11 Things I’ve Learnt About High Intensity Training

Lawrence Neal - Corporate Warrior
… Blue Steel

1. Cadence doesn’t matter

After reading Body By Science and starting high intensity strength training for the first time, I made a conscious effort to maintain a specific cadence during all exercises. I started doing 10/10 and then experimented with 5/5 after reading Occam’s Protocol in The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss (seeking quick unachievable gainz … ). I found that monitoring cadence in this way and counting the seconds in my head subtracted from the productivity of the exercise. I was already trying to focus on my breathing, effort, and form and this was just another variable to add to the list.

Back then, I had much less knowledge of resistance training and specifically the role that cadence played with regard to exercise outcomes. I now believe that cadence doesn’t really matter at all with respect to improvements in strength and muscle hypertrophy. I don’t think that moving faster or slower during an exercise is going to improve these outcomes.

Therefore, instead of trying to stick to a set cadence, I now focus on quality of movement and let that determine the cadence. On every exercise I perform, I make sure my turnarounds at either end of the exercise are as smooth as possible. I try to move so smoothly that a spectator would think I’ve stopped moving (as per Drew Baye’s bodyweight squat demo here) I may move quite briskly during the middle of a given exercise but I will not move explosively. I won’t move explosively to avoid cheating with momentum and causing injury. As a result, my cadence will increase over time as I become more fatigued during the exercise. What might start as an organic 6/6 may become a 10/10 towards the end of a set. During the last few repetitions, I will move through the middle of the range of motion as fast as possible. There is no danger at this juncture since I’m so fatigued that my fastest movement is slow, and thus, I won’t move fast enough to cause an injury. Force = Mass X Acceleration.

I still measure time-under-load for every exercise, since I like to track performance between workouts and use this as a guide to know when to increase exercise difficulty/resistance. However, so long as my form is good and my turnarounds are smooth, I don’t concern myself with cadence and let it express itself organically. As per many people who have been doing HIT for a long period of time, I am always trying to improve the quality of my exercises. This pursuit of mastery has a real meditative quality to it.

Lastly, I’ve read comments from people new to HIT who ask for recommendations on cadence. I responded with something similar to the above regarding organic cadence but they still wanted some kind of benchmark. I think a 4/4 is a good starting point. However, one will soon come to realise just how arbitrary this really is.

Here’s some examples of my attempt to master form during a Big-3 Bodyweight High Intensity Training workout:

2. Experiment with frequency and volume

When I first started high intensity training, I was very rigid in my approach. Body By Science is an amazing book and completely changed my understanding of exercise and what it meant to exercise effectively and efficiently. However, like many newbies to HIT, I became dogmatic about certain high intensity training principles that seem to still be up for debate within the scientific community such as volume, frequency and intensity.

During the first couple of years of my training, I followed Body By Science quite closely. I never trained more than once per week and I quickly began increasing my recovery time and abbreviating my workouts. At one point, I was doing a 2-way-split every 7-10 days. My workouts lasted just 6-minutes. Even with such little volume, I got great results. I developed muscle and strength very effectively by training in this way and was able to maintain my gains. Here’s a picture of me on a camping trip during this time:

Lawrence Neal
Freezing my balls off in a river in the Lake District, UK.

In the last few years, having read more around high intensity training and interviewed many experts/people with different experiences, I restored a healthy skepticism for what I had learnt at the beginning of my HIT journey. This inspired me to do more self-experimentation. Hence the foray into body weight high intensity training and Project Kratos, which I’ve journaled some of here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4).

Since I believe I’ve probably tapped out most of my muscular potential, it’s quite likely that increasing my frequency to twice per week and thus total weekly volume will have no effect on more muscle gain but it doesn’t seem to have a negative effect either. Depending on shifting priorities, I’ll revert to once a week training in the future for more convenience. The point is that I’m trying to keep an open mind, ready to question my strongest beliefs in the face of new evidence and experience.

I encourage you not to get discouraged by conflicting evidence and online debate and consider experimenting with varying intensity, volume and frequency, as Dr Doug McGuff describes here.

3. Don’t be afraid to do more

During my early days in high intensity training, I became obsessed with trying to “optimise” recovery. I was religious about planning rest days after workouts with no activity. I’d try to orchestrate my workout day to perfection to ensure I didn’t “subtract” from my performance on that day, because it was “so important” that everything was perfect. I know you’ve probably been here too ;-).

I remember on one Saturday evening, I was carrying groceries home from the supermarket with my best friend. I had worked out on the previous day and carrying the groceries made me feel anxious. Anxious I was going to lose my “gains”. I thought I was going to dig into my recovery. To make matters worse, I missed the bus on the way home and had to walk an additional half-mile with all this baggage (Oh no!! LOL). I got so irritated by this that my best friend and house mate at the time had lost patience with me and quickly walked on alone (quite rightly so). I recently shared this story on the round table podcast with Skyler, Drew and Ryan here. I felt so embarrassed re-telling it. It’s so ridiculous.

As Dr Doug McGuff described here, HIT is far more intense than most activities, which means that, if inclined, you can get away with additional sports and recreational activity. However, you may want to avoid anything too strenuous (e.g. sports) for 24-hours after HIT. As a case in point, I recently tore my calf muscle during a basketball game when I decelerated quickly from a sprint. I had performed a Big-5 workout on the day before on machines including a Leg Press. I think the novelty (having trained only bodyweight for over a year prior) and resulting fatigue made me more vulnerable to injury. However, it’s possibly multifactorial and likely the cause of zero warm up as per Skyler Tanner’s thoughts:

“Well the rapid contraction with a cold(ish) muscle will get you there. It’s a strain, a partial tear, but of the belly so it’s just a rest and restore situation. Warming up for violent sports = good. Warming up for slow strength training = not required.”
Bottom line is don’t let HIT stop you from doing more activity or stop you doing what you love. Just don’t over do it or do anything stupid.

