Matt Brzycki's High Intensity Training Program

Date: Thu, 10 Feb 1994 18:21:05 GMT


High Intensity Training History

Casey Viator's HIT Workouts

HIT Guidelines:



HIGH INTENSITY TRAINING I: This is the first of many installments pertaining to my experiences with and my understanding of what's become known as high intensity training or simply HIT. The first thing that must be understood is that HIT isn't something new--it's actually been around for decades. Years ago it wasn't called HIT--or anything else really--it was just a purposeful style of training that involved doing simple, basic exercises with aggressive, all-out levels of effort. (Even though it wasn't called HIT, I'll still refer to it as such for the sake of simplicity.) Anyway, HIT received a lot of attention--and created quite a controversial maelstrom--in 1970 with the publication of numerous articles written by Nautilus founder Arthur Jones. Although Jones didn't invent HIT, there's no question that he certainly was the one who popularized it and formally suggested guidelines and principles for its use. To some--including me--Jones was years ahead of his time and full of brilliant, revolutionary ideas about exercise; to others, he was the devil incarnate. One thing that everyone seems to agree upon was that he was abrasive, outspoken and brutally candid. Jones has mellowed with age but I got some laughs a few months ago when I saw him insult a group of unsuspecting sportsmedicine people with his trademark brash comments and demeanor. Anyway . . .

In the early 1970s--back when there were still hippies--HIT meant relatively brief workouts (less than 1-1/2 hours; later less than 30 minutes), performed two or three times per week with a level of intensity that had to be seen to be believed. And what was seen was rarely a pretty sight. In fact, it was kinda ugly. Rarely were more than two sets of an exercise performed--and never more than three. You really couldn't do much more anyway. The level of intensity suggested by Jones was performing each exercise to the point of muscular failure. When you were done with an exercise, you moved your butt as fast as possible to the next exercise--which was already set up for you just waitin to be lifted. If you were to exhausted to walk--which was often the case--you crawled. If you were too exhausted to crawl--which was sometimes the case--you were physically grabbed and dragged to the next exercise. Jones' opinion of an acceptable level of intensity might best be summed up with one of his many colorful quotes: "Have you ever vomited as a result of doing one set of [bicep] curls? If not, then you simply don't know what hard work is." Ahh, those were the days.

NOTE TO JOE BROWN AT STANFORD: Thanks for handling the posts about skill development, motor learning, power cleans, synergistic muscles, balance et al. I don't have the time to go back and forth debating points and issues. I gotta make my posts and get outta Dodge City. Joe, ya shoulda been a strength coach--ya already know more than 90 percent of the dudes in strength coaching!

BACK TO HIT: Who was Jones training back in the early 70s and what are they up to now? You'll find out in . .


Date: Fri, 11 Feb 1994 13:38:01 GMT

High Intensity Training History

Considering the level of intensity that was demanded by Jones in the early 1970s, one of the most surprising things was that he always had a cadre of tough, rugged and exceptionally powerful individuals to experiment upon in DeLand, Flroida. One of those "guinea pigs" was Tom Laputka--a burly 275+ pounder who was playing professional football up in Canada and later played for the Philadelphia Bell in the short-lived World Football League. Those who've followed my posts know I believe the bench press is overrated, but Laputka was one of the first guys in the world to bench press 500 pounds. He's also got these big, thick mitts that can still bring a gorilla to its knees.

Another strength athlete involved briefly was Ken Leistner--now a successful chiropractor in Long Island and the owner of the Iron Island Gym. At one time, Leistner was a highly competitive powerlifter and is also perhaps the most popular writer and speaker about HIT on the planet.

Ellington Darden--who won the collegiate Mr. America in 1972 when he was working toward his Ph.D. in physical education from Florida State University--was around back then as well. He later became the Director of Research for Nautilus, where he wrote scores of best-selling books highlighting Nautilus equipment. Today, he writes highly popular HIT-emphasized books.

