Sunday, July 25, 2010

Interview - Fred Fornicola

Here is another interview, this time with Fred Fornicola, owner of Premiere Personal Fitness and co-author of Dumbbell Training for Strength And Fitness an excellent little book.

Fred, I first came across you due to your book on dumbbell training and then seeing you as a regular commenter on the Body by Science blog, but can you give my readers a short introduction to yourself? Who are you and what is your background in exercise?

Well Chris, my name is Fred Fornicola and I’ve been involved in training and fitness since I was about 15. I own and operate Premiere Personal Fitness in Asbury Park, New Jersey (Chris - there is a video of the gym here) . I’m a fitness professional, personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, fitness consultant, lifestyle fitness coach, as well as a published author. I’ve been involved in the field of strength and fitness for over 34 years. I was one of the contributing authors of the book Get Fit New Jersey! and co-authored the best-selling book “Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitness”. My latest book is entitled “Youth Fitness: An Action Plan for Shaping America’s Kids” which I also co-authored with Matt Brzycki.

What led you to write the book on Dumbbell Training? (An excellent book by the way that I would recommend to anyone)

Matt Brzycki and I have been friends for years and we spoke often about collaborating on a book project that was different from most of the other books out on store shelves. We did some homework and found that at that time, (fall of 2005) there were very few books on dumbbell training and if there were any, they didn’t go into any great detail. We felt this was a great opportunity to produce a book that was concise and informative and we decided to narrow our focus and rolled the dice.

Are you happy with how the book turned out?

Yes, we’re very pleased with the book and its sales performance (to date we have sold over 15,000 copies). We put a lot of time not only into the information that’s found in the book but in the layout and marketing of it. I came up with its format by stealing the idea of how cookbooks are normally structured.

Cookbooks generally offer cooking information and insights with descriptions and photos and then supply recipes to compliment what was written. We did something similar by providing what we feel is safe, efficient and effective material along with text and visual instruction. The “recipes”, if you will, are the 40 plus workouts which were obtained by strength coaches and trainers from across the country. Some of our more familiar contributors are Dr. Ken Leistner, Coach Ken Mannie of MSU and NFL strength coach, Jeff Friday. The book is also small in size (5” x 8”) so it can easily be put in a gym bag or carried to use when working out if a person needs a new workout or wants to double check how an exercise is performed.

In the photos in the book to illustrate the exercises, you have featured “normal” people with achievable physiques. Was this a conscious decision? I get annoyed at books illustrated with bodybuilders who obviously use drugs and would look good however they trained.

Let’s face it Chris, most of the people in the book are average looking individuals and for a good reason, because most people don’t look like the super lean, genetically gifted individuals that are pranced around on most magazines and book covers. So yes, it was a conscious decision but in truth, these were just clients and friends that work hard at training and allow nature to take care of the rest.

I particularly enjoyed the second chapter of the book – Get Strong and Fit – where you focus on some really important basic principles such as safety and also destroy some popular myths. How did your thinking in this chapter develop? What influenced you?

The “Get Strong and Fit” chapter is just an ongoing philosophy of what Matt and I preach. We believe that safety is priority number one and so the chapter was merely an extension of what we teach. In fact, it was a simple chapter to write.

One of the issues you raise is “explosiveness”. You address the common dogma that you need to train explosively to become explosive. The error in this approach is something that I’ve raise before on this blog. Why do you think this doctrine is so popular?

Explosiveness is confused by many coaches and athletes in my opinion. To become explosive, you need to be strong, you need to be well conditioned for your sport/activity. Lifting fast or explosively creates momentum. If you use momentum, you aren’t forcing the muscles to do much of the work. Take for example the classic bench press. Most people accelerate in the beginning of the movement (usually with some additional “body English” or bounce) and as the weight reaches the peak of its movement the joints snap into place to stop that momentum at which time the resistance is quickly dropped and good old gravity kicks in and again, no muscle stimulation. What you are doing, however, is creating an environment which enhances injury due to the excessive forces on the joints and soft tissue while minimizing muscle involvement.

A classic example of displaying strength instead of a focus on building strength. Ask an explosive lifter if he’d prefer to be handed a 25 pound dumbbell or would he rather it thrown at him. I can almost guarantee his answer will be “handed” due to his lack of desire to get injured by the thrown dumbbell. Then why throw weights around when you’re lifting?

An additional aspect that is vital to being explosive that is often overlooked is you need to be a student of your sport/activity. Take for comparison two individuals who play football. Each of these guys can do 10 reps with 250 pounds on the bench press, complete 12 chinups and squat 315 pounds for 20 repetitions. Both men exude a good level of strength and, if these weights and repetitions are reflective of a set performed to muscular failure and done in good form, these two guys would have quite a good level of conditioning as performing such tasks are very demanding on the cardiovascular system.

Now here is the one differential – one of these guys plays football and understands the sport quite well while the other has zero or little knowledge/experience of the game. Now who is going to be more explosive? It’s simple, the person who understands his sport will be more explosive because he knows what to expect and experience has taught him how and when to respond so he will be quicker, more responsive and therefore, more explosive.

Similarly you address the problems with so called “functional” training and the related errors of thinking around sport specific training. (I interviewed Luke Carlson about this topic too). Again, why do you think that it is so hard for people to accept the ideas that you present?