4. Move a lot

I’ve been doing progressive resistance training fairly consistently for almost 10 years. I’m relatively strong, capable and flexible but despite this I had some mild back pain. Why is this? This is because I was too sedentary or static for a prolonged period of time. I was sitting too much.

Resistance training or high intensity training is not a cure-all. I do not think it is a healthy practice to workout once or twice a week and sit down until the next workout. Skyler said it best on a round table podcast: “infrequent exercise, frequent movement”.

Many of us spend too much time sitting at desks working, myself included. If I spend too much time sitting, I experience mild pain and discomfort.

Therefore, I’ve made it a habit to interrupt long periods of sitting with intermittent movement. I’ll sit down to work on my most important task for ~2-3 hours, but I will get up 3 or 4 times during that block of time to unload the dishwasher, make a cup of tea, do the laundry, walk outside and move the bins behind the house ;-).

5. Bodyweight vs machines vs free weights: it makes little difference

My first experiences in resistance training prior to HIT focused on free weight exercises: bench press, cable chest flies, and of course, bicep curls. I went to the gym 3 or 4 times a week and spent at least an hour per session. I also used to play basketball 3-times per week, swim, etc, etc. After reading The Spartan Health Regime, I learnt more about muscle function and began to embrace more multi-joint, abbreviated routines, such as:

  • Monday: chin-ups and bicep curls
  • Wednesday: Push-ups and overhead press
  • Friday: Squats and deadlifts
  • Note: 3 sets of 5 (heavy loads or weighted chins)

Once I read Body By Science, I switched to all multi-joint exercises and performed the Big-5 on MedX machines once a week for 6-12 months. A couple of years ago, and unfortunately, London’s Keiser Training closed forcing me to re-educate myself on bodyweight training. Starting with Chris Highcock’s Hillfit eBook, I learnt how to construct a productive bodyweight program with very little equipment. I took this to the next level with Project Kratos and I haven’t really looked back. Bodyweight high intensity training requires almost no equipment and can be done practically anywhere.

Until I live near a facility with high quality exercise machines or create my own, bodyweight training will serve me well. Based on my experience, research and conversations with guests on the podcast, it seems like the resistance training mode doesn’t really matter in terms of driving optimal muscle hypertrophy, strength and all of the other health benefits derived from strength training. However, I think that machines are ideal for training some muscles that are otherwise difficult to train effectively like the lower back and neck. Machines are also great for HIT newbies who struggle with the difficulty and complexity of bodyweight and free weight exercises. Machines allow for easier form and greater focus on effort.

I think a perfect workout protocol would probably combine some specialist machines for the neck and lower back with either a free weight, machine, or bodyweight training protocol.

Lawrence Neal
This is how I look after training using high intensity body weight once or twice a week for a couple of years.

6. Track your workouts but don’t get obsessed

When I was a resistance training novice, I didn’t really understand cause and effect and whilst I loosely tracked performance, I was more focused on volume, frequency and bulk dieting aka “more is better”. I was focused on the quantity over the quality. As my training routine evolved, my exercise quantity reduced and quality increased. Volume and frequency came down and quality of exercise form and intensity of effort went up.

As my workouts became more infrequent and more abbreviated, I was very eager to optimise. I was only working out once a week. The workout HAD to be better than last time. I HAD to improve every workout. Otherwise, all of that environmental optimisation stuff: sleep, diet, stress management, etc, was for not …

I became obsessed with tracking. During my first 1-2 years of high intensity training, I tracked total workout time, time-under-load (for every exercise), machine settings and load. If I didn’t improve at least one variable (TUL or load) from workout-to-workout I would become quite unhappy and demotivated. I had assumed that my progress would continue to improve in a linear fashion week-to-week beyond my 6-month introduction to HIT.

I had a major epiphany during my first meeting with Simon Shawcross (Founder of HITuni.com). As we sat across from each other in a cosy London Starbucks, Simon asked me a question: “how do you know if you are keeping all variables the same from workout-to-workout? How do you know if you’re moving with the exact same cadence and form, breathing in the same way, recruiting muscle in the same way, sleeping the same, etc, etc.” he went on “at your stage of training, it makes a lot more sense to look at your training progress over a longer time period, consider reviewing progress every 6-12 weeks and making adjustments if necessary to volume or frequency.” Tim Ryan also believed there are at least 12 factors that affect workout performance. Falling short DOES NOT necessarily mean you’re not recovered.

This was a big turning point for me. It helped me appreciate the importance of training with a high degree of effort during every workout to aim for momentary muscular failure. I became comfortable with understanding that my performance may not improve from workout-to-workout but the stimulus would be sufficient to produce the best results over the long term.

At this juncture of my training career, I still want to improve my physique and try my hardest to improve my performance during every workout. I’m just not obsessed with my results from workout-to-workout. I’m more concerned with my long term performance and just getting it done at least once a week. So long as I’ve been true to myself and trained to failure or as close to failure on every single exercise, I’m happy with that workout performance, regardless of the numbers. In fact, Dr Doug McGuff reminded me that sometimes a shorter TUL on the same load can actually suggest that one is becoming more proficient at fatiguing target musculature more effectively. So, go figure.

