Progressive Overload or HIT training? A common question for a lot of people but which one should you start using?
Let’s talk about the strategies serious bodybuilders use to avoid getting diminishing returns from their workout regimens.
Adapt and overcome
The truth is that, beyond a certain threshold of dedication, the quest to grow muscle mass apparently hits a wall. In order to move beyond this plateau and continue seeing muscle gains, the workout has to continue to be a challenge.
Maintaining a workout past its point of effectiveness can’t hurt, but once the muscle mass-building potential of any specific workout type has been tapped out, that workout will begin to act more like maintenance.
This is good in its own right, however, if growth is what is desired, this won’t do. As they say, the definition of madness is to keep doing the same things expecting different results.
Sculpting better, bigger muscles requires effort above and beyond that necessary for mere maintenance. What is necessary is a way to ensure that muscles receive the clear message that they need to grow, in order to keep up with the demands placed on them.
But how to send this message in a way that minimizes pain insofar as possible, and without dangerous overkill?
We’re going to take a comparative look at two distinct philosophies available to bodybuilders to keep challenging their bodies.
Which training method is for you?
The first is called “Progressive Overload.” The second was dubbed “pre-exhaustion training,” or “HIT.”
Both approaches assume that the body needs to be pushed if it is going to grow skeletal muscle mass.
Since the inevitable result of finding a comfort zone and staying there will be a plateau, creating new demands for the body, and even forcing it to respond to them if need be, is the only thing that will keep it active and able to grow as desired.
Hence the workouts have to remain continuously challenging, and they must grow with the level of fitness and ambitions of the person undergoing them. However, the two workout philosophies differ as to when it is the best time to apply the extra pressure.
The guiding principle of “Progressive Overload” is to continuously increasing demand on the body during workouts in order to catalyze muscle growth, strength, and endurance.
Essentially, the muscles have to be worked harder than they’re already accustomed to. Increasing resistance is what Progressive Overload most often relies on, though that is not the only way to raise the overload level.
Of course, this increase in the demands placed on the body has to be gradual and commensurate with the abilities of the gym-goer in question, hence the term ‘progressive.’
Sheer overload spells burnout, injury, basically the opposite of improvement. And it goes without saying that being consistent is key in achieving the improvements desired.
On the flipside there is another danger: if demand on the target muscles is not maintained, and especially if it is decreased, the result will be muscle atrophy and loss of mass and strength.
The wisdom of “Progressive Overload” is that when your body adapts to the new demands placed on it, it will not offer further gains all by itself. It will only grow in response to further added demands placed on it.
Sometimes, it might prove to a struggle to keep moving forward, especially with the Progressive Overload style of training but having a stimulant like the Blood & Guts Pre-Workout can give you the edge while training.
Therefore, adhering to the progressive overload school entails a commitment to increasing levels of effort in order to stay in the game. It is important to know what you are signing up for.
Where can Progressive Overload be applied?
Of course, Progressive Overload is not just some isolated training strategy. Whether explicitly or implicitly, it will be part of any successful resistance training in some way, shape, or form.
One thing that you should remember about progressive overload is that it is also not limited to weight-lifting.
This school of thought applies to any workout regimen targeting cardiovascular fitness, impacting aerobic metabolism and the cardio-respiratory system.
Progressive Overload stems from the simple observation that the body responds to the demands placed on it. Hence, in order to grow, the demands have to keep being raised.
As you implement this growth strategy and increase the resistance you set for yourself in your training, initially, there will be a natural decrease in the number of repetitions of that exercise which you are able to do.
This is temporary. As your resistance grows, so does your ability to perform more repetitions of that specific exercise.
Alternatively, instead of upping resistance (i.e. weight in this case), a different option to raise the demands placed on the body is to increase the number of repetitions of that particular exercise during a workout session.
Whichever way you choose, the cutoff point for the increases in the overload is not arbitrary. Like any natural limit, it has to be discovered by trial and error.
Increasing the volume
The umbrella term for all the variables involved in Progressive Overload is volume. Progressive Overload is about increasing volume in whichever way is appropriate to your needs.
Other ways to modulate training and increase impact and muscle growth are by increasing training frequency, and decreasing the time between training sessions.
Differential emphasis on these ways of increasing overload has differential outcomes.
The 8- to 12- rep range promotes muscle growth while increasing the load favors greater strength. And if higher levels of muscle endurance are desired, more repetitions, not higher load, should be aimed for.
Other variables address yet other aspects of what could possibly be desired from a workout. Thus, while a bodybuilder may aim for an increase in total workout volume, decreasing rest time between sets and increasing repetitions is the ticket for those interested in building up endurance and cardiovascular fitness.
The “Progressive Overload” tenet is that whatever direction you push it in, the body will follow.
The HIT training philosophy is a different approach to reaching similar goals. It originated with a man called Arthur Jones, who wanted to do something about the issue of diminishing returns for workouts that remain largely unchanged over time.
Rather counter-intuitively, Jones noticed that a reduction in training volume and frequency actually led to surprising muscular growth. He discovered this while experimenting with reducing training times.
“HIT” stands for “high-intensity training,” and is based on the principle that a muscle should be worked as hard as possible, but only in short bursts.
Believe it or not, the aim is to achieve “momentary muscular failure” (a fairly anxiety-inducing name, meaning simply that your muscles can no longer produce the adequate force to overcome the workload set for them, a situation which promotes growth), by deploying a considerable amount of effort on each set of exercises.
HIT System and Gym Equipment
This technique ensures the utilization of the maximum number of muscle fibers.
Jones developed the Nautilus, a workout machine for targeting muscle via low-repetition exercise sets.
The HIT system and the Nautilus machines were designed for obtaining maximum results with the minimum amount of training. The machines aimed to create intensity and also to disprove the theory that it is impossible to train big muscles because of the weaker “accessory muscles.”
Specifically, HIT works by pre-fatiguing primary muscles through isolation exercises, thereafter introducing compound exercises. HIT is compatible with a supplement like HIT BCAA (branched-chain amino acids), which provides a boost that will allow you to do your reps to the last and actually achieve true muscular failure, as desired.
The consensus is that HIT is indeed the right strategy for muscle development, with the caveat that one of its potential drawbacks is the risk of overdoing things. Recovery, nutrition, and rest are as important as the training itself in order to reach HIT’s potential and let the muscles develop.
Products such as DY’s The Glutamine are formulated specifically to aid in this process of muscle recovery. HIT-style training depletes glutamine stores in the body, therefore taking care to replenish your stores of this substance becomes imperative when doing this style of workout.
HIT Results - Dorian Yates
The HIT workout has a great track record. It is what has delivered results for none other than Dorian Yates himself. You can check out Dorian's back routine here.
Of course, workout style is just one of the relevant members of the nutrition, training, and supplementation equation.
Provided proper attention is paid to all of them, according to Dorian, most people can expect great benefits from 2-3 one-hour weekly sessions. The secret is to give 100% of your energy in these sessions, physically and mentally.
At such a level of dedication, HIT is considered to be highly effective in building up strength and muscle mass, as is apparent from Dorian’s own athletic trajectory.
But given the demanding nature of this workout, with its hazards of misapplication, it has to be properly understood before it can be put to good use by the casual bodybuilder.
A final word here: genetic variations can account for differential outcomes in terms of how much muscle mass can be gained by various people through HIT.
However, pros of Dorian’s caliber have used it to stunning effect in their athletic careers. This is, in itself, hat Progressive Overload, despite its merits, has to take a back seat in relation to HIT as a more successful strategy.
After all, HIT provided Dorian with the means to achieve his six-time Mr. Olympia winning streak.