforts are going to be thwarted by arbitrary apparatus friction that snags the repetition. Hutchins calls this “stiction” meaning a sticking point in the range of motion.
Move in a controlled fashion through the lowering phase. You are moving too slowly when you’re starting and stopping throughout the lifting phase, or resting, i.e., getting a “respite”, during the lowering phase. Try to maintain movement at a steady speed.
Your training partner should use a stopwatch to ensure that you are legitimately counting seconds and not just counting as fast as possible. Trainees without the supervision of an experienced training partner, or instructor, will have great difficulty mastering a 10 second lift. Go as slowly and smoothly as possible.
Another important aspect of Super Slow is how you react when you can no longer lift the resistance. No jerking or pre-stretching. When the movement ceases, just keep pressing into the contraction – breathe, concentrate, visualize the weight moving – and maybe you will get a couple more inches of movement. Press for a good 15 seconds once perceptible movement stops.
The key to effective Super Slow training is the amount of friction inherent in the exercise as the following illustrates:
When you raise a weight, you’re lifting the weight plus any friction (i.e., mechanical, intermuscular); when you lower a weight, you’re lowering the weight minus any friction. Friction makes it harder to raise a weight and easier to lower it. So, if you’re doing the leg press with 200 pounds and there’s 50 percent friction in the system, you’d actually be raising 300 pounds on the positive stroke [50 percent times 200 equals 100 PLUS 200 equals 300] and lowering 100 pounds [50 percent times 200 equals 100 minus 200 equals 100]. And if you can raise 300 in 10 seconds, then lowering 100 in 5 seconds would amount to a recovery. On the other hand, let’s look at a leg press with hardly any friction. Although your intermuscular friction is the same, suppose the overall friction amounted to 10 percent (instead of 50 percent). Using the same 200 pounds, you’d now be raising 220 [200 plus 20] and lowering 180 [200 minus 20]. In this case, if you could raise 220 in 10 seconds, then lowering 180 presents a bit more of a challenge – thus the traditional 5 second negative stroke of Super Slow.
Here’s a quote from Hutchins’ book:
“Friction. The major reason for an exception [to the 10 up 5 down protocol] is excessive friction in the exercise equipment. The performance of smooth contraction in the presence of exorbitant friction requires a slightly faster movement of 5 – 8 seconds.
Few of the Nautilus machines used in the osteoporosis study [1982-86] were designed and manufactured with bearings. Most used bearings of exorbitant friction and were barely acceptable — certainly less than ideal — for Super Slow application.
One of the most important exercises – leg press – was originally performed on the early-vintage Compound Leg machine. Although this machine was the lowest-friction Leg Press we could locate, its friction required a positive contraction less than 8 seconds. Any slower and the mechanism stuck…broke loose…stuck…broke loose with static friction – “stickion”.
Since apparatus friction exceeded 50 percent and negative work was almost meaningless in this Leg Press, the negative phase was performed in approximately 2 seconds – all but dropping the weight.
Once the Nautilus Leverage Leg Press – bearings throughout – replaced the Compound Leg, the specific leg-press protocol changed to: Positive — 10 seconds, Negative – 10 seconds. This protocol was effected in consideration of the careful turnarounds performed at either end of it’s highly efficient stroke.”
Regarding some of the “older” Nautilus machine lines, Hutchins says, “. . . the 1982-vintage Nautilus Overhead Press (stand-alone) allowed a 10/6 protocol . . . ” athough “10/5 is the generally-accepted standard.”
Also, because of the cam shape on the leg curl – which creates resistance that decreases rapidly in the positive and increases rapidly in the negative – Hutchins recommends a 10/10. Other exercises that “require a negative of equal duration for adequate control” are the leg extension, rotary torso, hip abduction, hip adduction and the lateral raise. They get a 10/10, too. Finally, the neck machine is 10/10 because the “subject can easily loose [sic] his orthogonality with the movement arm if he moves much faster than 10 seconds during the negative.”
