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High Intensity Strength Training in Today’s Financial Times

by Fred Hahn on August 31, 2012

In today’s Financial Times there’s an article about high intensity strength training that I feel is worth shouting about. More people should know, especially seniors, how beneficial and time saving this type of exercise is.

Please enjoy!

Once a week, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the former chief executive of insurer AIG, leaves his Park Avenue office and travels across New York’s Central Park to a nondescript basement crowded with Rube Goldberg-esque machines in a brownstone building on the trendy Upper West Side. While Mr Greenberg is renowned for his strong views on business, this claustrophobic room is where the 87-year-old builds his remarkable physical strength.
Mr Greenberg is among a small group of busy New York executives who make a pilgrimage to a place called Serious Strength, a gym that specialises in a technique called high-intensity resistance training, to get a complete body workout in just 30 minutes a week. Unlike spending hours jogging on treadmills or pedalling exercise bikes, high-intensity weight training promises all the benefits of aerobics plus more strength in just a fraction of the time of conventional workouts.

“The amount of weight I can push or pull is multiples of my own strength,” boasts Mr Greenberg, who is now chairman and CEO of CV Star & Co, a financial services firm. “I’m exercising more strenuously than I ever have in my life. In just 30 minutes a week you can see progress in what you’re doing and how good you feel.”
While high-intensity weight training has been practised since the 1980s, when an entrepreneur named Arthur Jones began making gym equipment under the Nautilus brand, the technique has only recently garnered sufficient scientific support to back up its many claims of superiority as a workout regimen.

Books such as Body By Science, by a South Carolina-based emergency room physician named Doug McGuff, and The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution, by Fred Hahn, who owns Mr Greenberg’s gym in New York, describe the scientific basis for exercising compound groups of muscles to total exhaustion using very slow movements. In practice, that means five or six exercises done for just five to six super slow repetitions, or just 15 minutes of actual lifting. Some adherents, such as Dr McGuff, believe that just one workout a week is sufficient, while Mr Hahn and others prefer two workouts.

“High-intensity resistance improves blood pressure, increases the level of good cholesterol in your blood, lowers triglicyeride levels, maintains blood sugar, helps with insulin sensitivity and builds not only muscular strength but muscular endurance,” says Mr Hahn.
Dr McGuff, meanwhile, flags up the medical benefits of the high-intensity workout, which he says can help eliminate “diabetes, hypertension, gout, hypercholesterolaemia, and all the consequences of being sedentary and eating a diet of modern food”.

Although exercise fads come and go, high-intensity is in the unusual position of advocating that people actually practise it less. Hardcore bodybuilders have raised doubts about whether the system is really superior to their many hours spent in the gym, but proponents such as Mr Hahn say that while you can build muscle in long workouts, why bother when less time spent in the gym can produce such good results. Proponents also point out that everyone has a genetic limit to how strong they can get or how big their muscles will grow, no matter how much exercise they do.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the high-intensity method seems to have gained more popularity in Europe than in the fitness-crazed US, where it faded from the cover of magazines after a brief surge in popularity about 10 years ago. Dr McGuff thinks this is partly explained by the fact that recent scientific support for the method comes largely from European and Canadian universities.
“I also think Europe lacks that ‘more is better’ culture that North America has,” he adds. “We have this work ethic where the answer is always do more and do it harder. I think that makes people a lot more sceptical about an exercise system that restricts volume and frequency as a way to get results.”

While it is possible to do a high-intensity workout with barbells or even body weight, most gyms that specialise in high-intensity use machines originally designed by Mr Jones such as Nautilus and Med-X. This is because it can be dangerous to lift a heavy free weight to exhaustion. These machines involve rotation around several joints, working a large group of muscles at one time, reducing the overall time in the gym.

At least initially, the workout consists of what is termed “the big five” – a seated row, chest press, pulldown, overhead press and leg press, each done for about 90 seconds. Dr McGuff says he even gets good results doing just three exercises, provided they are done extremely slowly and to complete exhaustion, followed by several days of recuperative rest.

While 15 minutes may seem like too short a time for a complete workout, this reporter noticed a distinct impact – along with considerable soreness the next day.

One company that has capitalised on the workout’s appeal to businesspeople is Kieser Training, a Zurich-based group that has set up high-intensity gyms in Europe and Asia.