But maybe the most celebrated pair of the motley crew were bodybuilders Sergio Oliva and Casey Viator. Oliva was a world-class weightlifter from Cuba who also won the Mr. Universe and the Mr. Olympia (three times). Oliva is considered by many to have one of the greatest physiques of all time--rivaling that of Arnold Schwarzeneggar--and holds the distinction of being perhaps the only human being to have ever lived whose flexed arm was bigger than his head!

Viator distinguished himself by winning the 1971 Mr. America (AAU) contest at the age of 19--which I believe is still the record for youngest winner. (Incidentally, Mike Mentzer--who is generating a resurgence of HIT--finished tenth in that same contest. Shortly thereafter, Mentzer contacted Jones and became a HIT devotee. He also wrote a book with Ardy Friedberg which was published in 1982 and called "Mike Mentzer's Complete Book of Weight Training.") Viator's workouts were legendary both for his intensity as well as his strength.

What kinda workout? You'll be stunned by the specifics in the . . .

Date: Mon, 14 Feb 1994 14:59:15 GMT

Casey Viator's HIT Workouts

HIGH INTENSITY TRAINING III: On June 10, 1971--two days before he won the Mr. America contest at the age of 19--Casey Viator went through this workout (Kids, don't try this at home):

leg press Universal 20 750
leg extension Universal 20 225
squat barbell 13 502

two minute rest

leg curl Universal 12 175
1-leg calf raise dumbbell 3 X 15 40
pullover Nautilus 11 400
behind-the-neck Nautilus 10 200
rowing Nautilus 10 200
behind-neck-pulldown Nautilus 10 210

two minute rest

lateral raise dumbbell 9 40
behind-neck press barbell 10 185

two minute rest

bicep curl Nautilus 8 110
chin bodyweight 12 BW

two minute rest

tricep extension Nautilus 9 125
parallel bar dip bodyweight 22 BW

If the numbers don't impress you get this: Viator performed the leg portion of this routine in 11 minutes and the upper body part in 17 minutes and 40 seconds! It should also be noted that the Nautilus equipment manufactured 20 years ago wasn't generally anywhere near as frictionless as that of today. Because when you lift a weight on a machine you are lifting the weight plus any mechanical friction, 400 pounds on a 1970 Nautilus pullover would've felt much heavier than 400 pounds on a 1994 friction-reduced model.

A basic, simple routine suggested by Arthur Jones in 1970 in the . . .

Date: Tue, 22 Feb 1994 18:49:39 GMT

HIT Guidelines:

Every HIT strength coach [see BRZYCKI #017] seems to put a different, personal spin to their program with regards to sets, reps, etc. However, HIT can probably be summed up with the following guidelines with very little argument from my HIT associates. Whether you believe they work or not is up to you but these guidelines--or ones very similar--have formed the basis of strength training programs for years. Here goes:

1. Train With A High Level Of Intensity. Intensity relates to the degree of the "inroads"--or amount of fatigue--you've made into your muscle at any given instant. Research--that some will believe I've obviously fabricated with the intent to deceive--has suggested that your level of intensity is the sigle most important factor in determining your results from strength training. The harder that you train, the better your response. In the weight room, a high level of intensity is characterized by performing an exercise to the point of concentric muscular failure: when you've exhausted your muscles to the extent that you literally cannot raise the weight for any more repetitions. Failure to reach a desirable level of intensity--or muscular fatigue--will result in little or no gains in functional strength or muscular size.

After reaching concentric muscular failure, you can increase the intensity even further by performing 3 to 5 additional post-fatigue repetitions. These post-fatigue reps may be either negatives or regressions and will allow you to overload your muscles in a safe, efficient manner.

Negatives are accomplished by having a training partner raise the weight while the lifter resists the movement during the lowering (or eccentric) phase. For example, suppose that you reached concentric muscular failure on a barbell bench press. Your partner would help you raise the weight off your chest until your arms are extended. Then, you lower the weight under control back to your chest. Your partner can even add a little extra resistance by pushing down on the bar as you lower it. These are called "forced reps." In effect, these post-fatigue reps are positive-assisted and negative resisted. Performing a few negative repetitions at the end of an exercise will allow you to reach eccentric muscular failure--when your muscles have fatigued to the point that you can't even lower the weight! And that's why a set-to-failure followed immediately by several negatives is so brutally effective: you've managed to exhaust the muscle completely--both concentrically and eccentrically.

