HIT & Static
Training, High Intensity Training, Superslow Training,
and Static Contraction are all versions of a training methodology
that continues to emerge at times as revolutionary, at other
times as controversial. I'll first share my response to
a couple of questions related to these approaches, and then
I'll share an article I wrote several years ago for Muscle
& Fitness. I hope this provides a bit of clarity in
the area of Heavy Duty Training for those who may have been
exposed to conflicting information - Phil Kaplan
Phil, on a video tape that is provided by Anthony Robbins
with his Get the Edge program he brings up a really interesting
exercise discovery. Basically for strength increase he advocates
using extremely heavy weights and holding them at 90% extension
for 20-30 seconds. There are 6 movements (Press, Squat and
other classic weight training movements) . After you do
these movements (1 rep each) you basically take a week or
more off. This basically works out to a 3 minute work out
once a week and as you progress you take longer off. They
claim that the strength increases that are accomplished
are superior to classic many repetition weight training.
I am not criticizing, I am just looking for your opinion.
I would imagine that the metabolic gains are not as great
as the strength gains but aren’t these kind of related?
By extremely heavy weights he means for example if you can
do one rep @ 100lbs you should do a 95% rep @ 150 and hold
it for 20-30seconds @ 95% extension. What do you think
ANSWER: While I have great
admiration for Tony Robbins’ marketing ability, presentations
skills, and dynamic motivation techniques, he is not an
accomplished fitness expert and I've seen his focus change
over the years. There was a time he connected with Bill
Phillips’ programs, then he found an attachment to Jorge
Cruise (Cruz?) and now he's found the idea of Static Contraction
to serve him as it's unique and can be presented as revolutionary.
This really isn't a new concept.
In the 1960's and 1970's, Ikei, Muller and Steinhaus conducted
research testing the idea of maximal efforts and isometric
contractions and opened the doors for additional study.
(Ikei, M., and A.H. Steinhaus. Some factors modifying the
expression of human strength. Journal of Applied Physiology.
16: 157-163, 1961). It was clear that maximal efforts, even
static efforts, had the potential to increase strength measurably.
Pete Sisco, an author and writer for Ironman magazine publicized
the concept among bodybuilders, but it had not been introduced
to the general public who at the time was still afraid for
the most part of "heavy weight training."
Now, as resistance exercise has
found its way into the media as an important contributor
to strength, function, and metabolism, Tony Robbins found
it to be a valuable platform. Is it legit? I believe it
is, but not because there's any magic. It's just another
way of challenging muscle beyond that intensity at which
it's used to being challenged. Just as you'd plateau with
conventional sets and reps training without modification,
I believe the strength curve increases will gradually level
off requiring a shift in training to keep gains ongoing.
Years ago isometric exercise
was of interest to those involved in exercise study. Then
Charles Atlas took the principle of "irresistible force
meets immovable object" and termed in "Dynamic
Resistance." Static Contraction is the evolution of
that process by integrating progressive resistance into
the equation. This type of training is intense, requires
a physical and mental discipline, and is not a long term
solution, but it can have its place with the right guidelines,
a full understanding of the process, and the right supervision.
QUESTION: I saw someone
named Adam Zickerman on the Early Show talking about "The
Power of 10," a workout you only do once a week. One
trainer at my gym uses "Superslow Training." This
idea of slow movement is obviously catching on, but do you
think it's for real? The thing that concerns me is that
the proponents of this type of training say aerobic exercise
isn't necessary, and that goes against everything I've learned.
The "Superslow" training concepts which Zickerman relays
in his book suggest you perform repetitions slowly taking
20 seconds to perform each repetition (10 seconds concentric,
10 seconds eccentric). These concepts were introduced officially
by Ken Hutchins in 1992 with his release, Superslow, the
Ultimate Exercise Protocol.
I don't see Super Slow training
as the "end-all-be-all" mechanism of generating results
that those who are committed to it present it as. It's really
just an outgrowth of the old Arthur Jones Nautilus principles.