“We target the professional, middle-aged executive who wants to exercise in a serious manner,” says Marcel Haasters, a German who runs the Kieser Training gym in London’s Camden Town. “There is no music, no mirrors on the wall and no juice bar. It’s not for typical gym users but people who don’t like gyms.”

Kieser appeals especially to mobile executives because for a £580 annual fee, travelling businessmen can use any gym in the Kieser Training system from Zurich to Australia. The gym uses special machines licensed from the late Arthur Jones’s estate and features rehabilitative training as well as pure exercise.

Steven Bailey, a video games analyst for Screen Digest who lives near the City of London, says he has been doing the Kieser Training for three years and that it has changed his life. “It’s great for people like me who have a sedentary lifestyle and sit at a desk all day,” Mr Bailey says. “Before Kieser I used to collapse around 3pm but now I have a lot more energy.”

A particularly impressive piece of equipment offered by Kieser Training looks like something out of the Spanish Inquisition. Once you are strapped down and screwed into the machine, your lower body and hips are immobilised, which allows it to measure accurately the strength of your lower back muscles – which are often the bane of desk-bound executives. The Kieser machine has a computer database that compares your back strength to other individuals of your age group, and is then capable of training your back to make the muscles stronger.

Alastair McLellan, who uses the gym in Camden Town, started the workout about six years ago to help with his bad back. “The fact that I can build this strength in just one short session a week and solve my back problem makes it very good use of my time,” says the 48-year-old editor of the Health Service Journal. “It’s also allowed me to do a lot more exercise – I now cycle to work most days.”

However, the workout’s proponents admit that while the method has many benefits, a high-intensity workout or any gym programme is unlikely to help executives completely lose those unsightly guts gained from years of eating expense-account lunches. For that, dietary changes are the most important ingredient.

I've been involved in exercise ever since I became a member of The Charles Atlas Club when I was 10 years old. In 1998, I founded and established Serious Strength on the Upper West Side of NYC. My clients include kids, seniors (and everyone in between), top CEOs, celebrities, bestselling authors, journalists and TV personalities.
my book. my Gym.

in Current Affairs,Health/Fitness,strength training · 27 comments

{ 27 comments }

Brandon Schultz, D.C. September 1, 2012 at 10:59 AM

Great article Fred, congratulations! I love how HIT training takes into account that the workout is designed to be a stimulus, and takes into account people’s busy lives while giving them fantastic health and performance results.

In health,
Brandon

Dominique September 2, 2012 at 2:26 PM

Hi Fred, kudos on the article…

net to where i work there is since recently a Kieser Training branch – can you say anything about them? They are really expensive in my opinion but then again it seems they would be what is right for me – it’s not a gym :-). Still owuld love to hear opinions.

Fred Hahn September 4, 2012 at 8:38 AM

Hi Dominique –

Keiser training is a good option. Very efficient and the equipment is pretty good.

Thanks for reading!
Fred

Anonymous September 6, 2012 at 5:31 AM

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right. This post truly made my day. You cann’t imagine simply how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

Paul September 11, 2012 at 11:21 AM

Hello, I have recently found out about slow training.
I am unclear on one element – is the lifting slowed deliberately, meaning that I am lifting a weight over 5 seconds that I could lift in 1 if I really tried, or are the machines used by you Fred designed to slow one’s lift down and extend the time under tension?
I have used some machines but a little more free weights in my experience.
Thanks.
Paul

fred hahn September 11, 2012 at 12:45 PM

“Hello, I have recently found out about slow training. I am unclear on one element – is the lifting slowed deliberately, meaning that I am lifting a weight over 5 seconds that I could lif1 t in if I really tried, or are the machines used by you Fred designed to slow one’s lift down and extend the time under tension?
I have used some machines but a little more free weights in my experience.”

Yes, my equipment is designed, somewhat, to do this. But ideally the weights you choose regardless of the type of equipment will disallow a 1 second positive on most exercises. Some of my machines require that you purposefully NOT toss or yank the weight quickly since they are not specially retrofitted.

Trying to move a load as fast as you can does not make an exercise better or more productive. It just makes the exercise more dangerous.

