High Intensity Training Vs. High Volume, Which Style Of Training Is Best For You?

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High Intensity Training Vs. High Volume, Which Style Of Training Is Best For You?


In the fitness world, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is all the rage. You've probably heard various benefits touted all over the place, but what is the actual science behind this training design? Would a high-volume interval training (HVIT) approach or a combination approach of variable-intensity interval training (VIIT) better meet training goals?

Discover the distinctions and how to use the variables of movement quality and quantity to achieve better results. It doesn't matter if you're a strength and conditioning coach or a personal trainer; everyone can benefit from understanding the distinctions between HIIT, HVIT, and VIIT (and even SIT).

You'd be hard pressed to find a fitness program, product, or menu that doesn't promote high-intensity interval training these days (HIIT). So, what's the deal with these trending and popular shows? One undeniable fact is that an individual can achieve comparable results to those obtained through higher-volume, lower-intensity workouts in less time.

Similar results have been demonstrated with up to 90% less training volume and up to 67% less time commitment, and in an era where time has become such a precious and valued commodity, the popularity of HIIT comes as no surprise.

Studies also show that this training modality not only improves fitness markers (e.g., aerobic and anaerobic performance), but also improves health outcomes such as blood pressure and glucose sensitivity (6). Regardless of this research, perhaps the most influential driver of this trend is the belief that HIIT training increases overall caloric burn due to the session's combined effects and increased oxygen utilization after exercise (EPOC or afterburn).

Unfortunately, perception and reality are not always the same, and it is our responsibility as fitness professionals to educate clients and club members on the truth. Nonetheless, people continue to flock in droves to HIIT workouts and programs that they don't thoroughly enjoy but may tolerate in the hopes of achieving some desired transformation, or should avoid due to a lack of adequate preparation (levels of stability and mobility) or conditioning levels. In light of the latter point, it is concerning that chronic or overuse-type exercise-related injuries in recreational and sports facilities have increased by an average of 4% over the last ten years.


There is also a general lack of understanding in the fitness industry about what HIIT training is and what it is meant to accomplish. Many people refer to HIIT as high-volume interval training (HVIT) or, in the best-case scenario, variable-intensity interval training (VIT) (VIIT).

Each can be effective if the practitioner understands their specific purpose and programs accordingly. As professionals, we must understand that extreme conditioning programs (i.e., training hard rather than smart) are frequently an unwise approach to programming for the majority of people.

According to Bergeron and colleagues, many aspects of these conditioning workouts violate current standards for developing muscular fitness, which is concerning. Many popular HIIT programs, for example, incorporate repetitive, timed, maximal or near-maximal efforts with short or insufficient recoveries, which may predispose individuals to overreaching or overtraining, which can elevate oxidative stress and cellular damage beyond autophagy, suppress immune responses, and impair exercise technique.

As a result, the risk of musculoskeletal strain and injury increases. The goal of this article is to help differentiate between these three training modalities by reviewing key bioenergetic and programming principles, as well as to instill a sense of purpose and appropriateness in whichever modality is best suited to the client's or group's specific needs and desires.


One common misconception about energy pathways is that anaerobic systems only contribute during high-intensity exercise when our ATP demand exceeds our aerobic pathway's maximum capacity. In reality, they are constantly contributing to the energy we require by providing immediate energy at any point in time during any change in activity or exercise intensity (e.g., Sitting to standing, strolling to a light jog) are examples of interval training. Take a look at the points below:

True HIIT has its origins in sports conditioning and serves a specific purpose: to make athletes bigger, stronger, faster, and more explosive by incorporating overload and specificity into training. A power athlete performing a 225 lb.1RM power clean, for example, would train at near maximal loads and rates to improve his maximal performance rather than training with 125 lbs. for higher repetitions or longer durations. HIIT is defined as near-maximal loading and rate training, whereas a 125-pound set stimulates power endurance or submaximal performance, which is not HIIT but HVIT. Similarly, a wide receiver who runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash would train at near maximal speed with the goal of improving his 40-yard time rather than performing a high volume of continuous bouts at 6-seconds.

In essence, never confuse maximal performance with maximal effort because they are diametrically opposed. The examples of improving performance (1RM, fast 40-yard dash) mentioned above represent performance – intensity, whereas sub-maximal, sustained work (e.g., anaerobic capacity, power endurance) represents something else – volume.

