The majority of us who go to the gym have the same goal: we want the aesthetic changes of more muscle and less body fat and all of the health benefits which are associated with this.
This goal can also be dressed up as the term ‘toning up', but essentially it is the same pursuit of more muscle and less fat.
The majority of us are also short of time in our hyper-distracted world and we want quick results to give us the drive to actually stick at something.
Well, how about if I told you that you can effectively stimulate your muscles with under a quarter of an hour time commitment each week and become stronger after every workout?Our muscles adapt and grow while we rest, not while we train - Train hard, rest harder!Click To Tweet
Surely this is too good to be true?
Yes, this sounds like a late-night infomercial or some kind of conspiracy reserved only for the illuminated, but it seems that this information is overlooked simply because it doesn't sound like it makes sense.
We have been conditioned to believe that more work equals bigger and better results, but there is another way.
There is a tried and tested formula utilised by many champion bodybuilders from times past up to present day, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves simply because it doesn't fall in line with people's pre-conceived ideas about what should work.
What causes muscle growth?
Our bodies try their hardest to maintain ‘homeostasis', which is essentially staying in a constant; a constant temperature, constant body composition, etc. The body does not voluntarily wish to grow muscle mass, since this will require more calories to maintain.
When we train with weights, we are not making ourselves stronger in that moment, we are in fact making ourselves weaker since we are breaking down muscle tissue. It is during the rest phase that our bodies adapt and our muscles both become stronger and increase in size.
The exact processes behind muscle development are incredibly complex and still not fully understood, but what is known is that it is the combination of muscle tension, muscle damage and metabolic stress. However, we needn't concern ourselves with the technical specifics since there is a much simpler way to think of it.
In order to prompt our muscles to grow we must convince them that change is necessary for our survival.
Think of it this way:
You're in danger, you need to escape for your own safety but a huge and heavy object is blocking your path. You push with all of your might, with your feet struggling to grip as they slide on the floor, a minute ticks by as you continue to exert every bit of force which you can muster as you brace every muscle in your body and channel all of your energy into moving that huge object to get yourself out of danger and then finally at the very last second you just manage to shove it out-of-the-way and escape to safety. You dive into the safe zone and lay on the floor utterly exhausted from your all-out full exertion.
This has just told your body that it needs to become stronger in order to continue your survival.
It is at this point that sufficient rest and nutrients are required to initially allow the bodies energy reserves to replenish back to optimal levels and then subsequently to increase the strength and size of the muscle.
What can hinder progress?
Following on from our above hypothetical ordeal, if we were to return to training too soon then the full adaptation process would not have run its course and we would limit our bodies ability to become stronger and increase its muscular size.
Don't confuse training long with training hard. Training hard, intensely, is what is required to build muscle mass.Mike Mentzer
Not to mention the fact that by attempting to train again before our bodies have recuperated we may put ourselves in a position of compromised immunity and be more susceptible to illnesses like colds and flu.
However, the way that the majority of people train is either on the low-end of intensity, training very frequently, or even worse, both!
Ending a set simply because an arbitrary number of reps has been reached will do little or nothing to stimulate growth. This is a waste of time and energy!Spend less time in the gym: Work harder, not longer - less frequency, more intensity!Click To Tweet
A sweet spot exists!
Fortunately for us there is a sweet spot which exists, a shortcut which we can take! This certainly isn't a shortcut on the amount of effort required, but it is a shortcut on the amount of time required.
You can train hard or you can train long, but you can't do bothMike Mentzer
High Intensity Training is that shortcut. This is not to be confused with high intensity interval training, or HIIT.
Yes the missing letter makes all the difference here! HIT is a way of describing a brief and infrequent weight training routine which is performed to muscular failure.
It's also a succinct way of saying ‘give it everything you've got, embrace the burn, literally rip your muscles to shreds for a matter of just minutes, then you're finished and you can go home'!
So what do I have to do for these timely and efficient gains?
It's all about the intensity. Simply put you have to fully exert yourself to your absolute limits.
The beauty of it is that as your effort goes up during your workout, the number of exercises you perform must decrease and the duration of rest period between workouts must increase!
This is about making each exercise count, taking advantage of that one opportunity to cause as much ‘inroading' as possible to the muscle in order to maximise the amount of adaptation possible.
High Intensity Training Instructions
- Perform one or two exercises per body part, for only one set each exercise
- Choose a weight which you can only just manage to move for 60-90 seconds – This is your ‘Time Under Tension' and if you go beyond this time (and you should be trying to!) you should increase the weight on the next workout, if you cannot reach this time decrease the weight on the next workout
- The weight is to be moved in a slow and controlled manner – taking between 5-15 seconds on the lifting (concentric) and 5-15 seconds on the lowering (eccentric) phase
- Keep the muscle under constant tension – there is to be no ‘lock-out' at the top or resting the weights on the stack at the bottom, do not cheat yourself!
- Aim for minimal rest time between each exercise – 30-90 seconds is sufficient
- Log every single thing every single time – Seat position, Time Under Tension, weight lifted, reps, rest
- Allow at least 5 days rest before working the same muscle group, but preferably 7!
