High Intensity Training (HIT) vs Volume Training

“High Intensity Training (H.I.T.): A training system where a maximal weight is used in each set and is taken to absolute failure while maintaining a slow rep tempo”

Dorian Yates Most Muscular

“Volume training: A training system where a sub-maximal weight is used in each set; high sets and high reps are signature characteristics of a volume-based training program”

Arnold Schwarzenegger Most Muscular

Image Courtesy: Muscle Prodigy

In the world of bodybuilding, there are predominantly 2 major methods of training. There is the H.I.T. as popularized by Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer (and to some extent, Dorian Yates), where each set is taken beyond positive failure. On the other hand, there is what we call volume training. The most famous bodybuilder on this planet, Arnold Schwarzenegger, used volume training to win 7 Mr Olympia titles.

Let’s take a look at the thinking behind each training method, and how we can apply these training methods to our own workout routines.

Behind The Workout – HIT

Dorian Yates Training

The backbone of HIT is based upon 3 major principles – progressive overload, maximum intensity and infrequent training.

1) Progressive overload – I have mentioned this many times on BTW. You have to be progressively increasing the load on your muscle (overload) so that your muscle can adapt and grow. Once you can handle a certain weight, add weight to the bar (the smallest increment of weight in most gyms is 2.5 lbs). Keep a log and make sure you are increasing the weight progressively: a 5 lb increment per month can bring a 60 lb increment per year!

2) Maximum intensity – This is pretty hard to define, so I would just leave it at this: You want to be using intensity techniques to maximize the intensity of your workouts. The most favored intensity techniques for HIT are negatives and partials. When you are past positive failure in a particular set (you can no longer “lift” the weight), have a training partner lift the weight for you so you can control the negative portion (the “lowering”) of the lift. This is what we call doing more “negatives.” More muscle damage is done in the negative portion of the lift than in the positive, so make sure you focus on the negatives. As for partials, you simply limit your range of motion and squeeze out more partial reps with the same weight. For example, you can do partials and keep the weight moving when performing dumbbell lateral raises. I mostly prefer picking the upper range of motion to maximize the tension placed on the muscle.

3) Infrequent training – Your nervous system (as well as your muscular system) takes a huge hit when you train HIT-style. When you are lifting heavy weights and going all the way to absolute failure, you tax your muscles, your joints and your CNS. Don’t go to the gym everyday if you train with HIT. Go every other day, and if necessary, take a 2-day break after a workout session (leg day anyone?).

What I think about HIT – I gained 25 lbs of muscle in a couple of months with HIT. Sure it kills in the gym, but it’s worth it. Make sure you have a good training partner who knows what you are doing and what he’s doing so that you both can have a good workout.

Body Type – HIT can work wonders for all body types, but learn how to hold back if you are on the skinnier side (ectomorphs). It is very easy for ectomorphs to overtrain, so instead of going all the way to failure, stop your work set once you hit positive failure (you can no longer hit the weight). As for mesomorphs, you want to go past the pain barrier and really push yourself. This can apply to endomorphs as well.

Behind The Workout – Volume Training

Arnold Schwarzenegger Training

Volume raining on the other hand, is very different from HIT. You’ve probably heard of German Volume Training somewhere, and that’s performing 10 sets of 10 reps (10×10) with 30 – 45 sec rest in between sets and pushing 60% of your 1 Rep Max (The weight that you can do for only 1 rep with strict form). In general however, volume training requires you to do more sets (12+) while keeping the same rep range (10 – 12) and around the same rest period (45 sec t0 1 minute).

1) Submaximal weight – Since you are fatiguing your muscles and not really going to failure, you simply can’t keep up with heavy weights if you are doing that many sets. The key point here is to get a massive pump, and to do so you really don’t need heavy weights. Anywhere from 60 to 80% (if you are really strong) of your 1RM for 10 reps is golden. It’s important to check your ego at the door because if you don’t pick the weight wisely, you will get stuck in between. Remember, you are shooting for muscle growth here. If you want to be strong, do strength training instead.

2) High sets – The key point is to do high sets; this is where the name “volume training” came from. For large body parts, you will need to perform roughly 12 sets. Examples of large body parts are chest and back. For legs, you want to push your volume even higher to around 15 – 16 sets. Legs are one of the muscle groups that respond very well to high reps and high volume training (probably because of the muscle structure – we say legs have more slow twitch fibers in them, i.e. fibers that “fire” slower and are more effective at utilizing Oxygen to generate ATP fuel for your muscles to contract).

3) Short rest period – Compared to HIT where rest periods are anywhere from 2 to 3 minutes, you only want to be resting for 45 seconds to 60 seconds. This will keep the pump going and really fatigue your muscles.