Most people have a two-to-three-minute capacity to sustain intense bouts of work that rely heavily on the two anaerobic pathways (capacity of fast glycolytic – primarily, and the phosphagen system) (Table 1-1). Work intervals that exceed these durations, whether performed as a single continuous exercise or as a circuit, will gradually rely more on the aerobic pathway and necessitate lower-exercise intensities. Leg ergometry studies, for example, show a 96 percent contribution of energy from anaerobic pathways with 10-seconds of work (sustaining nearly 100 percent of maximal power output); a 75 percent contribution at 30-seconds (sustaining 75 percent of maximal power output); a 50 percent contribution at 60-seconds (sustaining 35 percent of maximal power output); and a 35 percent contribution at 90-seconds (sustaining 31 percent of maximal power output).

Although anaerobic pathways provide an immediate but limited supply of energy, once exhausted, they recover very slowly.

High Intensity Training Vs. High Volume, Which Style Of Training Is Best For You?

The time-delay to achieve steady-state (aerobic dominance) ranges between 90 seconds and 4 minutes, depending on the modality and intensity of the activity, as well as the exerciser's conditioning level – which helps to explain why using heart rate to measure intensity during non-steady-state or interval training is generally invalid.

Given the general nature of most interval-type workouts, this article will focus on the fast glycolytic pathway (glycolysis) or lactate system, rather than the phosphagen system. Glycolysis is the metabolic pathway that converts glucose (from muscle glycogen) into two pyruvate molecules.

While pyruvate is technically the end product of glycolysis, it has two fates: it is either shuttled into the mitochondria for aerobic respiration or it is converted to lactate in the absence of sufficient oxygen. It is critical to remember that the fate of pyruvate does not follow an all-or-nothing rule (i.e., it can progress to both simultaneously, depending on the availability of oxygen).

The amount of pyruvate that enters the mitochondria is determined by the aerobic pathway's capacity (e.g., availability of oxygen, size and number of mitochondria). Because lactic acid is unstable in an aqueous environment (and many bodies), any excess pyruvate that cannot pass to the mitochondria is converted to lactic acid, which quickly dissociates into lactate and a hydrogen ion.

The muscle cells use the small amounts of ATP produced during glycolysis, which also produces hydrogen ions as the ATP molecules split. These hydrogen ions are normally passed to the mitochondria during aerobic respiration, but during non-steady-state (anaerobic) exercise, these ions are produced very quickly and may not all be capable of passing to the mitochondria.

Unfortunately, any accumulation of hydrogen ions causes metabolic acidosis in muscle tissue (lowering tissue pH levels). This acidosis inhibits many glycolytic enzymes (making less energy available) as well as calcium's ability to allow muscle contraction within the cell.

As a result, in order for the cell to function properly, these hydrogen ions must be removed. Pyruvate can be cleared from the muscle cell into the blood by combining it with two hydrogen ions to form lactate (plus hydrogen). The accumulation of hydrogen ions within cells is also thought to increase pain receptor sensitivity within muscles, explaining why people feel a 'burn' during high-intensity exercise.

Because certain cells (e.g., red blood cells) lack mitochondria, the human body is constantly producing lactate. The body maintains a balance between lactate production and removal at rest and during steady-state exercise because lactate can be converted back to pyruvate and then back to glucose or used as a fuel. The hydrogen ions that enter the blood are buffered in order to prevent blood pH changes that could potentially harm various circulating proteins (e.g., red blood cells, white blood cells, hormones, enzymes) (Figure 1-1). Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) serves as our primary hydrogen buffer, which is a unique function.

Figure 1-2 shows how sodium or potassium in the blood binds with lactate to form a compound that can enter the cell and be used as a fuel. The remaining bicarbonate binds with hydrogen to form carbonic acid (H2CO3), a weak acid that decomposes into water and carbon dioxide. Although there is no need to remove this metabolic water from the body, carbon dioxide can be expelled through the lungs

While cells release lactate and hydrogen into the blood, which is then buffered, it is also regenerating this buffer with sodium, water, and carbon dioxide. The point at which the rate of lactate buffer regeneration fails to keep up with the rate of depletion is referred to as the Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA), which is sometimes referred to as the lactate threshold by practitioners despite the fact that they are not technically the same.