Workout Performance Pad
My trusty pink performance pad. The meat heads love it.

7. If you miss a session, it’s not the end of the world

Exercise quality and the application of high effort seem to be the most important variables in exercise. If you can optimise for these within an exercise protocol you are going to get the best results you can probably get. And if you have been doing this for a long enough period of time with some consistency for several years, it probably doesn’t matter if you miss a workout. Even if you don’t workout for 2-3 weeks it’s unlikely you will start to lose muscle mass or physical capability (unless you’re bed ridden). You may be even stronger when you come to workout on week 3 or 4.

I don’t say this to discourage you from training weekly, twice weekly or more, I’m just reinforcing the notion that you should arrange your workouts around your life rather than your life around your workouts, as Dr Doug McGuff drummed into me here. Sometimes life can get a bit crazy and you’ll go through some real stressful shit that makes you feel like you’re stuck in a disorganised mess for a few weeks. Don’t worry, it’s probably going to do little, if almost nothing, to your gainz ;-).

8. Strong beliefs loosely held

Legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, Marc Andreessen, has a unique mindset: “strong beliefs loosely held”. In other words, it’s important to develop strong views as opposed to following the general consensus, but some people can take this too far. In reality, we’re wrong about a lot of things and chances are a lot of your theories and beliefs are wrong so once the evidence presents itself one should be open to changing their mind on a dime.

Throughout my training career, I’ve been guilty of being dogmatic about new ideas. It started with the Spartan Health Regimen and it persisted with Body By Science and more recently, high-fat low-carb diets and the carbohydrate-insulin model. Body By Science is a wonderful book and my favourite health and fitness book of all time, but I took some of the concepts and theories too far and developed a strong belief around minimising training volume and frequency to facilitate continuous improvement. This concept maybe true but the point is that I closed my mind to alternative view points and this stalled my learning.

I’ve since become far more receptive to alternative approaches to high intensity training, resistance training and exercise in general in order to continue to develop my knowledge of health and fitness. For example, I’ve experimented with increased workout frequency even though I don’t think that it will make me any more muscular, but I was willing to put that belief to the test in the face of the most recent scientific evidence.

9. Multiple sets are okay

High intensity training is typically performed with a single-set-to-failure (SSTF) for each exercise in a given routine. Despite claims to the contrary, I believe that, if performed to momentary-muscular-failure (MMF), one set is as effective as any number of sets. This is a common view in the HIT community.

To measure my progress accurately, I will default to a SSTF but if I don’t feel like I gave a great enough effort or really hit failure, I don’t mind throwing in another set to failure, and I don’t get concerned about it. I’ll just note it down and move on to the next exercise. Again, in the past, I was militant about doing a SSTF and no more. If I failed to reach MMF and inroad for 5-10 seconds, I thought I had wasted my opportunity and had a sub-optimal workout. This is simply not true based on the current evidence. Whilst you should strive to achieve MMF, if once in a while you fall short and feel like throwing in a second set, go for it.

10. Less volume works too

As I’ve increased my strength, I have found that the first couple of big moves in any routine will practically destroy me. This assumes I’m training to momentary-muscular-failure with smooth form. A set of chins performed to failure with excellent form followed by a set of push-ups using the same protocol leaves me heavily fatigued.

I tried experimenting with a longer routine with Drew Baye’s Zelus workout, but as soon as I had completed it once, I found I had to abbreviate it immediately in order to “bring it” on every exercise within the routine, otherwise I’d just give up before failure. I find this particularly difficult with bodyweight workouts, where some exercises such as bodyweight squats require more “grit” and suffering before one reaches failure. A leg press on the other hand, can deliver a more potent and focused stimulus that shortens the exercise window and makes failure easier to achieve, at least for me.

Iron gym chin-up bar
I LOVE my Iron Gym (Amazon US / Amazon UK)

11. I need structure

During the month of November, I participated in an N=1 push-up challenge. I was meant to perform 100 push-ups and take freezing cold showers every day for 30 days. I deviated from the protocol a little (spent a few days in Edinburgh where I did not adhere to protocol), but overall I complied 90% of the time.

I did not expect to see any “gainz’ from the push-ups or anything like that. It was more of a fun experiment to see how many push-ups I would be able to do by the end. At the start of the challenge I could perform 25-35 push-ups in my first set to failure. I can now exceed 50 easily and my best is 57. These are not HIT push-ups but faster more military style push-ups.

During this challenge, I reduced my full-body HIT workout to once per week for convenience and recovery. On one particular day, I went to the gym to train full-body. I’d been deliberately lax on tracking and structuring my full-body workout performance during the push-up challenge. This wasn’t for any real reason other than the cognitive load was getting to be too much for me. On this day, and in line with this habit, I did not track or structure my workout beforehand. Instead, I just decided I’d do a pull-push-pull-push-random stuff-random stuff (maybe abs):

  • Chin-up
  • Push-up
  • Inverted row (2 sets)
  • Overhead press (2 sets – drop set)
  • Wall sits
  • Bodyweight squat
  • Pec Deck
  • Hip Thrust (Not-to-failure)
  • Leg raises (Not-to-failure)

I romanticised about going into the gym and executing maximum intensity on every set. I fell short of this expectation after only my second set. I had no set end point to my workout and the niggling feeling in my head that said “when is this workout going to end?” during the hardest part of every set caused me to give up too soon. I find that I train most effectively, when I know my goals, my exact training program, and most importantly, the end point. If I know I only have 1 or 2 exercises remaining in a workout, I’m far more likely to give the current exercise everything I have, and thus perform a more productive and disciplined workout.