Is it valid? Sure. You can of course stimulate "muscle overload,"
bringing muscles to momentary muscle failure by extending
the time period of each muscle contraction. It can be, in
my opinion, an integral part of any overall training regimen,
but I am not comfortable with it being "the whole."
Any time you stay with a specific
stimulus for an extended period of time, you will reach
a point of adaptation where progress slows and ultimately
ceases. If Super Slow training is used to break through
a plateau, to throw a new stimulus at a body unaccustomed
to this type of intensity, it can be of benefit.
As you mentioned, those who are
"sold" on Super Slow often buy into the belief that it replaces
the need for any other type of exercise, aerobic included.
I believe all exercise, plyometric, isometric, isokinetic,
functional, muscle isolation, etc. etc. etc. can all be
integrated, but no single exercise is going to be the entire
solution. Aerobic capacity is measured by oxygen capacity
(VO2 max). The VO2 max increase reports held up by advocates
of Super Slow training as a replacement for aerobic exercise
are flawed as evidence to support the "all you need" theory.
First of all, they are exceptions and the results have not
been sufficiently replicated. Secondly, since VO2 Max measurement
purports to measures the heart's ability to meet maximal
oxygen demand, there are many variables that can affect
future readings. The measurement is delivered in ml/kg/min,
thus changes in body composition and body weight will affect
VO2 max readings. If you increase muscle, and thus improve
body composition, while strengthening the cardiac muscle
via anaerobic training, it is possible to facilitate enhanced
VO2 max readings, but that doesn't mean all of the benefits
of aerobic exercise have been achieved. It is also possible
to lose weight, and with that lose muscle, and still show
better VO2 max results. Without a measure of stroke volume,
respiration, BP, and fat usage, a report can not claim to
replace the benefits of aerobic exercise, simply by comparing
VO2 max results.
People such as Mike Mentzer have
taken the principles developed by Arthur Jones and extended
them into "Heavy Duty," "HIT," or "Super Slow" training.
I don't know anybody, Mike Mentzer and Casey Viator (the
original "test" subject" for Nautilus) included, who actually
developed world-class physiques using only those principles.
It takes years of training and advanced muscle development
to handle the intensity of regularly exhausting your muscles
through Super Slow principles.
Push to Failure
We’ve all seen it. That fierce
assault on the muscles that summons up crazed expressions,
a few grunts and growls, and maybe even a scream as a well-earned
final repetition reaches completion. We can feel the sense
of relief as the body begins to relax and the weight returns
to the rack. We have a word for that assault. Intensity.
Intensity may very well be the
single most important factor behind impressive results,
the greatest determinant of muscularity. When Nautilus,
the brainstorm of Arthur Jones, was introduced in the 1970’s,
it was devised under the premise that short, intense workouts
could replace the long-adhered-to “multiple sets per body
part” approach to building serious muscle. At the time
Jones’ approach was considered radical and the conventional
weight training gurus balked at the idea that one set per
bodypart was sufficient.
In validating the virtue of his
theories, Arthur Jones introduced Casey Viator who achieved
his winning physique with workouts that can only be considered
legendary in their intensity, and a little at a time the
High Intensity Training (HIT) approach became a recognized
force on the fitness and bodybuilding scene.
Mentzer was one of the most outspoken advocates of what
he termed his “Heavy Duty” training principles and his disciples
cherish their short, intense, training sessions with their
foundation in Arthur Jones’ teachings. While not everyone
who employs the HIT principles will find Mentzer-type physique
development, it’s certainly stood the test of time and has
been an integral part of developing some of the most respected
physiques in bodybuilding today.
