What is High Intensity Training (HIT)?

High Intensity Training is a form of progressive resistance exercise, characterized by a high level of effort and relatively brief and infrequent workouts. Movements are controlled and performed in a full range of motion. Furthermore, HIT focuses on performing quality resistance training repetitions to the point of momentary muscular failure. Compared to other training methods, HIT specifically excels in the following three aspects:

  • effectiveness
  • efficiency
  • safety

High Intensity Training first reached the public around 1970, when it was brought to the spotlight by Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones. Since then, the training method has been subject to many studies and subsequently, has been improved in numerous ways. HIT has proved to be a sound method for all kinds of audiences: from bodybuilders to elderly people; from people with disabilities to athletes.

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    What are the guidelines?

    The following paragraphs contain general guidelines for HIT. Please note that specific workout volume, frequency and amount of exercises, should be modified to fit your capabilities.


    The high intensity in ‘High-Intensity Training’ may seem self explanatory, though needs additional explanation. First of all, intensity has nothing to do with explosive moving. Also, it should not be confused with intensity of load. This is the percentage of your one repetition maximum used for an exercise. When you hear ‘intensity’ in a HIT community, they mean ‘relative effort’. This is how hard you are working relative to how hard you are capable of working at the moment.

    With HIT you train to momentary muscular faillure (mmf). This is the point during a set where muscles fail when fatigue has momentarily reduced their strength to below the level required to continue an exercise in the prescribed form.


    Compared to other (resistance) training methods, the HIT method advocates a low training frequency. For example, beginners are encouraged to not train more than three times a week and more advanced sporter no more than twice a week. It’s very common in HIT that one trains only 12 – 20 minutes per week.


    Compared to other (resistance) training methods, HIT advocates a low training volume. In other words, each exercise usually is completed by doing merely one set of repetitions. Furthermore, major muscle groups (like quads, hamstrings, shoulders, abs, etc.) should not be involved in more than three exercises per training.

    Time Under Load or repetition range

    One of the most used instruments for measuring progress with HIT, is the counting of time under load (TUL) rather than repetitions. The reason for keeping track of time rather than repetitions, is because of the compared accuracies. That being said, one can keep accurate track of their progress with counting repetition if one would use the exact same cadance per exercise.

    To achieve a healthy balance of muscular strength and size, and cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning, it is recommended to aim at an avarage time under load between 45 and 90 seconds.

    Speed of movement

    Speed of movement is a hugely underrated and even misunderstood aspect in the world of fitness. The HIT method however, has adopted speed of movement as a key point. More specific: slow movement. The importance of slow movement relies on two aspects. Firstly, moving slow enables athletes to maintain (strict) control over their body positions during the exercise in all different stages. Subsequently, by maintaing control, the risk of injury lowers. Second, by moving slow, external forces such as momentum and kinetic energy are diminished to a minimum. As a result, completing the exercise requires a maximum of muscle engagement.

    Range of motion

    In principle, when there are no physical limitations encountered, the method advices to maintain full range of motion. This way, flexibility will be maintained or even increased. That being said, for muscular strength and size as well as cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning, partial range repetitions, isometrics, max contractions and timed static contractions work as well.

    Exercise order

    As it comes to order of exercises, there are a few guidelines to be taken into account. Firstly, they should be performed in order from the largest or most muscle groups which require the most energy to the smallest or least muscle groups. Secondly, pull exercises should be alternated with push exercises, since pulling exercises affect the ability of grip. When alternated, the ability to maintain grip will not be exhausted as fast as when you would do pull exercises one after the other. Thirdly, isolation exercises for abs and lower back should be the last exercises performed. This order is crucial, since these muscles are needed ´fresh´ during the first big compound exercises to effectively support your spine and thus maintain proper body positioning.


    The fundamental principle in almost all training methods is the need for overload. This basically means that if you want to stimulate increases in muscular strength and size, your muscles should be challenged to work harder than they are accustomed to.

    The HIT-method relies on the ancient double progression method, to calculate when weight can be increased with regards to a specific exercise. First, the correct amount of repetitions or (preferably) TUL range should be determined in a specific case for a certain exercise. Once the actual performance exceeds the set amount of repetitions or seconds TUL for that exercise, the weight can be increased and the process starts over.
    The weight should be increased with five percent or 2,5 kilograms, depending on which one is less.


    Altough the aspect of technique has not been mentioned as one of the guidelines by Arthur Jones or direct students of him, we feel it should be added to this list.
    The HIT method focuses on effective training, which also contains a component of productivity. With productivity you look at cost efficiency in producing results. This is the price you pay to get to certain results. Technique is one of the most important things that determine what these costs are.

    A good technique will ensure deep inroad, because you don’t cheat using other muscles or external forces to move the weight. It also makes sure the risk of injury is lower, because you maintain a proper and thus safe body position.

    Furthermore, with a correct technique you focus on maintaining your long term health in the proces of improving your functional ability. It’s important to know that one can become more muscular and better conditioned, but wrecking himself in the proces. The symptoms of this wear and tear may not be noticed immediately, but visible after years. Most of the times this damage can’t be reversed. Therefore, use a proper technique for the best results in your functional ability as well as maintaining your long term health.


    What results can HIT produce?

    A correct resistance training is a specifically designed workout for an individual with the goal to effectively, efficiently and safely stimulate improvements in functional ability (strenght, conditioning, flexibility, etc.). Other effects offer a proper resistance training are:

    • increase of muscle strength and size1
    • improvement ofconditioning2
    • increase of basal metabolic rate3
    • increase of bone density4
    • increase of insuline sensitivity (contributes to a more stable blood sugar)5
    • improvement of flexibility6
    • decrease of blood pressure7
    • reduces pain for people with arthritis8
    • can lead to less pain in the lower back9


    HIIT is not HIT

    Also, don’t confuse High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with High Intensity Training. The two are almost completely different. Compared to HIT, HIIT:
    1. uses ballistic movements
    2. uses a higher volume (most of the times)
    3. has a greater risk for injury
    4. won’t allow efficient loading of the muscles most of the times
    5. is not suited for most elderly people, people with injuries and people with below average motor skills


    What does a HIT workout look like?

    A HIT workout for beginners with machines can look like this:

    1. Neck extension
    2. Neck flexion
    3. Leg press
    4. Pull down
    5. Chest press
    6. Low row
    7. Shoulder press
    8. Calf raise machine
    9. Ab machine
    10. Back extension
    11. Wrist curl
    12. Reverse wrist curl

    A HIT workout for beginners with free weights can look like this:

    1. Neck extension with neck harness * ask help from an expert if you don’t know how to execute
    2. Neck flexion with neck harness * ask help from an expert if you don’t know how to execute
    3. Barbell squat
    4. Chin up
    5. Barbell bench press
    6.  Barbell bent over row
    7. Barbell military press
    8. Barbell romanian deadlift
    9. Calf raise with dumbbells
    10. Weighted crunch
    11. Dumbbell wrist curl
    12. Dumbbell reverse wrist curl

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