High-intensity training, or HIT, grew out of the principles espoused by Nautilus creator Arthur Jones in the 1970s. Because of this, many people associate HIT with exercise machines and assume that you need some fancy equipment to make gains using the protocol.
But is that true, or can your build muscle with HIT using just free weights?
Let’s take a quick look at HIT principles and then figure out how important machine weights vs free weights REALLY are to success.
Principles of High-Intensity Training
“High-intensity training” is a phrase coined by Jones’ student, Dr. Ellington Darden, and it encompasses a few basic principles:
- Low Frequency – three workouts or less per week
- Low Volume – one to three exercises per bodybart
- Whole-Body Workouts – all bodyparts worked in the same workout
- One Set – just one set per exercise in a workout
- Number of Repetitions – eight-to-12 reps as a starting standard
- Repetition Speed – slow and controlled
- Failure – each set taken to a point of momentary muscular failure
- Progression – add weight or reps whenever possible
If you think about these critically, you’ll realize that the only one that even implies the use of machines is repetition speed since you may think of free weight exercises as being “explosive.” The truth is, though, that you should never use momentum to move your weights if you want to train safely and productively over the long haul.
High-intensity training is all about stimulating muscle growth and then doing it again and again over the course of months and years. While specialized machines may give you SOME mechanical advantage, you can can efficiently target every body part with nothing but free weights.
Best Free-Weight Exercises for Each Body Part
In fact, most of the BEST exercises you can do for each body part are free weight movements. Here is a quick list of them:
Quadriceps – squats, hack squats, lunges
Hamstrings – stiff-leg deadlifts, hanging dumbbell leg curls
Calves – barbell calf raises on wood block, seated calf raises with dumbbell
Back – chin-ups, bent-over rows, dumbbell rows, shrugs, deadlifts
Chest – bench press, dumbbell bench press, dumbbell flyes, dips
Shoulders – military press, dumbbell press, dumbbell lateral raises
Triceps – lying triceps extensions, close-grip bench presses, dips
Biceps – barbell curls, dumbbell curls, chin-ups
Forearms – wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, reverse curls, hammer curls
Abs – crunches, sit-ups, leg raises, hanging leg raises
All of these moves can be done with a pretty basic setup, and ALL of them will let you train hard and progressively over a long period of time. That is the cornerstone of HIT!
While you can get all of the stimulation you need to grow muscle from the list of exercises above, a couple of simple “machines” can indeed add variety to your training and make it easier to isolate some muscles. Among those are a leg curl/leg extension attachment for your bench, a lat pulldown station, a calf raise machine, and maybe a leg press.
All of these are “nice-to-haves,” though, and WILL NOT make or break your HIT routine.
If you train hard and progressively, pay attention to form and recovery, and make sure your nutrition is on-point, there is no reason that free weights can’t help you get as big as your genetics allow.