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What Is High Intensity Training?
I first ran across the concept of high intensity training from a Mike Mentzer article back when I was pumping iron in the mid-70’s. Actually back then, he called it heavy duty training.
As a back drop, by the then; I had already bought Larry Scott’s courses, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, Frank Zane’s, and Franco Columbu’s to name a few. Being the original scrawny geek, every last dime (well, almost every last dime) I earned washing dishes and pumping gas went to purchasing every “how to get massive arms…” courses, muscle mags and protein powder (nasty stuff back then) I could get my hands.
Seriously, I was around 5’6″ and weighed under 130lbs.
And I was doing as much as five exercises per bodypart at four to five sets per! My workouts lasted minimum two hours. I was 15 years old – I was doing what Arnold was doing. Heck, at one point; I wrote away to Larry Scott for a “personalized” workout regimen. My idols were doing twice a day splits for 6 days a week. I needed to do the same because I could not be the skinny runt anymore.
Enter Mike Mentzer and Heavy Duty Training.
In a nutshell, Mike was telling me (yes, he was talking to me directly – not) that all I really needed to do was 1 set per bodypart – specifically, I needed to do 1 pre-exhaust superset per bodypart. Hallelujah!!!!
I immediately bought all his Heavy Duty Teaching Booklets. And as the newest acolyte, my workout time dropped from 2 hrs to 20 minutes.
So, what’s high intensity teaching or heavy duty training?
Inside a nutshell, it means totally fatiguing your muscles within the shortest span of time. Or at the very least that’s my definition.
So then, the shortest span would be 1 set…
For late Mike Mentzer, it was 1 pre-exhaust superset…
His pre-exhaust superset principle was based on the notion that the smaller bodyparts would fail before the larger muscles during a compound movement. In the case of the bench press, he opined that the triceps and shoulders would fail first, hence stopping the set while the pecs (the target muscle) still had some gas in the tank. Therefore, pre-exhaust the big muscles; so that the bigger muscles are temporarily the weaker ones in the course of a compound movement.
Examples would be:
- Chest – Flyes followed by bench press: Flyes exhaust pecs, making it weaker than tris and shoulders throughout the bench. The stronger tris and shoulders would drive the pecs to complete exhaustion.
- Shoulders – Laterals followed by shoulder presses.
- Lats – Nautilus pullovers followed by Chin-ups
- Quadriceps – Leg extensions followed by squats
- Hamstrings – Leg curls followed by deadlifts
- Triceps – Lying tricep extensions followed by close grip bench
- Biceps – Barbell curls followed by close grip, underhand lat pulldowns
To further push the targeted bodypart to total (uh, beyond total?) exhaustion, Mentzer suggested forced reps on the second exercise, followed by negatives.
Over the years, there have already been many proponents of heavy duty teaching. Amongst the bodybuilding universe, the most renowned and successfully guru has to be Dorian Yates. I remember an article where Mike Francios quoted Yates telling him, “shoot 1 bullet through the heart” as a metaphor for performing 1 set versus the traditional multi-set approach.
But I find those kinds of simplistic analogies misleading…
But let’s be clear, I’d never question the validity of anything spoken by a warrior like Dorian Yates. He’s been the gladiator in the arena for many years putting his money where his mouth is day in and day out. But distilling a training principle to a simple, one liner doesn’t get it done.
That said, I’ve never definitely thought that there was all that much daylight between the 1 set crowd plus the multi-set group. The 1 set crowd tells us to warm-up with a couple of sets and go totally crazy on the One set! Or you can pyramid thusly:
- Set 1 – 12 reps with moderate weight
- Set 2 – 10 reps with 10% much more
- Set 3 – 8 reps with 20% much more
- Set 4 – six reps at 90% of max
- Set 5 – 6 reps to failure – everything you got.
Is there genuinely a distinction?
Again, let’s consider another example:
With Mentzer’s Heavy Duty program, a chest program may be:
- Flat Bench flyes – 2 sets of 12 reps, light weights to warm up
- Incline Barbell presses – 2 sets of 12 reps, light weights to warm up
- Pre-exhaust superset – 1 set of 6 to eight reps flyes (maximum work) followed by 1 set of six reps incline press (positive reps followed by 2 to three forced reps followed by 2 to three negatives)
Contrast that with Rusty Moore’s chest routine of:
- Bench press – five sets of 12, 10, 8, 6, 15
- Flyes – 4 sets of 12 (very same weights – rest no much more than 1 minute)
- Incline dumbbell presses – 4 sets of 12 (exact same weights – rest no far more than 1 minute)
Mentzer believes in total annihilation in one maximum effort. Rusty believes in cumulative fatigue to stress and annihilate the muscle. Each have their “scientific” research to backup their reasoning.
I feel neither are incorrect. I feel it really is a mistake to discount 1 in favor of another. I believe Mike Mentzer’s one flaw was in assuming what works for him and his followers must be the only way.
I believe the 1 path notion blurs the individualness too often. Most of us will in no way be Dorian Yates, so why copy his routines so exactly (go back to the kid doing Arnold’s workout for 2 hours in hopes of looking like Korean Arnold – no).
For many of us ordinary guys, I do believe heavy duty training has more potential for harm than good. Benching pressing is so much more than just pecs, shoulders, and triceps; it is all the underlying ligaments, tendons, attachments, and so on, that support the movement. A few warm-ups, and bang; jumping into a death set can’t be good.
But I’m no scientist, nor do I play one on TV. It is all about my commonsense – which may not be all that common.
Which leads me to conclude – with more than a few years behind me – that for many of us; I feel a workout strategy like Rusty would be the better choice. The pyramiding genuinely preps and sets the muscle up for maximum effort inside the last set. The following exercises pumps increasingly more blood into the muscles.
And besides, a lot of us work out at home or by ourselves. Heavy duty calls for a good training partner who can effectively spot forced reps and negatives.
That is not to say that there’s no place for heavy duty training. You can certainly cycle it in for a month or 2 to shock your muscles. But I wouldn’t do it
unless of course you’ve been hitting the iron at the very least a year and have a good partner.
Finally, high intensity training is less a training technique for me; but rather it is a mindset and effort level throughout a workout.
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