Ask The Natural Champion > High Intensity Training (H.I.T.) – One Set To Failure…Hit or Miss?

15 Mar 2007

Question:  Hi, Hawk.  I wanted to ask if you believe in high intensity training or doing only one set of each exercise to failure.


Answer:   Well, I definitely believe in training with high intensity, meaning using as much weight as I can for the required reps while still keeping a good pace, always trying to stimulate as much muscle as possible in any given workout, but if you’re interested in building maximum muscle size or strength, I don’t think you can do that with only one set of each exercise.


For one thing, I think you need to warm up, not only an overall warm up but a warm up for each muscle.  For example, I’ve squatted six plates on each side for around 12 reps.  Now if I just jumped into my first set with that weight cold I’d probably not get anywhere near that many reps and sooner or later I’d end up injured, maybe seriously.


There’s a lot of research to back up the fact that the body functions better with a proper warm up (why do you think baseball pitchers warm up before taking the mound) and in my case I know I need to also prepare mentally for the heavier weights by going through some warm up sets to get the ‘groove’ of the movement.


Another consideration is that while you might exhaust a muscle temporarily with one set, you don’t stimulate all the fibers you could.  By exhausting ‘x’ number of fibers on a set, then continuing on with more sets, you stimulate more and more fibers. 


Now I’ve heard people say that just because Arnold and Sergio and Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler and so on do volume doesn’t mean it’s the best way to train.  Maybe yes and maybe no, but it does mean it works.  On the other hand, no single bodybuilding champion of that caliber has made it that level doing one set per exercise.  The same is true with elite powerlifters and strongman competitors.  If one single set to failure gave the best results, champion power lifters or strongman competitors would train that way…but they don’t.


Now before anyone mentions Dorian Yates or Mike Mentzer as prime examples of world class bodybuilding champions who use the High Intensity method of training, I’ve seen Dorian’s training tape and while he does do fewer sets than many top bodybuilders, he does warm up sets leading up to his max set. 


And our Natural Champion editor, Arley Vest, has witnessed the late Mike Mentzer going through workouts on more than one occasion at Gold’s Gym in Santa Monica – Arley even made notes on the workouts – and Mike did basically the same workout as most of the champs.  One back workout was front pulldowns, barbell rows, seated cable rows and deadlifts, all done for three to four sets, gradually warming up to the max effort set.  Mike just didn’t count the warm-ups.


Now, whether a person “counts” the warm up sets or not, they still happened.  My opinion is that there are no shortcuts on the path to being a champion.  You have to pay your dues…train hard…train as often as you can and still recover properly, and train with volume and intensity.


Charles Hawkins (with Arley Vest) 

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