From: Lyle McDonald <lylemcd@delphi.com>
Newsgroups: misc.fitness.weights
Subject: HIT vs. periodization: one last time you bozos
Originally posted on Sunday, 1 Oct 1995



You, know, I really didn't think I'd be writing anything else to post here but I guess I was wrong. I made the mistake of logging back on to m.f.w to look for some of Dan Duchaine's musings and came across the old HIT vs. Periodization argument still going in as full force and as much silliness as ever. While I thought I could ignore the urge, it kept burning at my stomach telling me to write something and here it is. For those of you who don't know me, I used to post prolifically to the old m.f about a year ago. My old stuff can be seen on Kyle Wilson's WWW page The Weights Page (some of it was written a long time ago and is outdated so don't harsh me too badly on it). If you do remember me (from the now famous "Plyometric wars"), good, you already know what to expect.

The argument of HIT vs. periodization has been going on for years. Both groups hold with an overly tenacious grasp to their respective dogma's (personally, I have a catma but that's just me) and have resorted to the best method of argument: volume. That is, all logic, intelligence and open-mindedness went out the window years ago and now neither groups is willing to listen to even give a cursory nod to the other's theories. They just like to yell at each other a lot.

Well, at risk of angering both sides, let me offer my opinion on the whole topic: Maybe you're both wrong. Or both right depending on how you want to look at it.

As those of you familiar with me know, I have most often allied myself with the periodization camp. And, I guess I still do to a degree. But, there is more afoot to both camps than meets the eye and I think most systems have something good to offer to the world of strength training and body-building. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, let's take a little look at the three primary combatants in this war.


In this corner, the HIT philosophy. Many have essentially equated HIT with Nautilus 1 set of 8-12 but that's really not correct. There are several distinct approaches to the HIT philosophy of training. There's standard Nautilus/Arthur Jones HIT, Mentzerian HIT (or Heavy Duty), Super Slow (ok, it's not strictly speaking HIT but for the sake of this argument), and Ken Leistner HIT all of which, while relying on the same essential principles, are different. Some espouse negatives or drop sets (Westcott), others (Dr. Ken for example) will do a second set if necessary. Still others like to pre-exhaust (Mentzer). Rep ranges differ as well. Standard Nautilus is generally 8-12, Superslow is 1 set but it lasts 60 seconds, and Dr. Ken ranges from as low as 3 on some movements to as high as 50 or more in squats. Still, the most basic tenet of HIT is that all working sets should be taken to at least positive failure. While I'm still not convinced that going to failure is absolutely necessary for adaptation (I'd explain here but I'm working on that separately and it's up to 31 pages with no sign of slowing down) I'll be the first to agree that going to failure will definitely cause adaptation. For more information, see PERIODIZATION PHILOSOPHY

In the second corner, periodization philosophy. Periodization came out of Eastern European training theory and is at least one of the supposed "Russian Secrets" to their sports excellence (that and lots of drugs). It is essentially about change at it's very barest principle. But, again, there are numerous different approaches to it. Whether it's the strict percentages and reps used by Olympic and most powerlifters or the more freestyle approach used by say Clarence Bass (he essentially has combined periodization with one set to failure ideas) to the routines espoused by most NSCA strength coaches. Hell, even the Ironman and Hardgainer idea of intensity cycling (alternating periods of maximal work with periods of lighter work) is a type of periodization although not in the strictest sense. I think periodization has some ver definite strengths for specific applications. But, it (like every other system) has some serious downfalls as well but I'll discuss these later.


And, in the final corner, there's good old Hardgainer philosophy. Interestingly, most believers in HG don't bother themselves trying to discredit the other philosophies. They know that their system works for them and they just keep on with it. Again, HG philosophy spans a major continuum ranging >from programs of heavy singles (some may do 9 total reps per workout) to Dr. Ken's 50 reps squats. However, the essential idea is that you should train infrequently with certain basic and best exercises (squats, deadlifts, benches, rows) and cycle your intensity to make continuous progress. Personally, I find little to fault with the HG philosophy but include it here as these seem to be the 3 primary ideas in strength training (discounting the 20 sets per bodypart bullshit the pros use but which are completely inapplicable to the average (read: non-drug assisted) trainee). For more information, see PROS AND CONS

Alright, let's talk about some pros and cons (in my humble opinion of course) about these three.

