In my last post Why Isn’t High Intensity Training More Popular? I covered a few reasons why HIT (not HIIT) doesn’t seem to be gaining in popularity. When I put the post together I was viewing HIT through my own experience and in doing so I missed a few reasons. I’ll conclude with my own definition of HIT which resolves these concerns.
HIT Can Be Too Efficient
Rob said this:
I do a traditional volume work out because I like the physical sensation of lifting the weight. I’m 52 and the list of things I enjoy doing seems to get shorter every year; lifting the weight still feels really good to me, so I do it as much as possible.
In an age where we always trying to hack this and hack that to get ever more efficient, does it make sense to be too efficient in the pursuits we enjoy? No.
Or as Stuart stated:
People don’t like the discomfort associated with high intensity training.
HIT taken to total failure, especially negative failure, will result in a deep level of soreness and fatigue. This may or may not be a bad thing. It was something I addressed back in 2011 in the post Training to Failure or Training to Quit Part 2. In this post I took the approach that certain professions which require a high level of daily performance might not be best served by HIT.
The High Intensity Training crowd is clear about taking the muscles to total failure and then allowing time to recover as the optimal method for building muscle. I’ve read the science and experienced it first hand. It works. However, if I had to perform at a high level on a daily basis, I wouldn’t be doing this method of training. When I return from the gym, I’m toast. The next day I move in slow motion. By day three, I’m still below baseline performance. This is perfectly fine for me, as I push pixels. I would not want to train like this if I were a lifeguard.
In addition to lifeguard, I also mention military and law enforcement. But maybe it extends beyond that. What if you needed to make an important sale or have some mentally taxing work to do? It can be hard to do when your body is recovering from a HIT workout. You could schedule your most important work around your workout if you have that luxury.
Confusing Skill With Strength
I failed to add this in Part 1, but another reason HIT isn’t as popular is lifters discount the skill component in the classic lifts and when they try HIT they notice their numbers go down. They then come to the false conclusion that they lost strength. I cover this fallacy in the post More Bench Press Nonsense.
HIT doesn’t make you slower or weaker. You still need to train your sport. And if your sport is squatting, benching and sprinting, you need to squat, bench and sprint. Those are skill moves that require repetitions. Most fit-tards fail to understand this point. I used to try and explain it, but not anymore.
Over the past few years my version of HIT has drifted away from the one-set to failure model. In fact, on most days I don’t go to failure. I’ve traded intensity for volume. What I haven’t surrendered is a strict adherence to exercise safety. To me the key strength of HIT is not the intensity part, but the choice of exercises. By selecting exercises that allow me to safely go to failure or not, I can avoid injury. It doesn’t matter if my reps are 3 seconds or 10 seconds or 30 seconds or static holds. The movement remains safe.
The reason I dialed down the intensity and increased the volume was because of temperature and my somatype. Gyms are too warm. By my estimate most gyms are 10 degrees F too warm. Because I tend to get exertion headaches easy I’ve learned to drop the intensity for volume. Also there is research, even research mentioned in Body By Science, that suggests ectomorphs might do better with more volume. See the post Is High Intensity Training Best for Ectomorphs? for an explanation.
So I don’t know what I should call my version of HIT. I still believe in the following:
- Select exercises that can be taken to failure safely – even if you don’t plan to go to failure.
- Exercises should be performed at a controlled (slower) pace. Avoid adding momentum to make the movement easier.
- Static holds can be utilized.
- You can reduce intensity if you increase volume.
- Longer rest periods between workouts. Spend more time above than below baseline.
- The true benefit of HIT comes from looking a long time horizon where an athlete doesn’t get hurt year after year. In the near term other training methods may be equal or slightly better, but once risk and a long time horizon is factored in, I believe HIT wins.
- Body By Science (machines) and Hillfit (body weight) are the best HIT books.
- Arthur Jones is a genius.
My version of HIT solves some of the issues others were having. It isn’t too efficient. Because I don’t go to failure all the time, I am not in deep soreness. I can workout more frequently and longer. I vary my rep speed and number of sets for novelty. Yet I do not subject myself to injury risk via poor exercise selection. In other words, I still don’t squat or bench. Best of both worlds.
Am I in better shape with more volume than I had I stuck to 1-set to failure HIT? Probably not, but unless I can find a gym that drops the temperature significantly, higher volume is better for me.