Why Most HIT Advocates Just Don’t Get ItThe pioneers of High Intensity Training did an enormous amount of good when they managed to get people to focus on the intensity of their workouts.

It really is not controversial whatsoever to claim that increased intensity of lifting is what stimulates muscle growth. There is no camp that says intensity should always stay the same from workout to workout in order to trigger muscle growth. And there certainly isn’t a camp saying intensity should decrease as the weeks of training roll by.

This is a good thing. It’s rare to have virtually total agreement on anything. But it’s very clear that intensity of lifting is critical to stimulating new muscle to grow.


Here what’s astonishing. Of all the sometimes vociferous defenders and advocates of High Intensity Training almost none of them has an exact measurement of this all-important intensity.

I surf the same forums as many of you and here’s what people talk about when they “define” intensity:

– “Percent of momentary effort.” People are told they should shoot for 100% momentary effort. First of all, can you tell the difference between your 94% effort last week and your 88% effort this week? And what if you managed 100% effort but you are getting the flu? Does that 100% effort = 100% effort when you are completely well? No? Then sometimes your 100% effort is sub-maximal and won’t trigger new muscle growth, will it? So your subjective idea of your effort is not a very good unit of measure.

Here’s another way to address this. How much can you deadlift? Now how much can you deadlift if the weight is on top of your best friend inside a burning house? Maybe that’s 100% effort and what you do in the gym is 64% effort. The fact is, you have no idea what 100% of your effort is. Nobody does.

– “Going to failure.” Many people talk about going to failure and how that last rep is the guarantee of new growth stimulation. Really? What about when you’re overtrained, haven’t slept much and are worried about getting fired at work – does going to failure under all that stress still mean your intensity absolutely increased and you are stimulating new muscle growth?

Also, you can go to failure with any weight. Is going to failure with 75 lbs the same as with 175 lbs? How about with 10 lbs vs 200 lbs? Is it always a HIT ‘pass’ because you went to failure? Is any lift to failure always your highest possible intensity?

– “Lift heavy.” The go to failure argument is often augmented with the admonition to always lift heavy.’ Fine. I’m an advocate of using heavy weights too. But is it better to lift 300 lbs 5 times or 320 lbs 3 times? They’re both really heavy to me. So which one is truly High Intensity Training? Which one represents progress and not regression for my workout today?

Remember I can use 100% ‘momentary effort’  and ‘go to failure’ while I ‘lift heavy’ with multiple reps of 300 or 320 lbs – but which one is better? Which one has higher intensity? Will my instinct tell me? Should I just ‘listen to my body?’

– “Fiber recruitment, force requirements, sarcoplasm growth, etc.” Just to cloud this issue further, some people like to bring up  elements of muscle stimulation that you don’t have a prayer of measuring from workout to workout. Not many people are going to draw their blood and take tissue biopsies from all their targeted muscle groups after every workout to compare the effects on the fibers and the sarcoplasm that various tactics yield.  “Wow, according to this muscle tissue biopsy in my microscope, twisting my wrist at the top of each dumbbell curl stimulated 17% more fast oxidative glycolytic fiber growth in my extensor carpi ulnaris!” Please. Yet people ask us to use these internal metrics to guide our training. Give me a break.

All Of The Above ‘Measurements’ Are Needlessly Subjective And Inferior

Look, measuring the intensity of anything with variable intensity is a quite simple matter. In acoustics the intensity of sound is measured in decibels which represent the pressure of sound on a given area. We can measure pressure and we can measure area. Easily. We get an exact number.

The intensity of light is measured in lumens which represent the power of light radiated into a given area. Again, we get exact numbers that mean something.

We could measure sound with metrics like ‘quiet,’ ‘loud,’ ‘really loud,’ and ‘must cover my ears.’

We could measure light with metrics like ‘dim’ ‘bright,’ ‘really bright,’ and ‘have to squint.’  Maybe 100% of momentary squint would be the brightest any light could be. Does that sound like the pinnacle of science to you?

Does the advice on H.I.T. forums still sound like the best way to measure the intensity of weightlifting when doing High Intensity Training? Percent of effort? Failure? Really heavy?

Measuring The Intensity Of Weightlifting Is Dead Simple

The intensity of your lifting efforts can be measured in total weight lifted in total time. We can measure weight. We can measure time. What do you think has higher intensity, lifting 800 lbs per minute or lifting 1,500 lbs per minute? Is there any room for a mistake there?

If you have the flu and lift 800 lbs/min can you somehow convince yourself that it’s more than 1,500 lbs/min because you tried really, really hard? You made 110% effort? You threw up after your set? Your arms were shaking an hour afterward? You were sore for three days? So does all that make 800 more than 1,500? No. Never. Ever.

Why Don’t The HIT Advocates Ever Measure Intensity With NUMBERS?

