What does training to failure actually achieve?

Another great one from Chris Beardsley at Medium.com

Over the last few years, researchers have discovered that it is possible to achieve meaningful muscle growth when lifting light weights, so long as sets are performed to muscular failure.

Additionally, some studies indicate that training to failure may lead to more hypertrophy than avoiding failure.

Muscular failure during strength training is simply the point at which fatigue is high enough to prevent a muscle from exerting the amount of force necessary to complete the current repetition, with a given load. Yet, if we lower the weight after reaching failure (as when using drop sets), we can immediately continue exercising.

So why does achieving this level of fatigue during strength training help increase the amount of muscle growth that occurs? And does it always apply, or are there some situations when it is not necessary?

You should keep reading this article.  To do so, go here.


The Complete Beginner’s Guide to High Intensity Resistance Training (HIT): What it is, how it compares to other forms of exercise and the results you can expect to get (part 1) – HITUNI

HITUNI has a well researched, succinct 3-parter about what HIT is and how to use it.  I’m so glad they wrote it.  I really hate the more “marketing” side of the training business, and these guys do my work for me.  If you are new to the concept of HIT, this is a great start.  And when you’re done, give me a call.  I’ll get you started.

Here’s a snippet:

HIT vs Cardio HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

Sometimes high intensity interval training gets called HIT too and this can cause confusion!

High intensity interval training is a form of cardiovascular (CV) exercise involving sprint intervals- traditionally that type of exercise was always known as High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT. At some point one of the I’s got dropped though and it is now often referred to as HIT, too!

CV focused high intensity interval training (HIIT) is like the cousin of High Intensity Resistance Training (HIT), and is an effective form of applying traditional CV exercise, such as stationary cycling, for CV fitness benefits. Whilst sprint intervals are excellent at providing CV fitness they do lack when it comes to providing a balanced strengthening stimulus for the musculature of the whole body.

The same is not however true in reverse: although High Intensity (Resistance) Training uses workouts that consist of exercises that are traditionally considered strength training exercises, the effect of applying these exercises in a highly intense manner produces similar CV health benefits as the more traditional CV modalities (e.g. stationary cycling).

In many ways HIT (resistance training!) is the ultimate all-in-one workout protocol as it stimulates hypertrophy, strength increases and CV benefits together. When training to momentary muscular failure (as per HIT) the acute metabolic and molecular responses do not differ from traditional endurance training and myocardial function is maintained or even enhanced.

Here’s a mega-table comparing HIT with all these exercise modalities. Scroll right and left to see all of them. Do you have any more you’d like to see here? Suggest in the comments below.

For the full article, go here.

Part 2 is The Complete Beginner’s Guide to High Intensity Resistance Training (HIT): full-body workouts, types of exercise, technique and momentary muscular failure (part 2)

Part 3 is The Complete Beginner’s Guide to High Intensity Resistance Training (HIT): Recommended routine, order of exercises, tempo, time under load, rest between exercises and frequency of training (part 3)

And if that’s not enough, I recommend Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week by John Little and Doug McGuff.

Of that’s still not enough, you are not a newbie, and you need deeper material  email me.

An hour per week at the gym lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome — ScienceDaily

time to workoutLess than one hour of resistance exercise training per week lowers the risk of developing metabolic syndrome (cardiovascular risk factors such as overweight, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar). This was shown by a study involving more than 7,000 participants from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study (ACLS) in the USA. The beneficial effects of resistance exercise were independent from the amount of aerobic exercise, such as running or cycling. An international team of researchers, led by Esmée Bakker of Radboudumc published these findings on June 13 on the website of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Continued at Source: An hour per week at the gym lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome — ScienceDaily

Why intensity is not a bad word: Optimizing health status at any age.

Author information


Age-related declines in health and function make locomotion increasingly difficult leading to reductions in non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), skeletal muscle size and strength, and increased adiposity. Exercise is an important strategy to attenuate loss of function through the life cycle. Despite claims to the contrary, high-intensity exercise is important for the prevention of obesity and sarcopenia with advancing age. Therefore, the purpose of this mini-review is to present literature supporting the contention that low volume, high-intensity aerobic and/or resistance training can slow sarcopenia, sustain ease of movement, stimulate NEAT, and attenuate the accretion of fat mass.


Energy expenditure; Exercise economy; High-intensity exercise; Physical activity; Resistance training; Sarcopenia

HIT Body Weight Training

Not up for personal one-on-one sessions with Jean?  No worries.  Our HIT Body Weight Training Classes are 45 minutes of energetic high intensity training in a small group setting using nothing but your body as the mechanism for change.

