A Sensible Way of Applying High Intensity Training to Health Related Fitness

Health Related Fitness consists of 5 Components which relate to good health. These are Cardiorespiratory or Cardiovascular Fitness, Body Composition, Muscular Strength, Muscular Endurance and Flexibility.

Although there are several types of exercise which can enhance the functional capacity of all 5 components, this article addresses, in particular, that of muscular strength and endurance.

The point-of-departure of High Intensity Training (HIT) is lifting weights to the point of momentary muscular failure. The principles usually focus on maximizing muscle fiber recruitment with weight workouts in order to optimize gains.

HIT Workout Routines are intended to be infrequent, brief, and intense. The resistance exercises are performed to “failure” with weights that are heavy enough to cause the required training effect to promote muscular size and strength gains. In terms of “brief” workouts, this refers to a minimum number of sets – usually as few as 1 to 3 per body part.

Advantages of HIT

Pundits of High Intensity Training advocate its sheer simplicity and time-efficiency over High Volume Training (lower weights and higher volume of work). In addition, HIT is touted as requiring less recovery time from workouts and furthermore offsets the possibility of overtraining.

Proper execution of the exercises

The main elements in addressing muscular strength and endurance is terms of health related fitness are smooth even form, full range-of-motion, heaviest set first, and proper repetition range. These are important considerations for producing optimal results while minimizing the chance of injury. Also, regardless of physical fitness condition, a weight should be chosen which is challenging to train with, yet allows for correct performance of the exercise. Let us look at the elements in more detail:

  • Smooth, even form Safety first – at all costs. By definition, HIT means training with weights that heavily challenge the muscles of an individual. Therefore, one should tackle a weight workout only after warm up exercises have been performed, and when muscles are fully limbered, so as to avoid injury. Each repetition of the exercise should be performed smoothly, with no bouncing, jerking or compensatory swaying of the body. The movement of the involved body part and weight should occur through muscular action only, without resorting to a “pendulum effect.” Control of each movement is of utmost importance to ensure that the weight is allowed to return to the starting point with care, and not merely dropped, or allowed to swing back due to gravity. The lowering or “eccentric” part of the rep should take longer than the lifting or “concentric” part. In this way, one works the muscle throughout the whole exercise set.
  • Full range-of-motion For best results, a muscle needs to be worked throughout its full movement (or rotation) from a fully flexed to a fully extended position. A muscle can only be optimally developed if it is trained though the complete extent of its movement capability. This does not mean forcing a limb further than you would under normal pain-free movement. Common sense should always prevail – the eccentric part of a rep requires due caution when using heavy weights, as with HIT. For example, exercises like the “squat”, “weighted dip” and “dumbbell fly” can easily lead to muscle, joint and/or tendon trauma by pushing the envelope too far.
  • Heaviest set first This may seem the wrong way around in light of the caution pointed to in the above point, but there is a method in the madness. For muscles to grow, they need to be stressed “progressively” to work harder than they are accustomed to. This means after warm up and limbering exercises, one begins with the hardest set and works the muscle/s to failure, preferably between 6 and 12 reps. Instead, with ascending sets, as in High Volume Training, energy is depleted with the preliminary sets, and so when one gets to the all-important heaviest sets for maximum overload, the muscles are no longer fresh. Certain training philosophies and points-of-view may disagree with HIT principles due to the risk of injury. However, this can be addressed with adequate attention to warm up exercises and stretching beforehand.
  • Proper repetition range Health Related Fitness calls for good muscular strength and muscular endurance (together also know as muscular fitness). This means that not only is strength applicable, but so is the ability for a muscle or muscle group to perform a weighted movement repeatedly. Therefore, for strength training, one should maintain a range of between 6 to 12 reps in each set. If one can perform 12 or more reps without momentary muscular failure, then the weight for that particular exercise should be increased. On the other hand, performing a higher number of reps per set (like circuit training or supersets) targets muscular endurance. Depending on individual requirements, muscular endurance training is usually performed less frequently than strength training. Ideally, the rep range is between 15 and 25.
  • Maximum effort During High Intensity strength training routines, exercises are typically performed with an “all-out” effort until it is no longer possible to perform another repetition in good form, hence the term “momentary muscular failure.” Further repetitions beyond this point may be possible with certain assistance techniques like forced reps, negative reps and/or cheating. However, these methods are only advisable for more advanced exercisers. For an increase to occur in muscle strength and size, it is important to gradually overload the muscles through progressive-resistance training. This means taxing the muscles and progressively exceeding their capacity threshold, so that an adaptive response occurs, also known as “training effect.”

HIT vs HVT

I would like to point out that I do not support the one training principle over the other. However, there are advocates of both High Volume and High Intensity training who believe their method is is the better way to build size and strength. And since there are several famous pundits of both schools-of-thought claiming their success was achieved from differing points-of-view, this healthy disagreement in the Health and Fitness industry is destined to continue.

Nonetheless, the key consideration here is to realize your Health Related Fitness potential. Approached in a sensible manner, one can achieve good health via any number of health and fitness techniques and principles available. HIT presents tangible advantages but the best way would be to experiment, learn and see what works best for you as an individual – not only in terms of schedule, training effect, but also from recovery-time.

My own particular take is that for good levels of health and fitness, the human body requires challenge both physiologically and spiritually. Our bodies are innately programmed to to seek homeostasis. Basically, your body will stop progressing as soon as it has decoded and adapted to an activity or exercise program. Further adaptation only occurs with consistent challenge – by “raising the bar.” In this way, one can optimize results by cycling not only the workout routines, but also the principles.

Although you may find HIT suitable, why not try alternating mesocycles (monthly) of High Intensity Training with Higher Volume Training? I found this worked well for me and it kept me interested by alleviating boredom.

Remember to have your condition examined by a medical practitioner prior to taking on any form of physical exercise, especially if you have not previously engaged in any.

Happy training!