John Little is probably one of the most fascinating figures in the High Intensity Training world. He is a deep thinker and a natural researcher, with a profound world view and life philosophy, someone, who doesn’t accept the status quo without challenging it, and someone, who doesn’t consider himself “the expert”, despite his work on the groundbreaking books The Time Saver’s Workout and Body by Science, as author and co-author respectively.
We met in Canada, before the pandemic, spending our time together filming the course, John Little’s Six-Minute HIT, which presents the culmination of everything he’s learned about exercise over the last 30 years through research, personal experiments, trial and error and discussions with prominent individuals.
He says this course reveals an alternative approach to high intensity resistance training, among the many flavours of HIT out there, the aim being to refocus people back on what is essential in exercise, without the hype, without the nonsense, just a focus on your results.
Watch the video to learn a bit more about the course, in John’s words.
Discovering real science behind HIT
But we’ll talk more on the course later. Now let’s start from the beginning. Let us introduce you to John Little.
John’s interest in exercise started when he was a teenager and was watching martial arts films featuring the iconic Bruce Lee. He was fascinated by the Dragon’s physique and thought that if he practiced martial arts, he could also achieve a similar physique. The reality though, as he came to find out later, was that Bruce Lee was engaged in strength training, among other forms of exercise, in addition to his martial arts training.
That led John to explore weight training and then bodybuilding. He was initially inspired by a bodybuilder, named Frank Zane, whose physique he felt was the ideal, right in-between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Lee. It was however, only after meeting Mike Mentzer, a Mr. Olympia heavyweight champion, that he began to realize that there was ‘real science’ behind weight training. John began to appreciate that there is a finite limit to how many muscle fibers one can stimulate with exercise, to successfully stimulate all of them requires a high level of effort that cannot be bypassed by simply adding more volume of a lower effort level. However high intensity exercise requires a lower frequency of workouts. He also developed an understanding of the impact that both nutrition and genetics have in determining muscle gains and body composition.
“One of the leading fitness researchers in the world”
From that point on and driven by an intense interest in the human body and how it responds to exercise, he wrote many books on exercise, including “The Art of Expressing the Human Body”, “Max Contraction Training” and “Power Factor Training”, he co-authored several books with his friend Mike Mentzer, like “High Intensity Training, the Mike Mentzer way” and wrote articles for fitness magazines, such as Iron Man magazine. His writing was so influential and widely valued that Ironman magazine hailed him as “one of the leading fitness researchers in the world.”
Producing all these books was probably the perfect preparation for writing Body by Science, with Doug McGuff. This is one of the key books in the HIT niche to have broken through to a mainstream audience and helped to popularized high intensity training, by explaining and elaborating on the theory and science that underpins the protocol. It was fascinating to learn that there was no specific plan to write that book. It materialized after hours and hours of telephone conversations between Doug McGuff and John Little, which John transcribed and was ultimately put together into an 800-page manuscript that became Body by Science and Body by Science: Question and Answer book.
Watch the video to learn more about the story behind Body by Science.
The story of Nautilus North, John Little’s personal training facility
In everything that John Little has done in his life, you can see his passion, his thirst for knowledge and his need to learn hands-on. Setting up Nautilus North, John’s facility in Bracebridge, Canada, was no different. It started with buying a lot of Nautilus equipment in order to fully explore the Max Contraction concept, which was going to be the theme of the book he was writing at the time.
He accumulated so many exercise machines (sixty in total!) that they didn’t fit in his or his neighbour’s garage, and so he decided to open a facility and make them accessible to the public. He never intended to operate the place as a one-to-one personal training center, but he soon realized that people were getting much better workouts when they were being supervised by those with the right expertise, plus all those workouts provided an abundance of data that John could use to continue refining his protocols.
Since 2004, John Little and his trainers have supervised well over 80,000 workouts at Nautilus North, they have conducted several studies, and they have refined existing, and developed new exercise protocols. All these findings from those studies and John’s protocols are presented in his course John Little’s Six-Minute HIT, as well as his book The Time-Saver’s workout.
Watch the video to learn more about how John Little setup Nautilus North.
John Little’s own training program
Today, John trains once a week for 6 minutes. That’s it! He often does a Big 3, one set to failure per exercise, and will use the advanced protocols presented in the course to “spice things up” and ensure his training continues to provide an optimal stimulus. He has a trainer and acknowledges that when Jeremy trains him, he usually performs at a higher effort level than if he was training by himself.
After 15 years of meticulous recording of his exercise performance, he’s not hung up on extraneous stats anymore. He understands that what matters is load, time under load, and avoiding CEP and so long as you “empty the gas tank” at each workout, you’ve done all you can do to get all the benefits from exercise.
Watch the video of John explaining how he trains today.
