High Intensity Training
There is often a lot of confusion and myth about the pros and cons of high intensity training, who invented it, who uses it and if it actually works? This article will hopefully explain the main crux of the idea. I want to point out these ideas are not my own, I am merely trying to explain them in a way that I understand. There will be historical bits I have have missed. For example I have no idea when Mentzer and Jones hooked up to exchange ideas (it was probably in a bunch of 45 min intense brainstorming sessions), I will fill in the gaps as best I can. I will also try and relate the ideas to my own training to prove its not just for the bodybuilding elite.
What is hell is hit?
Hit was primarily invented by Arthur Jones who’s ideas where taken further by bodybuilding hero and moustache king Mike Mentzer in the 1970s and 80s.
In the 1960s Jones an eccentric inventer and ceo set up the Nautilus company. Nautilus made fitness equipment. Jones argued that there was something wrong with training with barbells/dumbells. He argued that dumbell training would not stress the muscle through a full range of motion as it only offers one directional resistance (up and down from gravity). The problem with this is, that as animals we move in combinations of rotational movements. Not just on a single plain. For example if you do a free weight barbel curl the muscle is under tension at the bottom of the rep (full exstention) through the mid range of the rep, but as you reach the top of the rep (peak contraction)the weight of the dumbbell is no longer stressing the bicep. Instead the weight is supported by the joints and surrounding muscle, deltoids etc. With Nautilus machines, Jones designed a cab system that would enable a muscle to work through a complete range of motion. The muscle would be under the same amount of stress regardless of the position during a rep.
(Jones would go on to build variations of his machines that would change the amount of stress at different points in the rep)
In the late 1970s Mike Mentzer was an up and coming bodybuilder with a fantastic moustache. Becoming increasingly frustrated with a lack of results, he decided to increase his training. At the time the popular consensus from the Weider Magazines and body building elite was that more training is better. It was the norm for the likes of Schwarzenegger to train 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening 6 days a week (bare in mind Arnold was a genetic freak, germanic beast). In his quest for muscle Mentzer adopted this regime and still saw little or no results. Was the answer to train even more, perhaps 5 -6 hours a day? This would surely be unachievable? There was not enough time in a day to get that many hours in the gym (old school body builders did not have contracts with muscle tech, only Joe Weider, most had jobs).
Mentzer took a step back, pensively stroking his moustache. After meeting Casey Viator at the Mr America and discusing heavy duty ideas, Mike took Arthur Jones details from Casey and arranged a meeting. Mentzer and Jones soon became friends. After many meetings Mentzer (with Jones prior influence) used his logic and a scientific approach, to break down the traditional model of bodybuilding and started again from the ground up.
His aim – To achieve maximum muscular growth in the shortest possible time, with the leaset amount of effort. (This is a key point, bodybuilding not Olympic lifting or power lifting, just getting big muscles fast).
His approach – As within science their can only be one valid theory until proven different. This applies to growing bigger muscles. For example there is only one Theory of evolution – Darwinism, there is only one way of working out the value of pie in mathematics. Therefore there can only be one way of achieving maximum muscle growth in the shortest amount of time (until another theory proves otherwise). From the out set Mentzer based his ideas around a theoretical approach, using evidence to make his point. He was one of the first people in bodybuiling to use a scientific model applied to fitness.
So with this in mind what was his big idea?
Mentzer believed that a muscle only requires a certain amount of stress to stimulate muscle growth. So this meant that all the heros of the golden era where training to oblivion for no specific reason? Why after hitting failure on leg press do another set? What is the reason? Yes they were big and had achieved Herculean physiques but only through one model of training. (There were many styles of training at the time, but all emphasised the volume principle).
More is better is an attractive principle as it is straight forward, but it has no validity because it would be impossible to achieve maximum stimulation. By this theory you could do hundreds of sets and still have room for one more. If 20 sets give you great results, then 40 will give you even better results. Therefore the guys who spend the most time in the gym should have the biggest muscles?