I don’t have a problem with sport specific training…just not in the weight room. I remember as a kid wearing a weight vest as a means of improving my ability to jump higher for basketball. I wore that vest for two straight weeks and played basketball as I normally did. At first my timing was off in my shooting but I adjusted after a couple of days. After two weeks I took it off and started playing ball again…the results? My jump shot was off as was my timing for jumping and getting rebounds. My body had gotten used to the additional weight and developed new skills – throwing my natural game off.

I think working on strength and fitness safely and efficiently allows one to become functional. Functional, as I define it, is the ability to go out in life and…..drum roll please….be functional. Functioning in life means being able to do activities without becoming fatigued or injured so if that means riding a bike, gardening, swimming, taking out the trash, going for a hike, etc. you can “function” with a reduced risk of injury and not have to terminate a task because you are too weak or tired to perform it.

I suppose your approach and philosophy lies firmly in the “High Intensity Training” (HIT) camp, although your book doesn’t really explicitly identify itself with that school. Was it a conscious decision not to label it an HIT book?

My core belief and philosophy revolves around safety, efficiency and effectiveness, if that is one that falls into a high intensity training category, then that’s fine. I don’t refer to myself as a high intensity guy or any other category as I follow no dogma. I use whatever means I need to with those I work with so as to suit their physical, mental and emotional needs. Therefore, I am very open minded about how I train, using of course, my core beliefs. This too was the premise for writing the book.

Whenever I feature any thing HIT on this blog I notice a lot of negativity – there is a lot of ill feeling and cynicism about this approach to training. Why do you think that is?

Human nature, Chris. Try challenging someone about what they are doing and they will always defend themselves. Tell a republican about democratic views or a Christian about Muslim religion and they turn on a dime. The funny thing is, most people don’t realize we have more commonality than differences and that everyone can learn from each other. An open mind allows for much more information to be absorbed than one that is closed.

I read, watch and listen to as much information as I can; I then evaluate, experiment and then decide from there if and how I will apply the information. But to directly answer your question, most people feel that high intensity training is a crock because they don’t understand the essence of training.

I’ve been following HIT type ideas for years as I mentioned in my interview with John Little – his interview with Mentzer in a UK magazine in the mid 1980s still stands out in my memory. I’ve read lots of stuff over the years – Darden’s books (with their accompanying photos of steroid users), Slow Burn, John Little’s books, Body by Science.

At its root this style of training is quite straightforward, but I often see in those of us that are interested in this approach something of a search for novelty – the new technique that will solve all our problems and finally make us grow. So we jump each new technique - max contraction, static holds, done in one, Superslow etc. Do you think there is a value in all these techniques or is there a danger that they are just distractions from a dedication to a basic routine mixed with patience and realistic expectations?
Do I see value in these applications? Absolutely, they all have merit, but I don’t see these applications as anything other than another, as they say, “tool in the toolbox”. I feel these approaches have their place in one’s training and can be used in an infinite amount of ways – as long as they suit their needs.

Training is personal and so the most straightforward advice I can tell a trainee is this; find the exercises and protocols that are safe, efficient and effective for you and use them. Some people like structure, some don’t, so who’s to say if changing and using different approaches is a distraction or an incentive for someone. I personally see no sense in having to follow some kind of dogma if you don’t enjoy yourself. If, for instance, SuperSlow was the very best way to train but I hated doing it, I wouldn’t use it. I think the real danger lies in not discovering things for yourself.

Don’t worry if you’re following anyone else’s rules, it’s your body, it’s your workout – do whatever the hell you want. If you do multiple sets or don’t train to failure, you won’t get kicked out of the high intensity club. I’ve been told in the past I wasn’t allowed to do a particular exercise or protocol or some none high intensity approach because it wasn’t allowed….as if I need permission or some kind of sanction to train the way I want.

In terms of workout frequency your book tends to recommend working out 2 or three times a week. That is quite frequent for HIT. How do you arrive at an appropriate frequency for training when you work with a client?

When you work with individuals, you treat them like individuals and therefore you determine, from trial and error (along with many other factors) what works best for that individual. I have clients that train with me three times a week, twice a week and some only once per week. A lot depends on their abilities (mentally and physically) to help determine what works best for them.

I enjoy training yet I know that – particularly as I get older – I need more rest between workouts. How do you think we should mange the paradox of wanting to train….yet knowing that not training will actually be beneficial in terms of recovery and improvement?

Create a hierarchy or priority list of what your goals are. Understand what it is that will enable you to obtain your goal and before you do something, ask yourself if that what your about to do will contribute or detract you from achieving your goal. For instance, if your main focus is improving your leg press by 50 pounds, going out for a run a day or two before you train is not going to help you achieve your goal. Conversely, if you want to improve your 5k time, training your legs too frequently or intensely may prohibit you from getting you were you want to be.

Maybe you are supposed to train tomorrow but you need to clear your mind so you take a hard bike ride and you feel better, so what’s the big deal if you take the next day or two off and then go lift. Basically, it boils down how you balance things with your training and life to achieve your desired goals.

Do you make much use of bodyweight training with your clients?

I go through my phases of training and will accentuate a modality or approach of training, but yes, I do implement bodyweight activities. I think they have great value for those that can perform them safely and intensely.

Your book doesn’t say much about diet. Why is that?

Chris, our main focus was to make it purely a book that was about training with dumbbells because we didn’t want to dilute its content. On our second collaboration “Youth Fitness: An Action Plan for Shaping America’s Kids” we expanded our information to cover the many aspects of health and fitness.