Sometimes I tell myself they’ve just never thought it through. They are in the comfortable habit of thinking trying really hard, going to failure, lifting heavy, etc – is all they need. Maybe they’ve just never asked themselves if HIT could be improved or made more exact.

Other times I tell myself they don’t want accuracy because it would put the lie to so much of the crap that gets doled out by these same people. It’s easy to claim curls with dumbbells while sitting on a colorful Swiss ball are higher intensity than a standing barbell curl – if  – you never actually measure weight per minute. It’s easy to claim people should train Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the rest of their lives – if – you never actually measure whether their intensity is going up on every exercise during every workout.

Numbers have a way of cutting through the BS. They have a way of proving something is inferior at generating High Intensity and something else is superior.

Some of us welcome objective comparison and some of us do not.

For our part, we measure intensity with units called Power Factor, Power Index and Relative Static Intensity. We measure the Volumetric Intensity of each exercise and the Total Volumetric Intensity of every workout. We use those exact numbers to see whether progress or regression is happening. We adjust training schedules to make certain that recovery has occurred to the exercise numbers go up. We use the numbers to ensure true high intensity and objective progressive overload.

Any honest practitioner of High Intensity Training has nothing to fear from using NUMBERS to measure intensity  – and everything to gain.

So let me ask you this, why do you think H.I.T. advocates talk so much about intensity but never use numbers to measure it accurately?

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13 Comments. Leave new

  • Bryan

    Pete, I find that your post mischaracterizes most HIT advocates. To begin with, there is a failure to demonstrate distinctions among the subtle nuances which occur in the HIT community. I seriously doubt that any HIT advocate would agree “100%” with your conclusions and not allow for some caveat in explanation, therefore, this is a bit like knocking down straw men:

    1) “Percent of momentary effort” is, as you mentioned, a more subjective term that cannot be appropriately measured and therefore empirically verified. Perhaps it is best to simply state that “to give it your all” is a better colloquialism than to refer to percentages which assume they can be scientifically verified. Someone who delivers 80% effort on bench press rather than the perfect hypothetical goal of 100% may have achieved the proper goal of muscular stimulation if they have exceeded numbers (repetitions or time-under-load) previously achieved.

    2) “Going to failure”-this is a non-sequitur here. No HIT advocate in their right mind would ever stress that a) going to failure in conjunction with b) lack of proper recovery is the best possible context for stimulating new muscle growth. This is tantamount to saying that all one needs to do is simply perform “a” regardless of whether “b” has actually occurred; in other words, just ignore proper nutrition and sleep and proceed to “a”.

    3) “Lift heavy” -again this is another issue of knocking down straw men. To whom are you speaking for when you make this statement? Because the HIT community does not simply capitulate to mere groupthink status, I would have to conclude that many would negotiate a rep count and weight which are more relative to the lifter. Drew Baye has recently considered a stronger emphasis on negatives due to a study which Elliot Darden PhD has contributed. This does not mean he will agree with his conclusions in the end but they are both HIT advocates, again, with nuances which differentiate between them.

  • Thanks, Bryan.

    I’ll skip answering your points because I believe the article already does.

    Here’s my question to you – why don’t you use NUMBERS to quantify momentary intensity, sustained intensity and your rate of recovery? If you do use NUMBERS, please tell me the units of measure you use.

    (And what they heck does “give it your all” do when it’s 81% of the intensity you did last time??? Please.)

  • Bryan

    Pete, your post does not resolve these issues but I’ll skip answering these because I believe my 3 point synopsis does. Since when does HIT not use numbers to quantify its results? I’m not familiar with this straw man argument…again. I used a colloquial phrase like “give it your all” to move away from alleged scientific statements such as 100% effort. You are correct here, how could anyone prove that it wasn’t 93% or 81%? I agree with you. I also used this statement to take into consideration the other variables which you suggested, poor sleep, flu, bad nutrition, etc. which will contribute to the overall nature of the workout. The numbers I use are simple. If I can bench press 225 for 5 repetitions and the following workout increase to 7 repetitions, that number now serves as an empirical measurement of my newfound strength. As for a rate of recovery, sometimes I have gone 3 weeks between back workouts and have noticed increases in either weight or repetitions as numerical evidence of progress. I say “give it your all” because maybe if I had better sleep the night before or my diet had been better, perhaps I could have increased my reps to 8 or 9. So, if seven represents 80% due to some prior inadequacies, 8 or 9 may represent 95%. In any event, the percentages may be theoretical but the point is that the increase (number) in repetitions measures the increase in strength. Also, I’m not so sure intensity of effort could not be measured as a percentage. Consult a mathematician for this. Please.

  • I applaud you for keeping track of some numbers. I see so few people in the gym who write down what they do. Keeping track of 10 exercises is not something that can be left to most people’s memory. Especially remembering what your lat pulldown numbers were two workouts ago.

