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HIT vs. Volume

My paper comparing HIT and Volume.

(haven’t done citations/bibliographical stuff yet - i’ve put only the text here in the forum)

HIT vs. Volume for maximal strength


“Have you ever had a man force his fist up your asshole, grab your liver,
and turn you inside out?” Arthur Jones once asked a cardio equipment
salesman who happened by the gym one day as Casey Viator was
finishing a Jones supervised workout. Prior to Jones’s response, as
Viator contracted his pumped-up arms, the salesman had commented
to Jones sarcastically, “Sure . . . but what can that man do with those

?The so-called “high intensity training” is the worst. A bunch of lunatics
from a galaxy far far away keep trying to convince us that their stuff
works while their bench press has been stuck since Arnold?s first
movie. Jimmy Stewart?s character in Harvey must have been a HIT
Jedi; he said, "I wrestled with reality for thirty-five years and I?m happy
to state that I finally won over it.?? ? Pavel Tsatsouline

The former was an anecdote from a High Intensity Training (HIT) advocate while latter quote was from a volume advocate. Bodybuilders have arguing about the best way to train for years. Two of the most popular training methods are HIT and volume. Even today, scientists and PhD?s are arguing over the effectiveness of these two methods. On one hand, HIT has produced monsters like Casey Viator with 19? arms, while volume has produced men like Pavel Tsatsouline, a world-renowned martial artist and special forces trainer. But which method of training is the best for someone who wants to be strong? Many studies have shown the pros and cons of HIT and volume.

Describe Volume

Volume is what most of the bodybuilders of today use. One of its principal advocates is Pavel Tsatsouline, a Russian trainer known as ?the evil Russian?. He has trained special forces teams including SWAT and Spetsnaz and is widely known in martial arts circles. Volume believes in a high number of sets with low repetitions. For example, someone following volume may do 8 sets of 5 repetitions per day, or 56 sets per week. The emphasis on low repetitions (which implies heavy weights) means that volume emphasizes strength over endurance. Sets are never done to failure, and adequate rest of 1 to 3 minutes is generally taken in between sets. Compound exercises are encouraged. Compound exercises are those in which multiple muscles are used (as opposed to isolation exercises in which one muscle is targeted). This means that volume?s workouts can take a lot of time. Only one muscle or muscle group (such as pectoralis major, tricep and deltoid or bicep brachii, forearm extensors and latissimus dorsi) is targeted per day. Because of its emphasis on rest and not-to-failure sets, volume can be done everyday. Volume is based on training the central nervous system to recruit muscle fibers. The emphasis is not on building bigger muscles. This would make volume almost the exact opposite of HIT.

Describe HIT

HIT was founded in the 1960?s by Arthur Jones and his Nautilus exercise equipment. Most professional bodybuilders at the time used HIT and were able to achieve Olympia worthy results. HIT, or High Intensity Training, is based on pushing the muscles to failure, or the point at which another repetition cannot be done. Arthur Jones believed that to push to failure, it is necessary to cheat during the last few repetitions. For example, after doing a set of barbell curls, one could bring the arms back a little more to make the exercise easier and allow for a few more repetitions to be squeezed in. Jones even said that “If you’ve never vomited from doing a set of barbell curls then you’ve never experienced outright hard work.” HIT, now updated by Dr. Ellington Darden, believes in 1 set to failure of 8-12 repetitions for 8-12 compound exercises. Because it is based on repetitions of 8-12, HIT is a mix of endurance and strength. Workouts generally last around half an hour. There is almost no rest in between exercises, causing an elevated heart rate during the entire workout. It believes in working the largest muscles first and finishing with the smallest muscles. This would generally mean working out the lower body first and the upper body after. To avoid overtraining, proper rest is required in between workout sessions. This is why HIT is only supposed to be done 3 nonconsecutive times per week (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday). As time goes by, less exercise should be done (in terms of how many days per week and how many exercises used) to allow for maximum muscle growth. The number of exercises used should decrease from 12 to 8 throughout the course of training. The number of days of training should not be decreased from 3 to 2 until significant progress has been made over a course of several years. After every 6 weeks of training, 9 days should be taken as time to relax. HIT is supposed to induce muscular hypertrophy.