What exactly do you mean by ‘failure'?
There are a few definitions of muscular failure, but for everything we are discussing here, failure is the point at which you are no longer able to successfully perform another repetition with good form.
Reaching a point of true failure is as much a mental feat as it is to do with your muscles no longer being able to exert any force. Our minds are much more likely to convince us that we must drop the weight before we are no longer able to move it.
Go through your workout in your mind in advance so that you are mentally prepared and will therefore prioritise maximum results over release from a temporary discomfort, by holding on for 5 seconds longer!
You never know, you may even grow to love the burn, or is that just us?!
Wont I have to use all of those big scary free weights though?
No! In fact, using machines instead of free weights is recommended. By using machines you dramatically minimise your possibility of injury.
By using machines we may also receive another added benefit by not being limited by the smaller, weaker muscles, so we are better able to work the larger muscles, thus prompting greater gains and all of the benefits associated with having more muscle.
There is one caveat though, the machines which you use must have a smooth flow of motion. If they are beat up old machines with a jerky movement, your muscles will not be under a constant tension, so it wont be as effective.
Saying that though, it is possible to perform HIT training using free weights, just ensure you are performing your exercises with the assistance of spotter catchers, or within a power rack to ensure your safety when you take it to the point of muscular failure.
Is this suitable for beginners?
Yes! However, if you have never lifted weights before then you must be able to perform the exercises with perfect form before working to failure.
Initially spend a few weeks practising with lighter weights first then once you feel confident you can increase the intensity. Again, this is where opting for machines over free weights is the safest option.
Do I need to do a warm-up?
Life itself can and should be your warm up. Our bodies were designed to move, so walk or cycle to the gym. Once you arrive, take the stairs instead of the lift!
However, if you really cannot get a warm up on your way to the gym, you can use the treadmill at the gym for a brisk walk for a few minutes to get started.
After you have been performing the workouts over a course of weeks and have progressed to heavier weights you may also prefer to perform a couple of brief warm up sets at a regular tempo of around 2 seconds on the lifting and 2 seconds on the lowering phase which would look like this:
- Brisk walk on treadmill for 3 minutes
- 10 repetitions at 50% of target weight (the weight you wish to use in your main set to failure)
- 2 repetitions at 75% of target weight
- Rest 2 minutes
- Perform main set to failure
How to cover the whole body in only 5 exercises
If you are looking for a good base point with which to start you can perform the following full body routine in only 11 minutes using machines at your gym.
- Seated Row
- Chest Press
- Pulldown (underhand grip)
- Overhead Press
- Leg Press
Once this has become a routine and you have been making steady progress over a course of months you may wish to progress by adding exercises and moving into a split routine of performing all of your pushing exercises on one day, all of your pulling exercises on another day and then all of your leg exercises on another day. When opting for this schedule, allow at least 48 hours between each workout and 5-7 days before working the same muscles again (Mon, Wed, Fri suits most people).
How do I know if I'm doing it right?
You will make improvements in either amount of weight lifted or your total Time Under Tension on each and every workout provided that you are adhering to the two golden rules of lifting with all your might and then allowing enough time to fully recuperate and adapt. Don't even start a workout unless you feel ready to give it your all.
One set at extreme intensity does the muscle-building job. It must be stressed that the one final, all-out set I do takes me to the very limit of my capabilities. If you feel you can attempt a second set, then you couldn’t have been pulling out all the stops during the first set. It's not pretty, but it works.Dorian Yates
Why doesn't everybody do this?
Firstly, it sounds too good to be true!
Secondly, this doesn't suit everyone as it requires a very intense effort, albeit for a very brief period of time each workout (even though the increase in effort means you spend two-thirds less time in the gym!).
Thirdly, in the top spectrum of bodybuilders in the world, they are genetically gifted and also usually hormonally assisted, so they are able to positively respond to a greater volume of training so instead most opt for a high volume style.
However, that's not to say that multiple competition winning bodybuilders haven't employed the intense and infrequent HIT technique, you only need to look at the likes of HIT pioneer Mike Mentzer and 6 time Mr Olympia winner Dorian Yates.
For the rest of us, though, we can achieve dramatic results in a fraction of the time commitment! We can spend the rest of our time eating right and sleeping right to allow our bodies to positively adapt.
- Supercharge your results and gain back valuable time in your life by upping your training intensity whilst decreasing your total workout time
- Offset this increase in intensity and allow your body to adapt by focusing on longer rest between workouts and good nutrition
- Most importantly, when you do train put 110% effort in – make it count!
Body by Science: 30 Min Weekly HIT Workout Routine – How we have adapted and modified the high intensity training principles from body by science into a three times per week split routine to further enhance muscle growth.
What do you think – does high intensity training only elicit results in beginners or those on steroids, or is it the perfect training routine which we can all incorporate into our lives to get the aesthetic and health benefits associated with greater levels of muscle and lower levels of body fat? Let us know your experience in the comments! 🙂