Enter into any gym in the world and you will see people banging out reps at a rate of ten reps per set.
It is usually performed anywhere from three to five sets per exercise. That’s the way strength training always seems to be completed by the majority of people.
A person focuses on one or two body parts and each workout lasts about an hour or so. With this routine, the person usually ends up being in the gym an average of three to four times a week.
This is the original way most of us were trained, and you were probably trained in a similar fashion. But just like in life, it can help to think outside the box in relation to fitness.
The Negatives to Conventional Strength Training
There are certain drawbacks to trying to get stronger in this style of lifting that involves doing three to five sets for approximately ten reps each set. For one, it can take up a huge part of your time every week. You could be looking at anywhere from five to seven hours in the gym each week for strength training alone, and that does not even take into account the time spent for cardio. This time can quickly add up over a month. The hours spent during the month would be the equivalent of a part time job.
Another disadvantage to trying to gain strength through this type of workout is the potential for injury. Tendons and muscles can be damaged or completely torn by people performing different lifts at the maximum weight they are able to do. They want to get stronger, so they continually keep adding weight in an effort to do so. This results in potential injuries increasing each time they try to put up a new personal best on the bench press, squat, deadlift, military press, or any other strength training exercise.
There Is an Alternative
Changing up a workout routine is not a bad thing as your muscles become conditioned after a while to movements that they do over and over again. In fact, altering your exercise program can usually provide several benefits. This is why more and more people are looking for an alternative way to do strength training. Would you be interested in another way to do your strength training that seems to be just as productive, however, it is done in a completely different way?
This is exactly what high intensity strength training (HIT) is. It is a totally contrasting way to do your strength training than what you see most do in the gym. Doctor Doug McGuff is just one of the proponents of HIT, as he can get behind the science of it, but there are bodybuilding champions that stand behind it and endorse it as well. It might not be a workout program that you are even aware of, so read carefully and consider this change in your quest to becoming stronger.
What Exactly Is HIT?
There is a much better chance you have heard of high intensity interval training (HIIT) for cardio rather than HIT training for strength. But in certain ways they are similar as they both think outside the box. While HIIT training involves maximum effort for short bursts of exhausting cardio, HIT strength training actually takes reps down to almost slow motion lifting. Both require all-out exertion, though, and produces great results.
HIT strength training focuses simply on just two things: Perfect form and slow motion moving reps. It is all about quality of the form instead of the quantity of the reps. This is quite a different way of strength training and does require the person to put their ego aside. No big guy in the gym wants to be seen benching 150 pounds at a halting speed when normally they can bench over 300 pounds for reps. But with HIT training, this is exactly the situation you will run into.
The science behind it was the fitness experts believed they could receive faster strength and muscle growth when reps are performed at a slow pace. The strain is so great on the muscle that it is grueling to do even a few reps with HIT. With this in mind, people doing HIT strength training are only required to do one set of each exercise with only three to five reps involved in the set. The reduced number of sets and reps will also help the person avoid any injuries that they may occur with the more popular style of strength training.
This may sound like some sort of witchcraft to you because it is such a different way to approach weightlifting, but there are those that buy into HIT strength training completely. With the slowness and controlled speed, the arms and legs will start to tremble like never before. Your muscles then enter into momentary muscle fatigue (MMF). During this time, the muscles are getting broken down the same way they do when you are doing three sets of ten reps with a heavier weight. And in turn, your muscles will start rebuilding themselves and grow a tiny bit bigger during the next few days of rest. Yes, you read that correctly. HIT strength training is only done once or twice a week at most.
To break it down simply, you perform only five to six strength training exercises with HIT. You would want to focus on exercises that are compound movements so as many muscle groups are operating as possible. Quite a few people doing HIT training will go with bench press, squats, military press, bicep curls, and pull-ups. And remember, you are only doing one set of each at three to five reps, so your workout will be completed in less than half the time it would normally take.
The History of HIT
Beginning in the early seventies, HIT strength training started to become well known by coaches, trainers, and professional athletes. They were wanting to minimize the chance of injury by these high paid professionals during their strength training. They knew that heavy lifting also equals a greater chance of a mishap that could leave someone on the shelf for months or even a whole year.
However, they still wanted to make the athletes stronger, but at less of a risk during their training. These professionals in the health and fitness industry wanted the athletes to have solid muscle mass, but through safer and more controlled workouts. This is when HIT stopped becoming a trade secret in the fitness industry and started to gain traction across the globe. People were able to become stronger without lifting bone-grinding heavy weight over and over again.
Bodybuilding Legend Mike Mentzer
You may be thinking right now that HIT strength training may be alright for those that have a decent amount of muscle mass and strength and just want to maintain some size, but surely it is not enough to make professional bodybuilders gain strength and muscle. If you are having those thoughts, then you obviously have never heard of Mike Mentzer. He had a career in professional bodybuilding that most people would only dream about.
Mentzer competed against Arnold Schwarzenegger back when Kindergarten Cop was in his prime and racking up title after title in the bodybuilding world. Mentzer felt like he had a more impressive body than Arnold, but as we all know, Arnold never lost. It was interesting, though, that Mentzer achieved his body through the HIT method. He set out on a personal journey to find the perfect number of reps per set at a controlled pace where he would do each rep four seconds down and then four seconds up.
