What's the measure of a good workout? Some say it's the saturation level of their gym towels. Others use their fatigue or next-day soreness to judge whether their training session was time well spent. Some people, however, don't like to leave any doubt that they've completely exhausted their target muscles and touched off a storm of physique improvements. One way savvy trainees land in that zone is by using high-intensity training, or HIT.
The reasoning behind HIT is pretty simple: Bombard each muscle group with one arduous set to failure or beyond to ensure that no fiber has gone untrained. It makes sense, too. If you perform multiple sets of an exercise, you cannot conceivably achieve maximum intensity on every working set (unless you're Superwoman). Consider HIT the shock and awe campaign of the workout world.
"In HIT, every working set must be taken beyond failure," says M&F Hers Fitness Director Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS. "This requires the use of carefully selected and properly employed advanced training methods such as supersets, tri-sets and drop sets, all done with heavier-than-usual weight. Doing only one set per exercise allows a better chance of training with maximal intensity on every set."
This type of heart-pounding intensity may seem daunting, but it helps ensure you blast every muscle fiber you're working, which eventually leads to a tighter, shapelier appearance.
Training this way offers other perks, particularly for the time-crunched masses who love getting in and out of the gym quickly. Using a regular, high-volume day for legs as an example, you might perform five different exercises — squat, leg press, leg curl, leg extension, calf raise — for three sets each. That's 15 total sets.
On a HIT leg day, you might do the same five exercises but with only one working set of each (not counting 1-2 warm-up sets of each exercise), or five sets total. The difference will be the intensity of each set.
"Your recovery time will be based on your own experience level and the bodypart worked," Peña says. "After a leg day, for example, you may need to stay away from training legs again for a week or more. For shoulders, maybe you can attack them again in 3-4 days."
The key to making HIT work for you, according to Peña, may lie in your mental resolve. "To train this way, you really have to be willing to go the extra mile."
Here, we present four distinct programs:
Use the wide spectrum of exercises in these programs to gauge your body's reaction to HIT. From there, it's up to you how often you train this way, although we don't recommend doing so exclusively for more than a few weeks at a time. Find out for yourself why HIT is such a hit.
For our four HIT programs, pick up the September/October issue of M&F Hers, on newsstands now. For more on HIT, visit www.muscleandfitnesshers.com.
Program by Laura Mak, MS, CSCS