High Intensity Training VS Volume Training

Which is Better?

I get this question all the time, and before I give you my answer, let’s take a quick look back at the history and fundamentals that each style of training offers.

HIT History

The history of HIT training started back in the seventies with a dude named Arthur Jones. This guy was smart—he was an entrepreneur who invented a line of fitness machines called Nautilus that were designed to isolate specific body parts. These Nautilus machines were usually set up in a circuit type setting so that individuals could come to the gym and hit every body part by simply running the circuit in about 20 to 40 minutes. Convenient right? So convenient in fact that gyms began investing in Nautilus machines as a primary feature to sell more memberships.


Let’s go back about 10 years earlier to the mid 1960’s where arguably some of the first machines were crafted. The country: Austria. The town: Graz. The place: a tiny gym called the Athletic Union Graz. This is where 18 hand-built machines were constructed with the help of a teenage boy…the Austrian Oak himself – Arnold Schwarzenegger! The machines consisted of a preacher curl, a pec-deck, a seated leg press, and a leg curl machine to name a few. The owner of the gym Kurt Marnul, recalls: “I remember when Arnold and I finished that (referring to the preacher curl machine). Arnold painted it, and he couldn’t wait to be the first to use it.” So technically, although he refined and brilliantly marketed the concept, Author Jones wasn’t the first to design fitness equipment! 

There are a few influential people that follow the HIT philosophy, such as the respected Dr. Ellington Darden (who has written a slew of books on HIT training), strength coach Jedi Brzycki, as well as bodybuilders like Mike and Ray Mentzer, Dorian Yates, and Casey Viator.

VT History

Volume training—doing multiple sets of an exercise for a body part—has been around since the invention of the earliest “halteres” dumbbell (about 510 BC). We’re talking about ancient Greece during the time when Spartans were training! If you ever saw the flick 300 this is the time I’m referring to. If you haven’t seen 300, stop reading this right this second and rent it! But let’s get serious and fast forward to the 1940’s with legends like John Grimek (the first Mr. America), Clancy Ross (Mr. America) and the amazing Steve Reeves (who won both the Mr. America and Mr. Universe). These guys were performing multiple sets per body part and believed in the importance of volume training to attain the perfect physique. Fast forward once again to the greatest bodybuilder of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his era of bodybuilders. We’ve all heard the two-a-day training sessions that lasted for hours, the multiple sets and the massive amount of volume that Arnold put into his training. Just about all the guys of that era followed Arnold’s lead. 

The Arnold Disclaimer

Of course the definition of volume training does not have to include massive amounts of volume in your training like Arnold and his boys were doing. Simply put, we are talking about the difference between doing a single set to failure per body part (HIT), versus doing 6 to 12 sets per body part (VT). There’s a sliding scale of volume training, whether it is low-volume training or higher volume training.

HIT vs. VT: Variables and Techniques

How do they stack up? The following chart is a simple breakdown of HIT (High Intsnsity Training) vs VT (Volume Training) on a scale from 1 to 10. The total scores are shown at the end with VT edging HIT by 53 points.

Gregg’s Take

I’m a classic volume training guy and always have been. That’s not to say you’ll see me camping out in the gym for hours doing 25 sets per body part (although I’ve thought about it – lol). I like moderate volume in the 9-12 total sets/2-3 exercises per body part range, and I prefer to train 2 body parts per workout.

I have also found that I get the best results with my personal training clients using multiple sets and exercises for each body part. If done correctly and with a good nutrition plan in place to help support their efforts, overtraining shouldn’t be an issue at all. To me there’s nothing greater than hitting a muscle from different angles, really pushing it to near failure, then allowing myself to recover before getting back under the weight for another opportunity to get stronger and grow.

Within my workouts High Intensity Training has its place and time. I am not opposed to training high intensity for a single set, but I treat it as a set technique to compliment my workout rather than a total method of training. For example, I may add in a drop-set/strip-set for a single exercise towards the end of my workout to enhance the overall training experience, but then finish with a superset of two different movements back-to-back to engorge the muscle and walk out of the gym pumped to the max.

The Avedon Disclaimer

Remember, these are solely my personal opinions. My intent is not to ruffle any feathers for those HIT people out there, nor is it to try and convert anyone from one training method to another. A lot of individuals enjoy High Intensity Training and research has supported the HIT school of thought. The intent is to answer the many questions posed to me about my personal thoughts between HIT and VT. If you’re a HIT trainer and get great results, I encourage you to keep it going and wish you all the best. My ultimate goal is to see individuals maximize their results as much as possible towards reaching their ultimate potential.