Summary:

  1. Cadence doesn’t matter. Great form and smooth turnarounds do.
  2. Don’t be rigid. Experiment with volume and frequency. Find what works for you.
  3. Don’t be afraid to do more if you want. Play sport, be active. Intensity is on a spectrum. Just don’t be stupid.
  4. Move a lot. HIT will take care of most things, but frequent movement is important for overall health and physical capability.
  5. Bodyweight, free-weights and machines pretty much deliver the same results. Choose the method that is most convenient and enjoyable for you.
  6. Track your workouts but don’t get obsessed. Take a long term view. There are too many factors which affect performance from workout-to-workout.
  7. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a session. You won’t lose muscle. They won’t just fall off.
  8. Stay open minded. Be prepared to question your strongly held beliefs when new evidence presents itself.
  9. Multiple sets are okay. High effort is the main goal and whether this is done in one or two sets, it doesn’t really matter. It’s just easier to track with one set.
  10. If like me, a long routine (5+ exercises) is too much for you, abbreviate it and consider increasing the frequency. I currently train twice per week.
  11. If you’re like me and occasionally dread the intensity of HIT, you may want to ensure you’ve pre-planned an end point to your workout ahead of time to ensure you deliver your best performance.
  • chrishighcock
    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Nice article. Lots of overlap. Agree with simplicity.

  • Đorđe Vicanović

    Pretty much the same, only that I am doing a lot more TSC exercises, squat, deadlifts, shoulders. I find that I can “hit”certain muscles better, and also that my muscles are firmer after them.

    Also, I have studied a lot about breathing, and found some exercises for producing nitric oxide, and they are just enough for some movement during the day. Also, great for recovery.

    For recovery, it takes 3-4 days to fully recover from HIT, but I just listen to my body, how it behaves during some movemebta. When I do them with ease, I do HIT that or the following day.

    For the end, if you want to experiment with higher frequency, I read great article on t-nation several years before. It said, that you do pushups, lunges, and pullups, increasing reps every day by one. And it worked awesome for mass, also for resucing sone fat. But, after 25 days, some pains would start to appear in my elbow. I should do some easier variations. I think it’s called PLP, you should check that out.

    Great work Lawrence!

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Thank you for your contribution Dorde (apologies I don’t know how to do the fancy symbols in your name). You make some interesting points and really pleased you enjoyed this post. I use TSC too for neck and occasionally simple rows if working out at home to mimic inverted/seated row.

  • Kamen Stranchevski

    Hey Lawrence, IMO this is The Best post of your “personal experiense” series so far :)))) Really, really liked it! My personal experience coinsides – 100%. I have only two small side comments:
    1. I really do not like the “pistol” or one legged squats and overall unilateral exercises for the legs in general…but consider this a rather personal view and prefference;
    2. Do not wait to move next to a proper gym, but start your own with a great equipment (like ARX perhaps)! 🙂 Seems to me, that with such tools, there is still a big difference in exercise preformance yet to be explored. Now, that I’ve tried the ARX personally, I got myself thinking about how significant difference there is between hitting failure after being intially fatigued with a weight/body weight (by moving intentionally slow and smooth) compared to – giving your organic effort right from the start of a set ( ex. an ARX set). It is by far more organic to all the people (my long time trained self included 🙂 ), to simply “push/pull – resist”, than to withhold ones self initially and then “suck it up” at the end of the set, after being well fatigued and in pain and in the same time to stare just at a wall for example… When you have the right instrument, then you will never really “dread” the intensity of effort and failure(no such a term there). You will actually be involved into crushing yourself much, much more readily. So weights – bodyweght – traditional machines does not matter, BUT some other type of machines may matter 😉
    And like I noted in previous post – once and for all, the high velocity training advocates, who state, that pushing harder – moving faster is much more natural, will be finally put to rest, as they will be able to push as much as they want, but will still be saved form moving too fast and using momentum…for their own sake. F=M x A(constant) 😀

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Thank you Kamen. Really appreciate it. This took me a while! Why don’t you like pistols? Too much force on the hip?

      You’ve just reminded me about your email re ARX. I will come back to you ASAP. I concur with your view on ARX. It certainly is a good tool to reach a deep level of fatigue. When I used Matt’s ARX at Mint Fitness, I gave up before the machine did (if that makes sense). I have nothing left to give. It’s a fascinating bit of kit that I’d love to play with more.

      I have thought about raising money and starting a HIT/ARX gym in Galway, but we’re still unsure whether we’re going to settle here long term so we’ll have to see. There are some interesting noises coming out of London, UK, but I can’t say anymore!

      • Kamen Stranchevski

        About the pistols, squats and one legged leg presses… Yes, IMO you’re very prone to injury with such…especially, when your hips are stronger and if you happen to have even a small problem with lower back or hip. And secondy, for the pistols in particular – the performance is so much difficult to standartise here. You are most likely to vary your form from workout to workout and from rep to rep with fatigue setting in…despite your best of efforts IMO.
        So these two reasons take unilaterlas for legs out of my personal list.
        By the way in the past I had a period of doing “The Bulgarian Squat” for awhile. When I progressed to yousing weight, I started to really feel the strain on hips and knee. Did not get injured, but I felt like overuse is in full speed 😀

  • Kamen Stranchevski

    And by the way – Stop looking in Youtube for a porper exercise form videos…You obviously can produce ones of yoursef, showing and offering a great quality! :)))
    Very good job – Cheers!