Think that’s not long enough to change your body?  The principles of HIT have been repeatedly proven by exercise scientists over the last several decades.  You CAN make positive changes to your strength and physique with the knowledgeable application of those principles.

HIT has become so synonymous with quickly and safely improving strength that it is now frequently an advertising hook by big box gyms whose “instructors” are untrained fly-by-night temporary employees.

Our classes are taught by Jean Kottemann, a trainer in New Orleans for with over 17 years of experience training in the HIT method.

Benefits of HIT include:

  • Increased strength and muscular function
  • Increased cardiovascular fitness (yes, it’s “aerobic”)
  • Improved flexibility and/or range of motion
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved immune function
  • Takes less time than traditional exercise methods
  • Look and feel better




Intensive exercise with intervals ‘more effective’

Date:  January 19, 2016
Source:  University of Leicester
Short bursts of intensive exercise provide a more “time-efficient” and realistic way of preventing, delaying and managing Type 2 diabetes and also losing weight, a study has found. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are linked, with over 80 per cent of people with the condition classed as overweight or obese — diet and physical activity interventions are the cornerstones for management of both conditions.

Short bursts of intensive exercise provide a more “time-efficient” and realistic way of preventing, delaying and managing Type 2 diabetes and also losing weight, a study has found.

Small amounts of vigorous activity in quick successions are more “effective” compared to longer forms of exercise optimising the body’s ability to use and store blood sugar, the research by the University of Leicester and the NIHR Leicester-Loughborough Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity Biomedical Research Unit (BRU) has found.

The paper ‘The effects of high-intensity interval training on glucose regulation and insulin resistance: a meta-analysis’ has been published in the journal Obesity Reviews.

Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are linked, with over 80 per cent of people with the condition classed as overweight or obese — diet and physical activity interventions are the cornerstones for management of both conditions.

The effects of exercise on Type 2 diabetes and improving the body’s ability to use insulin to absorb blood sugar are well established, but its impact on weight regulation is more controversial.

The guidelines for weight loss suggest that 200 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week are required for long-term reductions, but previous research found that only five per cent of people in some industrialised countries achieve this amount. Recently, however, effects of physical activity on health in the absence of weight loss, have emerged.

In response, the study has proposed high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as an alternative: “time-efficient exercise intervention that may bring about similar benefits to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.”

Researcher Charlotte Jelleyman said: “This study involved a meta-analysis of experimental research, allowing us to pull together evidence and establish cause and effect. We have demonstrated that HIIT conveys benefits to cardiometabolic health which in the cases of insulin resistance and aerobic fitness may be superior to the effect of traditional continuous training.

“HIIT may therefore be suitable as an alternative to continuous exercise training in the promotion of metabolic health and weight loss, particularly in those with Type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome. However, given the identified limitations, more research is needed to determine both behavioural responses and clinical benefits over the longer term.”

The NIHR Leicester-Loughborough Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity BRU is a national centre of excellence in diet, lifestyle and physical activity based in Leicester and Loughborough. It harnesses the power of experimental science to explore and develop ways to help prevent and treat chronic disease.

Can High Intensity Training Weight Training Really replace my cardio?


That’s the question I’m most often asked.  Here’s my go-to response:

One of the most significant exercise studies done in the last half century was a 1975 West Point Study.  You can read the details in the link, but in a nutshell, West Point wanted to, among other things, “identify the consequences of a short duration, high intensity strength training program.”  To that end, cadets were divided into groups a control group, that continued traditional training methods consisting of hours in the gym and on the track, and a strength training only group (referred to as the “whole body group”) which trained 3 times a week for short durations using only Nautilus strength training machines.  The whole body group was strictly supervised, and they participated in no running or other training.  A battery of strength and cardiovascular measurements were taken at the beginning of the study (2 weeks in, to allow for any false improvements.)

At the end of the 8 week study, naturally the whole body group had greater improvements in terms of strength.  But what was surprising was that “On NONE of the 60 indices purporting to evaluate the effects of the training on the cardiovascular function was the control group better on the final testing period (or on the change from initial to final) than the whole body group.” The whole body group even had more improvement in the 2 mile run, and they had not practiced running in 8 weeks.