Paul September 11, 2012 at 1:25 PM

Thanks for the reply, Fred.
I wasn’t referring quite to tossing a weight, but 1sec, maybe closer to 2 sec, isn’t that fast for a lift like a bench press, which has a moderate range of motion. I was more interested if one in your system deliberately avoids pushing as hard as they can on a lift, which it sounds like you recommend.

fred hahn September 11, 2012 at 2:10 PM

Paul –

The main purpose of weight lifting is to make the muscles larger and stronger, correct?

In order to do this, the muscles must be worked hard enough or intensely enough to spark a positive tissue remodeling response. Pushing as hard as you can on the first few reps is not a requirement. Taking the muscle(s) to a deep level of fatigue is. Hennenman’s theory or orderly recruitment.

We want to achieve this safely and also efficiently.

Martin September 11, 2012 at 3:22 PM

Fred, is there a variant of slow lifting aimed specifically at maximizing strength without muscle gains? The assumption behind is of course that one already has enough muscles. This is exactly my case, it seems that I gain muscle easily with resistance training but what I am really interested in is strength gains relative to my body mass.

fred hahn September 11, 2012 at 3:36 PM

Martin – Not sure how you’d build more strength – true strength – not skill at lifting – without more muscle.

EX: If you know nothing about Olympic lifting especially the snatch, you current snatch maximum is what a 110 pound female Olympic lifter warms up with.

BUT she is NOT stronger than you. She has the skills to make a lift like that and you don’t.

Once you acquired the skill after a few weeks or even months, you will of course surpass her. But at the same time, you may also add no additional muscle to do this. You are simply now adept at that lift.

Now, if you want to take your snatch to Olympic levels in your weight class (if possible), skill is certainly #1 but it is not enough. You’ll have to add some muscle mass. It is possible that in order to do this, you’d move into a higher weight class. Fine line there.

Paul September 11, 2012 at 4:27 PM

Fred, your response to Martin does not seem to make sense in light ofthe ability of people to train to increase the amount of muscle fibers they can recruit in a lift? Maybe I misunderstand your response /position.
For people unfamiliar with the idea, this link describes it roughly in the second paragraph –
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-does-exercise-make-yo but is probably better explained elsewhere.

“The neural basis of muscle strength enhancement primarily involves the ability to recruit more muscle cells–and thus more power strokes–in a simultaneous manner, a process referred to as synchronous activation. This is in contradistinction to the firing pattern seen in untrained muscle, where the cells take turns firing in an asynchronous manner. Training also decreases inhibitory neural feedback, a natural response of the central nervous system to feedback signals arising from the muscle. Such inhibition keeps the muscle from overworking and possibly ripping itself apart as it creates a level of force to which it is not accustomed. This neural adaptation generates significant strength gains with minimal hypertrophy and is responsible for much of the strength gains seen in women and adolescents who exercise. It also utilizes nerve and muscle cells already present and accounts for most of the strength increases recorded in the initial stages of all strength training, because hypertrophy is a much slower process, depending, as it does, on the creation of new muscle proteins. Thus, overall, the stress of repeated bouts of exercise yield neural as well as muscular enhancements to increase muscle strength. ”

Martin – I do not know how this relates to slowburn training. I do know that the trainer Pavel has promoted training methods aimed at the goal of maximizing strength with low size growth so you might want to look up his work “Power to the People” and see what he has to say.
Paul

fred hahn September 12, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Paul –

What you present does not alter or negate what I said. In fact, it’s the same thing.

Pavel doesn’t understand that whatever he is doing that is making someone stronger but not more muscular is an outcome of what I explained above – not any specific program he’s developed. He’s a VG marketer.

Martin September 12, 2012 at 2:56 PM

Fred, Paul, thanks for your replies!

I did think, in fact, about neuro-muscular aspects of strength, recruitment would be one of them. Now, I do understant that it related to the specific sport/activity or even the specific movement pattern one wants to get better at.

In my case, the activity is climbing/bouldering. To get better at specific problems/movements I need to practise them. I might get stronger in the process, but I might also injur myself heavily. That’s the risk I accept but also want to minimize. Therefore I am interested in the slow burn-type of training as a low-risk conditioning program. I’ve had some good experience with slow body weight exercises, e.g. pull-ups, push-ups, dips, squats, 10 sec concentric +10 excentric, for 3-5 reps – these make me stronger. The problem I have is that I easily get “anabolic” – I do seem to gain body mass easily when performing high intensity training. Yes, I get stronger, but also a bit heavier, which does harm my climbing as fingers are typically the bottle neck. I have not tried working with machines (I understand that the same simple body-weight movements I do can be practised with machines, potentially in a safer way) but I guess I would gain muscle mass just as easily.