‘More is better only has validity when it comes to money and pretty girls’ – Mike Mentzer 1998
“If a bodybuilder is training huge amounts of volume they are clearly not training hard enough. If they where then they would not physically be able to go beyond sets 4 – 5′ – Drew Baye 2009
So if volume is not the place the go the only place left is quality/ intensity of exercise.
Menzer believed that through correct intensity a muscle reaches complete failure. This is all that is needed to stimulate maximum growth.
To achieve failure Mentzer believed that all you needed to was one working set. If you have not reached failure then your intensity is not high enough. Why waste time doing excessive high volume sets when you can achieve failure in one set. This idea was radically different to the training ideas of the bodybuilding world.
So in order to achieve complete muscular stimulation one must achieve a state of complete muscular failure. This means failure in the positive, static and negative ranges.
So using bicep curls as an example,
- on the way up (positive)
- hold at the top (static),
- and slow on the way down (negative).
If you look at one working set broken down in the the positive, negative and static, in a 10 rep set your actually doing 30 reps (for all you volume junkies). Mentzer advocates that strict form must be used to achieve peak muscular contraction.
You often find that when you hit positive failure a muscle still has more left in the negative, another 2 reps perhaps. If you miss this then you have not truly achieved full muscular failure.
If you have trouble finishing a set and getting to failure Mentzer recomended the use of Rest Pause and cheat reps. Rest pause simply means taking a short rest mid set, for example in a 8 rep set of bench rack the bar on the 4threp, rest 10 seconds and continue to 8 reps. Cheat reps are usful if your training alone. Using barbell curls as an example if you have got to 10 reps but are too tired to get the bar up to do your negatives, swing the bar up using ‘body english’ to get in the negative starting point.
So far we have reached muscular failure by doing one working set. Once you have achieved complete muscular failure this is all that is necessary to achieve growth.
Any more and you are making inroads into your ability to recover.
“Stimulate don’t annihilate” – Lee Haney
Mentzer wanted to achieve the most muscular stimulation possible with the least amount of effort.
Recovery, this is another key component to the idea. Once you have achieved muscular failure, any amount of exercise after this is reducing your bodies ability to recover.
Let me explain. When we train we use weights to break down muscle tissue. Our bodies use the required time to recover repairing the muscle making it stronger and able to deal with more stress.
Recovery is not localised. Our bodies can only deal with a certain amount of stress be it physical or psychological. Our bodies have limited recovery reserves. An example of stress limitations can be seen in the migration of Atlantic Salmon. Each year they swim hundreds of miles up river to mate and die. Physically this is a huge feat of endurance. When examined scientists found huge amounts of cortisol (stress hormone) in their systems. Basically the Salmon where running on adrenaline to the point where the body shuts down.
This is an extreme example but here is my point. Most people do a 4 -5 day split every week, training a single body part each time. So on Monday legs were trained, on Tuesday the body is still using its resources to recuperate whilst you train chest. Then Wednesday you train back but your body is still recovering from Monday and Tuesdays workouts. Add to that the daily demands of work, family and other menial stress, the body is over stretching its resources and its only Wednesday. If your training this depleted your workouts are going to progressively loose intensity.
‘under stress you shut down your growth mechanism’ Bruce Lipton
So in a nutshell recovery is not just localised it is systemic. If you push your self too hard your gains are going to deminish to a negative point.
Another good example is time off, holidays. Remember when you took 2 weeks off training to go and play games workshop. When you came back to the gym you were stronger than before and your lifts went up. Why can’t this idea be used all year round?
But what if your schedule does not allow you your days off, what happens if you have to train a day earlier to fit everything in? Mentzer says that its better to take an extra day or two’s rest if your not sure, as muscular atrophy does not occur until 2 weeks.
Sticking points -Sticking points don’t exist, its just over training. As you grow stronger and bigger you actually should train less as the weights you are lifting are bigger and the stresses on your body are greater. If your progress starts to slow, add an extra rest day. You should never have to reach a sticking point.
