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Old 03-06-2011, 01:28 AM
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Post The Why of LESS, By Dr. Darden

The Why of LESS

Pick up any bodybuilding magazine and you’ll be hard pressed to find a training article that does not push lengthy, multiple-set routines. The predominant concept, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing,” takes me back to 1970, when Arthur Jones challenged the body-building world with his “more is NOT better” philosophy.

Is spending hours and hours in the gym each day required for building bigger, stronger muscles? According to Jones, “Absolutely NOT.”

It’s time to revisit and update why training less is usually best.


By Ellington Darden, Ph.D

“If in doubt . . . train less,” is an important concept taken from the writings of Arthur Jones. Jones, the inventor of Nautilus and MedX strength-training equipment, is also the man most responsible for the popularity of high-intensity training (HIT).

Jones’s quote concerning training less needs clarification. The key to using it to your advantage requires a brief chronology of the man, some of his experiences, and a few ideas of my own.

Meeting Arthur Jones

I first met Arthur in 1970. He confronted me by suggesting that I forget everything I knew about bodybuilding. Then, and only then, he insisted, could I understand his new philosophy of training. Jones’s philosophy centered on exercising harder, but briefer.

Arthur Jones started me thinking in a different direction. Instead of looking for ways to train more – by mixing various sets and cycles, splitting my workout days into upper and lower body, and exploring new exercises – he taught me how to get better results with fewer exercises and shorter routines.

It worked. In 1972, I got into the best shape of my life and won the Collegiate Mr. America contest.

Shortly thereafter, I joined Jones as Director of Research for Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries, where I remained for more than 17 years. Throughout those years, I published many books on Nautilus equipment, free weights, and the merits of high-intensity training.

Nautilus and high-intensity training flourished in the 1970s and 80s. Millions of people were turned on to a harder-but-briefer style of exercising.

In my travels throughout the country, recently I’ve observed that many trainees have forgotten Arthur Jones and his concepts. On one hand, this would be expected since Jones retired in 1996, isolated himself from the public, and eventually died in 2007. On the other hand, there are multiple web sites with discussion forums that consistently rehash many of Jones’s original principles – debating the right, wrong, and in-between.

Extremists seem to be the norm on the internet. Recommended HIT routines, for example, vary from a high of 20 exercises four times per week to a low of 3 exercises in two weeks. That’s quite a range.

After more than 70 years of interest in strength training, what were Jones’s concluding beliefs on training duration and frequency?

The last several years of Jones’s life, I spent many interesting mornings with him at his home in Ocala, Florida. Often we talked training duration and frequency and I remember well his answers to my questions – answers that will help any HIT enthusiast clarify his quest to get bigger and stronger.

Plus, an understanding of Jones’s early exercise experiences will allow you to appreciate WHY and HOW he eventually organized his training philosophy.

Initially, Four Sets

In 1936, at the age of 10, Arthur Jones became interested in weight training. He also practiced gymnastics, which explains why chin-ups and dips were two of his favorite exercises. According to Jones, he was well built by the time he turned 14.

Over the next 15 years, Jones’s training was inconsistent. It was on and off, on and off since the necessary equipment was in short supply as he explored the world. When he trained, however, he settled on a routine that entailed three weekly workouts of four sets of 12 different exercises.

Such workouts brought Arthur’s body mass up to 172 pounds. At 172 pounds, however, his progress plateaued. Additional exercises and extra sets did not provide the answer. Thus, Arthur typically stopped in disgust – he quit training for months, or even years.

Being a person who was constantly on the move, combined with little exercise, Arthur’s muscle mass would gradually shrink. When the circumstances were right in his life, Arthur at a body weight of 150 pounds, would settle down somewhat and start training again. In a few months – with his routine of four sets of 12 exercises – Jones’s body weight would increase to 172 pounds. “Exactly 172 pounds,” I’ve heard him say emphatically, “and not one ounce more.”

Finally, after several more episodes of yo-yoing between 150 and 172 pounds, Jones decided to do something different – radically different. He cut his routine in half. Rather than four sets, he performed each of the 12 exercises on only two sets.

Next, Two Sets

What was Jones’s outcome of half as much exercise?

“My body started growing like a weed,” Arthur remembered. “It shocked even me.”