The blood can no longer accept hydrogen ions at this point because it needs more time to regenerate its buffer. As a result, hydrogen ions have begun to accumulate within the muscle cell, impairing its ability to perform biological work.

The key takeaway for practitioners is that this energy system is limited not by what the muscle can or cannot do, but by the blood's ability to buffer and regenerate its buffer.

As a result, a circuit targeting different muscles that one believes will allow for higher work-rates over the course of the session may still be problematic given how each muscle clears lactate into the same bloodstream. The time required to regenerate the lactate buffer within the blood, rather than the muscles themselves, is the limiting factor when training this energy system.


Few studies have produced definitive guidelines for selecting specific work-to-rest ratios where the lactate buffer can regenerate itself sufficiently to tolerate another high-intensity work interval. As previously stated, the principles of specificity and overload must be appropriately applied by manipulating key programming variables (FITR – frequency, intensity, training interval, recovery interval).

Because this system usually begins to contribute significantly after 10 – 15 seconds and lasts about 2 – 3 minutes in most people,

If the recovery interval is insufficient, this system gradually depletes itself over successive repetitions until desired intensities can no longer be maintained. As previously stated, continuing to train under compromised conditions must be questioned given the reduced training efficacy and increased risk of injury.

Many popular workouts today include intervals that target this energy pathway but do not allow for adequate recoveries. A coach, for example, may implement 60-second work bouts with only 30-second recovery intervals and wonder why the work rate is decreasing by the fourth or fifth minute (not differentiating performance from effort).

If the coach realizes that the fast glycolytic system can only sustain 2 – 3 minutes of work at 75 – 90% of maximal performance, he or she may implement 60-second intervals with perhaps a 30-second recovery for 3 intervals, then take a 212 to 3-minute light-active recovery before repeating this format.

Each aggregated set would equal 180 seconds of work (3 x 60 seconds), at which point the work rate is most likely no longer sustainable, justifying a longer recovery in in order to keep up with higher-intensity (not effort) work rates Recoveries should always be active (light movement) and involve the exercising muscles, as this aids in the removal of hydrogen and lactate from the cells and into the circulation.

High Intensity Training Vs. High Volume, Which Style Of Training Is Best For You?


In recent years, scientists have begun to investigate the bioenergetic differences between men and women. Women are thought to have a lower capacity for anaerobic exercise than men because they have lower concentrations of type II fibers (fibers more responsible for anaerobic respiration). This assumption is supported further by females' smaller blood volumes, which hold less lactate buffer.

New research has also been conducted on the role of estrogen in anaerobic pathways. Estrogen is thought to reduce the efficiency of enzymes involved in these pathways, as well as the rate of energy production and the rate of pyruvate to lactate conversion, which slows lactate clearance from the muscle. These factors, taken together, reduce the overall efficacy and efficiency of anaerobic pathways in women, which should be taken into account when designing programs.

Although there are no clear guidelines, the overall takeaway is that intervals for women should not be as challenging as they are for men (as measured by absolute power production – watts, or load); work intervals should be shorter in duration due to their reduced ability to produce and clear lactate as quickly, but recovery intervals can be shorter in as the amount of lactate buffer to be regenerated (e.g., 1-to-2 work-to-recovery ratio or less)


Another myth commonly promoted with these programs is the additional calories expended through EPOC. Unfortunately, the role of EPOC in weight loss is largely unsubstantiated. Exercise intensity (HIIT) has been found to play a larger role in EPOC variability than exercise duration or volume (HVIT). Knab and colleagues studied ten male participants who visited a metabolic chamber twice in 24 hours (one exercise and one rest day)

The exercise day included 45 minutes of cycling at 73 percent of VO2max intensity (generally regarded as higher-intensity with heart rates over 85 percent of maximal performance). The exercise bouts burned 519 kcal, and EPOC remained elevated above resting levels for 14 hours afterward, for a total of 190 kcal (13.5 kcal per hour average, or slightly more than half a StarburstTM candy).

Accumulated three times a week for 52 weeks equals 812 pounds in one year, but it is important to note that the intensity of exercise performed by these participants was vigorous and unlikely to be sustained continuously by most individuals for 45 minutes. Over the course of a year, studies involving more moderate volumes and intensities only produced the equivalent of 12 - 3 pounds of additional energy.

