After posting The Myth of Cardiovascular Training, I received an email invitation from Greg Anderson to come to visit his North Seattle gym. Ideal Exercise is not a glitter gym (bright lights, treadmills, etc) nor is it a rust gym (hard rock and free weights). Ideal Exercise is all about coached High-Intensity Training using specific machine-based exercises. What does High-Intensity Training meaning? Although it has several definitions, in this case, it mirrored the training protocols outlined in the phenomenal book Body by Science.
Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week by Doug McGuff and John Little
Greg has worked with several well respected high-intensity fitness experts, including Mike Mentzer and even Dr. McGuff.
Unlike the Glitter Gyms, the temperature at Ideal Exercise was a crisp 61-62 degrees. I love it. Back when I was in Queen Anne at Prorobics, I’d open the window even in the dead of winter to drop the temperature in the free weight room. My goal was not to sweat but to lift heavier weights.
Heavier weights, not sweat is what makes you stronger. I later learned from an interview with Dr. McGuff that 61 degrees was ideal for generating the most intensity. Intensity is not about increasing your core temperature and sweating off calories. Intensity is about recruiting maximum muscle fibers in a brief and safe manner. Weight training will increase your core temperature, so starting from a cool temperature will allow you to be comfortable and not hot when lifting. Therefore you can direct more attention and energy into the weights.
High-Intensity Training is about using slow controlled movements. After a failed start with this method last spring, I restarted a slow protocol in December. After 16 years of lifting the other way, I have been trying to learn how to generate high intensity safely using the slow method. During my workout with Greg Anderson, he gave me lots of tips and information to assist with my knowledge. He explained breathing, jaw position, where to focus your eyes, and tempo.
After getting my height and asking a few strength questions, Greg set up the Big 5 workout for me. The Big Five exercises are:
- Leg Press
- Bench Press
- Pull down
- Overhead Press
- Seated Row
Each exercise is done one-set to failure. For my workout, failure was not defined as the inability to do another rep, but the inability to even move the weight another inch. This was an important concept for me to understand. At the completion of one exercise, I was quickly moved to the next one. The entire workout lasted just under 9 minutes. It was the hardest most brutal workout I’ve ever done. Greg – through coaching, never yelling – was able to push me to intensity levels that I didn’t know I was capable of reaching.
In this video, Dr. McGuff explains the background of the Big 5 Workout.
The level of intensity that this type of workout requires would not be safe to do with free weights. For the next 48 hours, I was sore, but sore in a good way. Unlike the soreness you get from doing low-weight, high repetitions where it hurts to move, I was functional sore. My movement was fine and fluid, just a little slower. I was still able to go snow tubing on Saturday.
I am still a student of slow movement high-intensity training. I’m not ready to endorse or dismiss it yet, although I am liking it more each week. I’m going to keep at it and report back on this blog. One thing I am already convinced of is how important it is to slow the negative portion of your lift. Don’t let gravity take the tension off your muscles. Control that movement.
If you are interested in trying this type of workout and live in North Seattle, I highly recommend contacting Ideal Exercise.
Ideal Exercise is located in the Bitterlake Center (behind Car Toys) at 929 N 130th St Ste 4, Seattle, WA
Feb 15, 2011 — 6:54 pm
“1 set to failure”
How many reps in a set? Same for each exercise?
Feb 15, 2011 — 7:21 pm
@Mike – The focus is less on reps and more about TUL (time under load). The eccentric and concentric portions of the lift take 5-10 seconds each with no pause or lock out. Momentum is removed. I wish I could recall the number of reps, but I was so focused on my breathing and slowing the weight that I didn’t pay attention. My guess is it was in 5-7 range.
