Sunday, October 28, 2012

High Intensity Strength Training - By Joe Aben

Originally posted on on February 24, 2002

Intensity, as I define it in relation to weight training, is the amount of work done in a given amount of time. High-intensity strength training, which I practice and teach, is performing the most work possible in the shortest amount of time. The “work” is the actual time spent training with weights. High-intensity strength training (HIT) is characterized by performing one set (for each exercise) taken to the point of muscular failure with the most amount of weight possible using impeccable form.

Many fitness “gurus” believe that multiple sets of a given exercise and spending countless hours lifting weights are needed to develop strength. However, Ralph N. Carpinelli, Ed.D., a researcher and writer for Hard Training journal, found that “there is very little evidence-in fact, only two studies out of 50-to suggest that more than one set of strength-training exercise is required for the maximum development of strength.” (December 2000, p.20). When practicing high-intensity strength training (HIT), it is important to understand and utilize the following key elements. They include: progression, momentary muscular failure, rep speed, form, and rest (or lack of).


Use the most weight possible for each exercise. Adding weight to the exercise makes “Progress”. A word of caution: Never compromise form for the sake of adding weight. It may take you three workouts using the same weight before you can add pounds to your exercise. You may want to use “Platemates” to help you gradually increase the intensity of your exercise. Platemates are small magnetic weights starting at 5/8 of a pound that can be attached to barbells or dumbbells.

Momentary Muscular Failure

You may think of failure as being a negative term. However, when practicing HIT it is very positive. In order to progress, you must reach momentary muscular failure. This happens when a set is taken to the point where you cannot perform another full repetition within the parameters of good form and speed.

Rep Speed and Form

A repetition (rep) can be broken down into two parts: 1) the positive (or concentric part), and 2) the negative (eccentric part). Take for example the bench press exercise. The positive would be pushing the weight from your chest to the ceiling. The negative would be lowering the weight to your chest. As a general rule, take about 3-4 seconds to raise the weight and 3-4 seconds to lower the weight (don’t forget to breathe!). You should also be able to pause for a second at the mid-point of the rep. If you cannot pause, the weight is too heavy or you have reached the point of muscular failure. A good HIT set consists of 8 to 12 of these “perfect” repetitions.


In order to maintain “high intensity”, your rest between sets should be minimal. You should take about 60 seconds (no more than 90 seconds) between sets or exercises. This is usually about the amount of time it takes you to change the weight and prepare for the next exercise. As mentioned previously, HIT is performing the most work possible in the shortest amount of time. The benefits are lost if you rest 5 minutes in between exercises. Of course, the less rest you take between sets- the higher the intensity (therefore, increased benefit but also increased difficulty). It is a good idea to keep a journal of your workouts and write down the exercise, weight, reps performed, and duration of your workout. This way you will be able to see your progression. You will also be able to move on to the next exercise without trying to guess the amount of weight you are using for the particular exercise.

Anyone can perform HIT wanting to increase physical and mental strength. I have found that it is the most safe, beneficial, and time-efficient way to strength train. The benefits are too numerous to mention; but rest assured if you practice the principles outlined in this article, you will increase your strength and lean muscle mass. Have fun, get strong and stay strong and healthy for your lifetime.

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