Let's Define High-Intensity Training (HIT) - 2022

A few Non-HIT people have asked me privately, “What’s all this talk about failure in Darden’s forums?” To them, it looks weird. They know the basics of HIT and understand the concept of failure, but they don’t see the value of all of the discussion about it. In other words, they don’t fully understand HIT. So, we propose we properly define the current HIT so everyone will have a reference point, and we can move on to the effective employment of HIT workouts.

NOTE: We’re updating this information, piece by piece, so it’s a work in progress.

We’ll put a new poll later.


High-Intensity Training (HIT) Standard Set/Rep Method

  1. Choose 12 or fewer exercises per workout.
  2. Train no more than 3 nonconsecutive days per week.
  3. Only do one set of an exercise.
  4. Select a resistance that allows 8-12 full repetitions.
  5. Complete as many full repetitions as possible in good form.

Ending a Set

Ending a set at the point of positive momentary muscular failure (failure) is the original high-intensity training standard.[1]

Ending a set after completing the last possible full repetition in good form without attempting a failed rep[2] is a new high-intensity training standard.

High-Intensity Training Principles

Exercise Defined

Exercise builds muscle and increases strength and metabolic conditioning with the least amount of work producing the greatest gains.

Exercise, to be effective, must be challenging, brief, and infrequent.

Frequency

Train no more than three nonconsecutive days per week. Reduced frequency is acceptable but not optimal. Training twice per week can still achieve excellent results, and once per week can maintain a reasonable degree of development if you manage exercise parameters with extra diligence.

Here are the recommended standard weekly training days, with the first two being the most common options:

  • Mon/Wed/Fri
  • Tue/Thu/Sat
  • Wed/Friday/Sun
  • Thu/Sat/Mon
  • Fri/Sun/Tue
  • Sat/Mon/Wed
  • Sun/Tue/Thu

Stagnation/Overtraining

If you feel stagnated or overtrained, it’s best to take a week off from training. Properly managing workout parameters – such as volume, exercise selection, exercise order, and methods and techniques – will keep any healthy trainee from overtraining, regardless of the degree of development.


  1. After completing your last full repetition in good form, you reach failure by attempting but not being able to complete another full repetition (failed rep). Furthermore, it must be impossible to move the resistance, which will occur somewhere between the bottom and top positions. ↩︎

  2. After completing your last full repetition in good form, you reach failure by attempting but not being able to complete another full repetition (failed rep). ↩︎

My thought is that’s how I understand it after reading a couple of Dr Darden’s books and some articles of Arthur Jones.

Lots of exercise, be :open_mouth::+1:
But you say you can do less.
Do we understand that if we choose 1 exercise for a muscle group and do 1 set of failures for each and train 3 times a week, it’s ok. I will really like to train this way. The other option is with straight sets, similar to Arnold’s Golden Six.

If we can get a consensus, this is the basis for HIT. You’d develop workouts from this standard.

Here’s a good way to view body parts for workout design:

Body-Part Blocks

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Lats
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Forearms
  • Legs
  • Thighs
  • Calves

You could choose four body-part blocks to build a workout.

Each body-part block could contain 1-3 different exercises.

You’d do one set for each exercise.

You’d do no more than 3 nonconsecutive workouts per week – usually MWF or TTS.

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Should add that some people believe Failure to mean “when you can no longer move the weight in the concentric direction”, as in - you bottom out on squats and cannot go back up at all (aka “death”).

Not that I agree with this definition of failure, but still.

When I train to failure, I only understand it this way: You can’t do another repetition even with the wrong shape. And when I say I’ve done a set to failure, it means I can’t lift weights in any way.

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Am I understanding that you sacrifice form for the sake of another rep or two?

If so, you don’t find this to be dangerous?

I think I see a point of contention around number 3. Maybe we should say “one work set”?

Im not a HIT expert, so I’m happy to be corrected

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I practice this when I train on machines or with dumbbells.

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What about Accentuating the Negative, isnt that one of the principles of HIT?

Great suggestion (similar to what Dorian Yates recommended).

The purpose is to get a consensus. So, what does everyone else think?

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I share your opinion.

HIT is also one of the few practices where you talk about rep-tempo - in order to emphasize the negatives.

Another one that defines HIT to me: Time Under Tension. This one may be open for debate though.

And yes, one work set is more precise.

Adding: Short rest between sets which needs to be defined better/further. A workout should take no longer than X minutes, is another polarizing recommendation.

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The problem with HIT is it’s not a complete system. No authority ever developed that. It’s more of a general guideline for a rep method.

Work set is implied. The entire six parameters describe HIT work sets. You have to take ALL SIX parameters together in context.

If you want to do several warmup sets, fine, do them. By definition, they aren’t work sets.

(BTW, HIT literature downplays warmups.)

The HIT Standard needs a ton of effort to develop into a full system, and I don’t think it’s worth the endeavor. Let users develop their own systems, using the Standard as the base.

Tim can you elaborate on this?

Also I would just like to say what I enjoy about HIT is at 34 years old with three kids under 5, I don’t want to be spending 4 days a week at 1 hour a workout in the gym. I like that the workouts are brief. I can go in and get it done in less than 30 minutes and then go on with my day.

I want to clear up any potential confusion. I’m suggesting defining HIT only to help people discuss it better. New people jump into conversations and aren’t aware of its basis. And HIT followers are discussing the principles with different understandings. It’s not a great environment for innovation and growth.

But we don’t define the core of what we do here as HIT. We’re after producing the most significant gains from the least amount of work – period – and we only limit our options to what works best. Sometimes that means doing multiple sets and most often avoiding failed reps.

Our programs usually involve training three times per week, each workout lasting less than 25 minutes. And we’ve produced programs that involve less than 30 minutes per week.

So you don’t need to do HIT to experience effective, brief workouts.

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A finished HIT system would require a minimum of 50,000 words to complete, and it would need to be continuously updated. That’s the easy part. The hard part is getting a consensus among the HIT followers about what belongs in the document.

The other option is for Ellington Darden and me to write it and hope it’s accepted.

Neither option is appealing to me.

It’s much simpler to help the community to establish a universal base.

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I thought we agreed failure was bad?

We’re asking current HIT followers how they define HIT, so we can all refer to it.

In another thread, you were upset with me because I was (according to you) attempting to “rewrite history.”

You, and several others, are adamant that you must do a Failed Rep on every set to be standard HIT.

The Nautilus Principles

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The Nautilus Book – Intensity and Form

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