Do you have a dietary approach that you support?

Since I’m not a cookie-cutter kind of person, I have to say that I don’t have any single approach towards anything but with regards to diet, I lean towards more of a Mediterranean style diet. Now, that type of diet is not for everyone and therefore I have educated myself on many other aspects of dietary needs for specific groups. I am very fortunate to have a good friend, Tom Mantos who is extremely knowledgeable about nutrition and applications for special cases so I refer to him quite often for assistance.

What does your own training look like at the moment? Have you implemented any new ideas recently?

Chris, I experiment a lot and am structurally unstructured. If I wake up and feel like going for a run down at the beach on the sand, I do it. If I feel like training, I do it. If I just want to do one set of killer leg presses using a static routine, I do it. Basically, I do whatever, whenever, however and wherever I want as long as I keep safety in mind and enjoy the process. Currently, I am really finding the benefits of static training and have played around with a number of approaches and implementations of the protocol quite successfully.

What is the most important lesson with respect to physical fitness that you have learned?

Without a doubt, not resting enough when I knew I needed to. I’m not referring to a structure rest period or specific amount of days, I mean just not backing off when I knew I needed to. Pushing for the sake of pushing isn’t the answer and something I preach often.

Apart from your own book, to where would you point people for them to get a good grounding in the principles our training?

That’s a tough one to answer, Chris, since I don’t really read too many books on training. I was, however, intrigued by Body by Science because John Little and Doug McGuff had an approach that challenged my intellect and therefore I found it worth my time to invest in reading it. In fact, it was probably the first book I bought on training in a number of years. I would suggest to your readership that they should read and explore as much as they can but emphasize learning more about what makes them tick. Learning about training is easy, understanding why you do what you do is not.

I am 42 and have been training and mildly obsessed with this stuff since I was 15. Looking back there are lots of things I would like to have been able to tell my 15 year old self about training and about life in general. What things about training do you wish you had known 25 years ago?

Let’s see, 25 years ago I would have been 24 and I would have told myself not to listen to everyone else’s suggestions and trusted myself. I was influenced by others and their training instead of following what was right for me. I always assumed everyone else knew more than I did and that they had to have the right answer when the correct answer was in me the whole time. This happened much longer than I’d care to admit, but hey, that’s how we evolve.
Thanks for answering those questions Fred! There are some real good pieces of wisdom in those answers.

(By the way I came across Fred / Matt's book after reading what Drew Baye had written about 3x3 conditioning routines. A commenter mentioned that the idea had been written about by Matt Bryzcki, so I did a search to find anything he had written and came across the Dumbell book he had co-authored with Fred. The book features a few 3x3 routines if you are interested in that approach. Drew has also interviewed Fred)


Walter said...

In my case the skepticism regarding HIT comes from having done it for 15 years (I'm a slow learner).

Other than German volume training, I can't think of a less productive approach.

Eric said...

Agreed. Research may have supported 1 set to failure some time ago, but it now clearly supports multiple sets time and time again for both strength and hypertrophy.

Chris said...

Which research Eric, do you mean Krieger's studies?

There is a good overview hereand here

Natural Athlete said...

The problem is that strength is not simply a muscular trait. Its a trait controlled by the nervous system and built on interaction between muscular tissue, connective tissue, and bone. All of these adapt to training, how you train impacts how you adapt. You will not develop connective tissue elacticity as optimally doing slow controlled reps as doing explosive and plyometric training. You will not cause the same neurological stimulation doing slow controlled reps as doing maximal heavy reps. You will not stimulate bone tissue adaption using 200 pounds as using 300.

HIT is a bodybuilding approach, for that it maybe effective, bodybuildingis about developing muscular adaptions. HIT is not a method that is logical for athletes or those who want generally optimized function. High level sprinters, jumpers, powerlifts, olympic lifters etc do not use and their reasons are obvious.

Is there even any evidence that slow controlled reps result in fewer injuries? Especially when taken to failure? I have not run into any studies on the matter and yet this is an assumed prior behind all arguments for HIT. Which claims to be evidence based.

Chris said...


out of interest, what have you found that works better?

Chris said...

Natural Athlete

This one always gets the discussion going. ;-)

High level sprinters, jumpers, powerlifts, olympic lifters etc do not use and their reasons are obvious.


(i) so what. High level athletes are genetic freaks who succeed often despite their training. you cannot argue that their training makes them good.

(ii) you still need to train specific skill sets to excel at that skill.

Chris said...

With respect to the negative comments on HIT, re-read what Fred said:

Try challenging someone about what they are doing and they will always defend themselves. Tell a republican about democratic views or a Christian about Muslim religion and they turn on a dime. The funny thing is, most people don’t realize we have more commonality than differences and that everyone can learn from each other. An open mind allows for much more information to be absorbed than one that is closed.

Natural Athlete said...

Chris you ignored the bulk of my argument.

Premise 1. Strength is not purely a function of muscular adaption, but neurological, muscular, connective tissue and bone adaption
Premise 2. The force velocity profile of given excercise impacts how the body adapts to the excercise.
Premise 3. HIT is not used by athletes whose events depend on maximal strength, power or speed strength. This anecdotal support for premises one and two.
Premise 4. HIT claims to be evidence based but there is no studies which back its claims of increased safety.
Conclusion. Training focused purely on muscular recruitment at slow controlled tempo's with moderate weights will not produce optimal training results across all possible athletic adaption. And there is no evidence that it is safer the traditional barbell training.

