Bitten By the HIT Bug 38 Years Ago

I was bitten with the HIT bug about 38 years ago after seeing one of Darden’s great books and afterwords followed the lessons of him, Jones and especially Ken Leistner to the exclusion of anything else. Jone’s advice of always looking to make your workouts harder but briefer was ingrained in my head and I trained that way all the time. Reading Leistner’s columns and especially his Steel Tip newsletters always made so much sense and got you motivated.

My ‘progression’ went from a twice a week , full body routine of maybe 12 movements down to a workout of three sets taking about 12 minutes , leaving me on the floor and useless for the rest of the evening. I remember way back Dr. Darden saying something about it being rare to see someone training too hard and not enough but very common to see someone training too much but not hard enough. I didn’t want to be one of those guys and just took it way too far. If you don’t think you can’t train too hard because of very low volume , think again.

Now 50 years later even the guys who always promoted ‘to-failure’ training are no longer doing so and are advocating staying short of failure. I wonder if Leistner was still around , how he would see this change in training attitude in the HIT people as hard core as he was about training to failure and not cycling intensity ?

I agree with this change for sure and wish I changed my approach years before I did but still after training that way for so long, stopping before failure isn’t an easy habit to break and something I have to constantly remind myself of.

What I find kind of funny is training single sets to failure was something brought to our attention by Jones / Nautilus 50 years ago when everybody was training short of failure. The ‘new’ guys who have been training in a HIT manner all along think this short-of-failure is something new when it’s the way people trained all along, with great results, way before Nautilus was introduced to the exercise industry.


I have been bitten by the bug also for many years, and after reading some of Dardens books…the one thing i believe we all keep overlooking is form vs intensity or failure…at least i have (not speaking for everyone)

I have learned to achieve the results i want at 57 is to use HIT without ever sacrificing form especially on the days i chose to achieve failure and to focus on the quality of the rep over the amount of weight…don’t get me wrong, i still want to increase the reps/weight but without sacrificing form

And i also try to minimize the rest between exercises to achieve my cardio without having to perform cardio


Consistency of form is one reason why I think HIT is best done with machines. When the movement path is fixed, you have fewer ways to cheat a movement and fewer things to focus on.


Over the last several years, Ellington and I have discussed the “going to failure” issue. The bottom line is, training to failure is a mistake and limits growth. We mistakenly contributed to this mythos, and we want to set the record straight. Our goal is to help HITters (and all trainees) understand the reality of the growth-stimulating-gains-realized mystery.

Here’s what I wrote in another post:

Overtaxing the CNS increases cortisol and decreases insulin sensitivity (both are very negative and opposite of what you want). Training one set to failure serves no beneficial purpose. It overtaxes the nervous system and isn’t required for muscle growth. (Muscle tissue recovers relatively quickly, whereas the nervous system takes much longer.)

Our goal is to stimulate the most muscle growth with the least CNS stress. Training three times per week – layering specialized techniques for each body part – is ideal for beginner and advanced trainees. Pump a muscle with performance-enhancing, buffering, and growth-stimulating nutrients, then train on the pump.

It’s more complicated than this and requires substantial explanation. Hopefully, we (and the next generation) can spend the next 40 years advancing the principles.


I don’t want to tell you how to do your business, but it seems like you guys need to get busy and start cranking out some articles on this.

1 Like

After decades of training to failure, and buying everything HIT, NTF comes as quite the shock! I’d like to see more, indepth, rational behind the idea. Is there an article due?


Is there a follow up to this post?

How many injuries did Dr Leistner have over his lifetime? A good few by my recollection of his writings. How many, although maybe via other means, were started, or aggravated in the weight room?
Also, although no disrespect to Dr Leistner,( as he was an inspirational human being)how much of a factor was his style of training towards his eventual passing? His training certainly was extreme. But just as they are now finding that extreme endurance activities can promote complications of the heart in participants, can the same not perhaps be developed via extreme intensity?


I would put money on it. I have wondered the same thing about Dr Ken’s passing.
When I was a teenager, squatting in the garage, occasionally my Dad would spot me. He always told me he worried as he saw the back of my head go red under my very short hair. I would also see stars every hard squat session. Neither of those are good signs.

