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The Complete Beginner’s Guide to High Intensity Resistance Training (HIT): Adapting the protocol to your circumstances and needs (part 4)

In this fourth and final part of the Complete Beginner’s Guide to HIT, I am going to cover some final points and address the circumstances in which adaptations or tweaks may need to be made to the protocol I have outlined in the preceding posts. Understanding the circumstances in which changes may be required or of benefit will help you to get the most out of HIT. Ultimately your physiology and your response to exercise is individual to you, the advice given below will help you begin to tailor the HIT protocol to your needs and circumstances. I hope you enjoy and learn from the journey!


Warming up and cooling down

Many physical activities, especially those in which you are exposed to high or sudden forces require a warm up. HIT is however different, the forces that the musculoskeletal system are exposed to are relatively low and there should never be a sudden increase in force.

Never the less there is still a thorough, albeit hidden warm up for each exercise in a HIT workout: the initial reps of the exercise you are performing. The first 30 or so seconds of a properly applied HIT set is the warm-up for the more intense, later part of the set. This is another example of HIT’s efficiency in action!

The only time you are likely to need any other warm up in HIT is if you are in the process of rehabilitating an injury- in such circumstances an additional warm up for the specific part of the body may well be required.

The best “cool down” one can do is to walk out of the gym and keep moving for two or three minutes, after completion of the workout.


Incorporating stretching

Performance of HIT alone can enhance flexibility, ensuring healthy normal levels. Performing additional stretching typically does not provide any additional benefit for most people. There are exceptions, such as if you require supra-normal levels of flexibility for a specific activity you engage in, such as some martial arts or ballet etc. In these circumstances, make sure you do not stretch immediately prior to, or during your HIT workout. You can stretch immediately after your HIT workout, or leave your stretching protocol for when you would usually do it along with your activity-training.

Additional stretching may also prove to be beneficial in certain rehabilitation cases, this is best administered or prescribed by a knowledgeable personal trainer or physiotherapist.


Dealing with muscular soreness (DOMS)

Sometimes especially when you are just starting out with HIT you will experience DOMS for a few days after your workout. Most people find this tolerable, if a little uncomfortable, some even get a sense of satisfaction from it.

If you find it intolerable the best thing you can do to alleviate the sensation of soreness is to perform an exercise from your workout that addresses the muscle group where you feel sore, but instead of working to MMF do a controlled set or two to a 7/10 perceived effort level.

The good news is the better you get at performing the exercises in your routine the less likely you are to experience significant soreness.

One common area you may experience DOMS is the chest.
One common area you may experience DOMS is the chest.


What to do when you are unwell

If you have an acute infection with any of the following symptoms; fever, aching joints, excessive tiredness, vomiting or diarrhea then you should avoid all forms of exercise/physical activity. If you don’t have any of those symptoms but feel generally under the weather, such as with a minor cold, then gentle, moderate intensity activity like walking may help speed your recovery. You should however still avoid HIT (and interval training, running, sports etc.), until you are feeling fully recovered. Jumping into an intense workout before recovery will more than likely prolong your illness.

If you are suffering from a chronic (long-term) illness or health issue, it is important discuss the idea of beginning resistance training with your medical professional. If you get the go ahead to begin resistance training, then I suggest that you start out with a once a week frequency and don’t go to MMF in your initial workouts. Instead focus on excellent exercise performance and take each exercise to perhaps a 7/10 in terms of perceived effort. Observe closely how you feel immediately post workout and during the following days, all being well you can increase your effort level as you progress so long as you don’t notice excessive fatigue or worsening of your symptoms.


Skipped workouts and detraining

Physical benefits gained from HIT are reversible if HIT is ceased altogether, surprise, surprise. The great news is that deconditioning doesn’t begin the moment you skip a scheduled workout. The metabolic and cardiovascular conditioning benefits of HIT appear to begin to reduce at some point during the second week of no training, likely from about 10 days after your last workout.

Muscle tissue however, won’t atrophy (shrink) that quickly, it takes somewhere between 2-4 weeks off strength training for atrophy to begin. Having a week or two off every now and again does no real harm and likely does some good physiologically and psychologically.