What I Think About Volume Training – Definitely not suitable for the show offs who like to rack 4 plates onto the bar and do half reps for bench press. Volume training can have you gasping for air as you go from set to set with only a minute rest, so don’t underestimate high rep/high set training. I also think that volume training is safer for the joints in the long run. You see all these guys squatting 500 lbs doing behind the neck presses with 315 lbs, well once they get to a certain age their joints are going to come back and haunt them. Chase after the pump, and don’t forget to add weight to the bar (once you can do 12 – 15 reps with a weight you could only do 10 reps with last week, add weight!). In any case, a stronger muscle is a bigger muscle, so getting stronger while doing the same things will lead to muscle hypertrophy.

Body Types: For ectomorphs, volume training is not a good way to build a strong foundation. It is very easy to overtrain with volume training, so I would recommend ectomorphs doing more of a HIT style workout rather than volume training type workout. Volume training can work very well for mesomorphs assuming you are nailing all other variables (diet and rest). For endomorphs, volume training will burn a lot of calories. Doing volume training on top of your cardio routine will do wonders for your physique.

Sample routines

HIT Sample Routine (each set is done after 1 warm up set)

Monday: Chest / Biceps

  1. Incline dumbbell press – 6 to 8 reps
  2. Barbell flat bench press – 6 to 8 reps
  3. Cable crossovers – 6 to 8 reps
  4. Barbell curl – 6 to 8 reps
  5. Concentration curls – 6 to 8 reps

Wednesday: Back

  1. Wide grip pull downs – 8 to 10 reps
  2. Barbell rows – 8 to 10 reps
  3. Close grip pull downs – 8 to 10 reps
  4. Wide grip cable rows – 8 to 10 reps
  5. Rack pulls – 6 to 8 reps

Friday:Shoulders / Triceps

  1. Hammer strength shoulder press – 6 to 8 reps
  2. Seated dumbbell lateral raise – 8 – 10 reps
  3. Cable behind-the-back lateral raise – 8 to 10 reps
  4. Reverse pec dec fly – 8 to 10 reps
  5. Skull crushers – 8 to 10 reps
  6. Overhead dumbbell triceps extension – 8 to 10 reps
  7. Cable pressdowns – 8 to 10 reps

Sunday: Legs

  1. Barbell squat – 8 to 10 reps
  2. Leg press – 10 to 12 reps
  3. Leg extensions – 10 to 12 reps
  4. Stiff legged deadlifts – 8 to 10 reps
  5. Seated leg curls – 10 to 12 reps
  6. Standing calf raise – 12 to 15 reps
  7. Seated calf raise – 12 to 15 reps

Volume Training Sample Routine

Jay Cutler Volume Training

Jay Cutler's physique is built upon years and years of volume training; he always trained within the 8 to 12 rep range and did up to 20 sets for several body parts!

Monday: Chest

  1. Incline bench press – 4 x 10 – 12
  2. Incline dumbbell flyes – 4 x 10 – 12
  3. Flat smith machine bench press – 4 x 10 – 12
  4. Pec dec flyes – 4 x 10 – 12

Tuesday: Back

  1. Wide grip lat pull downs – 3 x 10 – 12
  2. Hammer strength front pull downs – 3 x 10 – 12
  3. Overhead Grip Barbell Rows – 3 x 10 – 12
  4. Reverse grip lat pull downs 3 x 10 – 12
  5. T-bar Rows – 3  x 10 – 12
  6. Standing cable pullovers – 4 x 10 – 12

Thursday: Legs

  1. Leg extensions – 3 x 10 – 12
  2. Leg presses – 4 x 10 – 12
  3. Front squats – 4 x 10 – 12
  4. Hack squats – 3 x 10 – 12
  5. Seated leg curl – 3 x 10 – 12
  6. Standing leg curl – 3 x 10 – 12
  7. Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts – 3 x 10 – 12
  8. Walking lunges

Friday: Shoulders / Arms

  1. Dumbbell shoulder press – 3 x 10 – 12
  2. Dumbbell lateral raise – 3 x 10 – 12
  3. Cable lateral raise – 3 x 10 – 12
  4. Pec dec fly – 3 x 10 – 12
  5. Rear dumbbell fly – 3 x 10 – 12
  6. Barbell curls – 4 x 10 – 12
  7. One arm preacher dumbbell curls – 3 x 10 – 12
  8. Hammer curls – 3 x 10 – 12
  9. Machine dips – 4 x 10 – 12
  10. Overhead tricep extension – 4 x 10 – 12
  11. Cable rope pressdowns – 4 x 10 – 12
  12. One arm reverse grip cable pressdown – 4 x 10 – 12

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