Hence my intial question: is there a specific ratio of load to time under load, that would result in lower muscle growth while still increasing some aspects of strength? I hope this question makes sense.

I guess I’d have a second question regarding the body-weight variant of slow-burn. Assuming one has a perfect form (and I have practised variants of these routines for +20 years, no injuries, so I guess my form is not bad), could be a replacement for machines? Or would you still recommend the latter?

Thanks again for your responses, and well, all the information you share via the books and the blog.

Martin September 12, 2012 at 3:02 PM

as an example of the different load to time under load ratios: the pull-up routine I currently do consists in around 5 repetions of 10 sec up +10 down ~= 1min 40s sec of time under load.

What if I added extra weight to be able to do 1 pull-up only – ~20sec. How differently would it affect muscle gain and strength?

oscar September 12, 2012 at 3:57 PM

Fred, you talked about skill but did not explain what you meant again. Before the last comments I participated in degenerated into name calling you also chose to respond in a way that was both flippant but dismissive as you do here.

Your response includes the phrase “true strength – not skill at lifting” so you are clearly differentiating these two things. So you do think training that reduced neural inhibition is only skill training and is not making one stronger?

Martin, on previous comments thread on this site Fred has claimed to be able to make stronger, and therefore improve the performance of, virtually any world class athlete not using his methods already (which would be all world class athletes it appears) so you can consider Fred the true oracle for training techniques or you might want to consider his self-esteem to be out of balance and consider consulting people who have actual experience in the situation you are pursuing.
Oscar

fred hahn September 12, 2012 at 4:31 PM

“Fred, you talked about skill but did not explain what you meant again. Before the last comments I participated in degenerated into name calling you also chose to respond in a way that was both flippant but dismissive as you do here.”

***Learning something new is what I mean. I called no one names. If you choose to take my comments as flippant and dismissive that is up to you.

“Your response includes the phrase “true strength – not skill at lifting” so you are clearly differentiating these two things. So you do think training that reduced neural inhibition is only skill training and is not making one stronger?”

***It makes the demonstration of strength better by turning off the golgi tendon organ inhibition.

“Martin, on previous comments thread on this site Fred has claimed to be able to make stronger, and therefore improve the performance of, virtually any world class athlete not using his methods already (which would be all world class athletes it appears) so you can consider Fred the true oracle for training techniques or you might want to consider his self-esteem to be out of balance and consider consulting people who have actual experience in the situation you are pursuing.”

****Strawman. I never said that. I said that if a highly skilled Olympic athlete wants to be better at his sport, he needs to be stronger. This is why Lance and others did what they did to their hormones. Can I make any athlete stronger? I think so since athletes are humans and I make humans stronger every day. Is it possible that some athletes are at their physical peak and there is nothing I can do for them? Sure.

oscar September 12, 2012 at 4:49 PM

“***It makes the demonstration of strength better by turning off the golgi tendon organ inhibition. ”
The demonstration of strength better? What does that mean? That the person can tap into a greater percentage of their available ability and use it in the real world in a particular instance? To me it sounds like a way of avoiding calling a person stronger.
You are not calling this a skill so if someone increases the strength they can exhibit through reduced neural inhibition then I think we should consider it proper to describe them as “stronger.”
Oscar

oscar September 12, 2012 at 4:49 PM

Fred, you previously called the sumoman a “human mellon” – I consider that name calling.
http://slowburnfitness.com/how-to-lose-fat-successfully/#comment-5287

oscar September 12, 2012 at 4:57 PM

See what “Tim” wrote:
“Fred,
One thing I can learn from the exchange of these clones is that any world class athlete would be much better if you were their strength trainer…”
and Fred you responded:
****Thanks. I agree with you but what’s worse, is the time they waste and the injuries they sometimes sustain for no good reason.

These claims are essentially similar to what I posted a couple comments above thus they cannot be rebutted by your favorite “strawman” response. If you really do agree with Tim and really do think that you can make any athlete stronger you should try pursuing this professionally since I think this service provided to a top athlete would be lucrative and provide good opportunities for travel, learning and much general enjoyment plus chances to demonstrate the superiority of your methods to the public.