    Here’s what I now track for EVERY exercise on EVERY workout: Momentary Intensity measured in lbs/min, Sustained Intensity measured with a Power Index, Total Weight lifted, Volumetric Intensity (product of intensity and volume) and my personal rate of recovery per hour over all the days of rest I take. You can read more about this here: http://www.precisiontraining.com/engineered-strength-gym/

    I don’t see ANYBODY in the HIT community talking about this kind of objective, systematic measurement of intensity or recovery. Do you? Can you name ONE other guy doing something like this in the HIT community?

  • Blackthorne


    I often refer to HIT advocates as “so-called HIT advocates”. In other words, they are not true “HIT”. If they are, then why do the majority of them (ie; bodybyscience, renaissance, superslow, baye’ers, darden’ians, etc) CONTINUE to ignore the fact that Frequency must be VARIABLE, and NOT fixed.

    Must be a gym addiction, and/or just plain old fear of shriveling up (but…if your growing stronger, how can you possibly loose muscle? Maybe you should stay plateaued, or get weaker perhaps to accelerate muscle growth, right?).

    You, John Little, and Mike Mentzer (and even Arthur Jones eventually) laid out the *Variable Frequency* fact YEARS ago, and most still continue to ignore it. They are so overtrained by training 1-3x a week like a broken record that they will never, EVER be able to increase their intensity anyway.

    And if they did actually have the guts to measure their intensity, it would immediately reveal that they need more rest days, something that they just cannot handle for ether egotistical reasons, or perhaps because they are afraid of loosing more money by training their clients any less than once a week. Well boo-freakin’-hoo I say. They need to get some courage and be honest as I’m sick and tired of reading their lies on frequency. Sick of it!

  • Bryan

    Pete, the “one” guy that I will mention is Drew Baye. As for Blackthorne’s comments above, and Pete’s, it would be helpful to specify who it is when you are referring to “HIT” people and offer a citation from some particular reference. I could not even begin understand what a “true” HIT person is; this suggests mindless groupthink mentality. Again, many of these guys “nuance” the material. While there is a core to the HIT training philosophy, I am not aware of anyone who simply follows another blindly. As a matter of fact, Baye left Ken Hutchin’s superslow training years ago because he did not agree in principle with the results of this training. Since then, to the best of my knowledge, Hutchens has rejected this form of training. He may still hold to a HIT core but has admirably tried something but found it wanting. Again, HIT proponents should be critiqued by 1) identifying them as a genuine person and 2) demonstrating through actual book material, blog, etc. to demonstrate the adequacy/inadequacy of their arguments rather than vague characterizations that assume some groupthink mentality reminiscent of Fightclub. As for the particular measurements you listed Pete, I wonder, have you ever asked another HIT proponent if they used these measurements and what their input might be for using/not using them or have you just assumed all “HIT people” into the same category again?

  • I don’t know if Drew uses measurements with numbers? I wonder what he calls the units of measure.

    Hey, I’ve been at this since 1992 and folks know where to find me and my books/ebooks. Here’s what I really think. The folks in the fitness community don’t want exact measurements to catch on because measuring intensity shows up the lies very quickly. Especially as it relates to the training frequencies they promote!

    I just ran dozens of people through both Power Factor and Static Contraction studies starting them out with 4 days of rest between workouts. Do you know how many were still at 4 days rest eight workouts later? Zero percent. Not one man or woman could sustain objective progress with 4 days of recovery.

    Once you measure you reveal the BS that gets passed around in the HIT community and elsewhere. To be honest, Bryan, that’s why I think they don’t measure and they don’t talk about my work. They don’t want to reveal their advice is mistaken.

    By the way – anybody – can duplicate my observations. Calculate your weight lifted per minute on bench press then try to make it go up ten times in a row. I dare you. It ain’t easy and it’s impossible with a fixed recovery schedule of Mon/Wed/Fri or anything close to that. Throw in the burden of your other exercises and it’s ridiculous to the point of absurd. This is universally observable at any place on planet Earth with trainees from any country. Not that most in the HIT community will ever admit it. (And the HIT guys are the best of the lot! Haha. Most of the rest are clearly dishonest.)

  • Blackthorne

    Bryan, a “true” HIT advocate is someone who

    1. Optimizes Intensity (and measures it!)
    2. Keeps the workout Brief (no more sets than necessary to prevent overtraining)
    3. Keeps the Frequency Variable (extends rest days when necessary to prevent overtraining, allow for full recovery/growth production, and more intensity/weight – per workout to stimulate more and more growth)

    Pete is the only true HIT advocate in the online world since Mentzer’s passing (yes I know Mentzer did not measure intensity as accurately as Pete, but he did measure weight and reps, and when one or the other did not go up, he inserted more rest days immediately)

    The very idea that Pete is the only one left advocating a variable frequency almost brings tears to my eyes. As Mentzer said years ago, the world of “exercise” is not merely in a dark age, but a black hole. People are so dead set these days on “feelings” and EGO’s, that I’m starting to wonder if these precious truths will ever make any headway in the fitness world.

