A Publication of WTVP

One thing I hear a lot of people say is, “I don’t have time to exercise,” or “I’m too tired at the end of the day to work out.” And to a certain extent, I understand their dilemma. We have been told by the health and fitness industry that we need to perform at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and three sets of 15 exercises for strength training four to five times a week to achieve the health benefits we all want. Wow, now I see why people don’t have time to train!

I want you to forget everything you know—or think you know—about aerobic exercise and strength training. I’m going to give you the blueprint to get all of the health benefits of traditional exercise in two to three strength training sessions per week. Each session will take 20 to 40 minutes. You don’t have to spend an endless amount of time doing ineffective exercises to gain the health benefits associated with productive exercise. I’m going to explain to you the principles of high intensity training. But first, let’s look at the benefits of strength training.

These are the benefits associated with strength training alone:

  1. Increased bone density. Wolff’s law states that bone in a healthy person will adapt to the load it’s placed under. If loading on a particular bone increases, the bone will remodel itself over time to become thicker and stronger to resist that type of loading. Conversely, if loading decreases, it will become weaker and lose bone over time.
  2. Increased muscular strength and endurance. People are able to perform daily living activities more effectively. This also translates to improving balance, for older people.
  3. Improved blood lipid profile. Several studies have shown that strength training can help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.
  4. Strength training can lower resting blood pressure. In a 1999 study, researchers found that six months of strength training in older men and women lowered resting blood pressure.
  5. Strength training lowers the risk of diabetes and improves management of the disease. In a 1997 study, researchers found that strength training was responsible for improvements in blood glucose level control and that these improvements were significantly related to training-induced muscle increases.
  6. Reduction of body fat and improved body composition.

So how does one achieve all of the benefits described above? Through high intensity training (HIT), a theory of strength training that emphasizes high effort, as opposed to higher volume and frequency of workouts with lower intensity. What people need to realize is that you can train hard and brief or you can train for a longer period of time with lower effort.

In order to achieve all of these health benefits, one must train with a high level of effort. To stimulate increases in muscular strength, you must impose a demand on the muscles that is greater than they are accustomed to. This is the overload principle, the most basic principle of strength training. With HIT, each set is performed with all-out effort until another concentric repetition is impossible to perform. Depending upon rep speed, one set of an exercise should last between 60 and 90 seconds.

Another factor in HIT is that your training must be brief. The higher the effort, the shorter the workout needs to be. The greater the effort, the more rest you will need between workouts in order for your muscles to repair. HIT workouts last anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, depending on the number of sets performed and the amount of exercises being performed. Usually, I have people perform one to two sets of 10 to 15 different exercises, stressing full-body workouts and push-pull methodology. Of course, everyone is different and there are many factors to consider. Nutrition and rest, injuries, and specific training goals should all be considered when creating an HIT workout.

Because the intensity of HIT workouts is so high, the frequency of workouts needs to be less often. If a person does not give his or her body adequate recovery between sessions, the risk of overtraining and injury increases. I believe that you should strength-train no more than two to three days per week on non-consecutive days. I also know of people who strength-train once a week or every 10 days and achieve tremendous results. In my experience, the more advanced a person is, the less frequent he or she needs to train; more is not better.

I see it all the time—sloppy, jerky, fast, out-of-control reps. For me, it’s painful to watch most people perform strength training exercises. I can’t stress enough the importance of performing quality reps while strength training. Lifting weights in a rapid, “explosive” fashion is ill-advised for several reasons. Performing reps quickly increases momentum, which, in turn, decreases the amount of stress placed on the muscle and the effectiveness of the exercise. Also, lifting explosively increases the risk of injury by placing potentially dangerous forces on the joints, muscles and connective tissue. In my view, a person can’t go too slow while performing reps. I think trainees should take no less than five seconds each on the positive and negative portions of an exercise. Slow reps force the muscles to work through the full range of the exercise, increasing the effort needed to raise and lower the weight and making the exercise more intense.

The HIT Basics

  1. Train with a high level of intensity or effort.
  2. Workouts should be brief: less than 45 minutes.
  3. Workouts should be infrequent: two to three per week.
  4. One to two sets of each exercise, 10 to 15 different exercises.
  5. Perform quality reps; the slower, the better.
  6. Try to reach complete muscle exhaustion each set.
  7. Utilize compound exercises that stress major muscle groups.

Emphasize compound exercises. Your training should include exercises that utilize major muscle groups. Squats, dead lifts, lunges, dips, chest press, pull ups, lat pulls, shoulder press, mid rows—these are the movements that should make up most of a person’s routine. You can do isolation exercises (bicep curls) if you want, but your biceps will get so much work from pulling exercises that it’s probably unnecessary. Work your muscles from largest to smallest. Since I believe in full-body workouts, starting out with the chest, upper back or major leg exercise is the norm.

So there you have it. I truly believe that high intensity training is the most effective and safest theory of strength training and exercise known to man. Knowing the fundamentals of HIT will allow you to determine the specifics of volume and frequency and put together your own version. I promise you, if done correctly, you will be amazed at how productive this theory can be—and how little you really have to train to get results you never thought possible. iBi