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Thank you. The only critique I want to make on myself is my chins should really be full range in this demonstration and my knee should not come over my foot during the pistols. I can’t wait for Bill DeSimone’s latest book on biomechanics. In fact I’m going to prod him now!

      • Kamen Stranchevski

        Acc. to me, range is Just Perfect with the chins! If people do them this way, it will be all right. And relax a bit with the critique…your form shown on these videos is really good…common. Let’s not forget, that “we’re only human” after all ;D

      • enlite

        Actually i thought your chins were very good and much safer than the dead hang position that i don’t do either because i feel it places a lot of undue stress on the elbow / bicep tendon .

        • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

          Thanks. In hindsight, I think I was using hard partial ranges of motion from Project Kratos, so that may have influenced my technique and ROM in this instance.

  • Rob McMullen

    Hey Lawrence, great article, I recently starting training superslow and have found myself evolving to many of the points you make. I’m 51 now and looked for those who were successful in long term sustainable training because I love to train. Wanted to ask your thoughts on Richard Winnett write up on it here: http://ageless-athletes.com/training_update.php#continue … he’s 72 and trains 4x a week. Love HIT, but I do want to be in the gym more than once a week and wanted to give this a go. Thanks!

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Hey Rob, thank you for your comment ????????. Did you know I interviewed Richard twice? ???????? here: https://corporatewarrior.co/podcast/richard-winett-part-2/

      And here: https://corporatewarrior.co/podcast/richard-winett/

      I will come back to you on my thoughts re Richard’s post which will no doubt be full of gems. Watch this space!

      • Rob McMullen

        I knew about the 2nd, but not the 1st iv, really enjoyed them! Thanks, and I look forward to your thoughts!

        • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

          Hey Rob – just reviewed the article. It’s a great piece from Richard. It’s hard for me to comment because I’m 30 and can’t speak to the joint soreness that he’s experienced. I’ve had some minor injuries in my life but I’m still in my prime in terms of muscle gain, recovery ability, and resilience. However, I shall share my thoughts in any case.

          I agree with practically the entire article. Richard seems to have paid close attention to the science as well as his own experience to come to some sound conclusions about workout programming: training close to or to failure is important for maximal stimulation and heavy loads or progressive overload don’t seem to be essential for optimising gains.

          Where I depart from Richard’s recommendations is that he seems to train just short of failure with higher frequency. I prefer the more efficient approach: training to failure with less frequency. (1-3 times per week). I think this is very safe so long as one selects the safe and most effective exercises (see Bill DeSimone here: https://corporatewarrior.co/productivity/bill-desimone-part-2/). Also, Richard’s workout protocols are very long. Too long for me. I suppose that might be manageable based on less intensity but if training to failure, there is no way I can do more than 5-6 exercises, and actually be productive. Lastly, the most recent literature seems to support that split routines have no advantage over full-body workouts. The only time I can see there being a point in split routines is if one does not have time for a full body workout, is injured, or is trying to provide more recovery for the upper or lower body.

          • Rob McMullen

            Thanks for your feedback Lawrence! I’ve been experimenting with the protocol, and made a few tweaks which are about spot on on the points you have made 🙂

            It’s funny you linked your IV with Bill DeSimone which I will be sure and read, I just purchased his ebook for congruent exercises a few days ago. It’s working quite well for me and I have had to insert an extra day here or there for recovery (my recovery isn’t the greatest and I’m currently in a caloric deficit).

            Tweaks I’ve made are:

            1) cutting back the number of exercises
            2) running a 3 day per week upper/lower split with it.
            3) Taking each set to failure, (I agree with your points on failure).
            4) super-setting opposing exercises instead of back to back, ie; incline db press – ss with – prone row, hammer press – ss with – pulldowns, etc.,.

            However, I do agree with his stance on certain lifts not taking to absolute failure such as the squat and deadlift due to risk vs. reward, I’m also older and have been through a long history of injuries so my goal is longevity at this point as well. I can’t barbell squat, but I do shrug bar deads and stiff leg dl’s which are right up to failure. All of the other exercises I’m taking absolute failure where I’m static for about 3 – 5 seconds at the end of each set.

            I also spoke with Richard, he did state the reason he does so many exercises is because he enjoys them and said that doing one compound along with one accessory would yield about the same results. I’d love to be able to pull off 4x a week, but 3x upper/lower is about what my recovery will allow for me now at least.

          • Rob McMullen

            Thanks for your feedback Lawrence! I’ve been experimenting with the protocol, and made a few tweaks which are about spot on on the points you have made 🙂

            It’s funny you linked your IV with Bill DeSimone which I will be sure and read, I just purchased his ebook for congruent exercises a few days ago. It’s working quite well for me and I have had to insert an extra day here or there for recovery (my recovery isn’t the greatest and I’m currently in a caloric deficit).

            Tweaks I’ve made are:

            1) cutting back the number of exercises
            2) running a 3 day per week upper/lower split with it.
            3) Taking each set to failure, (I agree with your points on failure).
            4) super-setting opposing exercises instead of back to back, ie; incline db press – ss with – prone row, hammer press – ss with – pulldowns, etc.,.

