T Nation

Answer to Paper About Arthur Jones


This is in response to:
which was posted in Darden HIT article thread:

Reading the Smith paper just makes my head hurt. I can't possibly have an answer to everything, so here is a response to the most interesting parts, in my opinion.

What surprised me the most is total lack of consideration for subjects' training age, expirience and goals throughtout the text. It is not a matter of choosing an arbitary number of sets or protocol, it's about how much you need. As you improve, you will need more volume and more weight on the bar in order to progress. Only the most advanced will actually have to decrease the volume a bit, because of their improved neural ability. Still, their volume will be considerably higher then when they started.

Part I

Number of sets

Most of the case is made by using the studies of alleged superiority of one set protocols. Like I said before, having that kind of studies is not such a good idea. Nevertheless, Smith seems very biased when reviewing them, finding all kinds of problems with multiple sets studies (which do exist) but doesn't mention similar inconsistencies in single set ones.

Anyway, most of them don't show significant differences between two groups. That could mean that the time period is too short for differences to show, or that both one and three set protocols suck big time. And yes, 3 sets is 3x more then 1 set, by 3 sets is not high volume by any means.

There is no mention of studies that compare a periodized approach with one set to failure. How about 3 weeks of 5x5 followed by 3 weeks of 3x3? How about heavy/light/medium?

Smith seems bothered with one study where "the single-set group performed sets of 8-12 repetitions throughout the study whereas the multiple-set group performed some sets with 3-5 repetitions, again potentially biasing the results of the 1 RM tests." He concludes that author of study is biased (which may be), instead of realizing that for a particular goal (1RM) multiple sets of 3-5 reps, may indeed be better. For some other goals, and in different context, 1x8-12 can get the job done.

In another review, according to Smith, "the greater practice gained by the three set group facilitated greater improvement in the performance of the exercises" is not important, despite the fact relative strength (performing better with same bodyweight) is of crucial importance in sports. In that particular study, the lack of mass gains could be explained by bad diet, but that isn't mentioned anywhere.

What I find quite problematic is this part: "It is important to note that those advocating one set per exercise, including Jones, do not usually hypothesize that one set for every muscle group would lead to optimal muscle gains. Also, in a well-balanced training program it would be almost impossible to only perform one set/muscle group, as many exercises work more than one muscle. Therefore, these researchers have constructed a ?straw man' (one set/muscle group) to knock down, presumably knowing that most single-set trainees, although performing one set/exercise, perform more than one set/muscle."

So, doing 3 times one set of Squats, Leg Presses and Leg Curls is ok, but 3 sets or Squats is not. Yeah right!

What is never mentioned is the possibility that one set protocol doesn't result in any improvement. But there are tons of people, even on this thread, who had plateaued with HIT workouts. One set to failure doesn't not guarantee progress.

[u]Part II[/u]

Frequency of training

This part is particularly cumbersome. It again uses some poorly constructed studies, on both sides, to try to get a point across. Studies are quoted, but as I don't have access to them I can't tell particular details.

One study showed that 2x is "better" (Carroll [77]) in 18 sessions. From that, Mr. Smith extrapolates that lower frequency, like AJ suggested is better. But, what about after those 18 sessions? What about protocols they used (ie. 2x might be better if it was HIT protocol every session)? What about increased work capacity of 3x a week group that wasn't measured? Oh yeah, untrained subjects. So many holes here...

It is very amusing when Mr Smith tries to prove that more experienced trainees don't need more frequency. First of all, just because one says he has 6 years experience in lifting weights, doesn't mean he knew what to do during that time, nor it does mean he knew how to raise his work capacity. Div 1 football players are not as experienced in lifting as powerlifiters etc. I'm also surpsied with comment that 4% strength increase (during which time?) is low. If you're an expirienced bencher, with 1RM of 400lbs, adding 15lbs, in say 10-12 weeks, is plenty.

" McLester et al. (80) examined the effects of a whole-body training program, consisting of nine exercises performed either one or three times/week". So the second did the same thing three times in a row. Really nice. How McLester could conclude it means that lower frequency is better for ALL training is beyoud me. Mr Lester, maybe your 3x a week routine sucked! And, what about delayed training effect? If that 3x a week period was followed by at least a week of unloading and/or peaking, the results would be much different.