Adapting HIT as you age

A great thing about HIT is that the intensity part of it is always appropriate for the specific individual exercising. Senior citizens stand to gain the most of any population practicing HIT, as even though you may not be able to gain as much total lean tissue as younger exercisers, the overall fitness benefits of HIT are even more important to older exercisers. Read detailed article on how to apply HIT as an older adult.


The female perspective

HIT is suitable for women, it 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.

As a woman training with HIT you will become as strong as your genetics allow and yet it is highly unlikely that you will bulk up. A fear of bulking up is natural but completely unfounded for the majority women, as it is a somewhat rare genetic trait.

The real benefit of HIT for women is achieving a lean, feminine and strong body.


How to fit HIT in around other physical activities

HIT supports your ability to perform well in physical activities outside of your workouts. Do engage in activities and sports that draw your interest. The only activities that I suggest you avoid is any other type of resistance training routine whilst you are implementing HIT. In addition, cardio interval training, if you intend to do any, needs to be scheduled carefully around your HIT workouts. I suggest only performing one, or at most two HIT workouts per week if you are going to do intervals. Make sure that you separate any interval sessions from HIT workouts by at least 48 hours.


Combining HIT and sports

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 general strength. This makes HIT the obvious choice for general strength and conditioning enhancement.

There are some additional considerations that athletes need to make when applying HIT, such as appropriately scheduling your HIT workouts alongside skill training, specific conditioning training and competitive events. Strength training needs to play a supporting role, especially during the competitive season. HIT is not the main event in these circumstances and needs to be dynamically adapted: volume and frequency can be manipulated and split routines may become necessary. It is critical that HIT does not negatively interfere with your ability to perform well during, and recover from; skill practice, specific conditioning and competition.


Adapting HIT for body fat reduction and muscle gain goals

Exercise accounts for 10-20% of your success in your weight loss or muscle gain goals. The remaining is down to your nutrition.
Exercise accounts for only 10-20% of your success in your weight loss or muscle gain goals.
Body fat reduction

Make sure that you follow the exercise approach laid out in this series of blog posts. There is no magic exercise routine specifically for fat loss. Full body HIT workouts performed 1-3x per week, supported with daily moderate physical activity such as a couple of brisk 20-30 minute walks (these can be substituted with any moderate physical activity you enjoy). Doing the preceding more than covers you for the exercise element of fat reduction, which accounts for about 10-20% of your success in this endeavour.

The other 80% is made up by the critical factor of nutritional intake. Here are some tips for good nutrition.

  1. Eat natural, unprocessed whole food sources of protein, fat and carbohydrate.
  2. Consume 1.3-2.2g of protein for every kilogram of your lean body weight. Athletes and muscular men should be at the upper end of the range, seniors and smaller women should be at the lower end of the range. Pregnant women should limit their protein intake to 15-20% of total daily calories.
  3. Consume about 250-350 less daily calories than you need to maintain your current weight
  4. Drink 2-3 liters of water per day
  5. Minimize negative stress and get 7-9 hours sleep per night
  6. Follow the 80/20 principle, it is ok to plan to have some treats
  7. Observe your progress and adjust your nutritional intake accordingly
Muscle gain

If you are happy with your current bodyfat level but want specifically to increase lean muscle mass follow the above rules for weight reduction but instead of eating 250-350 calories less than you need to maintain your current weight, increase your daily calories above maintenance by 250-350 calories.

Observe what happens to your body closely, if you find you are putting bodyfat on as well as or instead of muscle tissue then reduce your calories to a level where you are happy with your resultant bodyfat. Avoid getting caught up in a “bulking” mentality where you mistake all weight increase as being good, body fat gain is not the same as lean mass gain. Sounds obvious but those desperate to gain muscle tissue have been known to mistake the mirage of indiscriminate scale weight increase for positive adaptation.


What to do when you don’t have access to well-designed exercise machines

Well-designed and engineered exercise machines are often a help because they make it easier to get started with HIT. Certain populations may especially benefit from these machines, for example: senior citizens, the frail and those with specific rehabilitation needs.

Machines are not a requirement for the achievement results via HIT. Most individuals will be able to learn to use free weights and/or bodyweight exercises to reach their goals. If you do have the luxury of choice I recommend that you start out by working with machines- so long as they are fit for purpose; relatively low in friction, have appropriate strength curves and can be set up to feel comfortable for you.