I myself noticed when I used to train 6 days a week I was constantly getting ill and my body weight was not increasing, when I reduced my training this stopped. I also put on 4 stone going from 12 – 16.5 st in 18 months (some of this was chubb). All my lifts shot up.
An important note here is nutrition, with out enough good balanced nutrition your recovery will be hampered, so all this is based on eating nice food.
Mentzer recoomends getting a balance diet from all the major food groups
Muscle is mostly water so he advised not to skimp on carbs when getting big. He also noted that there is no such thing as, so called ‘Super Nutrition’ that is advertsied by the supplement companies. Only optimum nutrition, the amount of nutrients needed for optimum muscle growth.
At this point its important to establish that ones recovery ability is unique like a genetic trait. Some people recover faster than others and therefore can deal with more stress.
Mentzer used a great example of sunburn to explain this.
If you sit out in the sun your skin can tolerate a certain amount of exposure. You produce an adaptive response to protect your skin form the UV rays and get a sun tan. But this has a limit. After say 1 hr in the sun you start to burn and instead of getting a sun tan your skin starts to blister and go red. This idea applies to training, your body can tolerate a certain level of intensity after which any thing else has a negative effect on the bodies ability to recover.
The sun tan example can also be used to explain the different variation in genetic traits of recovery. For example people of Mediterranean origin will only need a small amount of exposure to sunlight to get a suntan and at the same time can be exposed to much more sunlight without burning than say someone from Iceland. With regards to training some genetic freaks ( Schwarzenegger) can cope with huge amounts of training and very little recovery. Others like Haney only require a small amount of stimulation to achieve an adaptive response. And some will only be able to handle one heavy session every 7 days.
Despite being a genetic freak and taking loads of gear, Yates achieved incredible gains in relatively short periods of time using high in tensity training. For example he won the British heavy weight championships and turned pro after 3 years of training and became Mr Olympia after only 8 years. That kind of progress is unheard of in bodybuilding. Also the drastic change in his physique year after year can be acredited to his use of HIT. The difference between his 1992 and 1993 shows is huge. In his prime he was training a maximum of 4 hours a week, some of his competitors were doing that every day.
Here are his weight progression year on year.
210lbs /95kg 1985 UK Finals
226lbs/102.5kg 1988 Night of the Champions
235lbs/106.5kg 1991 Night of the Champions
240lbs/108kg 1991 Mr O
242lbs/109.7kg 1992 Mr O
260lbs /117.9kg 1995 Mr O
270 lbs /122kg 1997 Mr O
In total he gain around 70lbs/31kg of muscle in 13 years, with an average muscle gain of 5.4kg each year. Obviously there are many other factors at play here including diet and steriods, plus I am not sure what other body builders gains are but I think that this is pretty impressive. (Someone like Coleman may have gained more weight, but it is over a period of 20 +years).
An already massive Yates looking even bigger.
Schwarzenegger vs Viator
In an article on Menzters website he compares the bodybuilders lean weight gain and training time to see who had been most effective at building muscle. Both are genetic freaks and at advanced levels and most likely on similar amounts of steriods. Its worth noting that these guys were regaining muscle which is easier than gaining it in the first place.
Schwarzenegger represents the high volume school of bodybuilding. In this case we look at his 1975 Olympia physique. For this Arnold trained twice a day for 2 hours a session, 6 days a week, for a period of 4 months. Thats a total of 288 hours of training. Schwarzenegger went form 200lbs to a lean stage weight of 225lbs. (He missed his target weight of the previous year of 237lbs).
Casey Viator (HIT camp) took part in the 1973 Colorado expirment to see how much muscle mass he could gain in a certain amount of workouts carried out over a peiod of time. Casey trained 3 times a week, each work out was no more than 30 minutes over a period of a month. In total he trained 12 times over 6 hours. Casey went from 166lbs to, in peak muscular condition (ripped) 212lbs. During that month he had lost 17lbs of fat and gained 46lbs of lean body mass.