Finally, Mr Smith completely overlooks the simple fact that ALL high level competitors in all sports like weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, and also shotput, hammer, sprinting, bobsled, skiing etc. use very high frequencies and volumes. Yep, they should all stick to 2x a week.

Speed of movement

Firstly, we have either studies on cats, or studies that show that slow speeds are better when using low volumes, or studies that use untrained subjects.

When comparing more complex protocols, I see no mention of whether the subjects were actually advanced enough to warrant the use of plyos and depth jumps. In that case, having no differences just mean the subjects don't need that right now, not that the ideas are useless in general.

This is particulary interesting in this sction: "Jones (18) provided an interesting practical example of the efficacy of slow weight training for those involved in ?explosive' sports. In 1973, an Olympic weightlifting team was formed at DeLand High School, Florida. The team trained with only slow (mostly eccentric-only) weight training. Starting in 1973, and with no previous experience in weightlifting, the team established what is probably a world sporting record: the team was undefeated and untied for seven years, winning over 100 consecutive weightlifting competitions."

I have to call bullshit right here. How is it possible to train clean&jerk and snatch with slow, mostly eccentric movements? Maybe it was done for assistance work only, but it is also fishy that no one had previous expirience in OL. And what competitions exactly have they won and on what level? Probably a world record? Does AJ know what Oly lifting is? Snatch numbers, Clean numbers, please.

We also have a statement that explosive speeds can lead to injury, which is completely unfounded. Increased forces don't have to mean injury risk is increased. Forces when jumping/running are much higher than when lifting explosively.

Optimal repetition count

Since this is getting really long, just two issues here:

Smith states: " no study has demonstrated that very low repetitions are superior to a moderate number of repetitions for increasing strength. Yet, every weightlifter and powerlifter in the world contradicts that statement.

On an another study: "Again, no significant between-group differences in muscular endurance increases were found.". What about maximal strength/mass? If doing sets with 6-8RM produced similar strenght-endurance gains as 30-40RM, but also gave more max strength and mass, then 6-8RM range is superior. Anyway, those were all untrained females.

As you can see, there is much more than one problem with that "scientific" paper. In conclusion, I also noticed, there is no mention of long term planning. Things that worked for a brief period of time are assumed to continue to work indefinetly. Both practice and physiology show otherwise. If you sticked this long, you will most certainly be able to conclude that anyone can become a "Dr." in the field of exericse science.


The most profound statement in the article.
This holds true for those on either side of the fence.

The fundemental flaw with exercise science seems to be that no studies take into account the overall complexity of athletic performance, outside of weightlifting specific events. Any study can be manipulated/interpreted for a desired conclusion.

Since the appointed leaders in the exercise science field are quite opposed to HIT methods(ie. NSCA), their studies are set up to disprove those methods and reinforce their own. S&C professionals are left with piecemeal information that they have to try and interpret to get maximun results. In the field of athletic training, strength is only part of the equation.

While there is obviously merit in the periodized approach, especially at the upper limits of strength development, is it necessary in athletics? Is time better spent on skill development and recovery?

There also seems to be a misinterpretation of HIT by many. By reading the HIT literature, one learns that it is more of a philosophy than a dogma. The philoshy being to work as hard as possible in the gym(to failure, or percieved failure), get enough rest/recovery, and continually improve.

From what I've read there really are no fixed set/rep schemes. Do it until it doesn't work anymore, then change it up. So, in a sense, it does periodize your training, just not in a preset fashion. Rather, it allows for individualized adaptation.

Thanks for the article. It was a well thought out response to the study cited.


As the person who started the discussion of this article I have to say that this is the conclusion I have drawn myself and that was also the reason for making a reference to that article.




my non-science view of exersize science:

1) by far, the most important aspects for making gains are (a) kicking ass in the gym; (b) eating enough of the right kinds of food; (c) getting enough rest in between workouts.