Regressions (also called breakdowns or burnouts) are another way of achieving a greater level of intensity and concomitant muscular overload. When performing regressions, you (or your training partner) quickly reduce the starting weight by about 25 to 30 percent and the lifter does 3 to 5 post-fatigue reps with the lighter resistance. Let's say you just did 14 reps with 100 pounds on the leg extension reaching concentric muscular failure. You (or your training partner) would IMMEDIATELY reduce the weight to about 70 to 75 pounds and would then attempt to perform 3 to 5 reps with the lighter weight.

2. Attempt To Increase The Resistance Used Or The Repetitions Performed Every Workout. For a muscle to increase in size and strength it must be forced to do progressively harder work. Your muscles must be overloaded with a workload that is increased steadily and systematically throughout the course of your program. This is often referred to as "progressive overload."

Therefore, every time you work out you should attempt to increase either the weight you use or the repetitions you perform in relation to your previous workout. This can be viewed as a "double progressive" technique (resistance and repetitions). Challenging your muscles in this manner will force them to adapt to the imposed demands (or stress).

Each time you attain the maximum number of repetitions, you should increase the resistance for your next workout. Your progressions need not be in Herculean leaps and bounds . . . but the weight must always be challenging. The resistance should be increased in an amount that you are comfortable with.

3. Perform 1 To 3 Sets Of Each Exercise. If performed properly, traditional multiple set routines (i.e. more than one set) can be effective in "overloading" a muscle. They've been used successfully by competitive weightlifters and bodybuilders for decades. And, since many strength coaches have competed as weightlifters and bodybuilders, it's no surprise that most high schools, colleges and professional teams incorporate a traditional multiple set program.

In order for a muscle to increase in size and strength it must be fatigued or overloaded. It's that simple. It really doesn't matter whether you fatigue your muscles in one set or several sets--as long as your muscles experience a certain level of exhaustion. When performing multiple sets, the cumulative effect of each successive set makes deeper inroads into your muscle thereby creating muscular fatigue; when performing a single-set-to-failure, the cumulative effect of each successive repetition makes deeper inroads into your muscle thereby creating muscular fatigue. In fact, numerous research studies--which I once again am probably viewed as dreaming up--have shown that there are no significant differences when performing either one, two or three sets of an exercise . . . provided, of course, that one is done with an appropriate level of intensity (i.e. to the point of concentric muscular failure). Following concentric muscular failure, you can further overload your muscles by incorporating a few post- fatigue reps--either negatives or regressions.

4. Reach Concentric Muscular Failure Within A Prescribed Number Of Repetitions. If concentric muscular failure occurs before you reach the lower level of the repetition range, the weight is too heavy and should be reduced for your next workout. If the upper level of the repetition range is exceeded before you experience muscular exhaustion, the weight is too light and should be increased for your next workout by five percent or less.

If you're just beginning an exercise program, or if you change the exercises in your routine, it may take several workouts before you find a challenging weight. That's okay--simply continue to make progressions in the resistance as needed.

Repetition ranges differ from bodypart to bodypart and from coach to coach. In the course of training hundreds of collegiate athletes over the past eleven years, these are the ranges I usually assign: 15 to 20 (hip exercises), 10 to 15 (leg exercises) and 6 to 12 (upper body exercises). Other HIT strength coaches are pretty much in that neighborhood, with a few electing slightly lower ranges but not less than six.

5. Perform Each Repetition With Proper Technique. A quality rep

is performed by raising and lowering the weight in a deliberate, controlled manner. Lifting a weight in a rapid, explosive fashion is ill-advised for two reasons: (1) it exposes your muscles, joint structures and connective tissue to potentially dangerous forces which magnify the liklihood of an injury while strength training and (2) it introduces momentum into the movement which makes the exercise less productive and less efficient. Lifting a weight in about 1 to 2 seconds will guarantee that you're exercising in a safe, efficient manner.