    P.S. While Baye/Darden may stress the importance of Recovery, do they actually put it into practice? No. All I see is “Fixed Frequency” from these guys. If they do ever add any rest days, its usually temporary or once or twice in a lifetime. So that immediately shows that they are not *true* HIT advocates because their recommendations eventually amount to overtraining. If Mr. Baye or Darden are starting to realize that Frequency cannot remain fixed never, EVER, then I haven’t heard of it. It takes alot of guts to tell your client “Your next workout will be 14 days from now. And your next one possibly 18 day, etc and so on”. Most trainers would be horrified at that idea and thus keep their client on a permanent plateau of little or no progress, or perhaps change the exercises frequently to fool them into thinking that the temporary neural gain from learning a new movement is actual “progress”.

  • Bryan

    Pete, I’ve never been an advocate of a fixed routine because it just doesn’t work well. I tried this in my 20’s, that is, workout 3 times per week. I always noticed that at the end of 4 weeks, I was completely tapped out. No progress. Therefore, I space my workouts pretty far apart. For instance, I have gone 3 weeks in between back workouts…and still saw results. While many HIT advocates may offer a fixed routine as a general guideline, I hardly find it even remotely possible that a HIT trainer would argue with a client who demonstrated that they did not achieve significant progress in relation to their last workout and yet demanded that they continue to demonstrate this lack of progress while sticking to a fixed routine. I cannot speak for all of the HIT community when I say this, but a fixed routine does not work well. Again, this is why many nuance the material, myself included. I still hold to the HIT core, but do not see the need for a fixed routine. I realize others may offer this as a general guideline but recovery is an important aspect of HIT training. I am quite certain and have read, McGuff I believe, where it is endorsed.

  • Donnie Hunt

    Great article and great comments. I have gotten so much over the years from so many online sources.

  • I must say, after reading this article, I realize that you make total sense about high intense training.

    I was a H.I.T. member during my off-season and during the football season. I was told to get the best result is to train twice or three times a week. Because of high demand at work, family and football practice, I managed to get my H.I.T training once a week. Now, I would go to the gym during the week for “maintenance,” but realize that the day I have to do my intense workout I would be drained.

    Thus, my days of H.I.T. training is temporary over, due too leg injury (Possible surgery on dislocated Patella knee cap or alignment again). Hence, although, I have this disability, I manage to get my workout once a week (minus the intense leg workout) and took some of the Static, Power Force and H.I.T workouts and realize that my strength had increase on the bench press, dumb-bells, Lat pull-downs, core exercise and pull-ups.

    For example, I currently bench press 280lbs with reps of 11-13 reps, before, I was benching 275lbs at 12-14 reps…Thus, I only go to the gym once a week (Because of my schedule and rest). Oh, did I mention that I have a partial Distil torn bicep. So, my left leg and arm have issues and if I could measure my workouts, I am only at 64% of my power factor strength. Now, imagine, if I did not have these current injuries and was at 100% of my full body strength….I would be benching 365lb at 11 to 15 reps (lol).

    Overall, the purpose of my comment is show that my workout increase because of rest, reading Pete’s article, understanding the measurements of Isostatic and avoiding the typical workout 3 days a week. In addition, I manage my diet by using my mind and articles that keep me balance. If you curious of my status, I am currently 37 years old and will be 38 next month, weigh 227lbs (Used to weigh 245lbs) and my height is 6’1.

    “When I was child, I thought like a child and act like a child, Now that I am Man, I act like a Man, train with my mind and focus on my goals to stay a float in this world. Everyday is learning experience and if I stay on the narrow or fail during my steps to life, I will always look for the gym to keep me from hurting anybody and keep disciple in my physical appearance and stay mentally sharp by reading and reacting.”

    Keep sending those articles and everyone is welcome to comment.

  • progressivestrength

    Anybody interested in strength training needs to read this article. This all just makes so much sense. After reading this it’s like a light bulb turns on.

  • progressivestrength

    There is so much logic to all this. How does one measure progress without measuring and numbers??? The only time I can see being somewhat in the dark would be during a first workout or even a couple workouts there after, while still learning the various exercises or seeing what is hard, or challenging for you weight wise. After that you have a baseline, starting point and there’s no need to count on feel, failure, etc. Not to say that these things don’t have their place. But they don’t give a metric like the numbers do. To echo Pete: Imagine a car without a speedometer, medicine without a precise dose, trying to balance your checking and or savings account by feel.

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