25 Frequently Asked Questions About High Intensity Training
In this article, I want to share 25 of the most frequently asked questions about High Intensity Training (HIT). I often get clients or friends asking these questions and over the years, I found the following answers to be effective in explaining HIT and resolving any resistance or confusion people have – especially those new to this type of exercise, or people who haven’t read Body By Science – might have.
I’ll often start out by explaining that HIT is a specific approach to exercise that stimulates the body to produce total fitness results including: hypertrophy, strength, cardiovascular improvement, flexibility enhancement and bone mineral density. HIT provides this highly effective stimulus for physiological change in a uniquely efficient manner – in just 12-25 minutes, 1-2x per week – with equal concern for safety and training longevity.
Without further ado, let’s explore 25 questions that commonly arise when HIT is mentioned.
1. Is HIT different from strength training/resistance training?
HIT is strength training and it is resistance training. HIT is a form of strength or resistance training that specifically focuses on effectiveness, efficiency and safety. In general, individuals perform HIT workouts only once or twice per week. Each workout will usually consist of 5-10 exercises, all of which are completed within about 12-25 minutes. Every selected exercise will be biomechanically appropriate and performance of the exercises adhere to guidelines that concurrently optimize the stimulus and safety of the exercises. There are a lot of approaches to strength training or resistance training, many of which are potentially effective, however HIT is unique in its efficiency and focus on safety.
2. Is HIT cardio?
High Intensity Training stimulates positive adaptations of the cardiovascular system. In fact, research shows that resistance exercise taken to momentary muscular failure (MMF) stimulates improvements in the cardiovascular system comparable to traditional CV exercise. This is one of HIT’s huge advantages: its efficiency targets multiple fitness goals with one stone.
3. Is HIT the same as intense cardio?
HIT (High Intensity Resistance Training) is intense cardio.
Let’s clarify an issue of nomenclature, fairly recently a form of CV exercise involving sprint intervals has been much talked about- traditionally this particular type of exercise was referred to as High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT. At some point some people got lazy and dropped one of the “I”s and it is now often referred to as HIT, too! This is obviously somewhat of a cause for confusion between that HIIT and our HIT. CV based high intensity interval training (HIIT) is essentially the cousin of High Intensity Resistance Training (HIT), and it is the most efficient and effective form of applying traditional modes of CV exercise, such as cycling, for CV health benefits.
Whilst sprint intervals are excellent at providing CV health benefits they lack when it comes to providing an efficient and effective strengthening stimulus for the musculature of the body as a whole. The same is not however true in reverse: although High Intensity (Resistance) Training uses workouts that consist of exercises that are traditionally considered strength training exercises, the effect of applying these exercises in a highly intense manner produces the same CV health benefits as more traditional CV modalities (e.g. cycling). The ultimate workout if such a concept exists is High Intensity Resistance Training, our HIT, as it can stimulate hypertrophy, strength increases and CV health benefits all in one form of exercise.
4. Is HIT bodybuilding?
The short answer is yes and no. HIT certainly is bodybuilding if by the term “bodybuilding” you mean exercise for which one of the desired outcomes is stimulating an increase in lean muscle tissue. However if by bodybuilding you mean posing on stage in a pair of trunks or a bikini… not necessarily. There are obviously a few issues relating to the term bodybuilding with regards to the context in which we use it, and what we understand “bodybuilding” to mean.
Exercise is only a part of the package required to be a successful “posing-on-stage-bodybuilder”, where everything from how you pose, to successful application of a fake tan, impacts on success. The issue of performance enhancing drugs also inevitably rears its head when we mention bodybuilding. Professional bodybuilders use performance-enhancing drugs to help them achieve the acquisition of supra-normal amounts of muscle tissue.
Very few people male or female, have any desire to look like professional bodybuilders do, some of us are even repulsed by such a look. It is important to understand that genetics favorable to muscle tissue growth, combined with drugs produce the exaggerated physiques associated with professional bodybuilding. Without the right genetics and the right drugs, HIT is not going produce a professional bodybuilder type physique. On the other hand, a professional bodybuilder could of course use HIT principles to assist in achieving an award winning physique.
5. Is HIT as intense as Crossfit?
HIT is more locally intense and at the same time usually less systemically draining than Crossfit. Let’s break that down: in HIT a muscle group or several muscle groups are specifically targeted with each chosen exercise and then exercised to momentary fatigue, in as an efficient way as possible. In Crossfit, muscle tissue is typically not targeted with anything like the same degree of precision. This means that the stimulus tends to be dispersed systemically, and this is less effective and efficient for targeting muscle tissue and at the same time more draining on the body as a whole. Another way of putting it is that as a physiological stimulus primarily focused on stimulating hypertrophy, strength and general CV improvements HIT is more appropriately intense, but both types of workout will feel demanding.
