The Rebirth of HIT

An Interview with Dr. Ellington Darden

The audience that day at Duke University was getting restless. They were also getting insulted. The speaker had begun the seminar with a lecture about ignorance and stupidity, implying not so subtly that those who didn't accept his ideas were of the former persuasion. He ridiculed the audience, ignored the scheduled break times, and threatened to "whip the ass" of a graduate student who dared question him.

This was, after all, a man who'd once jerked a young Arnold Schwarzenegger out of a car and told him to shut his yapping trap. He certainly wasn't going to entertain the criticisms of some skinny college kid.

The year was 1975. The speaker was Arthur Jones, inventor and founder of Nautilus and the father of high-intensity training. By all accounts, Jones was a genius on many levels, but no one ever called him a "people person."

Finally, Jones was whisked off stage and one of his assistants was asked to save the day and explain this new training concept... without kicking anyone's ass. The employee of Jones was a young Ph.D. who'd won the Mr. Texas and Collegiate Mr. America contests a couple of years before.

In 1972, Ellington Darden, author of The New HIT, won the Collegiate Mr. America. When this photo was taken, Darden was 5' 11" tall and weighed 195 pounds.

Nervous but competent, he pulled it off. During the impromptu presentation, the young man referred to high-intensity training using the acronym HIT. The abbreviation stuck, and Dr. Ellington Darden took his place in bodybuilding history.

That was almost 30 years ago and today Ell Darden is still the modern voice of HIT. He's written more than a dozen books on the subject, but hasn't focused on the hardcore bodybuilding market since 1993. Disappointed with the state of modern bodybuilding training, he decided to revive and update HIT, the revolutionary and controversial training method that once changed the face of muscle building.

The HIT resurrection started with the publication of his new book, The New High-Intensity Training. T-Nation decided to sit down with Dr. Darden to discuss the book and what's become known as "New HIT."

T-Nation: There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about HIT. Can you sum it up for us?

For many years, Arthur Jones traveled the world filming and capturing wild animals for his documentary television programs. Here, he is shown in his African base camp in 1968 feeding a baby elephant. In his left hand is one of his favorite means of protection: a lightweight M2 carbine.

T-Nation: What's the difference between HIT, Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty, and New HIT?

T-Nation: Gotcha. One of the underpinnings of HIT is outright hard work and intensity, but how is that defined? By going to failure? Contracting hard? Perceived effort? Making war faces?


T-Nation: HIT is also known for stressing good form as in "train to failure but use good form." However, in your book you describe a set of HIT barbell curls with "loose form" and cheating the last few reps up. I'm confused.


T-Nation: Most HIT programs involve full-body workouts. Why is full-body training such a cornerstone of HIT?


Many champion bodybuilders of the 1940s and 1950s applied whole-body routines for the majority of their workouts. Pictured above are Steve Reeves (Mr. America 1947), John Grimek (Mr. America 1940, 1941), and George Eiferman (Mr. America 1948).

T-Nation: He did have a way with words. The cover of your new book, The New High Intensity Training, contains the blurb "Add up to 18 pounds of muscle in just two weeks." Is that even possible?


T-Nation: Let me play devil's advocate. It's "muscle memory," it's water gain, it's fat gain... In short, is it real muscle? Are those who see such gains in any special situations, like coming back from an injury or using steroids?

In only two weeks, David Hudlow's body weight increased from 173-1/2 to 192 pounds. In this same time span, he added 1-3/8 inches to each arm, 3 inches to his chest, and 1-5/8 inches to each thigh.

T-Nation: That's amazing. What's this unique creatine-loading procedure?

T-Nation: You mentioned the infamous Colorado Experiment with Casey Viator. What happened there?


T-Nation: I know Arthur Jones was really opposed to steroid use, but is it possible that Viator just pulled the wool over his eyes? I mean, Arthur was in a position to where he would really, really want to believe what he was seeing.

T-Nation: You've written about how when Arthur trained Viator, he grew like a weed, but when Viator trained himself he lost muscle. Why exactly?


In his best condition, at a height of 5' 8" and a weight of 218 pounds, Casey Viator won the 1971 AAU Mr. America. Of the 60 overall winners of this title, Viator at age 19, was the youngest

T-Nation: Original HIT focused a lot on machines, and no wonder since it was associated with Nautilus. What about New HIT?


T-Nation: No one really knew the word "overtraining" until Arthur Jones began publishing articles in Ironman in the early 70's. Today we have strength coaches who think everyone is overtrained and strength coaches who think there's no such thing as overtraining. How do you respond to that?


T-Nation: There also seems to be a lot of emphases on "functional strength" and performance in the weight training world, even for those that don't play a sport. I think this may be because many of the people writing articles and publishing books these days work with athletes, not bodybuilders. Has cosmetic bodybuilding been lost? Can HIT satisfy those in the "functional" mindset?


T-Nation: Makes sense. Now, the subtitle of your book is "The Best Muscle-Building System You've Never Tried." I think I know what that's getting at. When I told people I was doing an article about HIT, I was met with a lot of resistance; it even ticked a few people off that I'd dare bring up the subject. Yet all these people admitted they've never read any of the HIT books and have never actually tried this method of training. What's going on here?


T-Nation: It seems the new "fad" or way of doing things in strength training now is to not train to failure, which is the opposite of HIT. "Training to failure is training to fail. Do you want to fail?" ...that kind of mentality. Is training to failure really necessary for muscular gains?


Casey Viator contracts his muscular arms and back.

T-Nation: What about rest between sets? I know that Arthur Jones often prescribed little to no rest and a heart-bursting pace.


A 1975 photo of Don Shula, coach of the Miami Dolphins, observing Arthur Jones train an athlete on the Nautilus Multi-Biceps machine.

T-Nation: Another trend in strength training is to not pay much attention to the negative and focus instead on lifting hard and fast through the concentric. HIT really stresses the eccentric though, correct? Even using some all-negative days?


T-Nation: Okay, here's a common criticism of HIT: "It works for a while, but then you need to switch to something else, just like with every other style of training." Is that true?


T-Nation: Your new approach to HIT involves occasional not-to-failure or NTF (not to failure) workouts. Some diehard HITters are throwing fits about this suggestion. Why NTF workouts?


T-Nation: Got it. One of the best things about your book is the stories and anecdotes of golden age bodybuilders. Do you have any new ones?


Wilbur Miller of Cimarron, Kansas, in 1964 deadlifted 715 pounds for a world record. Miller is a staunch believer in applying weight-training basics.

T-Nation: What do you think of modern professional bodybuilders and the direction of the sport in general?


After winning the 1970 Mr. Olympia, 23-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Arthur Jones at his Nautilus headquarters in Florida. Not only did Jones train Schwarzenegger, but he also took his arm measurements. Jones was a stickler for accuracy. The measurements had to be taken cold (not pumped), on the first contraction, with a thin newspaper strip marked with a steel ruler (to avoid the typical tape shrinkage), at right angles (not slanted) to the upper-arm bones, and with the newspaper strip pulled tight. Under these precise conditions, Schwarzenegger's right arm (his best) measured 19-1/2 inches and his left measured 19 inches
When the new HIT book became available on September 22, 2004, it immediately jumped to #33 on Amazon.com's bestselling list of "bodybuilding weight training" books. Several days later it moved to #12, then #7, and on September 30th, it was #5. Let's make it #1. Spread the word!

For more info on Ell's newest book, The New High Intensity Training, visit his website at DrDarden.com.