Feb 16, 2011 — 3:26 am
I agree with you Mas to endorse it or diss it their are many ways to accomplish a goal but when we talk about fitness I think about movement not being confined to a chair or lying on my back let’s face the truth we work with our hands and standing on are feet I grew up working on a horse farm from a small child working daily chores lifting 10gallon buckets of water carry back and forth to the stalls moving bales hay and straw and 50 to100 pound feed bags by the way hay is also very heavy all of this required movement various types and if we were going to move things the last thing on your mind would be to move it slow we would move it with force pick it up and throw it it’s an opinion and I value everyones but my take on it would be if you want to lay on your back or sit and a chair and lift things slowly than do so and you’ll be good at it but the application does not carry over to the real world thanx so much Dan
Feb 16, 2011 — 10:39 am
How did you and/or Greg determine what weight to set on the machines?
Feb 16, 2011 — 10:45 am
@bgt – Greg asked my height and then I shared with him how much weight I added to my dips and chin-ups. From there he used his many years of training to correctly dial in the settings on his equipment.
Feb 16, 2011 — 12:21 pm
Thanks for the post and the kind words. Much appreciated! Your workout was very good, and you exhibited excellent intensity and motor control. Perhaps the most difficult part of this type of training is remaining stoic while in the throes of exertional discomfort.
While I understand your opinion (and that it was respectfully expressed), I would invite you to investigate BBS a bit further. Our goal is to develop general metabolic conditioning and structural improvements to the body. The positive structural/metabolic adaptations developed by proper training can be applied to any movement activity. In other words, if you work on a farm (which is damn hard work), you will be able to work harder, with greater endurance, and with greater insulation against injury once so conditioned.
Over the last 20+ years, I have trained many professional and college athletes using this method. I have also trained members of elite military teams, law enforcement, fire fighters, and even manual laborers. Personally, I have found this training protocol to be a great way to condition for my many athletic pursuits: Track and field, wrestling, semi-professional football, and martial arts (I’m a 3rd Dan). I also trained a swimmer to seven gold medals in international competition.
Now, I’m not claiming that BBS is the “only way” and I certainly agree with you that movement (or the ability to move) is a component of fitness. But research into the area of motor learning indicates that “movement skills” are specific while “physical conditioning” is general. In other words I wouldn’t replace sports practice or farm work (or whatever) with BBS. I would simply use BBS to augment the individual’s conditioning and ability to carry out such work.
Apologies for being a bit long winded, and again, I do appreciate your opinion.
Feb 16, 2011 — 12:44 pm
Thanx Greg for your reply much appreciated and well spoken and well explained thank you so much for educating me and for what you do in helping all facets of the fitness industry Dan
Feb 16, 2011 — 5:31 pm
Michael: You want to take your thinking a bit further – go to my site at http://www.exercisefraud.com – Stick with your program with Mr. Anderson – You can’t go wrong!
Feb 21, 2011 — 2:20 pm
I tried this as a workout today. I used maybe 60% of what I am capable of. It was very, very difficult even with only 5 second up/down. I am sort of skeptical of how it can help my muscles grow larger and have a body that is athletic and toned; however I think it can make me functionally stronger. Maybe this would be a good workout once a week.
Feb 23, 2011 — 9:22 am
@Thomas – Each week I become less skeptical. The more I learn about HIT, the more it makes sense to me.
Feb 23, 2011 — 10:47 pm
Thanks for the reply. I can’t seem to gain any mass. No matter what I do. I get stronger and get some definition but thats it. I am an ectomorph. Do you think HIT plus an extra meal a day will do the trick. I was told to just schedule your meals pre/post workouts only. I understand each situation is unique. Any thoughts?
Feb 24, 2011 — 7:03 am
@Thomas – I don’t know how the HIT experts would answer that question, but my experience is you need MORE FOOD. It also helps if you are younger. I recall you followed a vegetarian diet for a period of time. You may not have adjusted to a higher level of protein yet. Source some high quality pastured eggs. If you can handle dairy, get a full-fat yogurt or milk. I’m a fan of creatine monohydrate too. It is one of the few supplements that I think us male ectomorphs benefit from using.