6. Will I gain a lot of muscle?
Depends on what your interpretation of what “a lot of muscle” is. You will gain the appropriate amount of muscle for your body-type, so long as you support your exercise with appropriate nutrition, rest and sleep and manage various other life stressors adequately. No matter what anyone tells you, your genetic make up is the primary determinant of the amount of muscle tissue you can ultimately carry. By consistent long-term application of HIT you will attain the optimal amount of lean muscle tissue for you and your body. For some individuals this may only be a few pounds, for others it may be up to thirty or so pounds (this is without the assistance of any performance enhancing drugs).
7. Will I lose weight?
Yes, that is possible, depending on your current circumstances. HIT can play a role in fat loss as well as in lean tissue gain. If an individual has excess fat to lose, applying HIT at the same time as following an appropriate diet will result in a reduction in body fat for that individual. The utilization of stored glycogen, the release of fat burning hormones and the increase in metabolic rate stimulated by HIT, all support the individual aiming to reduce body fat levels. In this scenario, scale weight will usually decline between weigh-ins, although it also possible for scale weight to remain the same for a period of time if body fat has reduced by the same amount as lean tissue has increased during that time period. Conversely an individual who does not have excess body fat to lose will likely increase their scale weight due to the acquisition of lean tissue.
8. Do I need a Personal Trainer to be able to do HIT?
It is a very good idea to have a personal trainer. If you have never applied HIT before then a HIT personal trainer is going to help you start off on the right foot, speed up your learning curve and ensure you are doing this safely.
As a HIT trainer many clients come to see me after having attempted to apply HIT by themselves after having read about it or watched a few videos of HIT type workouts online. I will start out working with these clients by clarifying important concepts, discussing the nuances of HIT and taking them through a supervised workout. After having done this, without fail the response I get from the new client goes along the lines of “Ah! That feels different, I don’t think I’ve been training anything like this/this intensely.” This even applies for individuals who have a longer history of performing other types of weight training exercise too.
If you haven’t taken appropriate exercises, performed with excellent technique, all the way through to momentary muscular failure (MMF) before: if you are not cognisant mentally and physiologically of this experience it is ideal to be introduced to HIT by an experienced professional. Additionally no matter how long you have been training in the HIT manner for, it is likely that you will experience some of your best workouts under the direct supervision of a HIT personal trainer.
All of the above having been said, circumstances may not allow you to have a Personal Trainer instruct you through every workout you do. In this scenario, if at all possible do what you can to have a HIT PT instruct your initial HIT workouts, and then intermittently throughout your on-going training career.
9. Do I need specific exercise machines to do HIT?
Well-designed and engineered exercise machines are of great benefit because they make it easier (there is less skill required) to stimulate muscle tissue effectively and efficiently. Certain special populations may especially benefit from these types of machines, for example: senior citizens, the frail or those with specific rehabilitation needs. However machines are not a requirement for the achievement results via HIT. A majority of individuals will be able to learn to use free weights and/or bodyweight exercises, to a performance standard that enables them to attain the desired benefits and results of High Intensity Exercise without machines.
10. Can I do HIT at home?
Yes, HIT can be performed very effectively at home, or even whilst travelling with an absolute minimum of equipment. Simple and effective bodyweight HIT routines can be structured for example, using the following exercises:
- Push up variants
- Chin ups/ Pull ups
- Row variants
- Wall Sits
- Plank variants
11. Is HIT useful for athletes?
HIT can play an excellent role as the general strengthening and general conditioning stimulus for athletes involved in sports and other challenging physical activities. There are some additional considerations that athletes need to make when applying HIT, such as appropriately scheduling their HIT workouts alongside their skill training, their specific conditioning training and their competitive events.
A huge advantage of HIT for athletes is its safety: the likelihood of getting injured whilst performing proper HIT is exceptionally low, as low as it is possible to get whilst applying a significant exercise stimulus. The same cannot be said for most other approaches to exercise. Athletes should not be exposed to unnecessary risk of injury especially “off the field” when performing exercise that is intended to enhance their general strength. This makes HIT the obvious choice for general strength and conditioning enhancement.
12. Don’t I need to warm-up/cool down?
Many physical activities, especially those in which an individual is exposed to high/sudden forces require a warm up before exposure to the “main event”. HIT is however different, the forces that the musculoskeletal system are exposed to during a HIT workout are relatively low and there is never a sudden increase in force during HIT exercise. Even so there is still a “hidden” warm up for each exercise in HIT. This hidden warm-up is in fact the best warm up possible. The initial 30 or so seconds of a properly applied HIT set is the warm-up for the more intense, later part of the set to come- the efficiency of HIT shines through again. There are a limited number of exceptions to this rule, where an additional warm-up may be required, including specific rehabilitation cases. Although not a requirement, the best cool down one can do is to walk out of the gym and keep moving for two or three minutes.
13. Do I need to stretch as well?
Performance of HIT enhances flexibility to healthy normal levels, so performing additional stretching typically does not provide any additional benefit for most individuals. There are exceptions, such as in cases where a person requires supra-normal levels of flexibility for a particular physical activity they engage in (think certain martial arts, ballet etc). Individuals involved in these activities will need to engage in a separate stretching protocol. Additional stretching may also prove to be beneficial in certain specific rehabilitation cases.
