If I told you that you could boost your metabolism, reduce body fat levels, increase strength, increase longevity, improve fitness oh and look darn good naked – all by doing 15minutes of exercise in a week, would you believe me?
No? Well you should.
This isn’t a sales pitch for a new exercise machine, nor is it a sales page with a ‘buy now’ button at the bottom. Instead it’s a closer look a very unique type of strength training. Something that goes against conventional wisdom and everything that I had learnt as a Personal Trainer and athlete.
What is this training system? It’s called High Intensity Training or HIT (note, this is different to High Intensity Interval Training training aka HIIT). Superslow training is another term used for the HIT modality of training.
Super Slow High Intensity Training: Is 15 minutes of Strength Training A Week Enough?
What is HIT Training?
HIT is a very short, very intense, 1 set to failure resistance training protocol. A typical session lasts 10-20minutes, and typically involves 3-5 sets. That’s it.
Oh, and you only perform it once a week, at most once every 5 days.
Again, I’m not making this up, it’s a short sharp strength training protocol that you do once a week.
The particular program that I followed in my 9-month experiment based on the book ‘Body By Science’ authored by the very knowledgeable Dr Doug McGuff. Note – if you already know all about HIT training and just want to see my results from this 9 month period, be sure to check out this article – Body By Science High Intensity Training Review: My 9 Month Experiment.
HIT was popularised in the 1970s by Arthur Jones, the founder of Nautilus and MedX. Wikipedia defines HIT as:
he training focuses on performing quality weight training repetitions to the point of momentary muscular failure. The training takes into account the number of repetitions, the amount of weight, and the amount of time the muscle is exposed to tension in order to maximize the amount of muscle fiber recruitment.
So what makes the HIT/Superslow/Body By Science protocol so effective yet so different to conventional strength training? Well just like your standard strength training, you load a muscle with resistance (weight) and work that muscle until failure.
However, one key point of difference with HIT training is constant tension. You see, you take the muscle to failure by not letting the muscle rest during the set. What do I mean exactly by this? Well think of a pushup. When doing a conventional push up you start with your arms straight, the joints locked out, bone on bone. You move your chest down to the floor by bending the elbows and rotating the shoulders and then return back to that starting position.
That is one rep.
However, in HIT training you remove the ‘arms locked’ component of lifting. This means that when you ‘push up’ from the ground rather than locking out your arms completely at the top, you would stop short of straightening the arms and instead turn around and start heading down again.
Any bodybuilder who has done time under tension training or non-lockout type training would be familiar with this type of training.
Constant tension on the muscle. And yes – it hurts.
Note – I should mention that pushups aren’t the best exercise for HIT training due to the resistance load on the primary movers not being constant throughout the lift. But more on this later.
Slow it Down – Super Slow
Constant tension isn’t the only difference between HIT training and conventional training. You see a key fundamental to the effectiveness of HIT training is the ‘super slow’ lifting.
So rather than a 2 second concentric phase (I.e. muscle contracting to lift the bar), and a few seconds on the eccentric phase (negative), HIT slows things right down… you’re aiming for around 6-10 seconds on BOTH the concentric and eccentric phase….
Yes that means 1 single repetition may take 20 seconds (or even longer).
Think about how many rep’s you would usually do in a 20second period.
So now you have a SUPER slow tempo, combined with constant tension (no rest or pausing during the lift). But that’s not all, there is one final component to a successful HIT workout, and that is isolating the muscle.
Targeting The Muscle – A Win for Machine Based Training
Anyone that has worked with me in the gym will know how I prefer big compound movements over machine/isolated exercises. Even as a bodybuilder the bulk of my training was done using compound lifts like rows, squats and deadlifts. This helped create muscle thickness and density that machine based training couldn’t produce (especially as an all natural lifter).
So to find that a true HIT protocol involves primarily using machines irked me a little at first. But after learning the reasons behind it I was soon converted.
The idea behind HIT training is to take a particular muscle and stress it to the point of absolute failure – so that every muscle fibre within the muscle has been recruited and then fatigued. As you avoid lock out and keep constant tension on the muscle the fibre is ‘always on’, and has no time to rest (even a brief second rest period at lockout may be enough time for some slow twitch muscle fibres to recover).
Combine this with the ‘super slow tempo’ and you now have muscle fibres that are not only actively recruited, but that are recruited at all parts of the lift. There is no ‘bounce’, no speed to help push through weak points, instead is it a slow grind where the fibres have to work at all points of the lift. You cannot cheat a lift if you’re lifting it with a tempo of 6-10 seconds. Nor can you use momentum to push through a weak point.
Now this is all well and good, and the idea behind taking to the muscle to absolute failure should hopefully now make sense.
Quick sidenote – initially when you lift a weight you will recruit your slow twitch muscle fibres, when they fatigue then you recruit your intermediate & some fast fibres, when they fatigue – and only under extreme circumstances – your body will then recruit the remaining fibres in the muscle, at which point when THEY fatigue then there is literally nothing else the body can do to move the weight. Now in contrast, if you were doing a standard set of 12 reps of pushups, every time you lock out your slow twitch muscle fibres get a brief opportunity to recover. Sure you will still hit a fatigue point, but that fatigue may not come as a result of total muscle fibre fatigue.
But this is where machine isolation training trumps compound free weight training.
With a compound movement like a squat, sure you’re working the quads to move the weight, but you’re also recruiting your glutes, hamstrings, calves and torso. And there are parts of the lift where the load on the quads is high, and parts where it’s lower. This is all well and good for overall strength, but if you’re trying to fatigue every single muscle fibre in the quad, you soon realise that a compound lift isn’t such as the squat, may not be the best tool for the job if you want to apply the HIT method of training. Again, any experienced bodybuilder will understand this.
For this reason, a machine that has been designed to target one specific muscle for the entire lift is the perfect way to ensure that you’re keeping constant tension (and constant recruitment) on all the targeted muscle.
If all this seems to confusing, think of it this way – the idea is to fatigue a particular muscle. Machine based training allows you to work a particular muscle through the full joint range, minimising other muscles that could potentially act as support.