A question that begs to be answered
is, what separates Mike Mentzer and Casey Viator from those
who might not have achieved the same results following HIT
principles? Well sure, genetics come into play, but beyond
the gifts of nature, the level of intensity they committed
to in their training offered them the power to develop astounding
physiques, and the level of intensity we’re discussing here
requires more than physical strength. The power to get
through another rep of leg presses when your quads are trembling,
burning, and swollen with blood requires a High Intensity
Succeed by Failing
The first necessary shift in
thinking for anyone who is well connected to multiple sets,
multiple reps, is the idea of every set leading to an all
out effort tapping the boundaries of capacity. An essential
element of High Intensity Training is the concept of “training
to failure,” or more accurately, momentary muscle failure
(MMF). The goal is to stimulate a muscle or muscle group
without interruption until the muscles are no longer momentarily
capable of another repetition. When a muscle reaches a
point of MMF, there are some creative ways to take it past
the point of initial failure, continuing to work the muscle
until it again reaches its capacity.
Proponents of the HIT concepts
believe the intensity and muscle stimulation present in
this type of training may yield equal or better results
than the old standard of 4 sets per exercise, 3 exercises
per bodypart, 8-12 reps per set. Although HIT or Heavy
Duty Training has both its advocates and detractors, it
is no longer viewed radical. In fact, with an understanding
of foundational strength development, it makes perfect sense.
Muscle strength and size increases
are not exclusively a result of intensity. There are three
primary factors that come into play. The first, a concern
for putting optimal fuel into the body, both from an energy
standpoint and from a raw material for cell development
perspective. With nutrition aside, the other two factors
are intensity of effort and recovery. If a muscle group
can be brought to MMF using an all out effort, and one set
per bodypart is the structure around which the routines
are developed, workouts are obviously far more time efficient
leaving far greater resources for recovery.
Dr. Richard Winett, the founder
of The Center for Research in Health Behavior, at Virginia
Tech, described the theory behind HIT as follows, “High
intensity training theory posits that the mechanism causing
an adaptation in the musculoskeletal system is a marginal
overload provided within a high intensity stimulus. It
appears that as long as there is some marginal overload
and intensity is high (not specifically defined) and that
the duration of a set is somewhere between 30 to 90 seconds
or even 120 seconds, then the initial requirements for producing
adaptation have been met.”
Stimulate muscle with an all
out effort, fuel the body optimally, and recuperate effectively
and muscle increases are a given.
To further the intensity, some
HIT training programs incorporate supersets or giant sets
where isolation movements are immediately followed with
compound movements. I’ll use the leg extension and leg
press as an example.
In an HIT workout, you’re going
to challenge muscle slowly, not using momentum, but focusing
solely on the target muscles’ involvement in the movement.
One set of Leg Extensions taken to MMF, using a 10 – 12
RM Max, takes the quadriceps to a peak of momentary exhaustion.
Rather than immediately allowing the quads to recover, you
move to a 2-joint movement. Where the Leg Extension has
you moving exclusively from the knee joint, the Leg Press
allows you to recruit the glutes in order to move from both
the knee and the hip. Because the glutes haven’t yet been
worked, they are fresh and willing to provide additional
stimulus to actually move you pass the point of initial
failure, to yet a greater height of exhaustion.
If you believe pre-exhausting
a muscle is the pinnacle of intensity, you may be surprised
to learn of yet another technique of continuing to push
the muscle, even after it has reached MMF in both an isolation
and a compound movement. Static contractions can be employed
in any exercise where the muscle is challenged by resistance
in the contracted position, such as leg extensions or lat
pulldowns. Rather than continuing to attempt positive reps,
the muscle is brought to contraction with the assistance
of a spotter, and the idea is to maintain that contraction
for as long as possible, slowly returning to the relaxed
position. Intense? Beyond intense. Effective? It appears
Mike Mentzer, in studying Arthur
Jones’ principles and mastering their application, has brought
about not only impressive, but astounding results in some
individuals who were taught to train only once in four days
with only one set per bodypart. Of course, this type of
training is not for everyone. It takes a strong will, determination,
and some finely honed Mental Conditioning skills to optimize
every workout, and with a heavy duty mindset in place, strength
and muscle development goals become far more achievable.