Here’s another quote: “In the presence of an ideal resistance curve (See Chapter 14) and low friction, I recommend a 10/10 protocol for rotary movements.”
To summarize: If an exercise has little friction, it’s better to use a longer negative as you don’t get the “partial respite” that you would from an exercise with lots of friction. He doesn’t mention barbells, but the logical assumption would be about a 10/10 for them, as there is no mechanical friction. Think about how brutal it would be to lower a barbell in 10 seconds on the bench press – you’re certainly not going to get a “partial respite” there! As far as the Nautilus Next Generation pieces, he claims they really don’t have that much less friction than the vintage equipment.
Hutchins also discusses how the mechanical friction of the machine plays a role in determining the length of the negative stroke. The negative shouldn’t be too long as that would provide your muscles with a respite. Hutchins says that the vintage Nautilus machines – like the old Leg Press – had so much friction that he recommended only a 2 second negative stroke! On the other hand, he suggests that a longer eccentric phase is warranted if the machine has very little mechanical friction. He recommends a 10 sec up and 10 sec down on exercise machines that have very little friction, such as the Nautilus Next Generation pieces, and the Hammer line of equipment.
Also, keep in mind that movements using your bodyweight – like dips and chins – don’t involve equipment and, therefore, only involve intramuscular friction (which is negligible). Free weight exercises also do not have any mechanical friction, either. Logically, a longer eccentric stroke would be recommended with free weight or bodyweight or bodyweight exercises. Thus for these types of exercises a 10/10 protocol would be recommended.
Now where the difficulty comes into play is how many repetitions to perform. If we use the general guideline of 8-12 repetitions at a 6 second repetition speed, that works out to a range of 48-72 secs. If you are using a 10/10 protocol, that would work out to *approximately* 2-4 repetitions. However, assume that you have found from the methodology of the previous section that your “optimal” time for a set should be 30-42 secs. How many repetitions? Don’t fret about being precise on this one. 2-3 reps is fine, you won’t go wrong. An 8/8 protocol might be better in some cases actually depending on the range of motion.
Hutchins claims that Super Slow’s margin of safety is unsurpassed. High-velocity repetitions generate impact forces that reverberate in your joints and connective tissues. Depending on the particular exercise, high-velocity repetitions may also produce a “backlash” effect. This can result in being rammed beyond your point of comfortable stretch, which increases the probability of injury.
A word on this issue of rep speed and safety. There is NO firm evidence to support the claim that a rep speed as slow as that prescribed by Hutchins is “safer” than the standard prescribed repetition speeds of other HIT advocates such as 2/4, 4/4, etc. In fact, using such a slow speed of movement can be dangerous for specific exercises like the deadlift and bench press. The bottom position of both exercises is the most dangerous. It is not wise to remain very long in those positions as injury can occur. Caution is advised. It is also much more difficult to perform super slow on multi-joint exercises that have a higher “skill” component, i.e., the deadlift. It is more suited to “low” skill movements and single-joint exercises.
As far as “optimal” speed of the rep – nobody can answer that question. Hutchins claim to have identified the ideal speed of movement, but there is no conclusive evidence that this is the case. The only thing that is known with certainty is that slower speeds are safer and more efficient in terms of maintaining tension on the muscles and stimulating muscular growth as compared to “faster” speeds, i.e., those that involve momentum. Move the weight under control. Never heave, or “throw” the weight. Look around most gyms and you rarely see trainees move to slow – but you will see a great many who are heaving, cheating, and using momentum to move the weight. This is unproductive and dangerous.
Finally, there isn’t ANY scientific evidence to suggest that a rep speed slower than a 4/4 rep speed is “safer”. Use your own judgement. If you enjoy Super Slow, use it. But it is NOT “superior” to standard rep speeds that are recommended in previous sections. Use it for your entire routine, or for specific exercises. You may find more benefit using it in certain exercises than others.