Col. James Peterson, who conducted the test concluded, “Contrary to most commonly held beliefs on the subject of strength training, the training also significantly improved the cardiovascular condition of the subjects. By maintaining the intensity of the workouts at a high level and by limiting the amount of rest between exercises, the training resulted n improvement on each of 60 separate measures of cardiovascular fitness. Contrary to widespread opinion, not only will a properly conducted program of strength training produce increases in muscular strength but will also significantly improve an individual’s level of cardiovascular condition. The data suggests that some of these cardiovascular benefits apparently cannot be achieved by any other type of training. And finally, the experimental subjects increased their level of flexibility by an average of more than 10% on the three evaluative items.” (Emphasis added).

This study, and/or aspects of it, has been repeated throughout the last 40 years, with similar results.

So yeah.  I “think” 30 minutes of high intensity training can replace hours and hours of “cardio.”

Extreme Conditioning Programs: Potential Benefits and Potential Risks. – PubMed – NCBI

My guess is, after over 2 decades as a trainer, once studies are done extreme conditioning programs will offer no more reward than High Intensity Resistance Training, and therefore be deemed to be unnecessarily risky for the reward.  Actually you don’t need 20 plus years as a personal trainer to know that. You just need common sense.



J Spec Oper Med. 2015 Fall;15(3):108-13.
Extreme Conditioning Programs: Potential Benefits and Potential Risks.
Knapik JJ.

CrossFit, Insanity, Gym Jones, and P90X are examples of extreme conditioning programs (ECPs). ECPs typically involve high-volume and high-intensity physical activities with short rest periods between movements and use of multiple joint exercises. Data on changes in fitness with ECPs are limited to CrossFit investigations that demonstrated improvements in muscle strength, muscular endurance, aerobic fitness, and body composition. However, no study has directly compared CrossFit or other ECPs to other more traditional forms of aerobic and resistance training within the same investigation. These direct comparisons are needed to more adequately evaluate the effectiveness of ECPs. Until these studies emerge, the comparisons with available literature suggest that improvements in CrossFit, in terms of muscular endurance (push-ups, sit-ups), strength, and aerobic capacity, appear to be similar to those seen in more traditional training programs. Investigations of injuries in ECPs are limited to two observational studies that suggest that the overall injury rate is similar to that seen in other exercise programs. Several cases of rhabdomyolysis and cervical carotid artery dissections have been reported during CrossFit training. The symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of these are reviewed here. Until more data on ECPs emerge, physical training should be aligned with US Army doctrine. If ECPs are included in exercise programs, trainers should (1) have appropriate training certifications, (2) inspect exercise equipment regularly to assure safety, (3) introduce ECPs to new participants, (4) ensure medical clearance of Soldiers with special health problems before participation in ECPs, (4) tailor ECPs to the individual Soldier, (5) adjust rest periods to optimize recovery and reduce fatigue, (6) monitor Soldiers for signs of overtraining, rhabdomyolysis, and other problems, and (7) coordinate exercise programs with other unit training activities to eliminate redundant activities and minimize the risk of overuse injuries.


[PubMed – in process]

Source: Extreme Conditioning Programs: Potential Benefits and Potential Risks. – PubMed – NCBI

10 Reasons High Intensity Training is a Smarter Workout


Old arthritic fart doing squats

You’ve probably heard of high intensity training, but more than likely are fuzzy on the details.  High intensity training (“HIT”) refers to performing a single set of 8-12 repetitions of slow controlled weight resisted exercises, to momentary muscular failure, at a repetition duration that maintains muscular tension throughout the entire range of motion, for most major muscle groups once or twice each week.

So what makes HIT so great, and why would I want to do it?  Below I’ve outlined 10 great reasons I train with HIT.

  1. Primum non nocere).  First do no harm.  Though it’s the Hippocratic oath of physicians, it should be an oath for personal trainers and trainees alike.  If you are exercising for health, the first thing you might try is to minimize the inherent risk of exercise. I just don’t get “training like an athlete,” as it’s not unheard of for “healthy” athletes to die on the  field!  Athletes sacrifice their bodies at the alter of winning and often end up crippled or otherwise damaged later in life.  That’s not exactly what I’m going for.  HIT’s low number of slow, controlled reps is a more demandingto muscle tissue while being very easily tolerated by joints.  That’s more like it.  Construction, not destruction.
  2. HIT is actually good for your joints.
  3. HIT saves me time in the gym.  As the name says, HIT is high intensity.  The higher the intensity, the less time it takes to do the same amount or even more work (think sprinting a 100 yard dash over jogging it).  So HIT is done less frequently and for less time. For me, it’s 20 minutes once a week and I’m done. Boom.
  4. It’s physical training and mindfulness training all in one.  After years of doing Kundalini Yoga, I brought my meditation into the gym.  HIT is a perfect “asana” for cultivating concentration and awareness, and mindfulness helps me get the most out of any exercise.  It’s a “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” combination.
  5. HIT increases cardiovascular ability better than “cardio.”  No really, it does.  What do you think creates the demand for all that breathing in “cardio”?  Do you really think it’s the uncontrolled flailing of limbs?  Nope.  It’s muscular work.  True dat.
  6. The most important component of exercise that actually stimulates change is effortEr … in another word:  intensity.
  7. It’s better for building bone density.  I’m a skinny fair-skinned fifty year old.  When I fell and broke my wrist a couple of years ago, instead of the predicted  8-12 weeks in a cast followed by more weeks of physical therapy, I shocked my doctor by getting my cast off in 6 weeks and requiring no PT.  In fact, he told me essentially to keep doing whatever I was doing because PT couldn’t do a better job.  Ain’t no marathoner going to make that claim.