Within a few weeks, Jones reached a muscular size and strength level that was far above anything he had been able to produce previously. With longer workouts, Arthur reasoned, he had been preventing additional growth by not providing his body with enough rest after the initial stimulation.

In other words, he had been overtraining – he had been doing too much exercise.

Once I questioned Jones about the time in his life when his body was at its biggest and strongest?

“It was in 1954 in California,” he said. “I weighed 205 pounds with cold upper arms that measured 17-3/8 inches. And I was still doing two sets of 12 exercises. That year I could have placed high in the Mr. America contest.”

In 1954 Arthur would have been 28 years of age. At the time of our conversation, early 2003, almost five decades had passed and Arthur had traveled the world extensively, developed both Nautilus machines and MedX strength-testing tools, written more than 300 related articles, funded meaningful university research, and retired comfortably to think about it all.

So I asked him, “Arthur if you’d known then what you know now, what would you have done differently with your routine?”

“I would’ve trained less,” he replied. “Instead of 12 exercises, I would have reduced the number to 8. Instead of two sets, I would have performed only one set. Instead of training three times per week, I would have trained twice a week.

training in such a fashion, I believe I would’ve reached a body weight of 205 pounds – or even heavier – faster!

Optimally, One Set

Okay, let’s take Arthur Jones’s advice of . . . One set of 8 exercises, twice a week . . . to heart.

Jones and I both like the idea of an “A” and a “B” workout. The A Routine would be performed on Monday of each week, and the B Routine on Thursday or Friday.

“A” Routine

1. Squat with barbell
2. Pullover lying crossways on bench with one dumbbell held in both hands
3. Dip on parallel bars
4. Chin-up on horizontal bar
5. Bench press with barbell
6. Biceps curl with barbell
7. Triceps extension with one dumbbell held in both hands
8. Wrist curl with barbell

“B” Routine

1. Stiff-legged deadlift with barbell
2. One-legged calf raise
3. Lateral raise with dumbbells
4. Overhead press with barbell
5. Shoulder shrug with barbell
6. Bent-over rowing with barbell
7. Negative dip
8. Negative chin-up

To supplement the above routines, occasionally I’d substitute the leg press machine for the squat. Or of you can’t do the squat properly, then you might do the leg press exclusively. The other possible modification to the A Routine would be in the #8 exercise, wrist curl. You could substitute a number of other movements here: reverse wrist curl, trunk curl (or other abdominal exercises), or neck work (the 4-way neck machine would be my first choice). For the B Routine, you could do the leg curl machine instead of the stiff-legged deadlift, and the leg extension machine instead of the calf raise.

Of course, all of the above assumes that you are already an advanced trainee who works intensively and progressively – in good form.

The Next Step

After performing one set of 8 exercises twice a week for many months, is it possible to reach a plateau? Yes, I’ve worked with a few very strong bodybuilders who have done just that.

The next step is to reduce the exercises by two and adhere to the same frequency: one set of 6 exercises twice a week. Then, if another plateau is reached, I’d recommend decreasing the frequency, but increasing the exercises slightly. In other words, you’d go back to 8 exercises for one-and-one-half times per week – which equals 8 exercises three times in two weeks.

Eventually, a few men may require once-a-week training. I’ve worked with only five men, who I would place in that category. That’s five men out of thousands that I’ve worked with over 50 years.

Can you reduce your training too much? Obviously, there’s a time and place in your life where less isn’t always better! More exercise might be a consideration (up to a point) during rehabilitation, recovering from injury, practicing maintenance, or perhaps in the senior years.

The vast majority of people involved in strength training and bodybuilding, however, do too much, rather than too little, exercise. Remember, if your progress is at a standstill, or if you’re dissatisfied with your results – then train less . . . but work harder.

Gain from Jones’s Guidelines

Looking back, Arthur Jones, from his more than 65 years of strength training, learned the following:

• Two sets are better than four sets, and that one set is better than two.
• 8 exercises are better than 12.
training two days per week is better than three.

Sure, some athletes with the right genetics can grow to massive proportions on much more exercise than is recommended above. Arthur Jones himself proved that. But the same athletes would have gotten even better results if they had trained less.