Positives of Volume

Muscle fibers are arranged in lengthwise groups called fasciculi, which make up the muscle. The fasciculi are surrounded by connective tissue called perimysium, which holds the muscle in place. Each muscle is surrounded by its own fascia, which gives the muscle its shape. Each muscle fiber has myofibrils, which are made up of sarcomeres. Sarcomeres are the smallest units of the muscle that can contract. They run lengthwise in the myofibril and are parallel to one another. Actin and myosin are 2 protein filaments that attach to one another during muscular contraction (contraction occurs when lifting a weight). Each group of muscle fibers is controlled by a neuron. A neuron has an axon which releases chemicals that cause the spinal cord to send signals to the muscles. A neuron and the muscle fibers it controls are collectively known as a motor unit. Generally, a motor unit?s muscle fibers are all of the same type. There are 3 types of muscle fibers, Type I, Type IIa and Type IIb. Type I is the slowest muscle fiber designed for endurance. It has about 1/3 the speed of a Type IIb muscle fiber, but it allows the muscle to work longer by reducing the amount of lactic acid produced. Type IIa has a mix of endurance and strength and has the greatest hypertrophy potential. Type IIb is the fastest fiber specifically adapted for strength and speed. Slower fibers are recruited before faster fibers. This means that in volume, type IIb fibers, the strength-specific fibers, are recruited after the type IIa quickly fatigue (if at all).

Volume trains the central nervous system (CNS) to recruit muscle fibers when exercising. The worlds? best weight lifters may not have muscles like those of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but they have massive amounts of strength. Strength lies within a person?s ability to recruit muscles to use during a lift. For example, 6-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is able to recruit muscles from his gluteus maximus while biking, whereas his opponents are still working on recruiting muscles from their quadriceps. Lance does not have tons of muscle, but he can use the muscle he has very efficiently. There is an ?all-or-none? principle in weight lifting. If the signal from the brain to the neuron is not strong enough, the muscle will not contract to lift the weight. The nervous system has to be trained to recruit muscle fibers. Otherwise, the muscle will not contract and therefore will not help to move the weight. Only heavy weights can stimulate the recruitment of muscle fibers. Training with weights near one?s maximum leads to increased muscle fiber recruitment, efficiency of motor units that work together, better muscle contractions and an increase in the body?s maximum capabilities due to a reduction in the protective tendencies of the body not to function at maximum capacity. This is because the body will adapt to the tension it is under by heavy weights. There are two factors when considering hypertrophy and strength: intramuscular tension and time under tension. Intramuscular tension refers to the amount of force required to lift the weight, which is directly proportional to how heavy the weight is and the amount of protein degradation achieved in the workout. Time under tension refers to the amount of time a set takes. 20-40 seconds is ideal for a combination of strength and hypertrophy, as opposed to 40-60 seconds for maximum hypertrophy. Volume uses heavy weights for high intramuscular tension and low repetitions (a low to moderate time under tension), which is ideal for the training of the nervous system to recruit muscle.

A study was done on cats for 6 years. The cats trained once a day for 5 days per week. There were 62 cats that trained with forearm wrist curls. They used food as their motivation. All cats started out lifting 100g weights. The weight of the resistance was increased as the cat progressed. After failing to make progress, the cat?s forearm would be removed and weighed. The results were that the cats with the heaviest weights and slowest tempos developed larger muscles than those who trained with lighter weights and faster tempos. This is exactly what volume is based on. Lifting heavy weights means that the weights can?t be lifted rapidly. The tempo is forced to be slow. This method, according to the cat study, is the best way to increase muscle.

Positives of HIT

The actin and myosin in sarcomeres after muscular overload will start to rip and tear slightly. These microtears are what cause the body to build muscle. With the proper nutrition (protein) and rest, the body will repair these muscle fibers and make them thicker and stronger. Whoever said that whatever doesn?t kill you (or maim you) only makes you stronger was correct. This is similar to how a broken bone, when healed correctly, becomes stronger than it was before it was broken. Everybody is born with a set number of sarcomeres. The only way to increase muscle is through enlarging the sarcomeres already in the body. This means that causing microtears is the only way to increase muscle. As time goes by, muscle fibers trained with HIT adapt so well that they are extremely tough and thick. It becomes almost impossible to cause microtears in them. This is why the more advanced one gets, the less exercise one should do. Taking more rest in between workout days will cause the muscles to soften and be easier to tear. HIT is based on training with the most efficient method to induce muscular hypertrophy.

