High Intensity Training – My 6 Month Update

It was last December when I started up a super slow HIT program. For those unfamiliar with High Intensity Training (HIT), it differs from traditional weight lifting in the following ways:

  • 1 set to failure
  • slower movements – the goal is to remove momentum from the lift
  • as little as 1-2 exercises per body part
  • shorter workouts
  • fewer workouts

The common element is taking the targeted muscle to complete failure and then allowing sufficient time for recovery to take place. Additional sets or longer workouts, necessitate a reduction in intensity, which is not ideal to stimulate maximum muscle growth. Also not allowing your body time to recover from the previous workout short circuits the repair process when muscle is built. High Intensity Training is about hitting it very hard, very brief and then resting. Or as James Brown would say, “hit it and quit it“.

My HIT Protocol

There are several different HIT training protocols and they differ slightly from one another. I mostly used The Big 5 Workout plan outlined in Body by Science and used by Ideal Exercise. Often I would add two additional arm exercises. During a second workout at Ideal Exercise, I learned how to incorporate a technique called pre-exhaustion into my workouts. That method is covered in detail in The New High Intensity Training by Darden. In addition, I did some experimenting with John Little’s static hold techniques, which I plan to do more of after I finish reading his book Max Contraction Training.

Most of my workouts last just 10 minutes and I only work out every 5th day.


Leg Press by Oliver DelaCruz. I used to believe the leg press was a worthless exercise. Once I learned to really slow the movement down and not lock out, I became a fan. 99% of the people in the gym use this piece of equipment wrong. SLOW DOWN!

Was HIT successful for me? Before I can answer that question, I wanted to define what success means. Given my age, training age, and the fact I’m an ectomorph, I do not think it would be fair to expect noticeable muscle gains. If I were a 25-year-old newbie mesomorph, my expectations would be much higher. So for me, I will measure success with these metrics.

  1. Do I Feel Good? – Yes. Unlike traditional weight lifting, I never get shoulder or back pain. My muscles are sorer, but my joints feel great. Using machines and slowing down the movement has taken the fear out of lifting. For the past five years, I’ve always held back in the gym on the last few reps out of a fear that I was going to injury myself.
  2. Am I Getting Stronger? – Yes. Especially in the arms and legs. I am 6 foot 2.5 inches tall and I can tell you that Dr. Doug McGuff was dead-on correct in the book Body By Science when he made the case for machines with taller athletes.
  3. Is this style of lifting holding my interest? -At first, it didn’t. It was tough getting the right mindset in the beginning. I had to undo the hesitate style I had been using for so many years. Visiting Greg Anderson at Ideal Exercise really helped me understand what is meant by intensity. Clarence Bass felt HIT was too tedious for him. I didn’t. I enjoy it more each week.

Show Me the Numbers

I violated a core HIT rule. I didn’t record any workout. Times and weights are very important to HIT. Since you are typically only doing a few exercises for a single set, you don’t have the luxury of dialing in the weight across multiple sets. My training philosophy is the Minimal Effort Approach. As long as I feel I’m moving in the right direction, I won’t try and complicate things. For me the first 6 months of HIT were about unlearning old habits, practicing slower movements, better breathing techniques, and listening to my body.

At some point, if I feel my progress is stalling, I’ll start recording things.

Going Forward

In the post Training To Failure or Training To Quit, I theorized that I might cycle between periods of High Intensity Training and a more traditional Pavel style workout program. Well, I am going to stick with HIT for now. Every week that passes I become more convinced that HIT is right for me.

MAS Flex

This is an early photo of me striking a bicep pose. 🙂


Add yours

  1. My gym recently installed leg presses that move each leg independently. For some reason my right leg has far surpassed my left leg in terms of strength.

    I’m giving my left leg solo HFT a shot. Also, focusing on one leg at a time makes helps with the neural training for fully using that leg.

  2. I believe that you would get stronger with this program, however what about the size and definition of your physique. HIT seems to make you strong like an Ox but what most people want is strength plus athletic appearance. Or do you think HIT with low-carb diet is sufficient?

  3. @Thomas – Not sure I understand your comment. Your genetics play a huge factor in your potential. I could never train to look like Mike Tyson and he could never train to look like me. HIT is just one method for gaining muscle. The muscle you gain is no different than you would get from other training protocols.

    What I like about HIT is the efficiency and the safety. I’ve never gone 6 months without missing a workout before. Following other training plans, I always drifted into over training and then had to back off – usually due to some injury.

    Being lean will make you look more athletic. How you get lean is up to you. I find low-carb is more efficient, but I do cycle up my carbs on the days I lift weights.

  4. I too have been following Dr McGuff’s Big 5 with good success. Although I don’t live near a training faclility or trainer the protocol has worked well for me. One question, do you think you need a trainer in tune with the methodology to optimize BBS?

    This is off topic a bit, but have you seen the book ‘Convict Conditioning’?
    If so, could you write a review at some point? I’d be interested in your opinion.

    Appreciate your commentary on all topics.

  5. @Mark – I think to get maximum gains via a BBS protocol, a trainer would certainly help. I wouldn’t be as successful had I not had 2 training sessions at Ideal Exercise. I took what I learned there and brought it back to my gym for self training. It should be noted that I’m a serious student of fitness and others may not have the time or passion to research as much as me.

    The minimum one could do for BBS training is watch every video on YouTube on the topic. Understanding how to breathe properly and keep your jaw relaxed is essential.

    I’ve never heard of Convict Conditioning, but judging by the write up on Dragon Door, this is something I wouldn’t pursue. It appears to a system design to demonstrate strength in a manner that could lead to injury. It looks cool, but my primary goal is to develop maximum strength with the least risk of injury. IOW, I’d rather do a few slow reps of weighted chins than attempt to do a 1-arm hand stand push-up. Highly technical moves combined with high fatigue often lead to injury.

