Ellington Darden - The New High Intensity Training

About four or five times in my life I've gotten into a real fitness streak. I have had mixed results from these spurts and none of the episodes lasted for more than about six months. A couple of months ago I began another one with no sure plan in hand or ultimate goal to speak of. I had spare time on my hands and wanted to establish a routine before life became busier for me.

I soon found out that the excess spare time was both a blessing and a cursing. I was getting so into riding my bike and lifting weights that I didn't take any days off from it. I began to feel worse, rather than the initial better, and came down with a cold to boot. I wanted to exercise right through the sickness (as my high school gym coach did and recommended), but instead I did a bit of internet research and came to the conclusion that not only would that not be a good thing to do for a speedy recovery but that my overtraining may have contributed to my illness to begin with. It was then that I realized that I should do a little homework before pursuing matters much further. I acquired this book, read dozens and dozens of articles on the internet, and have begun to see some favorable results.

What is high intensity training? Darden boils it down to the following:

So what was I doing wrong? Everything. I wasn't doing everything wrong according to some other methods of training, but according to Darden I was practically wasting my time.

It turns out that high intensity training (HIT) has its skeptics and is not a very popular program at this point (nor has it ever been). However, I was won over by some of Darden's logic, and my results so far, and hence plan to give it a go for at least six months. There are areas that I disagree with Darden on and some aspects of HIT are impossible for the average Joe, like me, to follow. First, I'll comment on the latter.

To really do HIT the way Darden envisions requires a spotter/trainer/partner and an empty gym. Unfortunately, I don't have either, and I imagine most others don't either.

Why is a spotter/trainer/partner required? Because without one you'll have a hard time doing squats, straight-arm pullovers with a dumbbell, or even bench press to failure without killing yourself. He didn't give any recommendations for how to train without a spotter/trainer/partner. I work around it by not doing squats to failure (but doing leg curls and extensions to failure on a machine immediately after doing squats), substituting machine pullovers for dumbbell and barbell pullovers, and substituting machine presses for free weighted bench press.

Why do you need an empty gym? The second to last point, listed above, is why. One cannot usually move immediately from exercise to exercise in a public gym--especially when those exercises require the use of free weights. In Darden's examples the routines are all loaded up with weight in advance and the person moves from one to the next without any rest. Try loading up all your weights, for various exercises, in advance at your local gym and you're likely to be shown the door. The spotter/trainer/partner could also come into play on this point as they can help load weight for the person, shortening the rest time, and they can be charting the exercises performed. As it is, I rest far more than Darden recommends. It just isn't possible to load (before) and unload (after) over 600 lbs. onto (and off) a leg press and also move to the next exercise immediately. Even on the machines you can't automatically assume the machine you will use will be available at the moment you need it in a public gym. I didn't realize how much I rested before until I tried to at least come close to what Darden recommends. I'm quite winded by the last half of my HIT routine (even with the above mentioned unintended rests and logging on a workout card), and I've never felt like that lifting weights before, even with much longer routines.

Given the above two constraints, that I've experienced, my HIT routines (including logging/charting between exercises) can't be completed in the 20 minutes or so that Darden suggests is all that is necessary. I do get them in in under 40 minutes though. I'm surprised that Darden didn't explain why it is good to complete a weight lifting routine in 45 minutes or less. I've seen several articles like this one that do offer reasoning relating to stopping a workout before the anabolic/catabolic hormonal ratio begins to tip in favor of cortisol.

What I would like to have seen much more of in Darden's book is actual scientific evidence and research supporting his methods. As it is we get a few individual case results and one (likely seriously flawed) experiment/study conducted 30 years ago. The study is flawed, in my opinion, because they took individuals already on a program, split them in to two groups, applied HIT to one group and left the other doing their usual routines. A PhD, scientist, like Darden, should see the obvious methodological mistakes in such research. Not only was the study not of the double-blind variety but it seemed as if everyone wanted to be in the new routine that had the "mystique," as Darden called it. Hence, their group may have obtained the more motivated individuals. In addition, multiple different programs should have been included in the study to multiple groups rather than to just one. Muscle builders who hit plateaus frequently change routines to get off the plateau, and they do so with good success. Comparing a new routine with something people are already doing may show nothing about the benefits of the new routine itself. It may only show that changing routines is a good thing.