The general consensus on EPOC is that it only accounts for about 7% of total energy expenditure during exercise. A workout that burns 300 kcal, for example, may only produce 21 EPOC calories. While EPOC's contribution to weight loss may be limited, it has been suggested that the cumulative effect of EPOC over a year may be the energy expenditure equivalent of up to 3 pounds of adipose tissue.

As a result, while the true HIIT workout in Figure 1-3 expended fewer calories in the workout than the HVIT workout in Figure 1-4, it may produce a higher EPOC in recovery, negating any calorie difference between the two workouts, though the injury potential differential remains (i.e., higher with HVIT).


Figure 1-3 depicts an example of a true HIIT workout, which is distinguished by work intervals performed at the same intensity throughout the training session.

For example, if each workload consumed 20 kcal over the 60-second interval and followed a 1-to-3 work-to-recovery ratio in which each minute of active recovery expended 5 kcal, then one entire interval would expend 35 kcal over four minutes (20 kcal for work + 3 x 5 kcal for recovery).

This individual would complete 5 intervals (and 5 total minutes of work) during a 20-minute workout and expend a total of 175 kcal. 

Appropriate recoveries result in consistent work performance and calorie burn over successive intervals. 4-minutes x 5 sets equals a 20-minute workout, which is broken down as follows:

  • HIIT for 60 seconds equals 20 kcal/min.
  • 5 kcal/min x 3 = 15 kcal recovery in 180 seconds.
  • One interval equals 35 kcal multiplied by five intervals.
  • 175 kcal total for the workout.

A HVIT workout (Figure 1-4), which many people mistake for HIIT training and includes 60-second work and recovery intervals, will result in a higher volume of work (100 percent more work), but a smaller relative difference in calories expended.

For example, while the first few intervals of this workout may burn 20 kcal during the 60-second work interval and only 5 kcal during the 60-second active recovery, this caloric expenditure rate cannot be sustained over the subsequent repetitions. As a result, while 10 intervals may have been completed, the caloric difference between this HVIT workout and the true HIIT workout may only be marginal, but the risk of injury in the latter intervals is unquestionably increased.

Inappropriate recoveries result in decreased performance and caloric burn.

  • HVIT intervals of 60 seconds = 20 kcal/min.
  • A 60-second recovery period between each work interval equals 5 kcal/min.
  • HVIT intervals of 60 seconds #3–6 = 17 kcal/min.
  • HVIT intervals of 60 seconds #7–8 = 12 kcal/min.
  • HVIT interval #9 – 10 = 9 kcal/min in 60 seconds.
  • 200 kcal total for the workout.

High Intensity Training Vs. High Volume, Which Style Of Training Is Best For You?


Is there an ideal solution to this growing trend that takes into account the overall concerns, in light of the information presented and summarized in Table 1-3? Herein lies the third type of training – variable-intensity interval training (VIIT), a hybrid form of programming that combines the best of HIIT while minimizing some of the drawbacks of HVIT.

A VIIT course

However, one question remains unanswered, and it concerns maximizing work in the shortest amount of time – specifically, the recovery intervals. Although recovery must remain active in order to help expedite metabolites (e.g., hydrogen, lactate) out of muscle cells, they must de-emphasize biological work of the more anaerobic type II fibers within the body in order to facilitate recovery – expediting metabolite clearance and regenerating the blood lactate buffer.

As a result, this provides an excellent opportunity to target type I fibers with stabilization exercises for balance and postural control, similar to the methodology of Phase 2 training in NASM's OPT model (Strength-endurance).

This recovery interval, as strength and conditioning coaches frequently do with athletes, provides a great challenge to athletes to demonstrate good postural control through low-active stabilization exercises to ensure good form and technique, while also allowing the lactate buffer and muscles the needed time to recover.