2) I've seen beginners and intermediate lifters make good gains on just about any decent program (for a while)...so why do so many scientists use beginner and intermediate lifters in studies?

3) the most difficult thing by far is to get an elite level lifter even better...why don't more exersize scientists test their programs out with this group? my guess is that almost any exersize protocol that isn't specifically designed for an individual elite athlete is going to fail...generic programs are almost worthless at elite levels.



Nice response!

Some observations over the years:

People are different. What works for one may not work for another. It's related to many different factors. Not the least of which is muscle fiber types, body types, varous mechanical leverages etc.

I usually don't give much credence to exercise science because I have noticed since I have been paying attention (1975 or so) that it changes like shifting sand. Not quite as bad as nutritional science (Eggs are good for you. No wait, eggs are bad for you. No on third thought eggs have always been good for you.) But bad enough.

I attribute this to the never ending desire (by you the public) to want new and cool ways to train. So, the guru's try to patch something new into their spiel everytime a seminar comes up. Everytime they want to sell a book. And everytime someone pays them for an article.

Arthur Jones didn't just sell "machines." He sold a "concept" with the machines. That concept was the sizzle that actually sold the machines.

Was he right about one set to failure? Well what do you think? Does it work for you? "I must be doing something wrong Jones is a genius, he can't be wrong." Yea.....He is a genius...look at the millions and millions of dollars he made.

What I like to do is take careful note of what actually works!

That's not such a novel idea because folks have been doing it for thousands of years (Note Louie Simmons approach). I have respect for Ellington Daden. He has passion for this game called "lifting." But for him to tell Arnold that he is lifting wrong....well, I'll let you judge that golden moment.

If something actually works for you for a 6 to 8 week training period then great. What do you care what the latest guru says about it? I couldn't care less. That guru's writing is simply cheap entertainment as I know what works and what doesn't work for me and many whom I have had the pleasure of training. That doesn't mean that you can't learns something new.

I have learned a great deal of information from this site. But when it comes to earth shattering traing protocols which state that everything that I have been doing for 35 years is wrong well.....I'm just not buying it. Trial and error, note taking, comparing what works and what has worked for others. That's what I do. It's not exactly the sexy science that some like to push.

But if it works......



I thought science was science and once something was proven, it becomes irrefutable fact. This is empirical evidence we're talking about. Are you blasphemesly(new word?) insinuating that these scientists can actually be mistaken, or their conclusions flawed? Don't tell them that, they are working in a world of FACTS, not opinions.(sarcasm off)


I'm glad you all liked it. I tried to analyze ideas and not make it personal. The way this paper was written was ideal to illustrate how many things are done wrong, on "both sides".

I was especially motivated since I realized while reading that piece, that no successful program that I have done or that I have read about from other people's logs, was really like anything from those studies.

I think AZMojo provided the best summary:

The fundemental flaw with exercise science seems to be that no studies take into account the overall complexity of athletic performance, outside of weightlifting specific events. Any study can be manipulated/interpreted for a desired conclusion.


I really don't see why everyone freaks out against Arthur Jones. I really like Arthur's early work (he wasn't always one set )in Nautilus Bulletin 1. If you take the time to read some of his material he always said that it wasn't necessary to have Nautilus equipment to get good results. He said something like all you need is a barbell, a dip and chin bar, and a pulley system and you could obtain results that are astounding. I had the oppurtunity to meet Arthur and I thought he was incredibly intelligent and very humble. That's not to say that I agree with everything he says though. I use to train everything to failure but have now let off. I do two sets on nearly all exercises (on some accessory movements I do one) and take it just shy of failure. My results are better with this type of training and I don't always feel burnt out or afraid to lift. But I still train full body and I believe that this is the best way for me. I told Arthur this and he really didn't seem to mind and actually said that most people can't physically stand training to failure more than once a week. You guys should read about the crazy stuff he did before starting Nautilus. The guy is probably the toughest person you will ever meet and told me if he ever saw me do Power Cleans or Cleans and Press'he would kick my ass, funny thing is I believe him. A lot of Ian King's writing is similar to early Jones which is a good thing.