            However, I do agree with his stance on certain lifts not taking to absolute failure such as the squat and deadlift due to risk vs. reward, I’m also older and have been through a long history of injuries so my goal is longevity at this point as well. I can’t barbell squat, but I do shrug bar deads and stiff leg dl’s which are right up to failure. All of the other exercises I’m taking absolute failure where I’m static for about 3 – 5 seconds at the end of each set.

            I also spoke with Richard, he did state the reason he does so many exercises is because he enjoys them and said that doing one compound along with one accessory would yield about the same results. I’d love to be able to pull off 4x a week, but 3x upper/lower is about what my recovery will allow for me now at least.

  • salt.fox

    I love that I have come to many of the same conclusions you have through my own experiments with HIT. I have some additional “hacks” I’ve been using that I thought you might appreciate.

    – While the mode of training (BW, weights, machines, etc.) doesn’t matter for physical benefits it matters a whole lot for psychological performance.

    I tried doing HIT with just calisthenics once or twice a week for a year. I found that even if there was some benefit, I always felt discouraged by my performance. It sucks royally when you can’t do a pull up! Even starting with easier progressions, you have to mentally be in the game too. Once I switched to a dumbbell only routine, my consistency in meeting and exceeding my goals soared. Adherence trumps ease of use when it comes to this.

    – Stop trying to use reps as a measure of progress – focus on adding small weights and moving to failure.

    Like you, I also found it super discouraging if when I was tracking my reps/TUL if I didn’t go up every workout. Try as I might to be “rational” about it and remind myself about the long game, I found that psychologically I was nervous and discouraged if I wasn’t seeing those #’s go up. My solution? Just stop caring about that as a measure of progress. Instead, I started adding 1-2.5 lbs. a workout, keeping the weight used the same for every movement. BOOM, adherence increased. The way I see it is that if I go up 1 lb. per workout, twice a week for a year, I’m 100 lbs. stronger and tracking progress is easy.

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Hey Salt Fox 😀 Great name.

      This is a really useful contribution. Thank you.

      Love your views on adherence and micro-loading. Similarly, I’m currently doing a machine based Big-5 again because I like seeing the weights go up lol. Even if it means very little.

      Appreciate it.

      • salt.fox

        Hey Lawrence,

        Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

        I hate/love that we’re wired to want to see progress, not just physically but quantified mathematically as well. I found with BW vs. Freeweights I just “felt” stronger knowing I was doing more pounds vs. TUL. I think that’s one thing I’ve learned over listening to all of your interviews, everyone seems to agree that even if you don’t need prog. overload on a physiological level, we tend to need it for psychological reasons (or something like it).

        I was listening to your podcast with Mark Asanovich this morning and had another thought I’d add to my list.

        – Variety is overrated.
        I have noticed that most of the folks you’ve interviewed say that variety matters for psychological reasons. I’ve actually found the opposite for myself, at least this stage of the game as an intermediate trainee (N=1 of course). I have found that once again, I like seeing the weight go up each session and being able to do the same thing and get even better at it. I find a lot of satisfaction in the predictability of having the same routine for an entire year.

        I also kind of look at it like brushing your teeth; do you need to “have fun” in order to stay motivated to do it everyday? Since resistance training is a health promoting activity and Leg Presses, Pull Ups, etc. work multiple muscle groups AND save time, why switch it up?

        • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

          Salt.fox – I agree with you to a great extent. I do think that one can follow the same program for a year or longer and get gains and consistency from the predictability. I think over a lifetime however, variety is helpful for personal growth. Although one is likely to always return to the basics that work, can be done anywhere and are safe like chins and push ups.

    • Kamen Stranchevski

      Cool post! Thanks for sharing this 🙂

      • salt.fox

        Thanks for the kind words Kamen! 🙂

  • Rob H

    One observation I’d add Lawrence: following the recent podacst with Brad, I thought I would experiment with the relatively faster 1 second/ 1 second cadence he advocates – but of course still smooth and in control (no explosive moves), minimising momentum. I’m a bodyweight resistance guy (to momentary muscular failure on every set), and after trying this faster cadence once, I found it a real game-changer. The faster cadence made the whole workout hugely more enjoyable for me, but weirdly I also found I was working harder, as I seem to be able to push myself harder at the end of the set for those last few painful reps.. The lactic acid burn seems to become more bearable.. And then I found myself wanting to do another set for every single exercise – and on one day actually feeling the desire to do 3 sets on a few exercises! I have looked in to what the hell is going on here, and I think it is what bodybuilders call the ‘pump’: ie lower load sets (bodyweight only in my case) performed at quite a fast cadence.

    There seems to be some evidence that it drives metabolites into the muscles and builds sarcoplasmic volume (not necessarily more effective for the muscle fibres themselves though) – and this ‘pump’ seems to really get the endorphins flowing so you just want to push harder and do a bit more volume. A welcome change from the usual dread I used to have before going into a much slower cadence routine.. I may be mistaken, but my gains do seem to have finally become a bit more noticeable – at least it’s clear to see the effect of the ‘pump’ during the session itself, which I believe has some carry-over into the recovery phase. I’ve found myself completely switching over to this faster cadence style of training now for the next 2 months. Milking it whilst it works! I will probably then switch back to my normal 3/3 – 5/5 cadence after that just to switch it up again.

    Has anyone else experimented with incorporating a ‘pump’ style of training into their HIT routines? I’d love to hear what Doug would make of this ‘pump training’ as the mainstay of one’s approach (as opposed to just a temporary deviation from a much slower cadence)!