Do not assume that you’re an exception to Jones’s concepts. In fact, you’d be better off assuming that you’re not.

It took Arthur Jones more than 30 years to learn that growth stimulation for a particular muscle requires only one, properly performed, set. It took him another 20 years to understand that overall muscular growth accelerates from shorter routines and more rest days.

Decide today that you’re going to reach your full muscular potential in the most efficient manner. Understand and apply the Why of LESS.

The Why of LESS | Dr. Darden Fitness
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Old 03-06-2011, 05:35 AM
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Less results with less work... I disagree. Can you make amazing gains with minimal sets. Yes! Law of diminishing returns, overtraining, etc.. sure, but if you were to tell jay cutler to workout less so he'll grow more, he'd laugh and walk away.
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Old 03-06-2011, 07:05 AM
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I am far from advanced but I know that with 1 exercise per muscle group and 5 sets (training 3 on 1 off). I would make about a 1+ rep gain per week.

I have since only changed my number of sets from 5 sets to 3 sets and am now making +2 rep gain per week
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Old 03-06-2011, 01:47 PM
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Less Definitely More

The concept is really quite simple: The more you lift in a shorter period of time, the greater the result.
It also comes down to stress: The less energy you must exert to create stress on a system, the better the result because stress on a system always creates change. train your body to require less stress in order to commit the system to change more. To perform this task, commit your energy to a higher level of lifting in a shorter period of time.
Guyton's Physiology states that a warmed muscle is a muscle ready to fire: All or None Principle. Make sure the tendon's are ready so they don't pop and just hit the weight at this point. None of the on-going pyramid crap will ever get you that far b/c we also only have so much energy.
Do the math with time during a workout and then recognize that, yes, less is always more. Considerably more. Its all math.

I've worked with people extensively on just this concept and the great results never fail. Its a no-brainer. Check it out:

Doctor Scott Moller - Chiropractor: Mathematically Lifting
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Old 03-07-2011, 01:20 AM
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Originally Posted by 10brandonr View Post
Less results with less work... I disagree. Can you make amazing gains with minimal sets. Yes! Law of diminishing returns, overtraining, etc.. sure, but if you were to tell jay cutler to workout less so he'll grow more, he'd laugh and walk away.
LOL, this was written for the natural trainee.
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Old 03-07-2011, 03:54 AM
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read big a's growth pronciples. he says 3 sets per body part once a week.
which is less work than this guy says. ive seen one set results that
were amazing. over 3-4 pounds gained a week, body fat decreasing.
really, look around the gym. how many guys do u see doing long workouts who just keep getting bigger and bigger? i see them pretty much stayin the same weight. i went to dc style, one set, and gained 10 pounds in a month.
20 in 8 weeks.
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Old 03-07-2011, 05:10 AM
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Dorian Yates trains with very little volume and seemed to work for him. I just started training with less volume and 1 more day of rest between routines about 2 months ago and I am making better progress.

If your a beginner you gain no matter how much your train but once your an advanced lifter there is not only more strain on your muscles but your CNS too. If takes time to recover and I think most people do not rest enough.
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Old 03-07-2011, 06:06 AM
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Everyone responds differently as thereis not one size fits all program as you must find what works for you depending on a plethera of variables.
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Old 03-07-2011, 06:10 AM
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Quote:
• Two sets are better than four sets, and that one set is better than two.
• 8 exercises are better than 12.
training two days per week is better than three.
Over-training can be a problem, as can lack of intensity. He also discusses important techniques like negatives. But Darden has been peddling a fair bit of unscientific nonsense for some time now.

In his books, he wrote that:
- trainees don't need very much protein (I forget his exact number, but it was under 100g) . . . studies now show otherwise
- the size of a beginner's fully pumped muscle shows the potential muscle size attainable through training (!) . . . LMAO!

Let's not even get into his naïveté about gear usage by Arthur Jones' "trainees" or hero worship of Jones.

The bottom line is that the HIT approach has largely been rejected by successful bodybuilders and powerlifters, although some of the intensity enhancing techniques are popular. As for training volume, there are diminishing and eventually negative returns, but Darden's advocacy of 30 minute workouts is misguided IMHO.
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Old 03-07-2011, 06:49 AM
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A summary of published research

Quantitative Analysis of Single- Vs. Multiple-Set Programs i... : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research

A bunch of studies have been done. For complete beginners, single-set training is fine. After a few months, multiple sets deliver better results.