Accessing the Inner Voice
When attempting to develop Mental
drive and the psychological power to push forward when we
face increasing challenges, understanding self talk becomes
essential. We are all subject to constant chatter taking
place in our brains. We’re driven to question and to make
decisions by an inner voice that plays on both intellect
and emotion. If you fail to recognize that inner voice,
you are operating without full control of the driving system
for your body. High-level athletes have learned to not
only identify, but to alter their self-talk so it drives
rather than discourages them.
A simple and effective exercise
that can help to create supportive and consistent self-talk
is to keep a notebook and pen beside your bed. Before going
to bed at night, listen, and jot down your thoughts. Upon
waking do the same. Over a matter of days you’ll have a
clear recognition of your self-talk, and you’ll be able
to take steps to strengthen its value to your strength training
goals. With a written list of the usual thoughts and phrases
that pervade your brain, you can write phrases that would
prove more supportive and read them aloud each evening before
retiring, each morning upon waking. “Oh no, I have to wake
up at 6 to train tomorrow,” can be replaced by “I’m thrilled
by my ability to grow and look forward to tomorrow’s empowering
training session.” “I can’t” thoughts can be replaced by
“I can,” or to further strengthen the driving force, “I
must.” This sounds simplistic, but don’t mistake simple
for frivolous. Adjusting self-talk is a goal of all mental
conditioning experts in their quests to optimize athlete’s
The Power of Visualization
set during a HIT workout might last all of 90 seconds, however,
that 90-second challenge requires the utmost in focus and
concentration to reap the greatest reward. Visualization
is a powerful tool in developing the mindset to make every
rep of every set pay off. There are two primary approaches
to visualization. Firstly, by developing a clear mental
picture of precisely where you ultimately want to be, you
align your thoughts to make that goal a mental reality.
Your brain cannot clearly distinguish between an intense
or emotional experience and an imagined experience with
the same level of emotion attached. By continually refining
and crystallizing the picture of your ultimate goal, you
become a rocket with a cutting edge driving system focused
on a specific target.
The other approach involves accessing
the visual images in the midst of a HIT set. We are all
driven by the opposing forces of pain and pleasure, yet
we are willing to endure pain if we know the payoff justifies
the effort. By focusing, not exclusively on the requirements
of the set, but simultaneously summoning an image of the
payoff, the challenge is lessened, the potential for results
kicked up a notch or two.
Deckard is not one to shy away from intensity, especially
during his back training. In training for his competitions
in 2000, he knew he needed to bring up his back to achieve
the balance that would put him out in front of the other
competitors. He mentally prepared for giving each back
workout his all. After a brief warmup using calisthenic
movements such as chins and pull-ups, he hits the weights
hard and heavy, moving into intense and heavy sets of T-Bar
rows followed by heavy Front Pulldowns. Deckard explains,
“Without the mental focus, I could never get through these
workouts. I believe in training the basic movements heavy.
My body grows in response to heavy sets brought to failure,
but I knew if I was going to be at my best, I needed an
edge. That edge came from mental focus and visualization.
In order to get into the High
Intensity mindset, Deckard thinks primarily about his previous
contest. “I look at old pictures and I determine based
on how I looked in a prior show, the improvements that I
need to make. I’m constantly visualizing what I’d look
like if I had all the areas covered. In order to get in
shape for the LA in 2000, I looked at a lot of pictures
of Flex Wheeler, Shawn Ray, and of Arnold, and I drew mental
images of their complete physiques. I began to see my physique
from my previous competition transform into one with balance.
My lower back was a lagging weakness. I added in heavy
sets of seated rows and trained with the mindset that I
was absolutely going to improve. When I train, I picture
myself up on the stage. People haven’t seen me at my best.
Only I’ve seen it, in my own mind, and it’s that vision
that gives me the power to train to my full capacity. I
believe I’ll achieve more than ever in terms of muscle gain
between now and next year. No, I don’t only believe it,
I absolutely know it to be true.”
Not all athletes visualize in
the same manner. Jim Romagna, bodybuilding champion and
Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, knew he
needed to gain an edge in order to develop his weakest bodyparts.