Chris said...

Sorry, I was not trying to be dismissive, but I think the points I made to address your "argument", particularly the idea that the training methods of what you called high level athletes are validated purely because the athletes in question are high level, do answer the key aspects of your assertions.

As I said we need to think about skill training...and the idea of the distinction between strength training and applying that strength in a particular skill or movement.

....but if we are attempting to discourse on the basis of what you are presenting as formal logic, lets look at your "argument".

You have given me three premises and a conclusion and I am assuming that you are claiming to have created a valid argument - i.e. one in which the premises and conclusion form a consistent set or alternatively an argument for which there is no possible situation in which the premises are all true and the conclusion is false.

Premise 1 - OK, I accept your proposition.
Premise 2 - OK, I think I accept your proposition
Premise 3 - I do not accept your proposition. You have given me an implied universal statement with no qualifications. (a) I would have to ask what sort of athletes you are talking about. (b) You are telling me that there are NO such athletes that train in such a way? - do you have perfect knowledge? (c) I have no idea what you mean by the statement that This anecdotal support for premises one and two. How does it? (d) what do you understand by HIT anyway? From your conclusions it seems you mean Training focused purely on muscular recruitment at slow controlled tempo's with moderate weights
Premise 4 - I do not accept your proposition. I think HIT - or some forms of what people call HIT - claims to be science based. You equate "evidence" with "studies" in terms of safety. Anyway, are you claiming that plyometric, for example (use by you elite athletes) are safer that slow cadence lifting? I can point you to studies of the danger of plyometrics. If you are trying to argue that since there are no studies that show that HIT is safer (than what? do not say to what you are comparing HIT) therefore it is dangerous, then you have missed out on your logic class.

Conclusion erm....

Sentence 1. OK I agree.....but so what, when does it claim to? If you want to produce optimal training results across all possible athletic adaptations you need to train for your event. Who is arguing about this?

If you want to be a good jumper you need to practice jumping. I agree. "HIT" whatever that is will help you get stronger....but you will still need to develop the skills to apply that strength....and that skill development will mean the training of neurological elements.

Sentence 2 - dealt with at Premise 4. But here is an alternative argument for you to consider:

Premise 1 - Injury results when a tissue is exposed to a force which exceeds its structural strength.
Conclusion - Slower repetition speeds expose the body to less force for a given level of resistance, decreasing the risk of injury.

Does this make sense?

Chris said...

So, have you achieved a valid argument? I do not think so.

In any case, remember that arguments can be valid even if the premises are false, e.g.

All men are green
Socrates is a man
therefore socrates is green

is a valid is total rubbish but it is still valid.

Sifter said...

"Ask an explosive lifter if he’d prefer to be handed a 25 pound dumbbell or would he rather it thrown at him. I can almost guarantee his answer will be “handed” due to his lack of desire to get injured by the thrown dumbbell. Then why throw weights around when you’re lifting?"


I rather get into a stopped car then jump into a moving one. DOes that mean there is no merit learning to drive fast?

His metaphor makes zero sense to me.

Rick said...

Yikes! Enough of this bashing of intensity-based training...this drivel is another classical case of the blind leading the blind.

Eric said...


Yes I was referring to Krieger's studies, but only because they are the most recent. I'm aware there are several different types of HIT such as BBS, SuperSlow, or something inline with what Drew Baye would recommend but there is still nothing magical about training to failure that can't occur with higher volume and lower intensities.

I'm singling out BBS here, but one of the most blatant errors which pop out to me is the fact that even under the most rigorous training sessions muscle protein synthesis (MPS)will be back to baseline within 72 hours of training. In the case of BBS say you train Monday at noon, MPS will be back to baseline by Thursday at noon and you'll be be gaining absolutely no muscle from that time on until you train Monday at noon again - a full 4 days. This is clearly not optimal for bodybuilding purposes as it claims.

I know other schools of HIT recommend more frequent training, but if you want to take advantage of naturally occuring MPS rates it seems most logical to train at least every three days. Personally, trying to train to failure once every three days took quite a bit out of me when I attempted it, and I was not making noticeable progress, especially when most proponents of HIT tell you you must be progressing in some form whether it be poundage or TUL every time you workout otherwise you are over training. This is anecdotal and may not be the best evidence but I believe anyone will eventually overtrain if they use such a method, especially for several years on end.

I know the argument will then be brought up that more experienced trainees should train less frequently anyways but again this is in direct violation of Selye's general adaption syndrome, another flaw of the HIT theory.

This is just one of many reasons why I don't believe training to failure is optimal, I can keep discussing if you wish.

Chris said...

Sifter, your analogy doesn't make sense to me either. You have compared getting into a car with driving a car. I think Fred is talking about the risk of injury from ballistic movement.

Chris said...


thanks for you comments.

What interests me has how this discussion has developed when Fred in the interview doesn't identify him self as HIT. It sort of proves the point I was asking about with respect to the negativity that the subject promotes.

In terms of training frequency you would note from the interview that Fred actually recommends training 3 times a week in his book for most people. But again, people are not addressing the interview.

You focussed on MPS but from what I can gather there is more to recovery than MPS - there are other hormonal systems that need time to recover.

I am not sure I understand your application to this argument of Seyle's theory?

Dave said...

"Eric said...