Now, I can anticipate what Darden would say. He'll say that the single-set studies did not use proper "high intensity" methods. Low volume training must be ultra high intensity, in his view.

When Arnold slammed HIT training, Jones and Darden countered that Arnold did not train with sufficient intensity to properly test it.

When it doesn't work, the trainee must not have used sufficient intensity. Otherwise, it would have worked. Impeccable logic!

Here's Hatfield's take:
HIT with a HAMMER | Dr. Squat - Dr. Fred Hatfield

Last edited by brutale; 03-07-2011 at 07:00 AM.
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Old 05-08-2011, 03:26 AM
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Post A Defense of HIT, pt. 1

These studies which allegedly show single-set training is inferior to multiple-set training are questionable at best, and have little to do with HIT.

First of all, it's not true that HIT necessarily means "one set per bodypart." All that HIT really is is a focus on progression and training to failure. Traditionally, this took the form of whole body workouts 3x a week, with one set per exercise, and 12-20 or more exercises performed. While only one set per exercise was performed, the more important bodyparts were hit with multiple different exercises. For example, Arthur Jones's "double pre-exhaustion" for quads was leg press immediately followed by leg extensions immediately followed by squats, all performed to failure. That's three sets that hit the quads hard, from different angles.

Over time, HIT morphed significantly. Dr. Darden and Arthur Jones included "not-to-failure" (NTF) workouts and sets into the routines they had their bodybuilders perform. Casey Viator, Mike Mentzer, Dorian Yates, and others abandoned the 3x a week whole body routines for various splits performed 3-4x a week (Mike Mentzer, as you probably know, later developed some pretty radical training programs in his book Heavy Duty II, which I think most HIT trainees don't really follow). Many HIT bodybuilders included multiple sets into their routines. For example, Mike Mentzer often hit certain bodyparts with multiple sets, like his calves. Mentzer would perform two sets of calf raises to failure, followed by a set of toe presses to failure. Dorian Yates also used multiple sets (I think two sets) per exercise early on in his bodybuilding career, though he later reduced his training volume to one set per exercise.

Secondly, do these studies that purportedly prove multiple-set training is superior to single-set training even train their subjects to failure or close to it? I highly doubt it. I've read quite a few of these studies, and they often claim that over six weeks they produced something like a 25% strength gain in newbies. Honestly, that's pathetic. Arthur Jones produced close to 60% strength gains in his "Project Total Conditioning" study, which was performed with football players at West Point (read: not newbies to lifting), and the before and after testing was performed by independent third parties.

From my own experiences: I didn't keep training logs for myself when I first started lifting, but about a year and a half later, my best friend saw my results and decided to workout with me and at that time I decided to keep logs for both of us. When my best friend started training with me, I decided to give Mentzer-style infrequent workouts a shot. I didn't quite buy Mentzer's HD2 split performed once every 4-8 days, so we trained about once a week with a whole body routine for a kind of middle ground between Arthur Jones-like HIT and Mentzer-like "Heavy Duty" HIT. I'm looking at the logs right now, and his progress was literally astounding.

In five weeks (seven workouts), he went from doing bodyweight dips for seven reps not-to-failure followed by three more reps to-failure to 19 reps to-failure (his bodyweight was increasing this entire time as well); his calf raises increased from 170 lbs (on leg press machine) for 7 reps to 290 lbs for 10 reps; his pulldown increased from 14 reps at 105 lbs to 13 reps at 140 lbs. There wasn't a direct continuity in the other exercises we performed, but in the first workout he performed 6 reps at 145 lbs on the squat, while in the fourth workout he performed 11 reps not-to-failure at 165 lbs on the squat and then immediately followed it up with 190 lbs leg press for 13 reps to failure. We used the leg press for the 5th to 7th workouts, and he increased his poundages from 230 lbs for 20 reps to 270 lbs for 17 reps. In his first workout, he performed 50 lbs on the upright row for 7 reps; in his fourth workout he lifted 70 lbs for 9 and 1/2 reps.