    • Rob H

      One other thing I was going to mention: it might be worth exploring Lawrence what we all agree actually turns resistance exercise into ‘HIT’? As you say cadence, volume/ sets, frequency, exercise modality, load/weight – and also rest periods – can all be varied from very low to relatively high within the HIT framework, so what then makes it actually HIT as opposed to some other form of resistance exercise protocol? My answer to this is that the only thing that really determines whether it is HIT or not is whether EVERY set is taken to momentary muscular failure with each rep being performed in a smooth/ controlled fashion, minimising the effect of momentum. To me, that is the only reason that for example Brad Schoenfeld’s approach cannot be defined as HIT. For example, I currently am varying all of the above variables: ie experimenting with a relatively fast 1/1/ tempo, 2 or 3 sets of 8 or 9 exercises (but within a 45 mins workout), 3 times per week, low load (bodyweight only), short rest periods, but I still class it as being HIT since I always perform every set in a controlled manner to MMF. Although some might say this volume/ frequency is excessive: it seems to work for me in that I look forward to and enjoy it and do not seem to experience noticeable symptoms of overtraining. I think because I have dialled down the load variable – this facilitates a higher volume/ frequency – which is what I want. What are your thoughts on what are the essential aspects of resistance exercise in order for it to qualify as being ‘HIT’?

      • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

        Rob – In earnest I don’t really care for HIT. I use it because people recognise it. I actually think it’s become very ambiguous and actually causes problems because people end up arguing about completely different things. I prefer how Steele and Fisher use “evidence-based resistance training”, which is exactly what it is. Cadence, TUT, effort and definition of failure matters. A lot of the researchers in exercise don’t seem to control for these very well and that is why I feel that Fisher’s and Steele’s research and their recommendations are of the highest quality. Anyway, I use HIT because people from that community know the type of Training I’m referring too. I couldn’t give a shit if it’s not the traditional “perfect” HIT protocol whatever that is.

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Interesting observation Rob. I found that the 100 push-up challenge, which resulted in 3-5 sets to failure, stimulated a profound pump. I don’t think this contributes to greater hypertrophy beyond a SSTF.

      • enlite

        That’s interesting . I think rapid repetitions result in a more profound pump as you say because fluid is being moved into the muscle and not escaping at the same rate . Slower cadences produce an entirely different feeling in the muscles , you can literally feel the muscles being worked to the bone ! It still produces a pump per se , just a much deeper one .

  • enlite

    Great article Lawrence . I’ve come to many of the same conclusions that you have with regards to training . I’m currently training on a split routine once every 3 to 4 days doing a torso workout or upper body on the first followed by a leg workout on the second . The main reason i do this is because after training legs or even upper body for that matter it would be very hard to do justice to my legs or vice versa . It seems to me that many people want to find excuses to train more often then once or twice a week for whatever their reasons may be . I feel that training more than twice a week is unnecessary especially if one trains with a high level of effort / intensity . One must also keep in mind the crucial issue of wear and tear / cumulative damage on the body which increased training sessions along with the daily grind of life will bring .

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Nicely summarised Enlite. Thank you for the compliments on my article. Really pleased with how this has been received.

  • Nathan Adams

    Lawrence,

    Is the “microtear” theory of muscle growth legit, or is it just bro-science? I wonder if any of your guests have addressed this topic?

    I grew up with the idea that resistance training works because lifting creates microtears in the muscle fibers and in response, the body grows the muscle back bigger/stronger. I think this is still the dominant theory amongst most weightlifters.

    On the other hand, we in the HIT community talk about going to muscle failure, causing the muscle to fatigue. The way I understand muscular fatigue is that it is a metabolic process, i.e. the energetic chemicals in the muscles decrease while the waste products increase. And then the body takes this as a signal to grow/strengthen the muscle.

    These two theories seem very different and I’ve never really heard anybody in HIT compare and contrast them.

    • Rob H

      Interesting theory Nathan – however if this ‘metabolic’ theory was the whole story then going into workouts fasted would produce clear benefits in terms of hypertrophy, which has not been shown to date. That said, I do tend to workout fasted for other health benefits related to glycogen turnover, but unfortunately improved gains are not one of them!

      • Nathan Adams

        Rob, I’m not necessarily endorsing the metabolic fatigue theory, and I may not be describing it accurately. I’m just saying that something like it is the dominant theory of hypertrophy in HIT circles, not the microtear theory.

        Can you point me to discussions in the HIT community based on the microtear theory?

        • Rob H

          Hi Nathan, just off the top of my head the very first words I ever read relating to HIT was Doug’s quote from Body By Science as referenced in Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Body where Doug is putting the case for resting 1 week between workouts – likening the muscle damage to the repair that needs to happen after an eye injury. Ground breaking stuff at the time – I’m sure you know what I mean Lawrence?!

          • Rob H

            Problem is though when you hit your mid 40s the thing that doesn’t repair so quickly is the tendons and cartilage – but I have it on good authority (Chris Masterjohn) that taking 12g of collagen powder + vitamin C before my workout will help with that – so far so good. Also taking regular 1-2 week breaks from training. Unless you happen to be Ted Naiman of course…

          • Nathan Adams

            I agree … to visualize how long it takes to put on muscle Doug has asked his readers to compare a pound of hamburger to how slowly a skin wound takes to heal. Something like that anyway.