Live a High Integrity Life,

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14 Responses to “High Intensity Training VS Volume Training”

  1. melysa Says:

    a lot of Information ,nice pice of history…thanks for shearing with us your knowlege!

  2. Gregg Avedon Says:

    Glad you found it helpful.

  3. Remco van Dijl Says:

    I liked this blog, like Melysa said, a nice piece of history! Its funny to see and read the discussions on all the different websites about which of the two is the best. And in my opinion there is no best and, instead of sticking to one of the two, why not use both? Mix it up, keep it interesting and challenging.

  4. Gregg avedon Says:

    Remco, thanks for the input. Yes I agree. Like I say in the blog, I enjoy using HIT as a set technique rather than a total method of training, but I certainly do respect those HIT’sters out there! Best, Gregg

  5. Tonya Renea Says:

    Wow! What an eye opener. So important to take on new challenges that will work best for you when working for a better physique daily. I will incorporate this more from now on. I never saw a difference between the two until this reading. Healthy day, Gregg!

  6. Kristie Says:

    Thanks for the info. I haven’t been too taken with HIT training, and wasn’t about to replace my VT with it. Most of the blogs out there are touting it, and I’m glad to see a differing opinion.

  7. Anthony Says:

    Great article. What do you think of VT daily. For example doing 200 pushups daily – Mon.-Fri. with two days -weekends- off?

  8. Gregg Avedon Says:

    I wouldn’t do push-ups every day. Just like I train normally by doing a split routine to allow specific muscle groups to rest I would do the same here. Obviously the primary mover when doing push-ups is chest, but you’re also working triceps and a little back as well. (Have you ever done a bunch of push-ups and felt sore in your lats!)
    I would do my push-ups on chest days. At that point you can do your 200 push-ups, whether mixed into your workout, at the beginnning of your workout or at the end.

  9. Steve Says:

    Hi Gregg, great blog and you’re training clearly works, you’re in fantastic shape. On the volume and intensity thing. I believe they are of equal importance. You need both in your taining. And as I am not only interested in looking good but also in being strong so I must have intesity as well as volume in my training.

    What I mean is – whatever rep range I am working at – the final reps of those sets need to be hard – very hard – at or nearly at failure. That is intensity. If I’m doing heavier, lower reps I’ll need more sets – more, lighter reps, less sets.

    If I’m doing 3rm squats or presses or such like – I may do 10 sets for the exercise because I know that if I only do 5 sets then I still only really have intensity – not enough volume(15 reps) to cause growth. But if I do 10 sets (30 reps) I have volume and intesity.

    Does that make sense lol?


  10. Gregg Avedon Says:

    It all makes sense brother. To truly understand the intensity needed for those last few reps that you’re talking about you’ve got to experience it! And by the way…10 sets of squats with 30 reps per set is monsterous! I don’t think I would go that far, but I would certainly consider doing 5-6 sets of squats with my rep ranges in the 6-15 range // getting heavier as I go to near max with fewer reps. Thanks for the post.

  11. Nick Says:

    Greg, you have given great insight to these different types of training. When I hear or see HIT I immediately think of sprint and walking intervals. Thanks for the comparisons and perspective of the two!

  12. Steve Says:

    Hey Gregg,
    i didn’t mean 30 reps per set – I meant 10 sets of 3 reps equals a total of 30 reps. Whereas only 5 sets of 3 would only be a total of 15 reps.

    When targeting the high threshold motor units with heavy low rep sets I try to aim for 30 reps in total (ie 10 sets of 3) for a given exercise – to hypertrophy those fibres.

    Apologies for the confusion and I hope that clears things up 🙂

  13. Chuck Says:

    My goal is to build muscle and lose my gut. Many programs out now involve circuit training. I prefer to exercise the old fashioned way doing volume training and doing cardio separately. What is your opinion on circuit training to build muscle and shrink the waistline?

  14. Gregg Avedon Says:

    I’m currently teaching a class on Saturday’s that is a circuit training class designed to help burn fat while also developing endurance strength for the whole body. As far as buidling muscle in a circuit training environment, I have a class that is called Circuit Club which you can see at http://www.g-forcecircuitclub.com and this is definitely designed to build muscle while aslo burning through a ton of calories. The key with a circuit style like this is to still go heavy while maintaining propler form and keeping the rest times to a minimum. In the end you build endurance strength where you can move through the circuit still using compound movements like bench, squats, military press, etc…while also moving through isolation and refining movements like leg extensions, preacher curls, triceps pushdowns and chest fly’s for example.

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