Each component of HIT should also be tested experimentally. Maybe Darden is on to something with HIT, but a piece or two of it may be dragging down the benefits gained from the key pieces. Without real testing, on a piece-by-piece basis, who will know? For instance, why not compare two groups of individuals (neither currently using HIT)--one group goes to failure on their first set and the other group goes to failure on their second to see if one fairs better than the other? Why not compare the number of reps between groups? Or why not compare three groups of individuals (all doing the exact same HIT routine except)--one group rests for 24 hours between routines, one for 48, and one for 72? The possibilities are many and don't seem to have been explored by Darden. He never explains what benefit (increase in growth or fat-burning hormone production?), for instance, is derived from not resting between exercises (other than the time savings) so why not have a group rest between exercises and another not rest between exercises to see if there is a difference (other than time)?

More than half of the book is not devoted to HIT per se, although the HIT theme does get touched on throughout. Instead, the bulk of the book deals with professional bodybuilders and their stories along with the stories of Arthur Jones and Darden himself. The stories are generally well told and interesting. At the same time they seem somewhat hypocritical given Darden's conclusion that the vast majority of the population doesn't have the genetics to be seriously muscular. Why use the professional's names and experiences for so much of the book when Darden basically admits that they would have gotten huge regardless of what method they used?

Darden's treatment of protein supplements also may leave the reader somewhat confused. On page 192 he opts for "low-protein eating." On page 230 he relents and says that he is "not against a little extra protein in your diet." Clearly the 300 grams that he was taking a day decades ago was excessive, but from what I've read I don't think someone working out regularly is doing themselves any favors by doing "low-protein eating." A person looking to grow muscle should probably get somewhere between the RDA and 1g per pound of body weight per day. That isn't always easy to obtain, especially for someone who is a vegetarian or who doesn't eat meat on a daily basis. I've started supplementing with a 40g of protein shake in the morning between breakfast and lunch and a 20g of protein bar between lunch and dinner. That gets me to at least the RDA but never to the 1X to 2X body weight that the supplement pushers encourage. And it seems to be working. Darden also recommends creatine, which I have used over two stretches with good success.

This is a valuable book, even if you don't become converted. It's over 250 pages but reads much longer since the pages are so large. The little side box stories and anecdotes keep things lively and informative. It isn't the most scholarly work out there, but The New High Intensity Training: The Best Muscle-Building System You've Never Tried has the ability to appeal to a wide audience.

I'm up 10 pounds in a short period of time, and I know I have lost some fat too (maybe up about 15 pounds of muscle and down about 5 pounds of fat), so I'm going to stick with HIT and see where it takes me. If you are looking for something to try then this may be for you too.

from the publisher:
Certain to become the bible of high intensity training - the training that revolutionized lifting with shorter, far-more-intense workouts. This impassioned guide is the last work on how to achieve explosive growth safely, without steroids.

For many dedicated bodybuilders, the weight-lifting theories of Arthur Jones are gospel. It was Jones, the inventor of Nautilus exercise equipment, who first discovered that short, intense workouts could produce better results then the long high-volume workouts then in vogue.

Even though the research into Jones' methods has proved them correct, there still are no major HIT books in stores. This new book - by champion bodybuilder, exercise researcher, and best-selling author Ellington Darden, Ph.D., who is a Jones disciple and friend - shows lifters how to apply the master's teachings, along with some new HIT concepts to achieve extraordinary results.

At the heart of the book is a complete, illustrated, six-month course for explosive growth. Exercise by exercise, workout by workout, the reader is shown precisely what to do, and perhaps even more important, what not to do. Dr. Darden also shows why HIT, when pursued steroid-free, is the best way to safely build muscle.