What is High Intensity Training?

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High intensity training, or HIT as it is sometimes called, is a type of training based on the methods of a man named Arthur Jones. Back in the 1970’s he created a more ‘scientific’ style of training to accompany his Nautilus line of machines. His effort was to revolutionize weightlifting and bodybuilding based on his methods which seemed to come more from logic and biology than ‘conventional wisdom’.

Fundamental Conceptwhat is high intensity training

High Intensity Training is meant to be extremely concentrated and very brief. The idea is to obtain the maximum amount of muscle fiber usage doing a single exercise perfectly. Then you are done and it is time to rest. This is viewed by the people who employ the system as being superior to using a larger volume of sets and exercises with lesser intensity.

Because of the level of effort expected to be used for each exercise you can’t workout as long or as frequently. At the time of its origination most bodybuilders spent two to three hours a day in the gym. In contrast, people using the HIT program worked out more in the 30 to 45 minute range. Ironically science has now proven that working out longer than 45 minutes is less productive but at the time the HIT system produced lots of skeptics that felt you could only grow a muscle from volume training.

Style of Training

High Intensity Training was about getting the most out of your muscles in the absolute least amount of time. Ideally you would warm up and then attempt to perform one maximum effort set that would tax your muscle completely. Exercises were done with perfect form to incorporate maximum use of muscle fibers. Tempo was kept slow and steady and in some cases super-slow for added value. The total number of exercises and sets performed was much less than most workout programs and there was a lot of rest built in for recovery and growth. Usually that meant doing 1 work set and at most 2-3 exercises for a body part.

The reason it was called high intensity was because after muscle failure was met one of a few techniques was used to perform additional repetitions. A person might use drop sets, rest-pause, forced reps, negative reps, or static holds to ensure that a muscle was worked to its absolute level of exhaustion.

Does it Work?

Initially this style of training went against grain of popular wisdom. While the HIT style of training never went overly mainstream, there were quite a few notable users of the system such as Mike and Ray Mentzer and former Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. As there have been many success stories since the program was created along with variations it would seem that this program has great merit. However many people find it difficult to sustain a program that requires such a high level of intensity over a long period. Some people might use a few HIT techniques within a standard program or use a HIT program in cycles rather than all the time.

But it must be mentioned that other types of training serve other purposes. Training for athletic events or utilizing endurance training is much different that training to just build bigger and stronger muscles. There are different types of workouts depending on the end result you are looking for.

Example Program

Here is the arm portion of a high intensity training program that Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates utilized.


  • Incline Dumbbell Curls – 1 warm-up set of 10 reps, 1 work set of 6-8 reps
  • EZ Curl Barbell Curls – 1 warm-up set of 10 reps, 1 work set of 6-8 reps
  • Nautilus Curls – 1 warm-up set of 10 reps, 1 work set of 6-8 reps


  • Triceps Pushdowns – 1 warm-up set of 15 reps, 1 warm-up set of 12 reps, 1 work set of 8-10 reps
  • Lying EX Curl Barbell Extensions – 1 warm-up set of 12 reps, 1 work set of 8-10 reps

You can see that the work was very brief. While it is not considered the most conventional program compared to common wisdom, the more we learn about fitness and science the more it seems that high intensity training was pretty close to the right track for building muscles.

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