Bob Clayson's Optimal Exercise
for optimal health, aesthetic form, and function

The Principles of HIT

HIT stands for High Intensity Training; a term coined by the late Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus equipment and resistance training researcher. Arthur performed some of the most important studies (including the famous Colorado experiment and Project Total Conditioning performed at West Point academy) in exercise science history.  Many slight deviations and evolutions to his principles have been created, but the basic principles that he advocated are universal among all forms of HIT.  It is important to understand these principles and their purpose.

The overarching principles of HIT and Optimal Exercise are to perform the minimum amount of exercise necessary to gain the desired adaptations.  This of course fits in line with Optimal Exercise point #3 as stated in my article,”What is Optimal exercise?”, which is as follows: To achieve [maximum results with little to no negative effects] with minimal time investment.  This simply means that anything that is unnecessary, or doesn’t add benefits, should be discarded.  A quote by Bruce Lee that effectively illustrates this point is, “It’s not daily increase, but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessentials.”  The Principles of HIT, and Optimal exercise are:

1. Intensity: Intensity, as has been explained in the “What is Optimal Exercise?” article, is the key to progress. It is the number one stimuli to improving fitness. The body must be pushed beyond what it is normally accustomed to, in order to receive the signal to adapt.  This means, taking each exercise to momentary muscular failure, or in other words, the point at which you cannot do one more repetition in good form.  There are many techniques that can increase intensity in resistance exercise, like forced reps, supersets, and others. But the basic concept, is that you push yourself until your last attempted rep is a failure. Some of these higher intensity techniques can be too extreme and unnecessary for a lot of trainees.  Only advanced trainees with muscles that have become resistance to improvement should use them, and even then in moderation. Using a weight that you can only perform 8-12 repetitions in good form, and that lasts between 30-90 seconds, is optimal for aggressively recruiting and fatiguing both type I and type II muscle fibers resulting in total fitness.  Using more or less repetitions, and thus varying set durations, can be utilized to emphasis different effects.  Fewer reps generally result in pronounced strength gains, but do little in the way of metabolic conditioning.  More reps can result in greater endurance and metabolic conditioning, but less strength and size increases.  For over-all fitness, I recommend a 8-12 rep range, or set durations lasting between 30-90 seconds.

2. Volume:  The amount of volume of exercise that is optimal, is as little as possible, to hit every major muscle group of the body. Increasing the number of sets per muscle group does little in the way of stimulating progress, and much in the way of inroading or fatiguing muscles, causing longer recovery periods to become required.  Volume in training can controlled by following the following guidelines.

Use Compounds Movements. Compound, or multi-joint movements are preferable when performing HIT.  This allows fewer over-all sets to be performed to complete a full body workout, while increasing the total demand to the body, allowing for greater cardio-respitory and metabolic conditioning to take place.  Empirical evidence suggests that there is no benefit to isolation exercises vs. compound movements when it comes to size and strength increases.  Furthermore, isolation movements usually require specialized equipment, which many home and even commercial gyms don’t have.  With few if any benefits,and some drawbacks to isolation movements, the primary form of exercise I suggest is compound movements.

Perform only one set per exercise, and preferably per muscle group. 96% of studies performed have indicated that there is virtually no benefit to performing multiple sets vs. a single set, when it comes to strength and size increases.  It is also notable to mention that all of these studies were performed in short 6-9 week time frames. Long term studies have yet to be performed, and I believe would change some of these results.   It is my opinion that if a more-long term study were performed, the multiple set group would see a decrease in effectiveness.  The reason being, that as one becomes stronger, the energy expenditure required to do multiple sets per body part, begins to quickly add up, requiring greater time to recover.  Why do 2 or 3, when one is sufficient. Remember, minimum amount necessary.

The major muscle groups of the body can all be effectively stimulated and improved through a few basic compound movements, with one set to failure performed per exercise.  So, following this admonition, your workouts shouldn’t involve too many exercises and total sets.  Slight variations to accentuate certain muscles may be beneficial for some trainees with specific goals, however, performing too many exercises can result in an exhausting effect on the body that may be too extreme.  Many people have had phenomenal success doing as few as 3 movements per workout hitting all the major muscle groups of the body.  For beginners and intermediates, I recommend using somewhere between 4 and 12 total exercises to constitute a full body program.  Tolerance to number of exercises performed varies between trainees, so be sensitive to signs of over-trained or lagging body parts that may require more, less or different exercises.

3. Frequency: The Nautilus North study, performed by John Little, indicated that far less frequent exercise than was previously supposed, is required to stimulate desired adaptations in the body.  Using a complex and extremely accurate body composition machine, John was able to determine precisely when a person had recovered from their workout, and when they had reached the peak of overcompensation.  In his study, the shortest recovery time for a full body routine with one set to failure per exercise, was 3 days, the maximum was 14 days, and the average was between 6.6 and 10 days.  This suggests that for most genetically average trainees, a full body routine performed once per week, would not only be sufficient to stimulate muscle growth, but necessary for optimal results.  For beginners I suggest working out every 3-4 days to start off with, and when one ceases to see improvements, lengthen the recovery period.  This will almost always result in continued progress.

4. Full body workout:  While split routines maybe effective for muscle growth, there are certain metabolic conditioning effects that are better produced when one performs a full body routine, with minimal rests between exercises.  If you are looking for total fitness I highly recommend this approach.  If your goal is pure strength and size, and you are unconcerned with cardio-respitory adaptions, split routines and greater rest periods between sets may be utilized to ensure that you are fully recovered and  can give a greater intensity per exercise.

5. Form: Perfect form should be the goal of every trainee. Good form insures that the trainee will remain safe, without shifting the load to other muscles groups, negating the effects to the targeted muscle.  Lifting should be performed using an even cadence, that ensures that you are not bouncing or jerking the weight, and that no momentum is used to lift it.  Greater muscle fiber stimulation, reduced chance of injury and over-all improved stimulation to the muscle will occur by smoothly and evenly lifting the weight, with correct form that follows muscle and joint function. Usually a 3 second lifting and 3 second lowering (or 3/3 ) cadence will do this sufficiently.  Using extreme or unnatural angles and positions is as unnecessary as it is undesirable.

There are many variations to the basic program that I recommend, based on individual needs, responses to exercise, goals and limitations. But, performing one set to failure in the following 5 exercises, with a rep range between 8 and 12, with between 30  and60 seconds rest between sets,  is optimal for total fitness and health benefits.

1. Overhead Press

2. Chin-ups or underhand grip lat pulldowns.

3. Squat or Leg Press

4. Bench Press, Chest Press or Dips

5. Neutral grip Cable or free weight rows

These 5 exercises will effectively stimulate all the muscle groups of the body, and constitute a low volume workout.

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