Is High-Intensity Training For EVERY Lifter?

High-Intensity Training, or HIT, is a system of brief but brutal workouts built on the premise that you should do just ONE set per exercise and take every set to failure. While controversial, HIT has been used by men like Casey Viator, Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates to get bigger and leaner than ever before, and it works because it focuses on muscle stimulation and progression above all else.

After reading a book on HIT or watching the Mike Mentzer HIT DVD, you may ask yourself – Can such a simple but intense approach work for all different kinds of lifters, or does it take a special set of circumstances to make HIT work?

While there may be some who respond better to other protocols, here is how high-intensity training can help EVERY type of lifter, at least to some degree.


HIT is nearly perfect for beginners because it allows them to hit each body part frequently — 3 times per week to start — without overloading their systems through excessive volume. It also forces them to learn and concentrate on the big moves for each muscle group, setting them up for the best possible gains.

The one potential drawback to HIT for beginners is the intensity itself because it can be so demanding. The “good” news is that most people aren’t able to REALLY generate peak intensity when starting out, but build to it over time. It may be prudent for beginners to stop short of true failure in their sets for a while, though.

Advanced Lifters

One of the knocks on HIT is that it’s not suitable for advanced lifters trying to get as big and gnarly as possible.

Truth is, old-school HIT does limit the number of exercises per body part to just one or two, which can be a little sparse for guys looking to REALLY carve in detail to a championship physique. The solution for them is to move to a more extreme training split so that they can concentrate on one or two muscle groups at a time and to ALSO add in more exercises.

Even then, these lifters can still benefit from other HIT principles like training to failure and a focus on slow, controlled reps.

High-intensity training, even the classic style of 2-3 full-body workouts a week, is also a great change-of-pace approach for guys who have been training with high-volume splits for a good while.

Elderly Trainers

Elderly lifter have unique challenges in the gym, but they have muscles just like everyone else. And probably MORE than anyone else, older lifters need their muscle and strength just to stay mobile and functional.

High-intensity training is a solid approach to resistance training for these folks, even if they’ve never lifted before. The focus on strict form and poundage progression, coupled with plenty of recovery time, can work very well even for those with compromised health and brittle bones and joints.

Of course, great care must be taken to find exercises that don’t cause joint pain, and the elderly, too, may need to shy away from full-out failure training, at least until they build up their heart and lung capacity.


The main difference between women and men when it comes to strength training is hormonal: men have more testosterone, while women have more estrogen.

In practice, this means that men will be stronger on the whole, but it changes nothing about the way we should approach our resistance training. Women’s muscles need direct, intense stimulation in order to grow larger and stronger, and HIT can deliver that muscular stress.

In fact, women may get even MORE out of HIT than men do, because women tend to be able to focus better during a set and really hone in on the muscle they’re training. And for women concerned about getting “huge,” there’s probably not much to worry about. Eating a modest diet and maintaining your general health will keep you trim and your hormones balanced.

With a high estrogen-to-testosterone ratio, there is little chance of any woman becoming frighteningly large.

Not for Everyone

Though HIT can and will work for just about every type of lifter, that doesn’t mean it will work for every individual.

Some people just can’t or don’t want to generate the kind of intensity necessary to make one set per exercise productive, and some just love to be in the gym more than HIT will allow.

For just about everyone else, though, high-intensity training can help you move toward your physique goals if you use it intelligently.