So, over the course of five weeks and seven total workouts, reps performed on bodyweight dips nearly doubled while his bodyweight was slowly increasing; his calf raise poundages increased 70.58% and reps performed increased 42.857%; and on pulldowns his poundages increased 33.3% and his reps went down only 7.1%. A note on the pulldowns: they were performed immediately after dips, so exhausting his pecs/delts/tris on the dips definitely slowed his progress on the pulldowns; so what remains impressive in this case is that he nearly doubled the amount of bodyweight dips he performed while increasing his poundages on the pulldown 33.3% within the same rep range, all within five weeks.

In his first four workouts (2 1/2 weeks) his squat poundages increased 13.79% and his reps on the squat increased 83.3%. What's more impressive here is that in the squats during his first workout, he went to failure and used shitty form, however in his fourth workout he used nearly perfect form and didn't go to failure, and then followed up his squats immediately with leg presses performed to failure. During his first four workouts, he also increased the weight used on his upright rows 40% and the reps performed by 35.7%.

In workouts 5-6 (performed within 7 days of each other), he increased weight used on leg presses by 8.696% while using the same number of reps. Workout 7 was performed 10 days after workout 6, and he increased weight used on the leg press by 8% over workout 6 (17.4% over workout 5), but performed 15% less reps. So it might've been that we pushed the frequency between workouts too far apart at 10 days, but to be fair, it looks as workouts 6 & 7 were performed around the times of finals, so stress, lack of sleep, and lack of eating might have been a factor.

So look at the results I got training my friend, which well exceed the standard 25% strength gains over 6 weeks for newbs, and try to tell me that these studies aren't doing something wrong. This was very infrequent single-set training at its most extreme, and my newbie friend was able to produce significantly greater gains in strength than any of these studies show.

Look at the results which Arthur Jones got at the West Point study "Project Total Conditioning," in which Jones produced almost a 60% strength gain in hard-training athletes and cadets over the course of six weeks, and try to tell me that these studies which show an average of 25% strength gains over the course of six weeks aren't doing something wrong. How can these studies not be wrong considering that Jones took football players from West Point who already had some experience lifting weights and produced greater strength gains with them than these studies produce on complete newbs to lifting? And you can't easily dispute the results produced by Jones in "Project Total Conditioning:" the before and after strength and conditioning testing were performed by independent third parties who had no knowledge of Jones's involvement in the study.

I'm not saying that HIT is the only way to train, I am saying that high intensity training, loosely defined as a focus on intensity and progression, is the best way to train. I'm not saying that the version of HIT developed by Arthur Jones and Dr. Darden is the best way to train; I'm not saying that the more bodybuilding-versions of HIT developed by Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates are the best way to train; nor am I saying that the versions of HIT formulated by others is the best way to train for everyone. What I am saying, or trying to get across, is that a focus on intensity and progression is the single best way to train. I think that all of the most successful training programs/methods/philosophies have these two factors at the core of them, e.g. DC training (my apologies to Dante who doesn't want to associate with HIT).

P.S. My best friend still trains with me, and since my brief love affair with extreme low-frequency, low-volume Mike Mentzer HD2-style HIT, we now train with a whole body routine once every 4-5 days, with 8-12 exercises. Most of the time, we perform one set per exercise, but we'll occasionally perform multiple sets for a given exercise depending on how we feel, e.g. if I feel like I performed a set of squats with shitty form, I'll often follow up with a second or sometimes third set. But we do so rarely. And as for volume and frequency, we change it up from time to time. For example, I like going from a 2x per week (M-F) routine to a 3x in two weeks (M-F-W) routine. I believe that changing up volume and frequency can help bust through plateaus.
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Old 05-09-2011, 12:00 AM
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Originally Posted by AJW91 View Post