It should take about 3 to 4 seconds to lower the weight back to the starting/stretched position. It stands to reason that the lowering portion of the movement should be emphasized for a longer time because I know the reference is around here somewhere if I can just remember where last month's Fitness Management is.] The lowering of the weight should also be emphasized because it makes the exercise more efficient: the same muscles that are used to raise the weight concentrically are also used to lower it eccentrically. The only difference is that when you raise a weight, your muscles are shortening against tension and when you lower a weight, your muscles are lengthening against tension. So, by emphasizing the lowering of the weight, each repetition becomes more efficient and each set becomes more productive. Because a muscle under tension lengthens as you lower it, lowering the weight in a controlled manner also ensures that the exercised muscle is being stretched properly and safely.

In effect, each repetition should be roughly 4 to 6 seconds in length. Most strength coaches who are opposed to explosive, ballistic movements in the weight room consider a 4 to 6 second rep as a general guideline for lifting "under control" or "without momentum."

Finally, a quality rep is done throughout the greatest possible range of motion that safety allows--from a position of full stretch to a position of full musclular contraction and back to a position of full stretch. Exercising throughout a full range of motion will allow you to maintain (or perhaps increase) your flexibility, which reduces your potential for injury. Furthermore, it ensures that you are exercising your entire muscle--not just a portion of it--thereby making the movement more efficient. Indeed, studies have shown that full-range exercise is necessary for a full-range effect . . . although I wish I could recall which ones.

6. Strength Train For No More Than One Hour Per Workout. If you are training with a high level of intensity--and you should--you literally cannot exercise for a long period of time.

The duration of your workout depends on several factors, such as the size of the facility, the amount of equipment, the preparation for each exercise (changing plates, moving pins, etc.), the number of people in the facility, the transition time between each set, the availabliity of supervisory personnel and the managerial ability of those personnel. Generally speaking, however, you should be able to complete a productive workout in less than one hour. Under normal circumstances, if you are spending much more than an hour in the weight room then you are probably not training with a desirable level of intensity.

The transition time between each exercise will vary with your level of conditioning. You should proceed from one exercise to the next as soon as you catch your breath or feel that you can produce a maximal level of effort. After an initial period of adjustment, you should be able to recover adequately within 1 to 3 minutes. Training with a minimal amount of recovery time between exercises will elicit a metabolic conditioning effect that cannot be approached by traditional multiple set programs. Don't ask me why cause I've been makin all this stuff up as I go along. And wait a minute . . . where'd I put my inflated ego? It was just here a second ago. Oh, there it is. It's between my bronze bust (my head and Joe Weider's torso) and the Polaroid of me embracing the Director of the FDA.

7. Emphasize The Major Muscle Groups. The focal point for most of your exercises should be your major muscle groups (i.e. your hips, legs and upper torso). You should select any exercises that you prefer in order to train those bodyparts.

Hang on a sec while I pop open another Bud . . . PSSSSSST . . . geez that stuff goes down great with a MetRx chaser.

8. Whenever Possible, Work Your Muscles From Largest To Smallest. Exercise your hips first, then go to your legs (hams, quads and calves or dorsi flexors), upper torso (chest, upper back and shoulders), arms (biceps, triceps and forearms), abs and finally your low back.

It is especially important not to exercise your arms before exercising your upper torso. Multiple joint (or compound) movements done for your upper body require the use of your arms to assist the movement. Your arms are the "weak link" in the exercise because they are smaller. So, if you fatigue your arms first, you will weaken an already weak link, thereby limiting the workload placed on the muscles of your upper torso. Likewise, your legs are the weak link when performing exercises for your hips and buttocks. Therefore, avoid training your legs--especially your quads and hamsters--before performing an exercise for your butt cheeks, like the leg press. I think.

9. Strength Train 2 To 3 Times Per Week On Nonconsecutive Days. Intense strength training places great demands and stress on your muscles. Your muscles must receive an adequate amount of recovery between strength workouts in order to adapt to those demands.