            What I’m saying is that the SIGNAL for muscle growth in the context of lifting is unclear. Is the SIGNAL structural microtearing of the muscle, is it metabolic fatigue, is it a combination of the two, or are other factors in play as well?

          • Nathan Adams

            I’m interested in this question because I think it gets to the heart of the optimum volume question. My sense is that if microtearing is signalling muscle growth, it suggests a higher optimum volume than if metabolic fatigue is the signal.

          • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

            I do indeed recall.

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      It’s a great question Nathan and I really don’t know the answer to be honest nor have much of an opinion. I’m sure if you search for “muscle gain” or “hypertrophy” in my search bar on the right, you’ll find my podcasts that focus on these topics.

      • Nathan Adams

        I found something … Episode 61 James Steele around 25:00 … discussion of hypertrophy stimulated by muscle damage vs stimulated by “something else” implied to be tension on the muscle.

        • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

          Nice one Nathan. I think a lot of the answers to the questions we have, have been addressed somewhere in the podcasting archive. I recently felt quite embarrassed after I realised that both Steele and Fisher has answered many of my recent questions (in-person, FB msg, via podcast) many moons ago in a podcast episode or two! It’s difficult to retain all of the information. But I do believe that so long as you’re training to MMF once or twice a week full-body, you’re probably going to get 80%+, and as I get older I care less and less about the last little bit (and I may be floored even in thinking this way). I think that changing protocols to get past sticking points may be important for optimising hypertrophy, and this may include changing training modality: bodyweight vs resistance machines vs free-weights, and exercise selection / consolidation, but I just feel like the gains are VERY marginal and that genetics account for almost everything. The sooner the disillusioned (and I’m not talking about you by the way) accept their genetic limits whilst retaining a healthy motivation for continuous improvement, the faster they will experience a more fulfilled life :D.

  • George Gamow

    Hey Lawrence,
    this is an amazing article as i know almost every of the concerns regarding HIT.
    Unfortunately, this made me stopping HIT and going back to conventional lifting, again. But now, after a few months i feel some pain all over my body (mostly knee and shoulders). I think of going back to HIT again (while I’m setting up my first home gym) – and your tips help a lot to find my way back…Thanks for that! 🙂

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Hey George – thank you for your comment :D. That’s a story I hear often: people returning to something like HIT or similar because it’s low risk and sustainable. Pleased you found this useful.

      • George Gamow

        Yes, that’s the biggest advantage of HIT – as well as the time efficiency.
        I re-listened your very first podcast with Dr. Doug McGuff and i just want to tell you that the quality of your podcast improved so much since than. From the standpoint of sound quality as well as your skills as an interviewer – keep it up!
        I’m about to setup my own blog and your amazing podcast will be mentioned in one of my first posts:
        https://georgegamow.blogspot.co.at/

        • https://corporatewarrior.co Lawrence Neal

          Thanks George! It’s such a contrast and I still have so much improvement to do. I’m my biggest critic and I struggle to listen to other podcasts because they make me feel shit lol. Thank you so much for the mention on your blog, best of luck!

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Hey George – just to let you know I responded to your comment on my YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBH1ZjFVm1w&t=15s

      Have I capped out my muscle mass?

      “I think so. I think a lot of people don’t want to accept that there are few people that can really gain a lot of relative muscle mass. I have been “bigger” and some people believe I looked better when I was bigger, but I was just fatter. I probably didn’t have any more muscle mass and if I did, it was reliant on there being more fat as well. I’ve been training hard fairly consistently for over 8 years and I think if I would have seen my greatest gains by now. Any improvements are probably very marginal. I may do some N=1 and marginally increase calorie intake and become even more particular about my training and optimise it to stimulate optimal gains but I have become a bit of a nihilist and as Dr James Steele said to me recently: “When you plateau, you plateau [in terms of muscle gain]”. So I wonder if I could really gain much more to make it all worthwhile. I also care less and less as I get older. So long as I have a fair amount of muscle and I’m lean, I’m pretty happy with that.”

      • George Gamow

        I replied to that on youtube, as well. 🙂

  • Nathan Adams

    Re: #11 “Dread” … I’ve found that increasing my frequency from once/wk to twice/wk has almost completely eliminated dread. It has become more like a job I have to get done without question. My intensity has actually increased a bit as well.

    • https://corporatewarrior.co lneal87

      Nice one Nathan. I train twice per week and still dread it lol. Abbreviating it helps remove the dread for me.

  • Richelieu

    Great article, thanks for sharing your experience but you had previous lifting experience before doing HIT and most likely already built some mass and definition. I’m doing HIT myself but I’m still skeptik as using HIT for a beginner to build strength and mass. All the dudes I’m seeing over the internet have prior bodybuilding experience, therefore it’s not clear whether they sculpted their body with HIT alone. Anyway, time will tell !

    • https://corporatewarrior.co Lawrence Neal

      Thank you. I hear you Richelieu. This is a really common concern with people that are new to HIT. Assuming you are new? When you realise that there is very little difference in terms of the time the muscle is under tension when you compare HIT to multi-set / more traditional training, you realise that one does not stimulate anything more than the other. Also, you can experiment with different volumes and frequency within HIT to figure out what works best for you. Everyone is different. However, as per research conducted by Dr James Fisher and Dr James Steele, 1 or 2 full-body workouts performed to muscular failure should milk most of the gains that your genetics will allow. Pretty much all of this comes down to genetics. People with superior genetics will blow up regardless of protocol. Hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have other questions.