1 Like

As I have said before, if we’re not training to failure, if stopping a rep or two short, what is the difference between HIT and ‘regular’ training? The difference is less sets, surely. In which case, is everyone else overtraining, or are HIT-ers undertraining?

I think it goes both ways … six day a week, two hour sessions is overtraining for most people. But I think the other extreme, those once a week or once every five days is under training. When I used to train full body HIT, I once tried going from a Mon - Thurs schedule to a Mon - Fri - Wed and immediately became unconditioned and lazy about training.

In the past what over trained me was full body routines so for some that’s just too much … which is what probably lead to those once a week, ultra brief routines that were sometimes advocated. We HIT guys were taught that splitting routines was a step in the wrong direction and would lead to over training where for me, the opposite was true. Trying to train my whole body in one session, even if kept short and infrequent was too much for my recovery.

The sad part is I kept doing that like an idiot for way too long.


I never liked Full Body, but it seems almost every HIT advocate preaches it. When I have done it, I always felt wiped the next day or two.
My recovery isn’t that good, but I can easily train an upper/lower HIT routine 3x a week with around 8 exercises each plus a HIIT session or two a week with no problem. This is still 5 days between body parts, but still training 3x a week, and this is going to MMF.
The reason I like a split is because I like to train and I can get more out of effort in a split, I don’t use any body English or inertia in training, always a controlled cadence, smooth turn-arounds around 4\4 for most exercises and a 60-90 sec TUL.

There have been discussions on @Tim_Patterson quote above on many other HIT forums:

Overtaxing the CNS increases cortisol and decreases insulin sensitivity (both are very negative and opposite of what you want). Training one set to failure serves no beneficial purpose. It overtaxes the nervous system and isn’t required for muscle growth. (Muscle tissue recovers relatively quickly, whereas the nervous system takes much longer.)

Our goal is to stimulate the most muscle growth with the least CNS stress. Training three times per week – layering specialized techniques for each body part – is ideal for beginner and advanced trainees. Pump a muscle with performance-enhancing, buffering, and growth-stimulating nutrients, then train on the pump.

The consensus was training to failure doesn’t limit growth or overtax the CNS, but doing too much exercise too often limits it or leads to overtraining. CNS is really increased inflammation, and you body responds by how you feel, mood, unmotivated, fatigued to signal further activity to allow for recovery.
I can say in my experience, Full body gives me these signals, but and upper/lower doesn’t, even when training to complete MMF when all movement stops on the concentric movement for a few seconds.
I can’t say I’m sold on the number of contractions either, I’ve experimented with TSC only and have seen growth, which is zero contractions.

we as humans is not programed to train and improve , our genetics is construct to survive , ,preserve and conserve energy is primary to CNS

This post makes me think of a very important question:

Do we need to feel like we belong to a certain group of trainee?


Is it that important to give a name or categorization to a program we are doing?

So what if what you are doing is not HIT? Does it make it any less effective simply because it doesn’t fit in a neat little box?

Or maybe thinking that you are subscribing to a certain training ideology makes you feel special and helps with your motivation?

Here’s the thing though? What is HIT?

Is training to failure HIT? I’ve known guys who do a boatload of training and go to failure… so certainly failure in itself cannot describe HIT.

If you define HIT as the original approach of Arthur Jones, then pretty much nobody is training HIT, not even Yates or Heady Duty/Mentzer.

The popular definition of HIT is “Brief, hard and infrequent training”.

The question then becomes, can you be training hard without going to absolute failure all the time? Of course, you can!

Truly keeping only one rep in the tank (not 3-4 which is what most people think they are leaving 1 in the tank are really doing) is hard work, especially on the big basic lifts and especially if training density is high.

Look at two modern training approches: DC training and Fortitude training. For me, these would fit the accepted definition of HIT even though nobody refers to them as HIT.

In large part because what you refer your training too, how you categorize it, doesn’t matter. Only what you actually do matters.

Now, about your question “Is everybody else overtraining or are HIT guy undertraining?”

First off, overtraining is not really the act of training too much. It’s imposing too much overall stress on the body, leading to a decrease in performance/capacities and feeling worse.

