Why Isn’t High Intensity Training More Popular? Part 2

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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.

Deep Soreness

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.

MyHIT

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:

  1. Select exercises that can be taken to failure safely – even if you don’t plan to go to failure.
  2. Exercises should be performed at a controlled (slower) pace. Avoid adding momentum to make the movement easier.
  3. Static holds can be utilized.
  4. You can reduce intensity if you increase volume.
  5. Longer rest periods between workouts. Spend more time above than below baseline.
  6. 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.
  7. Body By Science (machines) and Hillfit (body weight) are the best HIT books.
  8. Arthur Jones is a genius.

body by science

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.

19 thoughts on “Why Isn’t High Intensity Training More Popular? Part 2

  1. James Steele

    I think another reason it’s not more popular regards my post the other day on the HillFit Facebook group. There aren’t many big guys doing or espousing it. The few that are aren’t mainstream enough for people to notice (e.g. Markus Reinhardt, Josh Trentine) and guys like me who are apparently the ‘experts’ look pretty normal. I’ve even had face to face conversations with people who have dismissed what I say purely because it doesn’t really ‘look like I lift’. Sadly most people don’t make judgements based on evidence but on other factors.

  2. Robert

    When I go to the globogym and look around, I think many of the trainees would be much better off with a basic Ellington Darden program. I was a HIT true believer for a while, but now I don’t see it as panacea. Periodization with heavy loads, say a 5×5 program, probably would serve best to build strength. High volume, 4×10-12, for hypertrophy. This has worked for many people, including myself once I stopped single set HIT after years of stagnation and switched to a powerlifting based program for a while. I think many people don’t like to exercise, and abbreviated HIT programs are great for them if they could get the necessary instruction and motivation.

  3. @James – I think what you are saying is an extension of the attribution bias I mentioned in Part 1. Almost 100% of lifters begin with the traditional methods. They get results and then attribute those gains to the program and not that they were beginners. They don’t realize that they would have also achieved those same beginner gains using HIT. So they end up being brand loyal to traditional lifting. HIT loses because it has near zero representation with young men just starting a lifting program.

  4. Please can you provide some valid data to back your assertion that HIT doesn’t make you slower?

    Or are we talking here about undocumented anecdotal evidence?

  5. Steve M

    Glenn, your asking someone to prove something doesn’t happen? Why don’t you post some research backing up your ancedotal experience. Your claims remind me of the early days of strength training (I’m old) when they believed that any weight lifting would slow down the athlete.

  6. @Glenn – For years now you keep bringing up this same point in the comments. And I have respectively responded with links to articles and interviews to the sources that I have found the most compelling in shaping my views. So have others commenters, some of which are fitness professionals with years of experience. Yet you keep posting the same assertion asking me to respond again. I have nothing new to say on this point. I’m done.

  7. rob

    I think it is because of the targeted audience. If a guru targets his message at people who do not enjoy lifting weights, it’s no surprise that five years later, few of them are lifting weights.

    If in any given year 60% of the audience abandons the approach, then five years later there are maybe 2 guys left still going at it.

    If you want to develop a large audience in the weight training arena, you really have to target your message to people who enjoy weight training.

    The “20 Minutes In and Out” crowd is a lousy audience for a weight training guru if he wants any longevity in the guru business, what he wants is an audience of guys who are depressed because the gym is opening at 8 a.m today rather than the usual 5 a.m.

  8. Marc

    I’m glad HIT is not very popular. The fact that I get extreme physical improvements with such a minimal time investment gives me advantages that others don’t enjoy. I for one do not try to place HIT into such narrow confinements as training-to-failure, and one-set-only routines. The ‘I’ in ‘HIT’ stands for intensity, and as such, any high intense training forms could be considered as “HIT” as far as my training goals are concerned. One thing for sure, all improvements in measurable physical enhancements (such as speed improvements) come from intense training. Therefore, I will not answer such foolish questions as those posted above.

