HIT Vs. Periodization!

Ask 10 people what they believe to be the optimal training regimen and you'll likely get 10 answers (maybe 11, if one person is indecisive). The true question: is there an optimal training regimen?

The Optimal Training Program?

Ask 10 people what they believe to be the optimal training regimen and you'll likely get 10 answers (maybe 11, if one person is indecisive). The true question: is there an optimal training regimen? It depends on who you ask.

The high intensity training (HIT) proponents say that one set to failure is all that is necessary for optimal growth, while others recommend using periodization where the number of sets, rep ranges, etc actually varies.

The truth is that both types of training can be beneficial; it really depends on your goals, time, training history, and experience.


What Are Your Goals?
>Lose Fat
>Build Muscle
>Improve Energy
>Other

Many of you are probably familiar with the late Mike Mentzer, who was probably HIT's most vocal leader. His writings were more on the extreme ends of HIT, whereas others recommend more of a balance between both lifting protocols (e.g., sometimes reduce the volume, but not to the extreme of training just a few sets for an entire body part every few weeks like Mentzer recommended).

Many well respected bodybuilders (e.g., Casey Viator, Dorian Yates, Lee Labrada, and of course the Mentzer brothers themselves) have also touted the benefits of a HIT program vs. high volume training regimens. So let's delve into some research as to which protocol may be more beneficial for your specific goals and needs.


What Is Better Suited To Your Goals?

One review published recently reviewed the available research on resistance training and the effects of various protocols. It is difficult to compare many of these studies because they all use different exercises, protocols, etc. Therefore, many assumptions are made when interpreting this area of research.

However, many similarities arise from these studies, allowing researchers to draw sound conclusions and not make leaps that are too far off the beaten path.

    Number Of Sets:

    • First, keep in mind that the number of sets is just one component of an overall training protocol.

    Exercise Selection:

    • It is also crucial to consider the exercise selection, training speed, goals, training history, nutrition program, age, etc.

So while the focal point of HIT vs. Periodization is the number of sets, actually looking deeper you'll see that there's more to it than that.

Since most individuals over train, cutting back on training frequency and volume may be "just what the doctor ordered" when trying to add some variety. To add a little personal touch to this; I have experimented with HIT in the past. I was surely one individual who was overtraining.


Personal Experience

I was young and naïve and thought that the more time I spent in the gym, the better. This is a horrible mistake that many novice lifters (and seasoned veterans) make.

With HIT, my strength exploded through the roof on every movement; I was training 2 times per week for literally 15 minutes/session maximum. However, I ultimately hit a plateau and just like all programs, my body grew accustomed to that protocol - it was time for some variation.


Break The Plateau

This plateau is not surprising and explains why the folks in the "periodized camp" recommend varying the program. Neurologically, the body needs "confusion" for lack of a better term and varying aspects of your program offers just that.

So why did my strength skyrocket while on HIT? I was overtrained and not resting or eating enough for recovery. The food aspect of my lifestyle didn't change, and training with such limited frequency allowed my body to recuperate from the 6 day/week protocol I was previously performing.

My little experiment taught me to train less frequently than I was and to vary my training protocols more often.


Pros And Cons Of HIT Training

Here is a very brief list of pro's and cons of HIT Training:

    Pros

    • Allows body to recover
    • Offers variation from current protocol
    • Short workouts are good for time restraints

    Cons

    • Does not offer enough variety to workouts
    • Not recommended for beginners as training to failure could be dangerous if one is not familiar with resistance training.
    • This may be too strenuous for beginners unfamiliar with resistance training.
    • Only focuses on strength with limited carryover to activities that may require more muscular endurance.

The moral of the story is that all programs will work for some time. The reason for variety is that our bodies quickly adapt to what we give them; always do 10 pushups and never shoot for more means you are not challenging your body. If you have never tried

HIT, give it a whirl for a change. I can guarantee that many of you out there are over training. Go ahead and take one week off; you'll more than likely come back to the gym stronger than ever and ready to move some iron.

