High Intensity Training Versus Volume Training

Mike Westerdal
Written By: Mike Westerdal
August 11th, 2010
Updated: October 27th, 2021
29.4K Reads
Man without shirt sitting in gym holding dumbbells
Mike Westerdal lays out the differences between high intensity training and volume training, and tells you which might be better for your body type.

There are lots of different training methodologies out there with new ones popping up all the time-most of these are just "flashes in the pan." Guys are all over them one week and on to something else the next. High Intensity Training (HIT) and Volume Training have both been around for a while though and neither of them is a flash in the pan. Each has plenty of followers and both camps seem to be pleased with the results they get. What's the difference between the two? Is one better than the other? Let's take a closer look and you can decide for yourself.

High Intensity Training (HIT)

High Intensity Training (HIT) has been around since the 1970s. There are lots of variations but overall, the underlying premise of HIT is that weightlifting sessions should be brief, intense and infrequent - basically, it's low volume/high intensity. Followers of HIT believe that this is the most effective way to stimulate gains in both muscle strength and size. From that perspective HIT makes sense since gains in size and strength are the result of the body's reaction to the "stress" of lifting weights.

In the original incarnation of HIT, one high-intensity set done to failure for each body part was all that was needed. Each training session would typically be an all body workout done three times a week. Later, as people began to experiment with the routine, it became more common to do three sets of each exercise (body part) to failure, breaking the sessions into upper body/lower body or some similar combination.

In all versions of HIT though, there are some basic underlying principles that remain constant. These include:

  1. Each workout has to be intense;
  2. Each set is performed until failure;
  3. Each workout should be more challenging than the previous one;
  4. Proper form is essential - each rep is performed in a deliberate, controlled manner;
  5. Training sessions should be less than one hour;
  6. For each body part, perform from 1-3 sets and no more; and
  7. Rest is important-don't train more than 2-3 times per week.

Volume Training (VT)

With Volume Training the emphasis is of course of on volume - not just in the number of sets performed, but also in the number of training sessions per week. With HIT, you're only doing from 1-3 sets per exercise/body part but in contrast, if you're doing VT, you might be doing from a low of 12 to a high of 24, 30 sets ore even more, per body part. Also, with VT workouts are more frequent-up to 5 or 6 days per week.

There are other differences between the two as well. For example, unlike the slow, controlled movements of HIT, Volume Training movements tend to be explosive, incorporating both slow and fast movements, depending on the exercise. Also, since you're doing more reps (higher volume), the weight load in VT is going to be lower than in HIT. Lastly, because of the higher number of reps, VT more of a "pump" than you'll realize with HIT.

So given the information above, is one of these workout plans better than the other? The right answer is that "it depends," and that's not a cop-out answer. First of all, it depends in part, on your body type. Ectomorphs tend to respond better to VT better than HIT. Ectomorphs are thin, light-framed and sometimes have long limbs. For these guys, it takes longer to gain muscle than for your average mesomorph, who usually has a more rectangular frame with more muscle mass. A lot of ectomorphs really need the longer workouts and higher reps to stimulate muscle growth. Conversely, for most mesomorphs, a HIT routine is usually going to result in greater gains.

Some other factors that can influence your choice of routines include skill level, weight training goals (do you want to get big or just tone up?), the amount of time your body needs to recover and how often you're able to workout.

It's also important to note that the key to long-term gains in bodybuilding is remembering that no single routine will consistently work for anyone. Once the muscles become accustomed to a routine, it's time to mix things up and try something new. So if you've done a 12-week cycle of VT, you could switch it up with a HIT cycle or vice versa. The bottom line is that both of these routines come up winners - it's what you make of either one of them that's going to make the difference.

Posted on: Sun, 07/20/2014 - 04:57

I like both and alternate them every other workout per body part and it seems to be working. My heavy low rep day is using HIT principles and the next workout for that body part (about 5 days later) will be about 12 reps with a little faster cadence but in strict form as are all my reps. I believe doing it this way will shock the muscles when you come back around to the heavy HIT day. This adds variety to the workouts and so it's not constantly heavy/slow low reps all the time which can take a toll on your joints and tendons after a while I believe. I am 50 now and have been doing it like this for years and virtually no injuries to speak of.

Posted on: Fri, 04/26/2013 - 05:14

following dorian yates blood and guts since 4 weeks and gained 4 kgs. hit works very well for me. im an endo-mesomorph