On the other hand, if the machines you have access to don’t feel comfortable for you to use, then I strongly advise against trying to persevere with poor quality machines. Instead invest the time in perfecting your ability to perform either free weight or bodyweight exercises.


Tracking your workouts

I encourage you to keep records of your performance especially as a beginner and intermediate. Here is the appropriate information to track:

  • Date, time of day and total time to complete the workout
  • The weight you are going to use for each exercise in lbs or kg e.g. 75kg
  • On completion of each exercise, the time under load (TUL) e.g. 81 seconds

Then add an easy to input symbol as a quick qualitative appraisal of your performance:

Lower the load in the next workout
Lower TUL guideline not reached, or reached but exercise performance poor.
Load remains the same in the next workout
Within TUL guidelines or upper TUL reached, but performance/technique needs refining.
Load remains the same in the next workout
well performed set, within TUL guidelines, load remains the same next workout.
Increase the load next workout
well performed set and upper TUL reached.

Noting the above data immediately after each exercise will ensure that you select the correct loads for the next workout.

Do remember that the load you use is only a means to an end. There is no benefit to rushing to increase load if you can get what you need to out of a lighter weight. Stick with the lighter weight until you have mastered performance of the exercise at that load and have earned/require the increase. This is not powerlifting!


Circumstances in which you may want to hire a HIT personal trainer

  • You can financially afford ongoing personal supervision and want the many benefits a first-class service brings
  • You want to experience the top-notch equipment a personal trainer has
  • You have an injury that needs rehabilitating
  • You are unsure about the quality of your exercise form/technique
  • You are unsure about how hard you should be training and what MMF should feel like
  • You have a chronic illness and you are unsure how to adapt HIT to your circumstances
  • You are an athlete and need help adapting HIT to fit in with your sport training

It is a very good idea to benefit from the services of a personal trainer, even if only as a one-off or on an occasional basis. If you have never applied HIT before then a HIT certified 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.

Many individuals have got in touch with me after having attempted to apply HIT alone. 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 client goes along the lines of “Ah! That feels different, I don’t think I’ve been training anything like this/this intensely!”

If you haven’t taken appropriate exercises, performed with excellent technique, all the way through to momentary muscular failure (MMF) before, it is ideal to be introduced to HIT by an experienced professional.


Supporting Science

Do you want to read some research first-hand that supports the information that I have covered in these posts? Here are some articles to google to get you started:

  1. Bimson L, Langdown L, Fisher JP, Steele J, Six weeks of knee extensor isometric training improves soccer related skills in female soccer players Journal of Trainology Vol. 6, No. 2, 2017 2186-5264
  2. Carpinelli R N, Berger in retrospect: effect of varied weight training programmes on strength British Journal of Sports Medicine 2002;36:319-324.
  3. Carpinelli R N, Critical review of a meta-analysis for the effect of single and multiple sets of resistance training on strength gains. Med Sport 16 (3): 122-130, 2012 DOI: 10.5604/17342260.1011393
  4. Eichmann B, Gießing J. Effects of ten weeks of either multiple-set training or single-set training on strength and muscle mass. Br J Sports Med 2013;47:e3.
  5. Fisher, JP, Carlson, L, and Steele, J. The effects of breakdown set resistance training on muscular performance and body composition in young men and women. J Strength Cond Res 30(5): 1425–1432, 2016
  6. Fisher JP, Carlson L, Steele J, The effects of muscle action, repetition duration, and loading strategies of a whole-body, progressive resistance training programme on muscular performance and body composition in trained males and females Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2016, 41(10): 1064-1070, https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2016-0180
  7. Fisher JP; Carlson L; Steele J; Smith D The effects of pre-exhaustion, exercise order, and rest intervals in a full-body resistance training intervention. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab.  2014; 39(11):1265-70 (ISSN: 1715-5320)
  8. Fisher JP, Ironside M, Steele J, Heavier and lighter load resistance training to momentary failure produce similar increases in strength with differing degrees of discomfort. Muscle Nerve. 2017 Oct;56(4):797-803. doi: 10.1002/mus.25537.
  9. Fisher J, Steele J, Questioning the Resistance/Aerobic Training Dichotomy: A commentary on physiological adaptations determined by effort rather than exercise modality. Journal of Human Kinetics, December 2014 10.2478/hukin-2014-0119
  10. Fisher JP, Steele J, Gentil P, Giessing J, Westcott WL, A minimal dose approach to resistance training for the older adult; the prophylactic for aging. Experimental Gerontology, ISSN: 1873-6815, Vol: 99, Page: 80-86 2017
  11. Fisher J., Steele J., Smith D. Evidence-based resistance training recommendations for muscular hypertrophy Medicina Sportiva 17 (4): 217-235, 2013
  12. Fisher, J., Steele, J. & Smith, D. High- and Low-Load Resistance Training: Interpretation and Practical Application of Current Research Findings Sports Med (2017) 47: 393. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0602-1
  13. Giessing J, Eichmann B, Steele J, Fisher J. A comparison of low volume “high-intensity-training” and high volume traditional resistance training methods on muscular performance, body composition, and subjective assessments of training. Biology of Sport. 2016;33(3):241-249. doi:10.5604/20831862.1201813.
  14. Giessing J, Fisher J, Steele J, Rothe F, Raubold K, Eichmann B, The effects of low volume resistance training with and without advanced techniques in trained participants. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2014
  15. Otto RM, Carpinelli RN. A Critical Analysis Of The Single Versus Multiple Set Debate. JEPonline 2006;9(1):32-57.
  16. Peterson JA. Total Conditioning: A Case Study Athletic Journal Vol. 56, September 1975
  17. Pollock ML, Graves JE, Bamman MM, Leggett SH, Carpenter DM, Carr C, Cirulli J, Matkozich J, Fulton M. Frequency and volume of resistance training: effect on cervical extension strength. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1993 Oct;74(10):1080-6.
  18. Silvestre de França H, Paulo Alexandre Nordeste Branco, Dilmar Pinto Guedes Junior, Paulo Gentil, James Steele, Cauê Vazquez La Scala Teixeira, The effects of adding single-joint exercises to a multi-joint exercise resistance training program on upper body muscle strength and size in trained men. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2015, Vol. 40, No. 8 : pp. 822-826
  19. Smith D, and Bruce-Low S, (2004) Strength training methods and the work of Arthur Jones. ISSN 1097-9751
  20. Starkey DB, Pollock ML, Ishida Y, Welsch MA, Brechue WF, Graves JE, Feigenbaum MS. Effect of resistance training volume on strength and muscle thickness. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Oct;28(10):1311-20.
  21. Steele J, Fisher JP, Assunção AR, Bottaro M, Gentil P, The role of volume-load in strength and absolute endurance adaptations in adolescent’s performing high- or low-load resistance training. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 2017, 42(2): 193-201, doi/10.1139/apnm-2016-0418.
  22. Steele J, Fisher J, McGuff D, Bruce-Low S, Smith D. Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic Physiological Adaptations. JEPonline 2012;15(3):5380.
  23. Steele J, Raubold K, Kemmler W, Fisher J, Gentil P, Giessing J, The Effects of 6 Months of Progressive High Effort Resistance Training Methods upon Strength, Body Composition, Function, and Wellbeing of Elderly Adults, BioMed Research International, vol. 2017, Article ID 2541090, 14 pages, 2017. doi:10.1155/2017/2541090
  24. Vincent KR, Braith RW, Resistance exercise and bone turnover in elderly men and women Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 34 no1 17-23 Ja 2002
  25. Westcott, WL, Winett, RA, Anderson, ES, Wojcik, JR, Loud, RL, Cleggett, E, and Glover, S. Effects of regular and slow speed resistance training on muscle strength. Journal of Sports Medicine Physical Fitness 41: 154-158.


14 responses on "The Complete Beginner’s Guide to High Intensity Resistance Training (HIT): Adapting the protocol to your circumstances and needs (part 4)"

  1. Nice finish with the 25 supporting articles – Right now I am imagining someone questioning the efficacy of HIT and then having the above kilogram of articles dropped in front of them. Do you happen to have a top five or favorite article supporting HIT?

    • Hi Gayle, thanks for your feedback and the great question.