14. Can I do other physical activities too?
Of course, HIT is designed to be as efficient and effective as possible so that you can get on with enjoying yourself outside of the gym. Another way to view it is: HIT is your physiological tune-up, where you build and refine your body whether it be a dragster, a rally car or a 4×4. How you use it the rest of the week is up to you.
15. Can my partner and I do HIT together?
Yes and this is often a great idea: for bonding, support and enhancing the likelihood of exercise adherence. It is however best if one of you acts as the trainer whilst the other exercises, rather than performing exercises together at the same time. Any competitive element will likely distract from proper performance of the exercises. Instead either take your partner through their full workout then have them take you through yours, or alternate sets e.g., your partner performs push ups then you perform push ups, your partner performs chin ups, then you perform chin ups and so on. For those who are unable to regularly exercise with a personal trainer a supportive and knowledgeable training partner can certainly help improve your workouts.
16. Can kids do HIT?
From the age of about 7 years old children are usually ready for and capable of performing resistance based exercise, which will provide similar beneficial outcomes to those that adults acquire. These benefits include muscle strengthening and bone strengthening. It may however be advisable for children to hold back shy of momentary muscular failure by a few repetitions until they are into their adolescent years.
17. Don’t I need to do a more gentle form of exercise as I get older?
A great thing about HIT is that the intensity part of it is always appropriate for the specific individual exercising. As a beginner, although HIT will feel challenging it will always be within your current capabilities. Your ability to perform intense exercise will improve over time and at each step of the way the actual intensity of your HIT workouts will match your improved ability. Senior citizens stand to potentially gain the most of any subpopulation practicing HIT, as even though they may not be able to gain as much total lean tissue as younger exercisers, the benefits of HIT are even more important to older exercisers. And just like anyone else, senior citizens can enjoy other less demanding physical activities too with their newfound strength and fitness developed via HIT.
18. Can women do HIT?
Yes women can do HIT, in fact women are often quicker learners when it comes to HIT. HIT is a stimulus for the human physiology and can be appropriately and successfully applied no matter if you are male or female, young or old.
19. Will I feel sore after the workout?
Possibly, however the more refined your ability to exercise properly the less likely you are to experience soreness or DOMS to any significant degree in the days following a workout. This means that when you first start out and subsequently when you change routines is when you are most likely to experience any muscular soreness.
20. Why isn’t everyone doing HIT?
That’s a great question, and one we are looking to do something about. The ultimate answer is that at the moment not enough people have heard about HIT, have fully understood the benefits it can provide and/or have gained an adequate understanding of how to properly apply it.
21. Where can I learn more about HIT?
We recommend that you spend some more time reading through the posts here at HITuni and watching some of the videos we have on our Youtube channel. We also recommend the book Body by Science by John R. Little and Doug McGuff.
22. Will HIT make me fit for … (physical activity of your choice)…
HIT will make you fit for living. If you want to be fit for a particular activity then we recommend that you act as if you were an athlete: improve your general strength and conditioning by performing HIT once or twice a week and then practice your chosen activity as frequently as you can.
23. I have painful knees can I still do HIT?
Due to the focus on safety and the controlled exposure to forces HIT is as safe as exercise gets. However, if you have painful knees we recommend you get them checked out by your doctor and then work initially with a HIT personal trainer if at all possible.
24. Is HIT really enough exercise? Surely I should be doing much more?
From a health perspective 1-2, ~20minute HIT workouts per week are all you need to do to attain the benefits of exercise: hypertrophy, strength, CV improvement and further beneficial adaptations. That doesn’t mean that you should be completely inactive for the rest of the week though.
As humans it is good for us to move around, to walk, to be generally active. How far you want to take this is up to you: some of you may just want to walk as part of your daily commute, or to schedule in some specific walking time each day. Others may want to engage in a bit more focused physical activity: perhaps you play a sport, enjoy cycling, going dancing or whatever it is that floats your physical boat: this is all fine and healthy.
HIT however is certainly enough formal physical exercise to stimulate the desired adaptations to exercise stress- just don’t lie in bed or sit on the couch and do nothing at all the rest of the week!
25. My friend does … (insert exercise trend of choice)… she says HIT is rubbish and doesn’t work!
That’s awesome that your friend has found something that works for her, though it is unfortunate that she has such a strongly held view on HIT. Exercise, much like religion and politics can sometimes foster staunchly held beliefs that are not always entirely based on facts. This is especially likely to occur when someone has emotionally invested in the physical activity they engage in.
Believe it or not your friend likely sees your desire to “try something different” to what she is doing, as a threat to her belief system. It is important to note that there are usually multiple paths to a desired destination, some are direct and efficient others may be a bit more indirect, involved or even more risky. We all have to decide on the right route to our goal, ourselves. The science clearly shows that HIT works.
That wraps up our FAQs on HIT. I hope it has answered some of the questions you had as an individual or questions you get if you are a personal trainer. If you have other questions or this article has stimulated further questions in your mind, do let us know in the comments below.
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