Mentzer would go on to compete himself in professional bodybuilding for ten years, and during this whole time, he only did HIT strength training. He stuck to a schedule where he would usually workout three days a week and only perform 7 to 9 sets per workout doing the slow and controlled reps with much lighter weight. He eventually went on to win numerous bodybuilding competitions, including the Mr. Universe title in 1978.
As mentioned earlier, Dr. McGuff is just one of the people who have touted the effectiveness of HIT strength training. However, he has credentials that have to be taken seriously, just like with Mentzer. McGuff calls his workouts high intensity, low-volume training (LVT). Essentially the exact same principles as HIT. His book is called Body By Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week. A bit of a long title, but it does present some impressive training knowledge. In it, McGuff writes that all the time a person needs for strength training a week is about 15 minutes to get stronger.
Again, you may be scoffing at this idea of only doing weight training for 15 minutes a week, but it has been shown to work. Think of all the time you will be able to save if you switched to a strength training workout program like this. If it produces results and saves you valuable time, then it is a win-win situation. Once a week you will only need to drive to the gym for HIT training. It may actually take you longer to drive there and back then the actual workout itself.
McGuff states just one set is needed of five different exercises performed at an extremely slow speed to help you gain in strength. It is high intensity training (HIT) done slowly enough to induce muscle failure and fatigue. So basically fifteen minutes of an exhausting workout that is both safe and simple to do, then take a week off to recover.
Dr. McGuff created this training regimen by using his love of science. He concluded that gaining muscle comes down to finding the balance between catabolic state and anabolic state. For those of you that are not familiar with these terms, being in a catabolic state means you are actively breaking down the muscle. An anabolic state means you are rebuilding the muscle into a larger size.
McGuff chose a series of exercises he labeled The Big 5 to complete every fifteen minute workout once a week. Each is performed one after the other without much rest. Remember, you do each exercise for only one set. During that set, you can perform as many reps as you can, but they must be done at a super slow rate. Each rep, according to the HIT program he created, should take between forty seconds and two-and-a-half minutes. Of course, you will not be able to do this with your max weight. Try it first with half of your max weight and then see if you can complete the reps slow enough so each one is taking around a minute to begin with. It will definitely take a bit to get used to. Also, be prepared to get stared at by other gym-goers. Don’t let your ego get in the way. You probably won’t be able to do these with super heavy weight. This is definitely an ego free workout regimen.
The Big 5 Exercises
Just in case you are not interested in reading all of McGuff’s book, here is a breakdown of the exercises that he recommends. Many of The Big 5 exercises incorporate machines just because they are simpler to use at such a slow pace. All of them involve more than just one muscle group that is being worked. These are called compound movements when more than one muscle is being used during an exercise. They are generally thought of as a way to gain strength and mass quickly over isolated movements where only one muscle is being worked at a time.
1. Leg Press Machine or Squat with Free Weights
If you perform this movement on a leg press machine, try choosing a machine that incorporates more of a vertical movement (up and down) instead of a horizontal movement (side to side). If your gym has a vertical leg press machine, then that would be perfect. Unfortunately, vertical leg press machines are difficult to find in gyms anymore.
This leg set will leave you trembling when performed at such a slow rate. This is actually great because it is breaking down the muscle during this process. Any you know what happens after it breaks down? Your muscle is rebuilt slightly bigger over the next week. Remember to breathe when doing this and all exercises. Otherwise, you will be known as the person who passes out while training and strange selfies will be taken while you are unconscious.
2. Seated Row Machine or Barbell Row
It is difficult to make each rep last approximately a minute or so during a barbell row. You will definitely have to go lighter on the weight if you choose to do it with the barbells instead of the machine. Remember to get maximum results, use fifty to eighty percent of the weight you would usually do on your one rep max. Don’t bother to bring a calculator or an abacus into the gym with you. Just cut your max weight in half and then work your way up from there.
3. Chest Press Machine or Dumbbell/Barbell Bench Press
This is the staple exercise for many men. In fact, they judge others by how much they bench press in the gym. But remember, this is an ego free lift. You will not be setting lifting records by performing this workout. It you choose not to use the machine, have a spotter watch you. Inform the spotter of what you are trying to accomplish. Tell them that when you start shaking uncontrollably that you are definitely not having a seizure and to leave the weight alone until you ask for help.
4. Shoulder Press Machine or Dumbbells/Barbell Standing Shoulder Press
I would suggest completing this exercise with the free weights instead of the machine. My reasoning behind this is it is more of a compound movement with your core and legs also included if you are accomplishing this with free weights. If using the shoulder press machine, the legs and more of the core is taken out of the equation so you are not getting working the most amount of body parts and muscles.
5. Lat Pulldown Machine or Deadlift with Free Weights
If using the lat pulldown machine, grip the bar with palms facing towards you. This will be activating the biceps with this movement. If you choose to go with the deadlifts, do not lock out at any point during the exercise. Keep moving at the slow pace. Pausing while doing any of these movements are greatly frowned upon. It is essential to keep lifting without pause for one minute or more reps.
Determine Your Own Best Strength Gaining HIT Workout Program
Whether you are choosing to follow Mentzer or McGuff’s HIT program, the most important thing it to give it a try in an effort to save time, reduce injury, and gain strength. Perhaps you can create your own modification of HIT that involves slow motion reps and very low sets. If your goal is to become stronger, give HIT a try for a month or so and see the results it can provide you.