“When I train chest, I typically start with an incline movement
because my upper chest for awhile was lagging. With the
use of visualization and a focused intensity I was able
to bring it up and develop more fullness.” Romagna uses
his extensive background in physiology to view his body
as an anatomy chart, actually watching the muscles work.
“The visualization comes into play during a set that requires
a push to complete exhaustion. After completing the basic
compound chest movements, I’ll move to an exercise such
as a cable fly, or pushups with my hands resting on medicine
balls, where I can get an extensive stretch and bring the
target muscle to a peak contraction. So many athletes miss
out on becoming educated as to how muscles work. They fail
to recognize muscle origin, point of insertion, and specific
principles that dictate the intensity of the challenge.
I thrive on that knowledge actually seeing my muscles going
through a full range of motion and that vision keeps me
moving forward until there just isn’t another rep in me.”
Planning Your Course
Results are measured both in
visual development and in strength and performance increases.
Without a definitive goal, it’s difficult to create an effective
plan, as without an awareness of the destination, you’ll
never know if you’ve arrived. Goal setting is one of the
most commonly employed mental conditioning exercises. It
allows you to clearly decide where you’re headed, and also
provides a measure by which to chart your progress along
the way. With the goal firmly identified, the next step
is to create a series of short-term goals that when stacked
together will lead you to your desired destination.
Olympia competitor, Timea Majorova, knows how important
goal setting is. As she explains, “I always set goals that
keep me motivated. 10 years ago, when fitness was not very
popular in my home country, Slovakia, I saw a fitness competition
on television and in my mind I decided I was going to be
a Slovakian champion. Developing a physique to the highest
levels of competition is extreme. The workouts can be grueling
and in order to apply the necessary intensity, you must
be motivated and have inspiration. For me that inspiration
comes from setting goals and creating a certainty that those
goals will become real. As long as I have an image of a
compelling goal in front of me, I can do whatever it takes
to get there.”
Timea’s leg workouts are intense
to say the least. She incorporates movements that involve
the balance and stabilization muscles making her leg workout
impact her entire body. “When I was preparing for the Fitness
Olympia, my leg day was the hardest training day. I’d do
lunges to exhaustion and then immediately follow them with
squats. Next I’d superset leg extensions with more lunges
taking maybe 5 seconds between sets. I would drip puddles
of sweat, my legs were shaking, but I didn’t stop. It was
the vision of the goal that kept me going forward. During
my training I knew exactly how my legs were going to look,
and it completely reframed my thinking from feeling tired
to visualizing how wonderful my legs will look in heels.
It’s the certainty that the goal is just a matter of time
that gets me through.”
Charting Your Progress
Your training journal acts to
illuminate the guideposts on the way to your fulfilling
your ultimate goal. There are very few journeys that begin
without a map and a plan.
Rarely do we seek out a goal,
commit that goal to paper, and then pummel ahead in a linear
fashion to make the goal reality. We often have to re-set
our sails. Your goals and plans make up your map, your
journal is your compass.
Recognition that goal achievement
is the result of continuous and measured actions feeds mental
determination along the road to physique improvement. A
willingness to take chances opens the door for someone who
may be inclined to approach the HIT ideals with skepticism,
and a recognition that each action is simply a step along
the way allows for a mental commitment to give each repetition
of each set your all.
Remember, the more intense the
muscle stimulation, the greater you need to balance those
all out efforts with downtime.
Timea Majorova treasures her
downtime and recognizes it as a necessity. “It’s very important
to your body and your mind to relax. One of my earlier
problems was overtraining. Mentally, I was so fired up,
it was difficult to me to take even a day off of training.
Looking back I realize that before I began to fit in relaxation
time, I looked tired, both in my expression and my physique.
Now, after a contest I sometimes don’t lift weights for
a month. People are shocked when they hear that, but there
are many elements to achieving a respected physique and
planned relaxation is one of them.”
With clear goals, a firm commitment
to succeed, a willingness to periodically re-chart your
course, and with control over your self-talk, the potential
for success with HIT ideologies is indisputably heightened.