HIT has been used by many famous bodybuilders, including Casey Viator, Franco Columbu, Sergio Olivio, Boyer Coe, Ray Mentzer and Mike Mentzer. Casey Viator was able to put on 63.21 lbs. of muscle in 28 days (2.25 lbs./day) using HIT. His bodyweight increased from 166.87 to 212.15 lbs., and he lost 17.93 lbs. of fat. He dropped from 13.8 to 2.47% body fat. He trained in HIT fashion with 12 or fewer exercises to failure every other day. He would hold the world record for the fastest amount of muscular hypertrophy in a 28 day period if that record existed. There was a study at West Point?s US Military Academy conducted by Nautilus and the coaches of West Point?s football team. One group of cadets used HIT, while the other group trained the traditional West Point way. Both groups trained and participated in football practice also. Nautilus was to do the funding and training, while West Point would provide the subjects and statistical evaluations. Muscular strength at the end of 4 weeks was determined by the weight a subject could handle for 10 repetitions. The Nautilus group increased their strength by 59%, while the free-weight group saw no strength gains. Subjects were tested in cardiovascular endurance via a 2-mile run. The HIT trainees reduced their times by 88 seconds while the other group decreased their times by 20 seconds. Flexibility for the HIT group increased 11%, while flexibility for the other group increased by less than 1%. This shows that HIT can also be effective as a cardiovascular workout. Some HIT?ers have boasted hitting 180-200 bpm for their heart rate as they conducted an HIT workout.

Animals have proven how well HIT works. Male lions can jump over a 10-foot high fence with a 500 lb. cow in its mouth. Their female counterparts weigh 250 lbs., but female lions don?t have nearly the strength that males do. This is because of the way they train. Female lions do all the hunting and cub raising. They stalk prey for a long time and drag their dead prey?s carcasses for miles back to their cubs. The females use long but low-intensity exercise. The males sleep for about 14 hours a day. They only thing they do other than mate, eat and sleep is fight. Males fight other males for the right to mate and stay in their territory. This happens very infrequently, but when it does happen, the lions fight with their best. For a short time, they are going at each other with everything they?ve got, much like a sprinter does. This is their only exercise, but it gives them insane amounts of strength. Gorillas can do one-armed chin ups at bodyweights of 400-500 lbs. They train in the same way that lions do. The use of HIT by the dominant animals of the wild reinforce how well HIT works.

Muscle fibers are recruited in a certain order from slowest to fastest (Type I, Type IIa and Type IIb). If one does a set and then follows with several minutes of rest, no new muscle fibers are used. The type I fibers will be fully rested, and they will be reused for the next set. This means that the 2nd set will only take up your recovery ability and burn calories if one went to failure for the 1st set. Over 40 studies in the past 30 years have proven that strength building effects are the same for 1, 2 and 3 sets. This means that doing only 1 set is superior, because it saves time.

Negatives of Volume

Using heavy weights is rather taxing on the body?s ability to recover. Using weights about 85% of one?s 1- rep maximum can take the nervous system up to 7 days to recover. However, the muscle may recover and build its muscle within 36-72 hours. This leaves three options, all of which fail in some aspect. One can wait for everything to recover before progressing. This fails because waiting 7 days to train again will cause muscular atrophy in which muscles shrink in size. Waiting for the muscles to recover without waiting for the nervous system or glycogen (glycogen, or simply carbohydrates, is the source of energy for anabolic exercises such as weightlifting that are too intense for the body to constantly replenish oxygen levels) and enzyme levels (enzymes among other elements are used by the nervous system to tell motor units to work their muscle fibers) to recover generally causes overtraining. Training when glycogen and enzyme levels are replenished with disregard for the recovery nervous system and the completion of muscular hypertrophy is not smart, because it will cause overtraining and it makes no sense to train again when hypertrophy from the last exercise session has not been completed. Surprisingly, it has been found that volume is more taxing on the body?s recovery system than HIT, despite the fact that HIT leaves the subject feeling extremely tired. The main users of volume are the modern bodybuilders who use tens of thousands of dollars during pre-contest time to buy steroids and other supplements to be able to train with a faster recovery time. Only with steroids, HIT?ers argue, can volume be effective.

Negatives of HIT

Volume advocates say that the biggest failure HIT is that it trains for ?all show and no go.? HIT?ers may pack on 50 lbs. of muscle and still hurt their back while tying their shoe. This is because although HIT?ers may look strong, they may not have the nervous system to recruit any of the muscle they?ve built. This makes them just a pile of useless muscle.

Another argument against HIT is that it uses all the ATP energy from the body. All metabolic processes including recovery, protein synthesis and removal of waste products depend on ATP energy. HIT induces sarcomeric hypertrophy (which includes the mitochondria). Once the sarcomeres get too large, they can?t be supported by the body?s system of ATP supply. Mitochondria start becoming lost, although others are becoming much larger. Soon ATP can?t supply the muscle with adequate energy, and no muscular hypertrophy occurs. Any further strength training is used to rebuild the same muscle. This means that the subject will hit a plateau. Volume, on the other hand, will not increase sarcomeres so that they are too large. This means that HIT should (at least) not be a long term plan.


