Why I Traded Volume for Intensity at the Glitter Gym

Anyone that has read this blog in the past few years knows that I am a fan of HIT (High Intensity Training). Machine based workouts performed very slowly without locking out at the top or pausing at the bottom. When the movement gets extremely difficult, I might perform a static hold. Then I lower the weight. One set to failure. Do 3-5 exercises. Done for the week.

That is what I would like to do, but I don’t. I have been forced to scale back on the intensity. No more 1-set to failure. These days, I might do 2 or even 3 sets at a lower intensity. I’m actually going to the gym twice a week now.

Am I getting better results now? Nope. The reason I was forced to trade intensity for volume is because my Glitter Gym keeps the temperature too damn high. My limiting factor for generating intensity is room temperature. Today it was 70 degrees. Way too hot for a gym. Dr. McGuff discovered with his gym that maximum intensity happened at 61 degrees. I believe him. When I was doing my outdoor HIT, my intensity was much higher in the 50s.

From The Workout Environment by Dr. Doug McGuff:

In a workout, we want to lose heat at a quick enough rate, so that the muscles fail because of maximal inroading, not because of heat buildup. By the time your body has to resort to an evaporative heat-loss mechanism, it is already too late. You will fatigue prematurely because of heat buildup. If the temperature is at an ideal 61 degrees, you can effectively lose exercise-related heat buildup through conduction and convection. At the beginning of your workout, it feels uncomfortably chilly, but by the conclusion of your workout, it will feel perfect to you and you will not have a drop of sweat on you. More importantly, you will have inroaded as efficiently as possible and given your body the greatest stimulus for improvement possible.

I have complained and complained to Fitness 19 Seattle and they have ignored me. They set the temperature to please the working staff. Other members don’t complain, because they falsely believe that sweating is a sign of successful workout, when in truth, it takes very little effort to break a sweat when the room is already 70 degrees.

For me this is even less about intensity than my tendency to get exertion headaches at higher temperatures. A typical set of a HIT has ones breathing rising rapidly at the set progresses. If an oxygen debt happens, you will get a piercing headache. As much as I’ve tried to accelerate my breathing before I need it, it is a gamble for me to pursue full intensity at the Glitter Gym.

If some tech billionaire looking to throw money at something is reading this, open a chain of gyms called Fitness 61, where the temperature is kept low enough that the people working out actually had to generate true intensity to stay warm. Hell, drop the temperature down to 50. The only downside is you’ll have trouble hiring staff.

I do like my Glitter Gym equipment and it is walking distance. In the winter, I step outside between exercises to drop my core temperature. This is not an option this time of year though.

My fitness progress has stalled this summer. I am merely maintaining.

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MAS

Critical MAS is the blog for Michael Allen Smith of Seattle, Washington. My interests include traditional food, fitness, economics, and web development.

24 thoughts on “Why I Traded Volume for Intensity at the Glitter Gym”

  1. @Michael – When that happen to me, I reduced the total number of exercises per workout and.that helped. Got me in & out quicker. Anyway, just a suggestion. Good luck !

  2. @Bill – For me it could happen as soon as the 1st exercise. I do take longer breaks between exercises. That is another area where I disagree with standard HIT advice. I strongly believe that ectomorphs should not move quickly from one exercise to another.

  3. Finally installed an A/C unit in the room with the Smith machine. Set the temp to 16 degrees C (61 F).

    What a difference! Last week, my total hold time on the Max Pyramid pulldown was 62 seconds. This week, same weight, it was 127 seconds! Before A/C, the 3rd exercise was a total washout, so heat fatigued that I could barely lift the weight.

  4. @ Michael – The longer breaks is a good idea. Do one intense exercise, following a break move on to the next. Agree, ectomorphs should not move so quickly between exercises until they can focus full energy, and intensity, into the next exercise. Have found this to be true for myself as well.

    Thanks for the advice ~

  5. @Garymar – That is exactly what I mean. The difference temperature makes in regards to intensity is tremendous. I’m half tempted to return to the outdoors come fall. The problem is Seattle has this thing called rain. 🙂

  6. MAS, I guess your next project is to acclimatize to rain. 🙂 (I think the issue there is quick drying clothes more than anything, something I want to work on myself.)

    I’ve been experiencing this while lugging my bulk meat home from the wholesalers. It’s 1h40 to walk there, and more than two hours to drag my loot back home again on a cart, and I really notice how hard it is when it’s warmer. When I started it was March and super easy and fun. Now, not so much. I go first thing in the morning and it’s still too warm. I’m really looking forward to the fall (but not the winter).

  7. I purchased a $99 portable AC unit and bolted it to the window in my office a few months ago, 3 feet from the ARX FIT OMNI. The temp control is numbered 1-7. Before and during workouts I put it at 6.5.

    Since the office is closed off, this has done wonders for keeping me cool and dry during workouts, where as before it would get hot very quickly.

    I also have two floor flans, a ceiling fan, and a HEPA air filter/de-ionizer in the room. Overkill? Maybe, but for me there is no going back.

    Fresh clean cold purified air. I would guess its 58-60 degrees F at the settings I keep it at.

  8. @ Michael – You could consider working out at home and equipping the room with A/C.
    Did that last year, and glad now to avoid the crowds, as well as now enjoying the coolness. Noticed my focus, along with workouts have improved tremendously.

    Best to you ~

  9. Maybe the solution is cycle between higher volume in the warm months and then dial up the intensity with the temperature drops. Volume isn’t a bad thing. It has taken me awhile to figure out just how much more I can add with reduced intensity. To me the main draw of HIT is safety via machines and slow movements. It still works without going to failure.