Agreed. Research may have supported 1 set to failure some time ago, but it now clearly supports multiple sets time and time again for both strength and hypertrophy."

So 1 set to failure was a viable theory in the past, but now it isn't? I hope the theory of gravity doesn't work like that.

Great interview Chris, Fred gave us many interesting insights based on his many years of experience.

Eric said...


I completely understand what you're saying about the negativity of HIT. I myself was a loyal HIT follower for at least a solid 6 months after I had read BBS. The logic made so much sense to me and I also thought it was funny how fast people would dismiss HIT even if they never tried it just because it's so against the grain and conventional wisdom. I was dead set to prove all the critics wrong, that in fact HIT was the correct way to train, but what I ended up doing was proving myself wrong. Nothing about our physiology dictates that 1 set to failure is absolutely optimal or necessary for muscle building purposes.

Yes you are absolutely right there are other recovery factors which must be taken into consideration such as connective tissue, CNS, etc... But this is exactly why training to failure wouldn't be optimal. The more of a stress you put on your body (as in going to failure) the longer these components will take to recover and the less frequently you will be able to train inline with your MPS rates. Because of it's background and the discussion I see on the internet I believe much of it's users are interested in HIT for bodybuilding purposes and from the evidence I've seen it's simply not optimal.

Obviously there is much more to muscle building then MPS, but for a more thorough discussion on the topic I'd recommend reading Matthew Perryman's free ebook- Maximum Muscle: The Science of Intelligent Physique Design. He gives a much more thorough explanation on the subject of muscle building then I ever could and is where I gained most of my knowledge about muscle building anyways. Next up on my list of books to read is Siff's Supertraining and Zatsiorsky's Science and Practice of Strength Training.

Sorry about the Seyle's comment I'm not exactly sure what I was going for there either. I was more so in a rush to get out the door. It was a poor way of saying that advanced trainees typically require more work and not less to trigger MPS and satelite cell activity. What once took perhaps 2 sets of dumbell curls to stimulate growth in the biceps of a beginner may now take 2 different biceps exercises and 4 sets of each exercise. Muscle becomes more resistant to adaptation the longer it is trained and this requires more work and not less to break through plateaus. Here is one such abstract demonstrating that- Both mean intensity (%1RM) and volume per muscle set are required to be increased the more advanced you become.

Applications of the dose-response for muscular strength development: a review of meta-analytic efficacy and reliability for designing training prescription.

Chris said...

Thanks Eric, I'll check out Perryman's book.

Talking of dose response, what do you make of Doug McGuff's article here

In the book - Body by Science - there is an extended discussion based on this article,which references a number of studies which imply that recovery following exercise can take from 5 days to 6 weeks, e.g here or here which both indicate that recovery can take more than 72 hours. Interesting discussion though

Eric said...


This is simply the way science works. The only way to research an idea using the scientific method is to come up with an educated guess (hypothesis) as to why something works and test that hypothesis under the most controlled conditions possible and observe what happens. Human physiology and nature is so complex that there are bound to be several confounding variables which skew or misrepresent data. There is nothing wrong with getting conflicting results because this is what challenges us to learn and better understand responses and mechanisms. What matters is that research which may have been at one point some what equivocal between one or multiple sets is now clearly in favor of multiple sets for the most effective results.

Even Newton's original theory of gravity has been updated with Einstein's theory of relativity, and Einstein's theory of relativity has been updated with quantum mechanics. Newton's theory of gravity applies just fine in everyday events, but once you start venturing into outer space or dealing with extremely small particles it's clear that Newton's theory doesn't hold up in every manner. Through continuing research/science we have made necessary provisions to it to give us a better understanding of the way things in our world work.

Walter said...


Better would depend on goals, but if I was interested in strength gains I'd consider the 5 X 5. Typically, when I do the 5 X 5, I do that twice a week and then once a week cut the weight and do sets of 15-20, cause the 5X5 by itself does nothing for endurance.

For all round health/fitness 3 sets of 10 as unexciting as it is seems to me to work better than HIT.

ADV's hierarchical sets is the closest thing to HIT I'd do. I find I have to be in a certain minimum shape before they work for me and I'm not in that shape now, otherwise that's what I'd base my workout on (I'm coming back from injuries). Art would probably disown me for not approaching it randomly enough. That approach provides some strength, some mass, some endurance and some fat loss. While other workouts may beat it in a given dimension, I've yet to see any produce results in all four as it does.

I did superslow 3 times each time for 6 months to a year and said never again after the third time (told you I'm a slow learner).

I've done hard gainer and heavy duty.

As much as I hate to say it, I largely work out in a conventional manner.

I look at the studies, but after 15 years of the various flavors of HIT producing mediocre results for me, I'm simply skeptical.

I'm not sure I really have much to contribute to the discussion, my original comment was motivated by the idea that some people have good reason to be skeptical of HIT.

I once worked at a Nautilus, spreading the HIT gospel.

So my experience could be summarized as 15 years experimenting with the various flavors of HIT and 10 years experimenting with everything else.

GVT did not produce any mass for me. It did wonders for my endurance, but 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps would provide the same results, that why I mentioned it as another ineffective protocol.

If HIT is working for you, then by all means follow it.

I hope this post is not as boring as it is long, I am simply trying to communicate where I am coming from.

Eric said...