  6. Roger Pozeznik

    May 14, 2011 — 9:15 am

    Hit is based on overload, progression and rest, as you discovered in your research… bummer you didn’t write your progression down. It’s a nice motivator to see your strength increase in most every session.

    It also insures you continue to provide overload in every workout, so you have a b/w goal in front of you to push past. No wasted workouts, you know what you need do.

    I just came out with a HIT Charting Journal, email me your shipping info and I will mail you one free.

  7. @Roger – Thank you.

    For years I wrote down every workout. It was motivating, but whenever I got injured and came back I found the numbers weren’t as meaningful as I expected. Since I’m not getting injured doing HIT, perhaps it makes more sense.

  8. Good point, HIT is effective and safe!

  9. Enjoyed your comments on Fred Fornicola’s book.

    Here’s my take on Dr. McGuff’s book: http://www.cbass.com/AerobicsNeedIt.htm



  10. @Clarence – I’ve been reading your site for years. I’m honored you commented on my blog.

    I enjoyed reading your article. Although I am in the Body By Science camp now, I’ve occasionally wondered if the aerobic component of HIT is optimal.

    I do a brutally hard HIT workout every 5th day. 2x a week I found was too much. My resting heart rate is as low as it was 20 years ago when I ran 2 sub-4 hour marathons.

    Maybe my health would improve more with some form of interval work? In the past, the pounding has just made me feel achy.

  11. Hi MAS, just found your blog and I’m really enjoying the info. I’m getting on in age and find myself getting injured more often during standard gym workouts. I’m looking forward to trying HIT. Did you by any chance blog about your HIT gym workouts? I’d love to learn more.

  12. @Bobby – My best advice is to read Body By Science and watch Dr. McGuff’s videos. Also check out the book The New High Intensity Training.

    If you ever need to construct an outdoor or equipment-free HIT workout, get the e-book Hillfit.


    good luck!

  13. Hi MAS. You have a great site. I’m a little older but have used HIT for about 4 years. Have you read TRAINING FOR MASS by Gordon LaVelle? A very interesting, well written book that details HIT. Thanks again for your intelligent site. Regards from New York.

  14. @Richard – No I haven’t read that book. I found his workout here:

    I’m wondering if 4 times a week is excessive? HIT requires more rest. I guess he has split up the body pretty well though. I can see maybe doing 2x a week, but that would be the upper limit for me.

  15. The explanation is a little foggy in the article. Staggered progression is best used with 2 or 3 different weight ranges. It’s a little complicated to keep track of, but a log book will help. You try to improve on each range by increased weight or increased reps. You can progress weekly. By using less weight, more reps and cycling back to more weight, less reps in an alternating pattern you will maintain intensity and make progress. This is useful to avoid plateaus and the frustration of no progress. His explanation in the book is better. I’m not an expert but I hope this explains the 4 times a week workout. Sorry for the long winded answer. Regards.

  16. @Richard – Thanks for the explanation. Might try this in the spring.

  17. Aaron Frampton

    Apr 22, 2013 — 5:18 am

    Good comments. I’m 42, I’ve got a good bit of ectomorph in me also ( few people are purely any one body type)…I’m 6-1l, 200 lbs, probably 15% body fat, and have longer limbs proportionately, and small joints, but I gain fat easily like an endomorph. How blessed can one guy be right? lol. Diet is everything for me. A week of binging will put 10 pounds on me easily.

    I have used low carb diets extensively with much weight loss, but after a long time, I’ve determined that a strict low carb diet is just totally incompatible with weight training for me. It leaves my lacking energy for workouts, and my muscles tend to stay flat and weaker. A nice euphoric pump is impossible. It makes perfect sense of course….that first 10 pounds that low carb dieters brag about at the beginning (that comes off so fast) is not fat unfortunately. Its glycogen….the sugars and water stored in your muscles to fuel them. Its also the substance that gives your muscles that firm, pumped look, and makes you feel so much stronger in the gym. Yeah, after years of Atkins etc., I had to let that go. I still avoid high glycemic carbs, and avoid carbs at dinner, but that’s as far as I go with that.

    I worked out furiously as a young man with decent results, but horribly inefficient. Left me with a bad lower back, and bad knees. I used to pick up books by Mike Mentzer, shrug in utter disbelief, and quit reading almost immediately. Now that I’m older, and wiser, H.I.T. makes so much sense, and it fits my lifestyle so incredibly well. I can have a life, and a decent body.

    You mentioned gains. It doesn’t matter what your body type is, gains are measured in strength, NOT size. Another person asked about strength vs. size. As long as you are getting stronger, and intensity increases each and every workout, the size gains will come. We can’t control the genetic potential for size, so the frequency and amount of those size/mass gains will vary greatly between individuals, but as long as you are getting stronger each workout, you are on a path to realize the potential you do have. RECORD YOUR WORKOUTS! A H.I.T. disciple without his training log is like a fish out of water! I use the “GymRat” app on my smartphone.

    The biggest pyschological breakthrough for me was letting go of hitting a particular (and arbitrary) number of sets/reps, and instead focusing that mental energy on the muscle itself. I’m seeing faster and more consistent gains now than when I was 20 years old working out like Arnold Schwarzenegger (minus the steroids). Like you, I’m in and out of the gym in 10-15 minutes. I don’t hold to a set number of rest days, I listen to my body. Its always at least 3 days rest, sometimes longer, but if I’m pumped, energized, and I can feel my muscles peaking, I’m hitting the gym right then..lol.

  18. @Aaron – Thanks for sharing your story. I plan to do a post about strength vs size soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.