Amongst the biggest buzz-words in the fitness industry right now is high intensity training (HIT). Paul Mumford notes that many are reacting as if something brand new and magical has been born but as he explains HIT has been around for much longer than you may think.

Surprisingly given its name and because it had been practiced frequently as early as the 1940’s, HIT didn’t really have a big impact on the fitness world until Arthur Jones came along! Arthur wasn’t a fitness professional or personal trainer. He didn’t even have a medical background (although many members of his close family did).

Arthur was actually a businessman and pilot who imported and collected exotic animals. He even had his own gorilla named Mickey! However, what made Arthur such an important person in fitness history was his determination to fix a problem. He always trained hard and had a passion for exercise but he noticed flaws in the established methods of strength training and began writing about his own methods.

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At the same time he worked on developing machines that could do a better job of loading his muscles than the barbells and dumbbells he was using. Peary Rader of Iron Man magazine was the first to publish his articles in 1970 and Arthur quickly became a regular contributor. Pretty soon he was writing about the collection of machines he was developing and the interest was so huge that readers began sending money as deposits.

This lead to the creation of the first Nautilus machines that included the Blue Monster, a massive contraption that resembled something you may recognise as an early multi-gym. Arthur then began training bodybuilders with his machines including Casey Viator, the youngest ever Mr America at only 19, and a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Fast forward 40 years and Nautilus is now a massive fitness brand based in Washington State and since the late Arthur Jones sold it in 1983 for $27 million, it has gone literally from strength-to-strength manufacturing equipment under numerous banners including Bowflex, Shwinn and Stairmaster.

Exercise equipment inspired by Arthur’s original concepts is now commonplace in many fitness clubs worldwide and the original Nautilus machines have undergone many developments in that time. Clubs specialising in Arthur’s methods of training are less common but the current interest in HIT could be just the thing to change that and ignite a new passion for the principals that have changed the lives of many, not just body builders.

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Ted Harrison UK Follower of the Arthur Jones’ Way
Ted Harrison has been a long time lover of the Arthur Jones’ way and continues to use it at Vital Exercise, the training studio he owns nestled in the beautiful Suffolk countryside. “I started training at around 12 or 13 years old, very much inspired by my hero, Bruce Lee whose strength and power I admired. I was using weights in my garage and reading muscle magazines filled with people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ken Waller and Mike Katz. I worked hard on their style of training and I loved it with a passion but could never really gain size.

No matter how hard I trained I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere even though all the magazines were telling me to train like Arnold, take supplements, drink protein shakes and eventually I would blossom like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, but it didn’t happen. Then one day I wondered into a newsagent while working with my father in Torquay and found a magazine with Mike Mentzer on the cover”.

Mentzer became a professional body builder after winning Mr Universe in 1978. He was also a student of the Arthur Jones’ method and a high-intensity strength training advocate. “I devoured everything he said, he made a lot of sense to me. I actually still have a cassette of his that I sent off for when I was 17 full of his training advice. I went from training 6 days a week down to 3 using the HIT method and I blossomed, gaining size and strength.

I even went on to enter a few body building competitions. Now I pass on that experience and knowledge using the latest versions of Arthur’s Nautilus machines.” Even though hard, intense training did not begin with Arthur Jones, thankfully it hasn’t ended with him either. People like Ted and notably Dr Doug McGuff (co-author of Body by Science) still continue to spearhead, hard, brief infrequent training.

So what turns a workout into a HIT workout?

“On paper, this method of training may seem scary and let there be no doubt it is very intense and hard work…”

Firstly, you don’t need any Nautilus equipment to do it even though Ted would rather use them over anything else. If you don’t have access to any you can still apply the principals using traditional gym kit or even your own bodyweight. Workouts should be short, intense and infrequent.

Ted explained that he only needs to train his client for fifteen to thirty minutes at a time once or twice a week to achieve the desired results. I asked Ted if HIT is for everyone or just the elite. “Sure it’s for everyone”, he said. “I work with people ranging from 14 to 66 in age both men and women using this method and they have all achieved great results.

Because the exercises are performed slowly there is an increased level of safety involved and less risk of injury which makes the workouts much safer than, for instance using a kettlebell which can require momentum and is much harder to control.” HIT is something I knew a little about before and had used in one form or another with some success but after trying it out properly for myself with Ted, I will definitely be adopting its principles more frequently.

On paper, this method of training may seem scary and let there be no doubt it is very intense and hard work but there is enough evidence out there to show that it can bring some impressive results. But is it fun? Well, that depends on your definition of fun I suppose but to quote the late Arthur Jones, “if you like an exercise, chances are you’re doing it wrong.”

Ted’s HIT golden rules

1.Use compound movements.

Squats, pull-ups, dead-lifts and press-ups are all classed as compound exercises as they move several muscles together and pivot at more than one joint. As opposed to biceps curls, triceps dips and chest flyes which are all isolation exercises.

The cam or spiral pulley (the important component to a Nautilus machine and the origin of its name) is fundamental in moving multiple muscles with full range and varying degrees of load through each rep even though they can be equally effective for isolation movements.

2. Use slow, controlled movement. Repetitions are performed slowly without any momentum which can assist performance. Muscular recruitment should be maintained throughout each repetition. Ted says, “Rep speed can vary workout to workout. Anywhere between five and ten seconds in each direction (concentric and eccentric).” When Ted took me through my HIT workout he told me to pay particular attention to the start and end of each rep when I lifted the weight from the stack and placed it back again.

He had this neat trick of having me imagine the bottom plate was stuck to the rest of the stack with washing up liquid and lifting it would create bubbles which I had to prevent from popping for the first few seconds of each move. This really focussed my mind on this part of the exercise where most of us would prefer to jerk the weight into motion.

3. Use maximum effort. Exercises are performed to failure at a weight you would normally cope with for 10 to 12 reps. You will only need to perform each exercise for one or two sets. Slowing the whole process down will make a difficult weight nearly impossible as your muscles quiver through the last few reps.

I asked Ted if he does anything like one rep max testing with his clients to establish loads. “My method involves starting a client at a light weight and gradually building the resistance level over a couple of workouts, until an appropriate starting level of resistance is achieved.

This allows the client to learn the exercises with a light weight and perfect their form. The same thing applies for the level of intensity. Training hard is a learned skill that has to be practised.”

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