For example, a set of 45-second barbell clean and presses superset with 30-second barbell side lunges (performed in each direction) – a total of approximately 105 seconds of work – may include 210 seconds of recovery (1-to-2 work-to-recovery ratio). Following the next superset of barbell deadlifts and standing kettlebell rear rotational presses, an active recovery could be designed as follows:

  • Walking is a light movement (10-seconds)
  • Plank walk-ups (20 seconds) – find out how to do other plank variations here.
  • Planks that rotate (20-seconds per direction)
  • Changeover (5-seconds)
  • Single-leg swings in all three planes with hip drivers (30-seconds per leg)
  • Changeover (5-seconds).
  • Light Turkish outfits (20-seconds per side)
  • Changeover (5-seconds)
  • Walking is a light movement (15-seconds)

To summarize, true HIIT training aims to improve performance and is focused on movement quality. What we think of as HIIT but is actually more aligned with HVIT is focused on volume or movement quantity, as well as possibly pursuing a higher caloric expenditure.

This method's efficacy and cost must be questioned. Remember that workouts that have a total work interval of more than 3 to 4 minutes before taking a recovery interval, or that are performed at intensities less than 75 percent of maximal performance (e.g., 75 percent of 1RM), or that usually involve bodyweight resistance training are most likely HVIT (and not HIIT), and should be defined as such.

However, in order to fully capitalize on the benefits that each can or may provide, VIIT appears to provide the'sweet spot' where we can meet both needs and desires.

Is it better to build muscle through volume or intensity?

Although your muscle fibers do not contract as hard on each individual rep, they do so for twice as long, resulting in roughly the same total tension. As a result, technically, volume is the primary driver of muscle growth, because it is the volume of tension over time that causes your muscles to grow larger.

Is intensity more important than volume?

That is, volume digs with a shovel, whereas intensity digs with a spade. If you have the time for multiple short sessions per week, you should focus on intensity. All of your reps will be of higher quality, and you should see more significant long-term gains.

Which is more important, intensity or volume?

An intensity of 80% of your 1RM is greater than an intensity of 50% of your 1RM. Volume simply refers to "how much" or the total number of work reps performed in a given time period. For example, three sets of five reps equals a volume of 15 reps.

Is high volume equal to high intensity?

In strength training, volume and intensity are usually interpreted as follows: "volume" refers to how many reps or sets are performed, and "intensity" refers to how much weight is lifted, This can also be stated as a percentage of your greatest potential.

Is it better to do a lot of work to gain muscle?

Simply put, increased volume equals increased muscle mass. At least until you can do 10 sets per week or more.

Does muscle growth require a high level of intensity?

The truth is that increased intensity is the key to increased muscular hypertrophy—though genetics can influence how big your muscles can become. Lifting heavier and heavier weights over time is one method of increasing intensity.

How many reps do you consider to be high volume?

How many reps do you consider to be high volume? High volume is frequently defined as more than 10 reps. You could do 12 or 15 reps depending on the exercise and weight.

High Intensity Training Vs. High Volume, Which Style Of Training Is Best For You?

What exactly is a high-intensity workout?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of exercise in which you work, rest, and then work again. Workouts at 80-95 percent of your maximum heart rate are considered HIIT. 2 At this intensity, HIIT can produce the same results as a 20-minute, 2-mile jog.

Does high-intensity exercise burn more calories?

Calories Burned While Exercising. Although lifting with your one-rep maximum or just below it is intense, the lower volume of work means you'll burn fewer calories during your workout than if you lift heavier weights for a higher volume.

Is it true that more volume equals more hypertrophy?

When taking long rests between sets, hypertrophy appears to increase with increasing volumes of up to 6-8 hard sets in a single training session, with a plateau at higher volumes. When training each muscle 2-3 days per week, this equates to 12 - 24 weekly sets.

Is it better to have a high or low volume?

Most research indicates that higher volume training causes a greater increase in strength gains than lower volume training. However, this is not a one-to-one relationship. You could put in 50% more volume and only increase 5% faster than someone doing much less.

Does high-intensity weight training help you gain muscle?

While HIIT may not be as effective at increasing muscle mass, it may help you achieve that sculpted look. Bodybuilding or weight training, on the other hand, may be your best bet if your main goal is to gain muscle mass.

Will 20 reps help you gain muscle?

So, how many reps do you need to build muscle? Doing 6–20 reps per set is usually best for muscle building, though some experts recommend 5–30 or even 4–40 reps per set. For heavier lifts, 6–10 reps are frequently sufficient. 12–20 reps are often more effective for smaller lifts.

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