The stimulus response model in the article makes a lot of sense, but the conclusions McGuff jumps to using it seem to have little backing. Under the concentration of stimulus he says the only accurate recording of intensity must be either 0 or 100 percent, everything else is guesswork. This is simply not true, a common practice in the weightlifting community is to lift at a certain percentage of your 1 rep maximum for a given workout to elicit a specific goal. There are several formulas which exist that can help you determine your 1RM based on previous performances, or you can follow rep guidelines determined through research and used for many years in practice when creating a strength/size routine. Research has shown that the most efficient %1RMs to work at range between 70 and 90 percent with the most effective being somewhere between 80 and 85 percent. 70 – 90 percent would correspond anywhere between 3-15 reps and 80-85 would correspond best with about 6-8 reps. Doug McGuff says “the intensity of the stimulus (i.e., the exercise) needs to be high enough to actually trigger the specific response that we desire,” which is true but research doesn’t support that going to failure (i.e. 100% intensity) is necessary or even the most efficient way to train.

When mentioning the dosage of the response McGuff says “Our empiric experience training clients, coupled with that of other personal training centers that likewise train clients on a one-on-one basis and record and collocate data from these workouts, the evidence is that the average subject has much less toleration for exercise than was previously thought.” He then sites one study which supports this view, that complete recovery may take up to more than 6 weeks. However, if you actually look at the study, and as he notes in the article, it has almost no relevance to productive weight training. Subjects performed 3 sets of eccentric biceps curl, to the point where they could no longer controllably lower the weight under 5 seconds, and then researchers measured their rate of strength gains over the following weeks. They found that muscles had only recovered to about 70% of their pre-strength at day 3 and full recovery lasted longer than the study duration (6 weeks). I’m not sure this study gives proof to the fact that you should only workout every 7 days. It only says you shouldn’t be dumb and perform 3 eccentric curls to the point of almost complete failure every time you go into the gym.

Eric said...

As for the first abstract you listed, I couldn’t get a full text version so I’m not sure of all the details, but again I don’t think it applies to productive weight training. Most people trying to get their forearms bigger aren’t performing 70 maximal contractions, this would be training for endurance adaptations, not size. After the second trial of 70 repetitions the authors note that changes in the criterion measure were significantly smaller then the first trial. I wish there were more detail, but I’m assuming this means results were also most likely back to normal before day 5. The same goes for the 24 contraction group, which also only showed small changes in the criterion measured. And again – this is all eccentric exercises.

The second article also doesn’t give great proof for training only once every 7 days. All it’s saying is that in untrained subjects, performing eccentric forearm exercises will result in peak soreness 2-3 days later, peak muscle swelling 5 days later and peak strength doesn’t occur until 10 days out. But then it goes on to measure what happens on a second training bout 6 weeks later and shows the stress response isn’t nearly as severe, and by 10 weeks muscle shortening and CK levels are only reduced and by 6 months only CK levels are reduced. So it’s saying that over time the stress response is reduced to exercise, in that the body is able to handle more as it can recover faster. I’m not sure I would expect the forearms to be measurably stronger after only a few days, they are such a small muscle group it will take a while to develop strength in them. My impression of the study is that they only performed 4 training bouts, the original one, one at six weeks, one at ten weeks, and one at 6 months. It says nothing about whether or not in a typical training routine training frequency for long term strength and size progression would be better at once every 7 days compared to possibly two or three times once every 7 days.

Eric said...

I'm going to pop in here again and point out the fact that both McGuff and Little own HIT facilities which were both opened up before the publishing of BBS. As much as HITers like to pride themselves on philosophical thinking about exercise this should stick out as a blatant bias as to the content BBS would take on. I could be wrong, but when Little and McGuff went to the research journals to write BBS I would imagine they already had it in their head to prove their theory of HIT right. This is obviously not the correct way to conduct research reviews. If they truly do believe their theory is right, at the very least they should have mentioned that their is also a huge amount of research that also refutes their points to avoid being a biased publication. For not even a full years worth of training (50 weeks) McGuff charges $1,2500.00 for ONE person! This is a huge investment which McGuff is sure not to want to prove wrong. Little doesn't list rates on his website at Nautilus North, but the fact remains that neither of them have a significant amount of motivation to prove their theories wrong when they already have so much time/money invested into them.

Chris said...


thanks for the background. It is interesting - not boring. I've had relatively mediocre results however I have trained. I think some of us are just mediocre.

Chris said...


The studies are not perfect obviously and I only gave 2 - in there are about 20 referred to to support the proposition that recovery from intense exercise can take from 5 days to several weeks. I have not checked up on each one.

It is n=1 but I know that is true in my case, I usually need a week off between hard sessions to recover.

With respect to the bias you perceive in that both Little and McGuff run gyms, I note your concern but would expect you to apply similar scepticism about all exercise prescriptions. For example there is a real publication bias in most science - journals publish that which is consistent with the mainstream conventional wisdom. Referees have labs and individuals that they do not like and will not approve papers from those sources. You can be sceptical about the prescriptions in BBS but maintain that scepticism when you read papers as well. Your argument of course would also apply to the owner of every gym and would imply that gym owners - or anyone with a financial interest or professional interest - is not to be trusted.

Chris said...

Any comments on Fred's interview rather than HIT/BBS? I think as he says that he doesn't identify himself as HIT

Walter said...


That's funny - I almost ended by saying something similar.

With regard to his not saying BBS is HIT - I picked up the book looked at what it was based on and sighed "It's HIT."