  10. This has me thinking about sweat, the ‘evaporative heat-loss mechanism’ as Dr. McGuff puts it. Some people sweat easily while others hardly at all (like me). I imagine there is some kind of bell curve of sweatability for the overall population. But why is this?

    It would be logical on some level to assume that overweight, untrained people sweat easily while lean, fit ones do not. But this doesn’t at all fit my real world knowledge of people and their sweatability. From what I see, it’s all over the board. Why do I sweat less than you?

    Anyway, just thinking out loud, but being on the lighter side of the sweat, I actually prefer working out at temps around 70.

  11. Michael,
    I may have missed this somewhere, but how does the pursuit of the perfect workout temperature effect the way you warm up prior to exercise?. Does warm up time vary depending on the gym and outside temperature? What is a typical warm up? Do you warm up at all, in the belief, adopted by some in the HIT community, that the first few reps are a warm up for the harder work at the end of a set? When you do sprints, do you warm up for those, and if so how? Does that differ from a HIT warm up?

  12. @ Michael – For your summer workouts you could also consider adjusting the rep speed as well as sets. Using my ectomorph self as an example, when facing this situation, as in this summer, did one exercise per muscle group, using exercises such as 30 degree incline press, chins, and leg press, with a rep speed of 3 – 3 no slower than 4 – 4.
    First set was 12 (with a weight could do about 15 or so), then rested about 60 seconds then proceeded to do the next set at 10 reps. Following this rested another 60 seconds to then get 8 reps. To finish, rested 60 seconds (which also allowed me to cool down for more intensity per set) to do as many reps as possible( which was six. when can do 8 to 9 reps final set then increase the weight).

    This was a variation of my usually Fall / Winter workout. However, like yourself, have found the higher temperature to affect intensity. The rest periods covered this for cooling enough to maintain intensity, while also allowing a short enough time to produce more of a hypertrophy effect I’ve found.

    Again, just an idea, experimenting the best way to have a workout for lean size gains, while balancing the heat and intensity as well.

    Good Luck and Look forward to hearing of your progress !

  13. @ Michael – Another variation I try during hotter weather is full-body exercise. An example I did while traveling recently was in the morning (a lot cooler 😉 do a chinup with leg raise. Follow this with a squat – pressup. Each is short, (reducing time to get overheated) while also being intense enough to produce results. Reps were done with a 2 – 3 cadence.

    This process has been my experiment to get a good intense workout in hotter temperatures. Looking forward to reading more of your journey 🙂

  14. @ Michael – Forgot to mention on the workouts, I increased the weight with each set. So first set of 12 with weight could do 15, then add weight to just get 10, then add weight try to get 8, then final set, add weight if desired and try to get 6 reps.

    Again, this is an experiment to find what works during hotter weather and intensity is somewhat lower.

    Hope to hear more of your experiences !! 🙂

  15. @ All – while chatting with friends before going to the gym, we discussed about varying rep timing along with speed to reduce the affect heat had on our intensity. The machines we use has the chest flye and press together. Along with the pullover with chins, and leg curls with leg press. So for example, use the chest flye machine first for a rep speed of around 10 seconds up, 10 seconds down. Follow this with Chest press using the same rep speed. As it get difficult to complete another rep in good form, reduce the rep speed to 4 -4 and continue.

    Again, feel it really is based on the individual finding what works..

  16. @Bill – I actually don’t count anything. Not the reps, speed, TUL, or even the weight. I am adjusting on the fly to find that intensity. The hot gym is a signal to me to put the brakes on intensity or I’ll get that spiking headache. As long as the movement is safe and I can avoid that headache, going for volume 1 season out of the year isn’t a terrible thing.

    The takeaway lesson I have for summer 2013 is as soon as I see temperature is going to be a problem, dial back intensity AND increase volume. I wasted weeks where I only slightly edged up volume. Mostly out of habit.

  17. How about bringing two or three ice packs with you to the gym? I mean the gel kind that are used to treat a sprained ankle, etc. In between sets you could hold one on your forehead and put one on each knee or somesuch….

  18. Hey Michael, do you have any idea where McGuff pulled the 61 number from? I haven’t read Body By Science, but on his website the only quote I can find is this:

    The temperature is kept at a stable 61 degrees F. Research has shown that this is the optimal temperature for performing high intensity exercise.

    I ask because I’m trying to look into the topic of temperature a little bit, and at least for marathons it seems the colder it is (down to 41 degrees), the better athletes perform.

  19. @Adam – One more thought. HIT gyms keep extensive data on their workouts. So dialing in an optimal temperature for intensity is something I trust McGuff has done just from the mounds of data collected.

  20. Thanks for the info. I’m skeptical of that number without seeing the data supporting it. I feel like it might be influenced by air conditioning costs.

    Here is the source on the marathon performance temperature correlation, by the way:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17473775

    Even though that’s an analysis of endurance exercise, it’s interesting how the colder temperatures only improved performance; a low temperature of diminished returns doesn’t look like it was hit. I don’t see why this would be much different for high intensity exercise as I’m sure core temperature is also raised (creating a need for heat dissipation), albeit more acutely.

  21. @Adam – Another influencing factor could be staff comfort. If it is too cold at the gym the trainers – who are inactive – become less effective. When their effectiveness drops, so does their clients.

    I’ve ran 2 marathons. After your comment I went back to check the temperature during those races.

    11/12/89: 46-49F Time: 3:41:56
    10/11/92: 47-54F Time: 3:33:51

    A slightly warmer day resulted in a faster time. Or I could have just been better trained? Two points of data are likely meaningless.

    I used weatherspark.com for the data.

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