HIT Training: short, high intensity and tough

HIT Training: What’s behind and does HIT really think what the name promises? High-Intensity Training (HIT) is known to many athletes, but very few have really studied it. Of course you train very intensively, after all you do not want to be considered a sissy. In addition, the three letters sound incredibly promising. Is HIT the hit in terms of muscle building?

History of HIT

Bodybuilding is a relatively young sport. As a pioneer, former strongmen, who have demonstrated their strength at fairs, can be considered. As a father of modern bodybuilding and role model for the trophy of Mr. Olympia applies Eugen Sandow, who called 1901 in London and the first competition to life.

These first muscle men and their subsequent generations had one thing in common: they trained their strength training almost daily. High volume and long training sessions, sometimes several times a day, were standard until the time of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 70s.

But this should change just at this time. With Arthur Jones not only a great inventor but also lateral thinkers stepped into the limelight of iron sports. Jones developed the Nautilus training machines, which for many are still among the best ever built, and found that most athletes performed too much at too low intensity. Then he developed a first training system.

These ideas caught on Mike Mentzer and created with “Heavy Duty” a system that not only gave him and his brother excellent results, but determined the training of a young Englishman. His name was Dorian Yates and he was to dominate the bodybuilding world from 1992 to 1997. Until his early death, Mentzer continued to develop his system, eventually calling it HIT – High-Intensity Training.

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Principles of HIT training

HIT training is based on 3 basic ideas that were revolutionary for the time in fitness:


The frequency of training must be reduced in favor of muscle growth, as muscles grow during the break and not during exercise. The ideal time for a new growth stimulus (training) is therefore only after the regeneration and complete adjustment. Depending on your assessment, this can take between 7 and 10 days. (Compare: supercompensation)


Exercise time should not exceed 45 minutes due to the hormonal effects of the sport. The hormone level is at its peak after this time and then falls off again. In order to avoid a catabolic state in which muscles are dismantled, the unit should therefore be as short as possible. This also requires the logic of point 3, because training can be either intense or long, but both are mutually exclusive.


Last but not least, the third and most important – eponymous – basis. The training intensity should be maximized. This is defined by the performance, which is determined by the work in the training time. The more work that is done in the shortest possible time, the higher the performance and, consequently, the intensity. To achieve this goal, many intensity techniques are used. The target muscle should be brought as close as possible to the point of absolute muscle failure.

To explain the logic of the HIT system, Mentzer gladly used in the animal kingdom. For example, a lion spent most of the day in the shade sleeping. The rest of the time he spent with food and only short, but the more intense minutes of hunting. Nevertheless, a lion has a considerable muscle mass. But other sports served him as an explanation. Analogous to his own demand for short training sessions, he pointed to runners who can either run very fast or slow for a short time. Both at the same time exclude each other.

HIT Training: Training planning

In order to do justice to the cornerstones, it is a good idea to plan HIT Training as a 3 or 4 split, which you can do between 2 and 4 times a week. Each muscle should be loaded a maximum of once a week. With regard to “auxiliary muscles” such as arms and shoulders, this should be taken into special consideration during planning. The popular chest / biceps and back / tricep division thus excludes.

To reduce the time further, only one set – at the most two – is executed per exercise. Instead of a classic repeat specification, time units occur. Depending on the time under tension, the maximum strength training (5-20 seconds) differs from hypertrophy (around 60 seconds) and strength training (> 120 seconds). To achieve these times, a cadence is determined with which to perform the movement. A cadence consists of the positive, overcoming phase, followed by the seconds of holding and then releasing, negative phase.

As a standard, 4-2-4 has been established and is still used today in medical back training (eg Kieser training). Ultimately, however, a repetition number is given for the sake of simplicity, but this is clearly below the usual recommendations in view of the target time. A normal HIT set consists of 5-8 repetitions per 10 seconds.

Since the repetitions are carried out very slowly, the technique can remain extremely correct at the same time. Provided, of course, the correct execution is known. Even if the slow cadence automatically reduces the weights used, a specific warm-up of the target muscle should occur due to the required maximum intensity before the actual HIT set. This is best done by 2-3 classic sets with 50-60% of normal weight.

The pause length should be kept short, but at some point should not be reduced to the detriment of performance, so that the training continues to trigger hypertrophy. Instead, various intensity techniques such as reduction rates, pre-fatigue, etc. are used from this point on.

Pro & Con of HIT Training

For HIT training, the low time required, which is a huge plus in our hectic times, the associated ideal hormone release, the fixed rules and structures, which are very important for beginners, low risk of injury by the cadence and strict technology and the absolute Avoid overtraining.

Against the system, however, speaks the just-mentioned risk of injury, which increases enormously in the course of training by increasing weights, intensities and selbige techniques occurring boredom due to the slow cadence and minimalist increase. In addition, there are difficulties in training to failure (just beginners are hardly able to assess this time correctly) without which according to HIT not the perfect growth stimulus is set and thus the successes fail, as well as the substantial abandonment of the basic exercises deadlifts, squats or chin-ups ,

These exercises usually need to be prematurely stopped in the 4-2-4 cadence, as involved accessory muscles fail in front of the target muscle.


HIT training is certainly worth considering especially for those with little time. But whether it works or not depends not only on nutrition and lifestyle but also on genetics. Each training principle has fashion athletes, where a phenomenal development is observed. It can only be concluded that either each person has a different ideal program, which must be found over time, or that the choice of the training system is a far less important factor than previously thought. Rather, strict life planning around bodybuilding would determine success. The truth is certainly somewhere in between.

Book tip from the training wordroom:

Program design in strength training by Mark Rippetoe

The required reading in terms of “program design in strength training”. This concept addresses the question of how to design an effective training program to continuously make progress. The book describes in detail the mechanics of the training process, starting with the basic physiology of adaptation. Specific training plans for beginners, experienced and very experienced strength athletes help to reach the set goals. This proven and completely updated standard work is a must for anyone who practices or teaches dumbbells, for weightlifters, powerlifting or CrossFitter and their coaches, but also for athletes of other sports who want to improve their strength training.

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