    Chris Korfist shows isometrics give better speed improvements over traditional exercise.

    http://www.freelapusa.com/my-love-affair-with-the-bulgarian-split-squat/

    The truth is there is a difference in training applications when performance is sought out. Coaches have to be results oriented to keep their jobs today. Coaches have proven over the years that they will utilize extreme coaching techniques to obtain said results, regardless if these coaching techniques are based on sound science or proper teaching techniques. No one should be surprised as “jocks generally coach jocks,” and have obtained very little in the proper credentials in education techniques and human physiology. Arthur Jones once said in so many words, that if a 747 plane loaded with coaches crashed, the athletes would become much safer thereof. Sadly most coaches are undereducated in the basics of science and education. There has been exceptions to this for example, Knute Rockne had a degree in pharmacy. Steve Young and Alan Page are attorneys but do not coach. Eric Heiden and Debi Thomas are surgeons but do not coach. But as a general rule, the coaching community wins no merit badges in the academic fields of endeavors. Sad commentary indeed. It could be a case of the blind leading the blind.

    Strength training for health would necessarily use different techniques than sports training. The main difference would be the use of asynchronous muscle fiber recruitment. Furthermore, an emphasis of healthy training would be to increase muscular endurance and flexibility. The latter can be accomplished without ever touching any weights. Thus, muscular endurance training should be pursued with any training regimen designed to improve health. Safety should also be of a paramount concern.

    All overtraining should be avoided due to possible elevated IGF-1 levels and derivatives such as MGF. Avoiding overtraining could possibly increase longevity. Other possible ways to increase longevity includes fasting and lowered protein diets which both lower IGF-1 levels. But only those lacking wisdom would prescribe an athlete’s training regimen to those who are not competitive athletes. The real question…….Why compete in athletics at all?……since it most likely is not in one’s best interests.

  9. For someone who claims to welcome lively debate, you seem remarkably unkeen to being challenged to provide actual evidence. You disparage “bro science” and yet you don’t produce any valid science to back your assertions. You persist in promoting what you personally believe despite the absence of valid data – the same as the other “bros” just with a better writing style 🙂

  10. @Glenn – It is you that has only provided your n=1 experience and that stupid quote from Welbourn as evidence that lifting slow makes one slow. Where is your evidence?

    We’ve had the lively debates already. Here are just two posts with lots of comments that come to mind.

    https://criticalmas.com/2014/06/new-respect-assisted-pull-machines/
    https://criticalmas.com/2013/08/is-high-intensity-training-best-for-ectomorphs-part-2/

    On a few occasions I’ve linked to the Luke Carlson interview, which discusses explosive lifting.
    http://conditioningresearch.blogspot.jp/2009/04/revisiting-this-idea-of-functional.html

    And just this month I linked to Drew Baye’s post on explosive training which is full of references.
    http://baye.com/explosive-training/

    I’ve listened to both sides of this argument and I’m siding with the HIT guys. I don’t how much clearer I can be with you.

  11. Eric Minor wrote a piece years ago about the idea of “training fast to be fast” and how it’s rubbish. Mind you, this guy has trained Olympic Athletes, specifically Doc Patton (100m best: 9.89, also holds the over-35 record in the 60m at 6.50): https://www.t-nation.com/training/five-myths-about-training-athletes

    There’s a video of Doc training with nary an explosive lift in sight. Everything is very controlled and no Olympic lifts are used: https://vimeo.com/album/89447/video/25234935

    Is it superslow? No, but then where’s the line? How controlled do YOU think you have to be before speed is reduced? Rate of force development is a complex cloud of factors, of which STRENGTH is the most trainable. Stronger is stronger and if you’re doing your sport, you’ll be faster. Spend all of your time training in the gym and you’ll get slower. Simple.

    I’ve said it many times: I had a 39″ vertical leap in high school doing superslow leg press once a week. I suspect I could get back over 36″ in a short period of time on a similar program: training once per week and a lot of jumping.