HIT is a hypertrophy-specific method of training, while volume trains the central nervous system to recruit muscle fibers. Does muscle or the nervous system contribute most to 1 rep maximum strength? HIT seems only to work for a short amount of time before requiring a switch to volume, but volume seems to induce overtraining. My hypothesis is that volume will be better for strength than HIT, because of its focus on the Type IIb fibers necessary for a 1-rep maximum lift and the recruitment and use of muscle fibers over simply the building of muscle that comes from HIT.

I have spent most of my years training in an HIT style program.

Thanks for sharing your paper.

One thought-I know that Franco Columbu did train briefly with AJ, but I doubt that his overall training was anything like HIT.

Thats kinda messed up, cutting off a cats forearm and all.

Is this a college paper, high school or what? What grade level/classification is it for?

Just wondering,

I was also under the impression that, as Franco Columbo was Arnold’s training partner for a number of years, it seems somewhat misleading to call him a HIT’ter.

I question this definition of ‘volume’ training. Sets are often done to failure, rest periods are not necessarily 1 - 3 minutes and isolation exercises are often used.

As a comparision, the paper works, but I take issue with the methodology.

i’ll take out colombu

high school

This is a really bad paper, even by high school criteria.

I couldn’t get through it after I started reading about Pavel. He is not a volume advocate. Yes, his Bear, Delorme, and Pins to Pillars advocate high volume (with much smaller rest times and less frequently than you say), but he built his own body on his Power to the People method, which is two exercises, 2x5 daily. In fact, Pavel’s methods aren’t volume or HIT: they are heavy loads for few repitions for a few sets, nowhere near failure or fatigue, for neurological adaptaion.

Can I ask why you chose Pavel Tsatsouline as an exemplar of high volume? Surely there are more famous subjects who wouldn’t have been as far off the mark?

i’m pretty sure pavel advocates 3 minute rest periods… and who cares about pavel? so i’ll stick someone else in if you’re right (making a suggestion would be nice?)

what about the actual scientific part?

and i never said that Pavel trained with HIT…

volume IS training with extremely heavy loads for few repetitions

hey vintor!

I think what the guys are trying to say is that you can do a much better job explaining the volume side of the spectrum by referencing someone else… say Ahnold! It would probably benefit your paper immensely if you were to go to a book store or library and start reading and researching what HIGH volume advocates are.

Here’s one very good reference for you, it’s what I started out using and it was VERY high volume. The book is called “SLICED” In it the author is recommending like 40 sets of chinups/pulldowns PLUS rowing for the back! That my friend is HIGH VOLUME TRAINING! (no wonder I couldn’t gain no weight back then :slight_smile:

I suppose you could pretty much look at most any non HIT book published in the 70-90’s, most of them were high volume oriented.

Good luck.

[quote]Vintor wrote:
i’m pretty sure pavel advocates 3 minute rest periods… and who cares about pavel? so i’ll stick someone else in if you’re right (making a suggestion would be nice?)

what about the actual scientific part?[/quote]

Who cares about Pavel? Don’t you? Why else would you write about him so powerfully? I don’t understand at all.

Anyways, in his 2x5 sets he advocates a five minute rest period. In his volume programs, he advocates a five minute rest after the 90% set, a two minute rest after the 80% set, and thirty seconds to one minutre rest between all the 70% sets.

If I were you, I’d boil this down to a comparison of two antagonistic muscle-building philosophies from the same time period: HIT versus Arnold’s volume programs. HIT information should be easy to find and Arnolds Encyclopedia for Bodybuilders is everywhere. I’d compare the two within the context of the seventies then I’d finish the paper by briefly outlining their offspring programs of today, which are either HIT and volume adapted to scientific findings and/or everyman genetics.

And is that cat thing even true? How do you make a cat do wrist curls? Six years is a significant span of life for a cat, a study that long will only diminish the results because of the conflict with age.

For a good example of volume, go buy any issue of “Muscle & Fitness”. Or read an article on “German Volume Training” on this site.


[quote]Takinguptheroom wrote:
This is a really bad paper, even by high school criteria.

No offense to Vintor, but that’s actually why I asked. I figured for a freshman high school paper, yeah maybe. Sophomore, that’s pushin’ it. Junior or Senior HS and you fail, IMO.
If it had been for college…well, you get the idea.

Sorry Vintor, but they have some very good points, bud. Some of it may have sounded a bit harsh, but it was evidently meant to be constructive critisism on their part. Take it to heart and work on the paper.

Arnold is certainly one of the easiest to find info from/about on the volume side as mentioned earlier.


gotcha, going to edit

Charles Poliquin for high volume.

Ellington Darden for HIT.

Just browsing the paper again: HIT attacks the CNS, that’s why it has to be done so infrequently. High volume, as you define it, must take it easy on the CNS system so it can be performed frequently.