I don’t believe that “everybody else” is overtraining. I do believe that most people are doing some things wrong, including not pushing their work sets hard enough or doing too much volume (especially redundant junk volume). But most are still progressing, not progressing fast (in most cases) but they aren’t regressing either, so they are likely not overtraining.

I also don’t believe that HIT guys are undertraining. If you train hard, it is unlikely that you will undertrain. Undertraining means that you are not training enough to sustain the adaptations you created (which is the same end result as overtraining minus the feeling like crap). But I do believe that a lot of HIT guys are staying well within their capacity to handle training and could do more volume and progress faster (ranging from a little bit more volume to a moderate amount more).

The point is that when you paint yourself in a corner and impose limits on yourself when it comes to volume, load, exercise selection, training methods, frequency, etc. you might reduce your progression just like when you do too much.

We all have our own individual volume tolerance and need various amounts of work to grow. And YES in the grand scheme if you are to make a mistake about the amount of volume you do, it’s better to err on the side of doing too little than too much.

And certainly, if you notice that adding volume makes you feel worse and progress at a slower pace, drop the volume down. But selecting a certain volume of work based on the fact that you identify yourself as a HIT-guy is illogical.


Define overtax…

Going to failure certainly causes more central fatigue than stopping short of failure.

What is central fatigue?

It is a weakening of the excitatory drive from the motor cortex to the muscles.

The stronger that excitatory drive is, the more easily you can recruit the fast-twitch fibers and make them fire fast (firing rate: the higher it is, the more force a fiber can produce).

Thus if you make that signal weaker, you decrease your capacity to recruit fast-twitch fibers. This means that strength and power goes down but also that your potential to create hypertrophy decreases, because the FT fibers have, by far, the most growth potential.

So, what causes central fatigue? It has nothing to do with the CNS “working hard”… it doesn’t work harder to send a strong or weak signal. Central fatigue comes from inhibition of the motor cortex. An inhibition, in this case, is the nervous system voluntarily decreasing its output because signals tell it that the work being done is an excessive stress to the body, and as a protective mechanism, it reduces the amount of work it can do.

So I guess that “central fatigue” is an inappropriate term, but that’s the one we are stuck with.

Now, why would going to failure create more central fatigue?

Because the main causes of central fatigue are afferent signals from the muscles/tendons/fascia to the nervous system and the accumulation of calcium ions accumulating during muscle contractions.

The afferent signals give information to the brain about what is going on in the muscles, tendons, etc. Pain, discomfort and effort signals are the strongest afferent signals that can cause an inhibition in the excitatory drive being sent. And going to failure has a higher level of these than stopping 1-2 reps short (if hurts ore because of the acidification/pump, and the effort is higher because it is very hard to keep the weight moving).

The calcium ions (the true cause of muscle damage) are released with each muscle contraction. The harder the contraction is (muscle tension), the more calcium ions are released. Once again, when you reach failure, that last rep will release A LOT more calcium ions than the other reps. And since you are likely reaching failure after several intense reps, the amount of calcium ions released will be very high. These calcium ions increase what we call “peripheral fatigue”, which means that the muscle itself reponds to a less extent to the excitatory drive from the motor cortex. This also sends afferent feedback to the CNS (which means to intensify it’s signal to compensate for the lower response) which will also speed up the inhibition.

Overtaxing might not be the right term. But certainly, going to failure causes more central fatigue.

Now, this is not the death of gains.

Doing a set to failure doesn’t automatically make all subsequent set worthless (every work set, going to failure or not, does cause some central fatigue). But it certainly limits the amount of effective sets you can do in a workout.

Past a certain point in central fatigue, you won’t be recruiting the fast-twitch fibers even if you keep going to failure. When you reach that point, everything you do in the gym will simply be causing fatigue without stimulating further gains.

Not everyone has the same tolerance or get the same level of central fatigue. I personally don’t get a lot of central fatigue: I can take short rest intervals, do plenty of volume, even if going to failure. Others will get a dramatic amount of central fatigue from a single hard set, for them going to failure might not be an option. For example, I training a member of the national bobsleigh team who could only do a total of 6-9 work sets per workout 2-3 times per week, otherwise is performance would go down. If we pushed even one of these sets to failure this number might have dropped down to 3-4 possible work sets per workout, which would not have been enough volume to get what he needed.