Oscar

fred hahn September 12, 2012 at 5:02 PM

I gave an example of skill in Olympic lifting. Another way to look at it is to test static strength on a MedX or a BioDex device.

EX: You exert your strongest pulling effort against one of these devices. The tensiometer gives you a readout. Let’s say it reads 500 foot pounds of torque.

You test again several times over the course of a week and the best score you can produce is 525#.

Now, your best snatch is 100 pounds. Pitiful compared to others your weight and size. But you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. The 115 pound, 14 year old next to you with pencil-sized arms is routinely warming up with your max.

A month later with expert coaching you are now snatching 175. Still pitiful compared to other skilled lifters your size but you’re getting better.

You go back to the BioDex machine and test your pulling strength. The best you can do is still 525#.

Even though you have significantly increased your snatch load, you are NOT stronger. You are only more skilled at the snatch.

THAT SAID, by practicing Olympic lifting enough to improve your snatch, you will more than likely increase your strength since after all, weight lifting is weight lifting.

I hope that makes sense.

fred hahn September 12, 2012 at 5:05 PM

“These claims are essentially similar to what I posted a couple comments above thus they cannot be rebutted by your favorite “strawman” response. If you really do agree with Tim and really do think that you can make any athlete stronger you should try pursuing this professionally since I think this service provided to a top athlete would be lucrative and provide good opportunities for travel, learning and much general enjoyment plus chances to demonstrate the superiority of your methods to the public.”

I have a family, live well, and don’t care to enter that world. It is not “my method” that is superior BTW. it’s NOT my method. I popularized a potent and safe way of strength training that has been around for decades.

fred hahn September 12, 2012 at 5:10 PM

“Fred, you previously called the sumoman a “human mellon” – I consider that name calling.
http://slowburnfitness.com/how-to-lose-fat-successfully/#comment-5287

C’mon Oscar – totally out of context. More strawman nonsense. We were both joking with each other. Juan and I have been ribbing each other since he had hair on his head.

oscar September 20, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Fred
Perhaps you have a history with the sumoman that allows for playfulness in these exchanges which I am not familiar with.
I do feel that you have not grappled with the notions of neural training effects described above .
Also I wonder if you have ever tried to utilize methods described by the sumoman since it seems like your facilities could allow you to do so in ways that would match your unusually high need for safety. Many machines I have seen allow for configurations that can be used for partial movement so you could say use your chest presser machine to the full stack of plates at the top end of movement safely for as slow and as long as you want.
But if you are continuing to make great progress in your methods it would make sense that you would not try new methods.
Oscar

fred hahn September 20, 2012 at 9:45 AM

“Perhaps you have a history with the sumoman that allows for playfulness in these exchanges which I am not familiar with.”

***Correct.

“I do feel that you have not grappled with the notions of neural training effects described above .”

****Don’t know what to tell you.

“Also I wonder if you have ever tried to utilize methods described by the sumoman since it seems like your facilities could allow you to do so in ways that would match your unusually high need for safety.”

****I have indeed trained with free weights – for years in fact. I got good results. You’re statement about safety is quite odd. I am a professional trainer. Saftey is always, and I mean always first.

“Many machines I have seen allow for configurations that can be used for partial movement so you could say use your chest presser machine to the full stack of plates at the top end of movement safely for as slow and as long as you want.”

****Been there and done that. I have experimented with a lot of different methods.

“But if you are continuing to make great progress in your methods it would make sense that you would not try new methods.”

****At 51 years old, I am in great shape. Many years of martial arts ruing my knees over time as well as my lower back (which has a fused L5/S1) so this is my weak link strength wise. Sucks.

Adam September 21, 2012 at 1:14 AM

found this pic on reddit, Fred – thought you might enjoy: http://i.imgur.com/5I3cG.png

fred hahn September 21, 2012 at 7:36 AM

Yes I used this exact pic in my recent talk on the 2012 Low Carb Cruise.

Funny how ACE and the ACSM, discuss and even endorse this sort of training yet to this day have made no mention of slow rep, high intensity training.

Stockholm December 2, 2012 at 4:55 PM

Fred,

Just finished reading your excellent book The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution after reading the FT article in September.

I live in Sweden (Stockholm) and wanted to know if you can recommend any gyms or companies that offer a similar program as that of Kieser Training etc. ?

Thanks!

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