Although it will be news to most people even today, the fact that HIT (High Intensity Strength Training) is the most effective form of cardiovascular exercise has been known at least as far back as the mid 1970’s. In 1975 the father of modern HIT Arthur Jones funded a study carried out at West Point Military Academy known as Project Total Conditioning. One group of subjects performed HIT and a second group acted as a control.
The HIT group outperformed the control group on every single metric tested including overall strength, neck strength, cardiovascular condition (there were 60 different tests for cardiovascular fitness alone) and flexibility. Dr. James A. Peterson the then Associate Professor of Physical Education at the United States Military Academy wrote on the results of the study: “Contrary to widespread opinion, not only will a properly conducted program of strength training produce increases in muscular strength but will also significantly improve an individual’s level of cardiovascular condition. The data suggests that some of these cardiovascular benefits apparently cannot be achieved by any other type of training.”
That was back in 1975, let’s flash forward to today and look at the major findings of an excellent study published in 2012, titled “Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic Physiological Adaptations” by Steele et al.
Summary of the Findings of the above study:
-When training to momentary muscular failure (as per HIT) the acute metabolic and molecular responses do not differ from traditional endurance training and myocardial function is maintained or enhanced.
-not only does resistance training to failure produce the obvious benefits of improving strength, power, bone mineral density etc, it also produces cardiovascular fitness improvements. As the authors of the study point out, a type of exercise that causes all these benefits in one single modality represents a very efficient use of time and simplifies conditioning training.
-athletes and non-athletes alike can benefit from the cardiovascular improvements produced by HIT.
-HIT induces both acute and chronic physiological effects “which appear to be similar to aerobic endurance training, which in turn produces similar enhancements in CV fitness.”
-The authors finish by stating: “Thus, in conclusion, we contend that performance of RT (resistance training) to failure will produce significant improvement in CV fitness that occurs through physiological adaptations such as up-regulation of mitochondrial enzymes, mitochondrial proliferation, conversion towards a type IIa phenotype, and capillarization.”
The unique case with HIT is that all the physiologic benefits that exercise can provide are provided… and safely. This includes optimizing cardiovascular health with a minimal time investment of 15-20 minutes once or twice per week. There is no physiologic need to perform any other form of exercise for cardiovascular health.
The review, titled “Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic Physiological Adaptations” is freely available to download and read online from the Journal of Exercise Physiology.