Believe it or not, your muscles don't get stronger while you work out. Your muscles get stronger while you recover from your workout. When you lift weights your muscle tissue is broken down--so I'm told--and the recovery process allows your muscle time to rebuild itself. Think of this as allowing a wound to heal. If you had a scab and picked at it every day, you would delay the healing process, but if you left it alone you would permit the damaged tissue time to heal. There may be some individual variations in recovery ability. However, a period of about 48 to 72 hours is necessary for muscle tissue to recover sufficiently from a strength workout. A period of at least 48 hours is also required to replenish your depleted carbohydrate stores. Therefore, it is suggested that you lift 2 to 3 times per week on nonconsecutive days (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Performing any more than three sessions a week can gradually become counterproductive due to a catabolic effect. This occurs when the demands you have placed on your muscles have exceeded you recovery ability.

Hang on a moment while I feed my ego . . . pushups forever . . . eleven years in the profession . . . a bazillion articles published . . . clenbuterol references . . . there, I'm okay now. [The truth is that I really don't have much of an ego--I couldn't possibly with the kinda mug I got stuck with.]

Lemme see now . . . where were I . . . oh yeah. How do you know if you've had sufficient recovery time? When your butt thong isn't wedged up your sphincter. More importantly, you should see a gradual improvement in the amount of weight and/or number of reps that you're able to do over the course of several weeks. If not, then you're probably not getting enough recovery between workouts--which could be the result of performing too many sets, too many reps or too many exercises.

10. Keep Accurate Records Of Your Performance. Don't worry, gang, this is the last enchilada. The importance of accurate record keeping cannot be overemphasized. Records are a log of what you've accompished during each and every strength session. Record keeping can be an extremely valuable tool to monitor progress and make your workouts more meaningful. By the way, has anybody seen the price of bovine urine since BRZYCKI #016 was posted? It can also be used to identify exercises in which a plateau has been reached. That's the workout card, not the bovine urine. In the unfortunate event of an injury, you can also guage the effectiveness of the rehabilitative--geez, I wish there was a spell check on this thing . . . or I knew how to use it--process if there is a record of your pre-injury strength levels. You should record your bodyweight, the date of each workout, the weight used for each exercise, the number of repetitions performed for each exercise, the order in which the exercises were completed, any necessary seat adjustments and yes I did vote for Bill Clinton.

Don't be misled by the brevity or simplicity of a program that calls for one set of an exercise done with a high level of intensity. An exercise performed with a high level of intensity can be very producto Strength Coach Ken Mannie has stated that HIT is "the most productive, most efficient and without a doubt, the most demanding form of strength training known to man [and woman]." Of course, I read that in Nautilus magazine. And Mannie was drunk at the time.

Bibliography: Well, everything you wanted to know about HIT but were afraid to ask. I was gonna tell ya how I struggled with accepting HIT because of my competitive weightlifter-inspired mentality but, as you know, I hadda skip over that and wrap this baby up. In a nutshell, it was the early part of 1985. I was the assistant strength goon at Rutgers. I used to go to the weight room after breakfast and lift until lunch. Four friggin hours. I kid you not. I said to myself, "This is ridiculous." And I did some quick math. Four hours a day times 3 days a week is 12 hours a week times 52 weeks in a year is 624 hours of lifting weights a year or the equivalent of spending 24 hours a day for 26 straight days in the weight room--almost a month. I was almost afraid to multiply that by the 7 years I had been lifting weights. Plus I didn't have a calculator handy. That was pretty sobering. Well, I gave HIT a sincere shot and I haven't trained any other way since. Now, I my workouts take less than 4 hours per week--and that includes my conditioning.

Anyway, I thought this was gonna be the big adios but I gotta do one more. I wanna describe the sequence of events during a HIT workout from start to finish. That'll really help those of you who wanna give this HOT stuff. . . I mean HIT stuff a shot. I promise it'll be my last one.

Incidentally, I've got e-mail trickling in asking me questions. Just be patient cause I may only be able to answer a few a day. At any rate, I got one more post left in this keyboard.

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