  12. Stuart Gilbert

    Glenn,
    In terms of your continual comments on this subject, can I ask you a few questions?
    A) What is your 100 metres time? Is it under 11.5 seconds?
    B) Are you, what you would consider in the elite of athletics or Masters athletics?
    C) If not, do you know and / or coach anyone who is?
    I would say that if you cannot answer yes to these questions then you are more than slightly over obsessing about this issue.
    MAS is clearly coming at this issue from a different standpoint to you, and speaking to a different audience. I , and I assume most others don’t quite get why this is so difficult for you to understand.
    An acronym for goal setting is the word SMART. The A in that word stands for Achievable. If you didn’t answer yes to my questions then I’m going to say that your goals are probably not that. If you just want to get faster for some deluded notion that it will make you more “functional” for everyday living, then I have a few points you may wish to consider;
    A) have you heard of cars? If I want to move somewhere quicker than walking, I’ll climb in one of these.
    B) if you want to outrun people but not in an athletics competition, then I suggest you may live in a rough neighbourhood, and you may consider moving. Which In turn will be much better for your health than any ability to run fast.
    C) if your neighbourhood is that bad then the bad news is that you will never outrun a bullet.
    I think you need to give up this argument. It’s pointless. In my younger years, when I stupidly thought athletics / sports greatness was mine, if I stumbled upon the correct training program / technique and then worked hard enough, I may have seen your current viewpoint. But since then I’ve read more and understood the role of genetics. Even if I wanted to be fast, no amount of “Olympic” style training will get me there. In essence I’ve wished up and adjusted my goals and training accordingly. MAS speaks to and for people like me, who live in the real world. Please cut him some slack and give it a rest.

  13. @Syler – Thanks for the comment and the link to that article. Great stuff.

    @Stuart – I think this is a values issue, which is going to be a topic in an upcoming post. So much of the online arguing about fitness is rooted in what I now believe are different values.

    @MikeTO – That is a very interesting approach. I like it a lot. When I slow down too much in the Glitter Gym, my breathing does accelerate and I get hot quickly. And because the Glitter Gyms are too warm to begin with, I risk the headaches. Using Brad’s approach along with maybe more time between sets if the gym is too warm is something I plan to try. Thanks.

  14. Marcelo Landowski

    After completely abandon weigths for bodyweight exercises, and based in my experience, i can tell safely that, for size, calories and exercise consistency are the right combination for sucess. Not reps, number of sets, number of protein, etc. Food + exercise consistency = WIN.

    I still do my exercises slowly to provide them overload, but not HIT to the letter.

    1. diamond push-ups (elevated feet)
    2. TRX rows/chin-ups
    3. wall squats + sissy squats/one-leg squats
    4. one-leg calf raises

    Not skinny anymore, not round like bodybuilder, just like “fit” with a sixpack and more muscle than Average Joe.

  15. D.

    Hi Mas,

    After coming across your greatly informative blog some months back I decided to drop my workout frequency to once a week and do three or four sets to near failure, with a static hold to finish things off. The results have been great.

    Maybe it’s due to a crappy CNS but the once a week format has helped my general vitality muchly. I also gave up counting reps on bodyweight exercises, leading to an interesting and enjoyable shift in mind set (more process orientated). I still count my curls, though.

    Progress has been good.

    I’m not sure what my body type is (tall, broad shouldered, but with a propensity to man boobs and love handles), but a HIT(ish) approach has worked for me. I’d encourage anyone to give it a try.

    Thanks.

  16. Marcelo Landowski

    D, you are exactly like i was. I’m tall (192cm), broad shouldered, crappy CNS recovery ans was skinny fat (man boobs and love handles) due to lack of exercide and POOR food choices.

    I fell for the “bulking” mentality too, eating 5, 6, 7000 daily calories, gaining a lot of lard and turning my skinny fat condition worse.

    I’m in the best shape of my life now, 32 turning 33. Eating a little more than my daily needs (it takes just 2 or 3 extravirgin olive oil tablespoons to add calories) and EXERCISING (not only working out) like 3 times a week.

  17. D.

    Marcelo,

    Thanks for the info, really appreciate it. It’s also good to know that I’m not the only one who’s had to deal with slow CNS recovery.

    Thanks again.

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