HIT: Pros: HIT is very time efficient. There's no doubt that getting in and out of the weight room in 20-30 minutes is a good thing for certain applications. For the time invested, I would argue that HIT gives the best adaptation.

Cons: HIT requires the ability to push to maximum all the time which I don't think is feasible or desirable for many trainees. Even with infrequent training, some may overtrain if they try to go to max all the time. Also, there is rumor of amphetamine use and many injuries associated with at least onc popular HIT advocate (give you a hint, initials MM). Also, some people just don't seem to be able to get full fiber recruitment from just one set (again, some HIT proponents do advocate multiple sets at times).

Also, I'm not convinced that one set to failure gives maximal strength gains. That is, some research has found that a second or third set gives additional strength gains. Now, are these strength gains (on the order of maybe 20-30% more than you get with one set) important for everyone? Even the ACSM position paper (used frequently as 'proof' of one set as optimal) states that more frequent training has been found to lead to greater strength increases but there is a serious case of diminishing gains. For some individuals, the extra time invested isn't worth the small payoff received. For a competitive strength athlete, I would say that they are worth it. That's why I said I feel HIT gives the best strength gains for the least amount of time. I just don't think they give the best strength gains overall. Again, my opinion and I don't really want to argue it again.

Periodization: Pros: for certain athletes, periodization can be used to try to bring them to a peak at a specific time or for a specific contest. This especially applies to pure strength athletes like powerlifters and Olympic lifters. But, they only compete sporadically. One major criticism of periodization is how do you propose peaking for a team sport like football where you have to play weekly. Also, most people like to do too much or work too hard all the time. For people like me (I'm a classic overtrainer) strictly periodizing my competitive year helps to keep this from happening. I train easy at specific intensities during the winter and raise the volume and intensity of my work as I near the competitive season in a methodical (some would say anal) fashion.

Another pro is that I think lack of variety is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for most people and why many people stagnate quickly. Periodization (whichever variant you choose from the strict percentages to the more free form versions) mandates changes which I think will help prevent stagnation and plateaus.

Cons: Most of periodization's strengths are also it's weaknesses. As mentioned, when do you peak a team sport like football. At championships? No, if the players aren't at peak for the normal season they won't even qualify so there's a dilemma. Also, the strict percentages of many periodization programs don't allow for daily variations. That is, if I'm supposed to lift 85% of max for 5 reps on a given day, what do I do if I'm tired?

Personally, for the non-competitive-strength athlete, I prefer a more free form of periodization. That is, I would pick a rep range (rather than a specific % of max and rep number) to use for say 4-6 weeks. The athlete is expected to do essentially a double progression between say 6-10 reps to start. So, if one day they are feeling weak, they simply do the best they can but aren't required to get a specific number. By the same token, if they feel really strong, they aren't held back by the reps I think they should be able to get today. After a week of active rest, the athlete would move into a 3-6 rep range and work full tilt for 4-6 more weeks. Etc.

To me, this is sort of the best of both worlds in terms of changing rep targets (which I think somewhat affects what is trained primarily) but still working at one's potential while still taking into accout daily variations in strength.

HG: Pros: Personally, I think HG is the best of both worlds. It can essentially be looked upon as the synthesis of periodization with HIT in that you aren't always working full tilt to the max of your capacity but do so for a period of time. Also, while multiple sets may be done in the early parts of the cycle, as you begin approaching failure all the time, you can drop to a minimal one work set per exercise. And, since cycles can be open-ended, you simply keep adding more weight until you can no longer do so. Then, you back-cycle to a lower intensity and start building up again.

Cons: To be honest, I can't find many cons yet.

Now, hopefully, one thing you've noticed is that all three philosophies share some ideas and really aren't all that different at the most basic level. Periodization may start out with multiple sets but generally short, high intensity programs are done in-season. As stated, I think HG combines the best of both worlds and is especially good.


Ok, this brings us to the 1 million dollar question (the one being argued incessantly on m.f.w and elsewhere): Which philosophy is best?