Feb 26, 2011 — 2:04 pm
@David L – I just listened to your podcast interview. Good stuff.
I loathe Swiss and BOSA balls almost as much as you. 🙂
Tales From the Glitter Gym – The Trouble With Tribbles
Mar 1, 2011 — 5:39 am
Many thanks for the though-provoking post.
This isn’t a trick question, I genuinely am intrigued by BBS. It what ways does BBC mimic movements/efforts that would have been made in the “ancestral environment.”
Mar 1, 2011 — 6:21 am
@GWhitney – I believe the foundation of BBS is biomechanics – not primal movements, although there is overlap. BBS goes after the bodybuilder belief that hitting muscles from different angles can somehow alter its shape.
Sep 26, 2011 — 10:32 am
Michael, I too am trying the one-set-to-failure method. However, I get fairly bad headaches during and after the exercises. Have you ever come across this?
Sep 26, 2011 — 10:37 am
@Darren – Yes. I found it has to do with oxygen intake. When you do classic lifting, your breathing matches the tempo of the exercise. Up/down, breathe in/out. When you first start super-slow, your breathing will get behind where it should be. You need to decouple the two.
Watch this video and listen to the breathing tempo.
Super Slow Training in Brownsburg, IN
Oct 20, 2011 — 8:31 am
I signed up with the The Perfect Workout doing one session per week. In your experience when did you start to see muscle gain.
Oct 20, 2011 — 8:39 am
@Kyle – There are many factors that determine the rate of muscle growth. Nutrition, sleep, age, training age, body type and recovery speed are a few. The exercise protocol outlined in this blog post is nothing like I did at age 24, when I first started lifting.
Oct 20, 2011 — 10:05 am
MAS – since you are only working out once per week, what do you generally eat for your post-workout meals? Just curious if you increase carbs and/or increase your protein post-workout. (If you’ve covered this in another post, please feel free to just direct me to that.) Thanks!
Oct 20, 2011 — 10:08 am
@bgt – Prior to and immediately after my weight training, I consume a teaspoon of BCAA powder in water. Once I get home, I will often eat meatloaf and some starchy carb such as yams or white rice.
This post goes into more details:
The Paleo/HIT Cyclical Approach to Fitness and Nutrition
Oct 20, 2011 — 10:12 am
Thanks Michael – I thought I remembered reading that post but could not find it.
Apr 11, 2012 — 7:25 am
Are there a lot of illustrations in this book? I prefer Kindle books but not if I would miss out due to color pictures and exercise photos.
Apr 11, 2012 — 7:37 am
@Stuart – There are some color illustrations. I got more benefit from watching Dr. McGuff’s YouTube videos than the illustrations in Body By Science. The book is stellar though.
J. Scott Shipman
Sep 13, 2012 — 2:13 pm
Are you still doing HIT? I ordered the book today.
I’ve had a variation of this PowerTech machine (http://www.powertecfitness.com/p-29-workbench-levergymtrade-wb-ls11.aspx) in my basement, but after a shoulder injury haven’t touched the thing. Tried a slow bench exercise today and the shoulder felt fine.
Sep 13, 2012 — 2:23 pm
@Scott – Yes I am still doing HIT. I am a believer.
Jul 20, 2014 — 10:02 pm
I live in the Portland area, and I wonder if you can recommend a professional trainer in my area who is proficient with the Body by Science program. Thanks.
Jul 21, 2014 — 4:34 am
@Nick – I do not know.
Jan 21, 2023 — 5:21 pm
Only concern with this is if there are any detrimental blood pressure or eye pressure effects, especially for middle ages or older folks, performing HIT
Jan 22, 2023 — 9:11 am
@Sifter – Interesting. I had not considered eye pressure. It doesn’t seem to be a popular topic. All I found when searching this morning was this article.
If anyone knows more on this topic, leave a comment or link.