      My top 5 from the papers listed above, with a view to introducing someone to a HIT approach to exercise:

      Fisher J., Steele J., Smith D. Evidence-based resistance
      training recommendations for muscular hypertrophy Medicina Sportiva 17 (4):
      217-235, 2013

      Smith D, and Bruce-Low S, (2004) Strength training methods
      and the work of Arthur Jones. ISSN 1097-9751

      Fisher JP, Steele J, Gentil P, Giessing J, Westcott WL, A
      minimal dose approach to resistance training for the older adult; the prophylactic
      for aging. Experimental Gerontology, ISSN: 1873-6815, Vol: 99, Page: 80-86 2017

      Giessing J, Eichmann B, Steele J, Fisher J. A comparison of
      low volume “high-intensity-training” and high volume traditional resistance
      training methods on muscular performance, body composition, and subjective
      assessments of training. Biology of Sport. 2016;33(3):241-249.

      Steele J, Fisher J, McGuff D, Bruce-Low S, Smith
      D. Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular
      Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic
      Physiological Adaptations. JEPonline 2012;15(3):5380.

  2. Do you know if anyone in Las Vegas, NV who trains others this way?

  3. We used HIT to train for football in the 80’s…why has it fallen out of favor? The Olympic lifts look to be inherently dangerous to athletes.

    • Hi Erik,

      Great to hear that when you trained for football you had access to a sound exercise protocol. Unless you want to get goood at Olympic lifting itself, the risk/reward ratio is unacceptable for general strength and conditioning of athletes engaged in other sports. In sports, just as with the fitness industry in general there is a bias toward trends and “newness”. S and C coaches often feel pressure to follow those trends, to appear to be “cutting-edge” and in many ways to “complicate” training to show their worth/financial value and “special” expertise to the team.

  4. Hey Simon, great article – thank-you! I have a few questions (not a PT here):

    – I notice you don’t include deadlifts in your suggested programming. Wondering why not and if we can use them?
    – Also feels light on leg exercises and no single leg exercises included. Again wondering if it’s ok to add in additional exercises if you want to put more focus on legs and stability through single leg movements like lunges?
    – If you wanted to add a short HIIT or HIRT workout on the end of the session to get some additional cardio and/or speed, power and agility is there any disadvantage to doing this (eg 20 min HIT workout and a 10-15 HIRT or HIIT circuit)?
    – What about if you wanted to the HIT workout twice through in same session with a break in between?
    – Why do you suggest dropping to 1-2x per week and not maintaining it at 3x per week over the long term?

    Many thanks in advance,

    • Hi Liam,

      Deadlifts can be a viable exercise- if they suit the individual (biomechanics/limb lengths/injury history). If they work for you they can be an excellent exercise when performed well.

      Yes to your second point. You certainly can add in single-joint exercises. Also I use split squats and reverse lunges in my training from time to time.

      If you are going to perform a HIIT workout after a HIT workout there are some considerations to make: running and high-impact modalities are not a good idea as your muscles are weakened and therefore the joints are at more risk. Using a stationary bike or other low-impact machine would be better. My preference would be to do it on a different day altogether, at least 48 hours after HIT.

      If you wanted to do the HIT workout 2x over in the same workout for metabolic effect, that is fine. Do make sure your technique and performance of the exercises is good, especially during the second round where you will be more fatigued.

      If you are genuinely going to momentary muscular failure in your exercises then 1-2x per week is enough frequency for optimal results for most people- a third workout is typically not required. Beginners tend to do well on 3x per week as they have not acquired the skill of performing the exercises well or the skill of going to true MMF yet. As these skills are acquired less frequency can be just as effective.

  5. what lumbar extension exercises do you recommend for bodyweight HIT workout

  6. Right now, what I want to do is do HIT 3 day per week, and Run intensely for 30 min- 1hour 2 other days a week in order to get faster and stronger at the same time. How would you suggest to go about this, and will the intense running be detrimental to my progress doing HIT?

  7. What would you substitute for chinups if you could only use dumbbells?

  8. Hi Riley,

    In this case I would probably do a dumbbell pullover on the floor or on a bench.

  9. Hi Riley,

    3 days a week HIT and 2 intense effort runs of the duration you mention is alot, likely to be detrimental to both your running and your strength training.

    If you are dead set on the frequency of the running and strength training you mentioned I might consider:

    Day 1: Full body HIT
    Day 2: Easy to moderate run
    Day 3: Upper body only HIT
    Day 4: Intense run
    Day 5: Day off
    Day 6: Full body HIT or Upper body only HIT
    Day 7: Day off

    Something like the above and check: are strength increases and run times regularly improving and do I feel recovered and capable in daily life and specifically prior to each workout. Then adapt from there.

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