Look at the results which Arthur Jones got at the West Point study "Project Total Conditioning," in which Jones produced almost a 60% strength gain in hard-training athletes and cadets over the course of six weeks, and try to tell me that these studies which show an average of 25% strength gains over the course of six weeks aren't doing something wrong. How can these studies not be wrong considering that Jones took football players from West Point who already had some experience lifting weights and produced greater strength gains with them than these studies produce on complete newbs to lifting? And you can't easily dispute the results produced by Jones in "Project Total Conditioning:" the before and after strength and conditioning testing were performed by independent third parties who had no knowledge of Jones's involvement in the study.
Check the results of that study carefully. Did the subjects gain any size? The answer may surprise you...
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Old 05-09-2011, 01:51 AM
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Originally Posted by leegee38 View Post
Check the results of that study carefully. Did the subjects gain any size? The answer may surprise you...
Strength and size don't correlate linearly.
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Old 05-13-2011, 05:11 AM
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I have found that, particularly as i have aged, there can be no "one set" exercises.
In order for me to handle appropriate weight for failure and growth, I must have at least one or two 'warm up' sets to properly get my body ready for maximal weight.
There's no way I can get in the leg press and press 26 plates on my first set, but after a couple of warmups, I've got it to failure between 6-10 reps.
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Old 05-13-2011, 05:20 AM
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Originally Posted by bmcjames View Post
I am far from advanced but I know that with 1 exercise per muscle group and 5 sets (training 3 on 1 off). I would make about a 1+ rep gain per week.

I have since only changed my number of sets from 5 sets to 3 sets and am now making +2 rep gain per week
I agree i start growing again with 3 on 1 0ff and 3 sets per musle group
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Old 09-16-2011, 05:59 AM
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Originally Posted by ctgblue View Post
I have found that, particularly as i have aged, there can be no "one set" exercises.
In order for me to handle appropriate weight for failure and growth, I must have at least one or two 'warm up' sets to properly get my body ready for maximal weight.
There's no way I can get in the leg press and press 26 plates on my first set, but after a couple of warmups, I've got it to failure between 6-10 reps.
So that last set is your HIT set to failure. Warmups are only for weight aclimation, they don't count. Nobody would advocate only one set with no warmup.

For instance I do triples pyramiding up in weight to my work set of 5-8 reps. These warmup sets I make very little effort. I may do 3 or 4 with a couple minutes rest in between but that doesn't make it volume training.

I think a lot of people do too many reps on their warmup sets. By the time they get to the work set they're too tired and they lift less weight than they could.

If anything I notice that I need more warmups for HIT since it allows me to use more weight than I could for 3-5 sets of 10.
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Old 09-17-2011, 12:38 AM
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So that last set is your HIT set to failure. Warmups are only for weight aclimation, they don't count. Nobody would advocate only one set with no warmup.
Actually, Arthur Jones and Dr. Darden advocated going straight into your work set... They believed that the first few reps of a set of 8-12 reps was good enough for a warm-up.

Personally, I have found that 2-3 warm up sets get me better prepared for my work set. I think you'll discover that this is true with most bodybuilders who have applied HIT, i.e. the Mentzer brothers and Dorian Yates.
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Old 09-17-2011, 01:14 AM
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isnt this the same guy that advocates super slow training? 10second concentric and eccentric?
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Old 09-17-2011, 02:57 AM
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Originally Posted by AJW91 View Post
Actually, Arthur Jones and Dr. Darden advocated going straight into your work set... They believed that the first few reps of a set of 8-12 reps was good enough for a warm-up.

Personally, I have found that 2-3 warm up sets get me better prepared for my work set. I think you'll discover that this is true with most bodybuilders who have applied HIT, i.e. the Mentzer brothers and Dorian Yates.
Well either hes nuts or he wasn't very strong.

From what I've seen you are right, nobody does only one set. There's a few warmup sets first and maybe a rest pause or a drop set for the work set -so you end up with something that resembles volume training but isn't.
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Old 09-17-2011, 04:22 PM
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Originally Posted by EricJ123 View Post
isnt this the same guy that advocates super slow training? 10second concentric and eccentric?
No, you're thinking of Ken Hutchins. Dr. Darden is friends with Ken Hutchins and doesn't mind his protocol but Arthur Jones absolutely hated his guts and thought SuperSlow was silly.

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Originally Posted by petersouth View Post
Well either hes nuts or he wasn't very strong.

From what I've seen you are right, nobody does only one set. There's a few warmup sets first and maybe a rest pause or a drop set for the work set -so you end up with something that resembles volume training but isn't.
Well, that's how Arthur Jones trained Casey Viator... But I agree that no warm-up set(s) is not optimal for most trainees. Especially if you like to keep things in the lower rep ranges, like I do.
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