    Old broad doing pushups post broken wrist

  8. HIT is better for getting rid of belly fat.
  9. HIT makes you strong.  REALLY strong.  Like lift-the-whole-stack-on-squats strong.  Do you know what is the number one reason people get carted off to old folks homes? They’re not strong enough to stand on their own and their families can no longer lift them to put them on the potty chair.  So think about that for a minute.
  10. Getting through your weekly HIT session prepares you mentally and physically for whatever stressor you may encounter in the week.  All exercise helps protect against the effects of stress, but for me, HIT gives me a confidence and resiliency I’ve never experienced with any other type of training.

I’ve been training with high intensity training for almost 30 years.  In fact, October 10, 2016 will be my 30 year anniversary.  I’ve never written that date down anywhere, but I always remember it. It’s been that important to me.


Today one of my clients quit training.  Her reason: her doctor told her she had to stop resistance training and focus more “cardio” to lose weight.

What is this, 1983?  That’s such outdated “advice” that it borders on irresponsible. There’s no such thing as “cardio,” and doctor should understand that by now.

So today I’ve posted several articles by actual exercise physiologists and other experts in the field of fitness.  These are the folks from whom doctors SHOULD get weight loss advice.  Your doctor can tell you whether or not you need to lose weight and how it is affecting your health, but rarely does he/she has any background whatsoever to give advice as to how to best achieve that goal.  That’s not covered in med school.  That’s the equivalent of me giving you my opinion on how to best treat cancer.  You would not take me seriously, would you?

The articles posted today include one on diet versus exercise, a more recent article on the cardiovascular benefits of weight resistance training to failure, a video re same, and a review article on recommended evidence-based resistance exercise protocol.

I’m adding to that this article.  It’s an oldie but goodie.  Some of the details are outdated, but the general principles are solid.  Only an excerpt is below with a link to the full article.  Enjoy.

High Intensity Strength Training: More Aerobic Than Aerobics

By Greg Anderson

“Aerobic” activity is not the most effective form of exercise for fat-loss. Steady state activities such as running, cycling, dancing, etc. do not burn a significant number of calories! One pound of fat can fuel the body for up to 10 hours of continuous activity. “Aerobic” activity is simply inefficient for this purpose!

The most important contribution that exercise makes to a fat-loss program is the maintenance of muscle tissue while fat is lost. Strength training is the only reliable method of maintaining muscle tissue. Aerobics can actually cause you to lose muscle tissue!

Some supposed “experts” have suggested that the important effect of aerobics is that of increasing metabolic rate. Our question is this: If “aerobic” activities burn few calories while you are doing them, then how many calories will they burn (calories burned = metabolic rate) when you are not doing them? The answer to that question is: very few…

On the subject of metabolic rate: Every pound of muscle added to the body of an adult female will require an additional 75-100 calories per day just to keep it alive. The average person, through a program of proper strength training can add enough muscle to burn an additional 3500 calories per week (1 lb. of fat = 3500 calories). The amount of strength training required to effect such a change is less than one hour per week.

“Aerobic” activities are dangerous*! Running is an extremely high-force activity that is damaging to knees, hips, and back. Aerobic dance is probably worse. And so-called “low impact” classes or activities like stationary cycling are not necessarily low-force. Don’t be fooled by the genetic exceptions who protest that they have never been injured– overuse injuries are cumulative and we are often not aware that we have them until it is too late. In time, the enthusiastic aerobic-dance participant or jogger will probably pay the price for all that “healthy” activity. If that price is a decrease or loss of mobility in one’s later years, then “aerobics” have effectively shortened the individual’s life-span. Loss of mobility is often the first step toward loss of all biological competence.”

(*My emphasis. This is especially true when people are overweight to begin with.)