So what does this mean? Simply Viator gained almost 3 times the mass in a quarter of the time doing a lot less work. When asked why Arnold had not achieved his weight goal he replied, ‘there was not enough time’. It also makes you think how much size guys like Schwarzenegger would have gained if they had adopted HIT principles?
So my point here is that HIT training can give you results fast.
Here is a sample routine form Mike Mentzers Heavy Duty Training video, featuring Ray Mentzer and Markus Reinhardt.
Each rep is completed at a speed 4 seconds up and four seconds down.
Working set should be carried out with a weight that is 75% – 85% of your 1rm. If you can do less than 6 reps the weight is too heavy, if you can do 12reps or more the weight is too light. Warm sets are done with compund exercises to activate the most muscles.
Day 1 Chest and Back
Incline Bench Press (warm up)
Set 1 (warm up) 8 reps very light
Set 2 (warm up) medium weight (neuromuscular activation)
Set 3 4 reps, heavy (75% 1rep max)
Peck Deck (working set)
1 set 10 reps, (last 2 reps are staic and negative reps)
Incline bench (working)
(with rest pause each reps is maximum effort)
2 mins rest
Lat pull down(warm up)
1 set 8 reps
1 set 6 – 8 reps (last 2 reps are static/negatives)
Lat Pull down
1 set 6 – 8 reps
1 set 4 reps (warm up) 60kg
1 set 4 reps (warm up) 100kg
1 set 2 reps (warm up) 140kg
1 set 8 reps (working) 145kg
Day 2 legs
Leg press (warmup)
1 set 8 reps
1 set 8 reps
1 set x 8 reps
1 set x 8 reps
1 set 6 reps (last 2 static and negative reps)
1 set 10 /12 reps
Day 3 Delts and Triceps, Biceps
Lateral raise machine
1 set 6 reps (warm up)
1 set 8 reps (working)
Bent over dumbell laterals
1 set 8 reps (working)
1 set 8 reps
Tricep cable push down
1 set 10 reps (last 2 static and negative reps)
Hammer strength tricep dip
1 set 6 – 8 reps
Mentzer’s routine for you to watch (nice dance track)
Dorian Yates has some concise videos of HIT that are worth checking out.
HIT training is based on the following points.
Understanding true muscular failure in the positive, static and negative.
Actually training hard enough, to reduce the necessity for volume.
Using strict form
Getting more rest, the need to recognise that the rest period is as important as the work out its self.
Listen to your body, everyone reacts differently to training and recovers at different rates.
Mentzer was a philoshper years ahead of his time, his ideas created a radically different approach to bodybuilding theory.
As an overview I think Arthur Jones ideas were too rigid at times, one must remember that he was trying to flog fitness equipment so of course he is going to denounce the dumbel. Mentzer actually contradicts Jones with the use of deadlifts and squats in his HIT routines.
Some say that Mentzer was angry having lost the 1980 Olympia and Menzter had a personal vendetta against the Weiders and their vision of bodybuilding. But in his defense he worked for Flex magazine as an editor and left a large Weider wage packet to pursue his HIT training ideals.
In relation to the actual training, you have to work very hard, therefore how easy is it to know if you have gone to far? Training so heavy with such little volume leaves very little time to warm up and could possibly cause injury (Yates retired from bodybuilding with torn triceps and biceps).
As I said earlier when I adopted a few HIT principles I gained strength and mass. I found that if you loose the idea of training a 7 day week it makes things a lot easier. I now do my four day split over 9 days some times more depending on how I feel. Mentzers book High Intensity Training is primarily aimed at the drug free bodybuilder. This is why he recoomends rest periods of 4 – 7 days.
I also found that not training 2 days in a row gives you a chance to refresh between workouts and go in stronger.
I like Mentzer because he challenged the status quo, he was brave enough to belive in his own ideas, an admiral accolade.
So if your not making any progress, have sticking points or want to get massive fast try some High Intensity Training principles for yourself!
If you can’t be bother to read this article the Drew Bayes seminar covers it all.