My return question is: What do you mean by best?

That is, do you define 'best' by the most strength gains for the least amount of time invested as your average fitness trainee might. Then, some variant of HIT is probably the best choice. Personally, I would change rep range targets but I don't see any reason for most of my clients to do more than one work set of a given exercise. And, considering that I have a paltry hour to do cardio, stretching, and weights, there isn't honestly enough time to do more than one set so it better be at least close to failure to get the most bang for the buck. Also, from the standpoint of time efficiency, for a competitive athlete in the middle of his or her season, HIT is probably the 'best' way to maintain or improve strength with the least time taken away from other training and competing. But, personally, I'd go with something a bit more extensive during the off season when little no sport training is being done and do a higher volume which I feel will give better strength and/or size gains (again, my opinion and I have no intention of defending it here. That's not the point of this article.)

Or, do you define best as the ability to make small strength gains for a long period of time (say your entire training career)? Then perhaps HG is 'best' for you. Of course, if you don't want to do hard movements like squats, deadlifts and benches (like most of my clients for example), maybe it's not.

If you're a competitive strength athlete, 'best' might be the program which peaks you for a particular competition. In that case, some variant on periodization might be the way to go.

If you are a competitive team athlete, you might start the season doing higher volume training (when you have the time) and cut back to HIT type of training during the pre-season and season to allow more time to practice your sport.

If you're a bodybuilder, why not try any and all of the above. Probably the worst thing you can do is stagnate and never change your program. If what you're doing isn't working, try something else. Don't get stuck in the trap of "My system is the best period." It might be. For now. And when it quits working, try something else. There's no law that says you have to pick one philsophy of training and do it until you die. Play around. I'm willing to bet you'll get better results in the long run. Hell, I'd be willing to almost guarantee it.

Do you see what I'm getting at? 'Best' is a relative term which depends on what you want to accomplish.

I guess my point is this: almost any logical system (based on progressive overload which is the true one valid theory of training (regardless of what Mike Mentzer happens to believe) which doesn't have you overtraining) will yield results on some level or another. The question of "What is the optimal program?" will never be answered as it depend too highly on what you're trying to accomplish. So, how about this for a radical idea. Quit arguing about something that you'll never 'prove' one way or another (my diatribe on proof and truth is also at the 31 page mark but I'm not going to post it unless you guys really want to see it and request I do so via email) and try closing your mouth and opening your mind a bit. Who knows, you might reach some sort of compromise and actually generate some new ideas. Or (if I don't miss my guess) you'll keep up this stupid shit and keep wasting bandwidth arguing about something that you can never prove one way or another.

If I seem unusually irate it's for manyfold reasons (including boredom with my life and the lack of a current girlfriend). But, basically, I'm tired of seeing this same old HIT vs. periodization vs. whatever argument going on as it's an absolute waste of time. Most of the intelligent posters to m.f (who to be honest I've had my differences with in the past) have left because they got tired of it. I don't agree with what a lot of them (like Bryzcki or Specter) had to say but I can respect their convictions and knowledge even if I didn't respect their over-emotional tone of posting and close-mindedness.

Maybe this post will make a difference. But, I doubt it. I don't really care one way or another. I guess I'm kind of like Dan D. in this way. I like pointing out to people when they are being asinine (as everyone including myself has been at some point or another). HIT people get on my last nerve, especially Mentzer preaching his one true theory of training bullshit. Periodization people do too when they say that HIT doesn't 'work' which is also bullshit as both empirical and scientific evidence will tell you. Both groups quit listening to each other years ago and a lot of good training ideas which might have developed by the cooperation of the two. Ah, well.

This post dedicated to the shitty treatment of Ken Mannie by the NSCA. I didn't know the guy (and I'm not going to get as overemotional as some about it) but it was a crappy thing to do. Censoring someone because they print something that disagrees with you is bullshit. So fucking quit it all of you. And, if you bozo ASU rats are still on the net, don't be such weenies to physically threaten someone because then don't agree with you. It's not nice.

Happy training,
Lyle McDonald
p.s. If you want to argue about what I've said, send me mail.

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