HITers were the first as far as I know to mention the danger of over training. Its not all wrong.

Little also was involved in the Power Factor books which advocated nothing but heavy partials and that diminishes his credibility with me.

Since I was a strong advocate for HIT for 15 years I'm well aware of confirmation bias. It is what the scientific method is supposed to guard against.

I really appreciate this site and your posting things that we can all benefit from.

Back to over training: when I do 10 sets of 3 in the deadlift, it quickly results in over training as can 8 sets of 3. I'll start with 5 sets of 3 work up to 8 sets of 3, take a week off and then increase the weight, but if I do it too long, the result is over training.

Too many weeks of the 5X5 results in sore joints. Every workout needs to be applied intelligently.

If you want to define HIT as simply a brief, hard workout lasting between a half hour and forty-five minutes, then I could accept it as a valid approach among many valid approaches.

I know people who thrive on long, marathon workouts in the weight room that would be totally counter-productive for me. I think part of the issue is the HITer's somewhat insistent claim that everyone would be better off doing HIT.

Eric said...

I'm not here to discuss the superiority of one training method over the other anymore, because frankly there is no perfect training routine, but I thought you guys may enjoy this review of Wernborns's meta-analysis on hypertrophy research. I'm pretty sick of just getting mediocre results as much as the next guy so I've been doing quite a bit of research on the topic to fix this problem as objectively as possible. I attend a University here in the states so I'm lucky enough to be able to read papers just past the abstract, but for those of you who only have abstracts I thought you may find this review published on Lyle McDonald's forum quite interesting. Knowledge is power after all.

The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode on muscle hypertrophy
from lyle macdonalds forum

Sports Med. 2007;37(3):225-64.
The influence of frequency, intensity, volume and mode of strength training on whole muscle cross-sectional area in humans.

I thought I'd summarize this comprehensive paper both for my own benefit and for those who want the highlights. I've restricted my summary to the parts of the paper that talk about your typical "dynamic external resistance" training. The gist of the paper is that while we do know what works for hypertrophy (pretty much everything, to an extent), we really don't know what's optimal, especially in trained individuals and in the long run. Dan also posted some excerpts on his forum:

No relationship could be found between frequency of training and the increase per day in muscle cross sectional area. When the intensity was plotted against the rate of increase, a weak tendency was found for the rate to increase with increasing intensity. The highest rates of increase tended to occur around 75% of 1RM. When volume was plotted against the rate of increase, greater gains in muscle mass were seen initially with increasing volume while there were diminishing returns as the volume increased further. The highest rates of increase tended to occur with 30-60 repetitions per session.

Frequency: For hypertrophy, studies suggest that training two or three times per week is superior to training one time per week, even when volume is equal. However, there doesn't appear to be a benefit of three sessions per week over two. "Although some interesting trends can be discerned from the data... there is clearly a need for further research on training frequency in both highly-trained and less-trained subjects."

Intensity: "The studies reviewed in this article show that there is a remarkably wide range of intensities that may produce hypertrophy. Still, there seems to be some relationship between the load (or torque) and the rate of increase in CSA." This is not linear, but seemed to peak around 75%. "Thus, the results of this review support the typical recommendations with intensity levels of 70–85% of maximum when training for muscle hypertrophy, but also show that marked hypertrophy is possible at both higher and lower loads."

Eric said...

Volume: "Overall, moderate volumes (≈30–60 repetitions per session for DER training) appear to yield the largest responses." An exception to this is with very high loads (90% 1RM or 120% to 230% 1RM with eccentrics) where high rates of growth have been shown with volumes as low as 12-14 repetitions per session. To date, relatively few studies have directly compared the effects of different volumes of work on the hypertrophic response as measured by scanning methodology." The paucity of data clearly warrants further research.

Mode of Training and Type of Muscle Action: You often hear statements like "eccentric training produces the greatest muscle hypertrophy". "This review demonstrates that given sufficient frequency, intensity and duration of work, all three types of muscle actions can induce significant hypertrophy at impressive rates and that at present, there is insufficient evidence for the superiority of any mode and/or type of muscle action over other modes and types of training in this regard." In fact, the data suggest that pure eccentric training is inferior to both concentric and eccentric+concentric training, though this is still a subject of debate rather than a scientific certainty.

Rest Periods and the Role of Fatigue: "Upon closer examination, it appears that when maximal or near-maximal efforts are used, it is advantageous to use long periods of rest. This is logical in light of the well known detrimental effects of fatigue on force production and electrical activity in the working muscle. If high levels of force and maximum recruitment of motor units are important factors in stimulating muscle hypertrophy, it makes sense to use generous rest periods between sets and repetitions of near-maximal to maximal efforts... On the other hand, when using submaximal resistance, the size principle dictates that motor unit recruitment and firing rates are probably far from maximal until the muscle is near fatigue or unless the repetitions are performed with the intention to execute the movement very quickly."

Interactions Between Frequency, Intensity, Volume and Mode: "Based on the available evidence, we suggest that the time-tension integral is a more important parameter than the mechanical work output (force × distance)... Overall, we feel that the trends observed in this review are consistent with the model for training-overtraining continuum proposed by Fry,[186] where the optimal training volume and also the volume threshold for overtraining decreases with increasing intensity... Regarding training for hypertrophy in already highly-trained individuals, there is at present insufficient data to suggest any trends in the dose-response curves for the training variables."