The case for minimal exercise being optimal
There are a few reasons why John trains himself with such a minimal exercise protocol and why he advocates for minimal exercise in general:
- Minimizing the wear and tear: every time you open and close a joint to perform a movement under load, you incur wear and tear to the joint, and as we age this can lead to musculoskeletal issues. John has found that his 6-minute HIT protocol minimizes this negative side-effect and still leads to optimizing your physiology.
- Adequate recovery: we know that to achieve maximum hypertrophy and strength gains, we need to get adequate recovery time post-workout. John Little’s studies at Nautilus North have shown that most people recover 6-7 days after a truly meaningful workout, so there is no need for a frequency of more than once a week.
- Saving time: John believes that time is one of the most precious commodities in life and once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. So, he’s focused his work on finding the minimum optimal amount of exercise an individual needs to get all the benefits of productive exercise.
These are just some of the ideas presented in detail, in our latest course John Little’s Six-Minute HIT.
Conservation of Energy Phenomenon (CEP) and other things you’ll learn in the course
In the course, you will also learn about John Little’s latest ground-breaking discovery, the Conservation of Energy Phenomenon. Very simply put, when we’ve been doing an activity consistently over a period of time, the body learns to accomplish whatever we are asking it to accomplish with less muscle fiber, meaning that workouts get less effective at stimulating strength and hypertrophy results. John Little explains in detail how CEP works, what it means for your training, how to know that CEP has kicked in and what you can do about it.
Other things you will learn in the course:
- How the fitness industry operates and often exploits insecurity and hope
- How our innate attitudes, hardwired in our DNA, influence our behaviour towards exercise and food
- Why resistance training is great not only for strength, but also cardio
- Why low/moderate intensity and long duration activities are problematic, and can even be damaging
- What the real value of exercise is: a macro perspective on physiology, psychology and what matters in life
- What Conservation of Energy Phenomenon (CEP) is and what it means for your training
- Which exercises to use and exactly how to perform them to drive results, including key elements such as technique, tempo, repetitions, Time Under Load, muscular failure, frequency, etc.
- A 12-month blueprint of structured routines for you to follow, detailing exactly what to do and when, to ensure results and your continued progress. Over the course of the year you will integrate all of the key protocols presented in the course. Take the guesswork out of your training today.
- How to go free form. John teaches you how to seamlessly transition from following the 12-month blueprint to training “free form” for all your future workouts.
- Learnings from John Little’s unconventional Fat Loss study and other experiments at Nautilus North.
And besides the theory, the real value of the course is probably in watching John Little training Simon Shawcross in person, using the protocols that he has refined over the years. Despite two decades of experience in HIT, Simon says that John’s protocols as coached by the man himself came as a real shock to the system and produced “a really deep muscular burning, and a huge cardiovascular impact”.
Watch the video of Simon sharing his experience of being trained by John. The workout videos are included in John Little’s Six-Minute HIT course.
John notes that, as time goes by, people have a tendency to fall back into comfortable training habits. Most people who have been doing HIT for a while, will say, “let’s do this twice a week, let’s throw in some more exercises.” But they don’t need to. If the intensity is there and you are avoiding CEP, in every workout, they don’t need to increase the frequency or volume.
And that’s what John wanted to do with this course, to present ‘proper’ exercise, without the nonsense, without the hype, just focused on getting you muscle, strength and health benefits, now and as you age, so that you can be functionally fit to enjoy whatever it is you enjoy doing in life.
Where does high intensity resistance training fit in the wider fitness industry?
One last thing we discussed with John, that is also addressed in the course, as well as his book, the Time-Saver’s workout, is the fitness industry and why HIT isn’t more popular. If high intensity resistance training results in so many health benefits and unmatched body transformation, why isn’t it more widely adopted? And is there anything we can do to make it more mainstream?
For John, the issue is twofold:
- The fitness industry is a $60 billion industry that cares more about selling products and filling pages of magazines with new content than actually making people fit.
- Plus, telling people that all they need to do is work out intensely, very briefly and very infrequently, can be a challenging message.
He thinks that coming together via mediums like hituni.com and increasing the exposure of content around this form of exercise is the answer. And we are very happy to hear him say that because that’s exactly what we set out to achieve with HITuni and our courses; to help serve a wider audience and provide a genuine education in high intensity resistance training.
Watch the video to hear John talk about HIT and the fitness industry.
Finally, five things you may not know about John:
- John Little is “one the world’s foremost authorities on Bruce Lee, his training methods and philosophies” and he is the only person in the world to have been selected by the Bruce Lee estate to review his personal notes and writings, and author his biography.
- He is a philosophy aficionado, studying the Ancient Greeks and works to popularize the writings of the Durants, modern historians and philosophers.
- The original Body by Science manuscript was 800 pages long.
- John has been a judge for the UFC, the world’s leading mixed martial arts organization.
- He is also a true crime author.