All About Recovery With John Berardi.
Below I will discuss some secrets that I use with my athletes. When talking about recovery from training and competition, there are basically 5 areas to focus on.
[ Click here to learn more. ]


Training Frequency

Then, don't train with your normal frequency. Try backing off on training your smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, shoulders, abs) and focus on compound movements that utilize many more muscle groups (squats, deadlifts, cleans, pull-ups, bench, incline bench, etc).

If you have some training experience, try training to failure-make sure you have a training partner, so you can truly go to failure (i.e., you cannot push one more rep), but do so with perfect form.

When I trained using HIT about 10 years ago, I bought Mike Mentzer's book and followed his program to a T. It felt very strange; I was training once every 3 or 4 days, using only major movements like I suggest above. Mike's program taught me how to focus on the specific movements and muscles being used because I learned to honestly train to failure.

This may sound strange, but the 15 minute workouts were some of the hardest I've ever had. I also put my body under a lot of stress because of the large amount of weight I was moving (e.g., leg extensions to failure with the entire stack + a 45 lb plate supersetted with leg presses with 9 plates on each side for 10 reps to failure).

Again, I cannot stress this enough; make sure you use a spotter as training to complete muscular failure can be dangerous when using such heavy weights.


Conclusion

Remember that all individuals are unique. What works for your friends may not work for you. You must experiment with different training paradigms and always add variety, whether it's through the exercises you choose, sets you do, rep speed, rest intervals, etc.

There are a million variables that go into a successful training regimen and the options are endless - if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.

Finally, I would have a difficult time writing without mentioning nutrition, so remember sound nutrition is more than half the battle when trying to recover.

You aren't going to drive a Ferrari and fill it with cheap gas; think of your body as that Ferrari and fuel your body to optimize function, performance, and recovery.

How Many Recovery Days Are Needed Between Each Bodypart Worked?

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2.
3.
4.
5.
6 Or More.


BONUS: Sample Workouts


Sample HIT Routine

Learn more about this workout in Highly Intensive Training (HIT)!


Sample Periodization Routine

Upper Body - Horizontal: Monday

    Order Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
    A1 Bent Over Barbell Row
        Workout One and Four 6 4 30X 120
        Workout Two and Five 4 12 201 60
        Workout Three and Six 5 8 301 90

    A2 Incline Barbell Press with towel grip
        Workout One and Four 6 4 30X 120
        Workout Two and Five 4 12 201 60
        Workout Three and Six 5 8 301 90

    Order Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
    B1 Mixed Grip Chins - alternate sets
        Workout One and Four 6 4 30X 120
        Workout Two and Five 4 12 201 60
        Workout Three and Six 5 8 301 90

    B2 Seated Barbell Military
        Workout One and Four 6 4 30X 120
        Workout Two and Five 4 12 201 60
        Workout Three and Six 5 8 301 90

    Order Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
    C1 Incline EZ Bar Tricep Extension
    (decline pictured)
        Workout One and Four 6 4 30X 120
        Workout Two and Five 4 12 201 60
        Workout Three and Six 5 8 301 90

    C2 EZ Bar Curl
        Workout One and Four 6 4 30X 120
        Workout Two and Five 4 12 201 60
        Workout Three and Six 5 8 301 90

    D DB Swiss Ball Crunch
        Every Workout 4 20 311 30

Click here for a printable version of this page!

Lower Body - Tuesday & Friday

    Order Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
    A Back Squat
    heels raises 1 1/4 rep style
        Workout One and Four 5 8 301 90
        Workout Two and Five 6 4 30X 120
        Workout Three and Six 4 12 201 60

    Order Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
    B1 Bulgarian Split Deadlift
        Workout One and Four 5 8 301 90
        Workout Two and Five 6 4 30X 120
        Workout Three and Six 4 12 201 60

    B2 Split Good Morning
        Workout One and Four 5 8 301 90
        Workout Two and Five 6 4 30X 120
        Workout Three and Six 4 12 201 60

    Order Exercise Sets Reps Tempo Rest
    C Reverse Crunch
        Every Workout 3 15 311 30

Click here for a printable version of this page!

Learn more about this workout in Undulating Periodization: Variable Repetition Training.