Eric said...

Eccentrics: "Taken together, the results of these studies support the common recommendation of using somewhat lower frequencies and volumes for high-force eccentric exercise than for conventional resistance training..."

Order of endurance/strength training: "It has been suggested that strength training should be performed first, in order not to compromise the quality of the strength-training session.[194] However, this order may not necessarily be the best choice for inducing increases in muscle mass. Deakin[195] investigated the impact of the order of exercise in combined strength and endurance training and reported that gene expression associated with muscle hypertrophy responded more strongly when cycling was performed before strength training, instead of vice versa. Interestingly, in the study of Sale et al.,[111] performing cycling first seemed to induce the greatest increase in muscle area. Still, because the lack of studies investigating the effects of the order of exercise in concurrent training on hypertrophy, no firm conclusions can be drawn on this issue."

Time Course of Muscle Hypertrophy: "Until recently, the prevailing opinion has been that neural adaptations play the dominant role during the first 6–7 weeks of training, during which hypertrophy is usually minor." However, several investigations [13,27,54,87,105,118,128] have demonstrated significant hypertrophy at the whole muscle level after short periods of training (3–5 weeks). "Thus, there now plenty of evidence that significant hypertrophy can take place early on given proper frequency, intensity and volume of training," even prior to changes in muscle CSA. "As argued by Phillips,[198] the idea that early gains in strength are due exclusively to neural adaptations seems doubtful... In some strength-training studies, the increase in muscle volume is delayed, while in others, the rate of growth is rapid. We speculate that less-damaging training modes may allow the hypertrophy response to start earlier. Regimens that include eccentric muscle actions, especially those involving maximal effort, appear to require a careful initiation and progression of training to avoid muscle damage and muscle protein breakdown [excessive apoptosis and proteolysis]."

The Stimulus for Muscle Hypertrophy in Strength Training: "Two studies by Martineau and Gardiner[216,217] have provided insight into how different levels of force and different durations of tension may affect hypertrophic signaling in skeletal muscle... they remarked that both peak tension and time-tension integral must be included in the modeling of the mechanical stimulus response of skeletal muscle... Based on the data reviewed in this paper, we speculate that hypertrophic signalling in human skeletal muscle is very sensitive to the magnitude of tension developed in the muscle. Hence, for very short durations of work, the increase in muscle size will be greater for maximal-eccentric exercise than for maximal-concentric exercise of similar durations... The response is presumably also dependent on the total duration of work and increases initially with greater durations. Thus, both short durations of maximal eccentric exercise and somewhat longer durations of concentric, isometric and conventional dynamic resistance exercise can result in impressive increases in muscle volume. However, especially with maximal eccentric exercise, damage also seems to come into play as the duration of work increases even further and the acute and/or cumulative damage may eventually overpower the hypertrophic process."

Eric said...

Training Implications and Recommendations: For your typical "dynamic external resistance", recommendations are given for "Moderate load slow-speed training", "Conventional hypertrophy training", and "Eccentric (ecc) overload training". These three modes are denoted as suitable for beginners, novice-well trained, and advanced-elite, respectively. For the "Conventional hypertrophy training" for the novice to the well trained, they recommend an 8-10RM load (75-80% 1RM), with 8-10 reps to failure or near failure, 1-3 sets per exercise, progression from 1–2 to 3–6 sets total per muscle group, moderate velocity (1-2 seconds for each CON and ECC), 60-180 seconds rest between sets, and 2-3 sessions per muscle group per week.

Conclusions: "This review demonstrates that several modes of training and all three types of muscle actions can induce hypertrophy at impressive rates and that, at present, there is insufficient evidence for the superiority of any mode and/or type of muscle action over other modes and types of training. That said, it appears that exercise with a maximal-eccentric component can induce increases in muscle mass with shorter durations of work than other modes. Some evidence suggests that the training frequency has a large impact on the rate of gain in muscle volume for shorter periods of training. Because longer studies using relatively high frequencies are lacking, it cannot be excluded that stagnation or even overtraining would occur in the long term. Regarding intensity, moderately heavy loads seem to elicit the greatest gains for most categories of training, although examples of very high rates were noted at both very low and very high intensities when the sets were performed with maximum effort or taken to muscular failure. Thus, achieving recruitment of the greatest number of muscle fibres possible and exposing them to the exercise stimulus may be as important as the training load per se. For the total volume or duration of activity, the results suggest a dose-response curve characterised by an increase in the rate of growth in the initial part of the curve, which is followed by the region of peak rate of increase, which in turn is followed by a plateau or even a decline. It is recognised that the conclusions drawn in this paper mainly concern relatively short-term training in previously untrained subjects and that in highly trained subjects or for training studies extending for several months, the dose-response trends and the hypertrophic effects of different modes and types of strength training may be very different. The same may well be true for other populations, such as elderly and injured individuals."

Eric said...

Hopefully there are still enough people looking at this comments thread to benefit from it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting those, Eric.

And great interview, Chris.

Does anybody do a strict BbS type of workout and nothing else? Seems even HITers do some type of other activity. Doesn't Dr. Mcguff do some mountain biking or something? For many people, lifting is not very enjoyable. If you do a HIT type session once or twice a week, that will give you time for more enjoyable physical pursuits and it will make you more physically capable of doing those other activities. If your goal is to be HYOOGE then you will have to probably do more than a single HIT session a week.