The best-laid plans of mice and men/often get completely goat-f$&#@&”   ~ Keith Norris

This is how it goes sometimes: So I come up with a solid game plan on Tuesday night, to perform the exact same workout as the one I’m about to spell out below.  So far, so good.  However, that plan included a 25 to 30-minute workout window, with added time built in, as well, for a nice, long, contrast bath.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my act even close to together come Wednesday morning.  Yeah, it happens to even the most seasoned of schedule jugglers and master planners.  I forgot this, misplaced that.  Didn’t select my work clothes and have them already hanging neatly in the car.  The day’s lunch was not pre-packed and, well, the list goes on and on.  Anyway, the ultimate result of all of this was that instead of a solid 30-minute workout window (with time remaining for some contrast bathing), I was left to scratch-out a 15-minute, chop-chop, blow-and-go.  I chalked it all up to the Gods of Randomness smiling down upon me though, took it in stride and did what I could with what I’d been given.

And what I was given was this: time enough for a general warm-up (I alternated 3/4 speed 40-yard sprints with pull-ups and push-ups) and about 10 minutes for a specific exercise ramp-up to working weight.   I then jumped right in to the body of the day’s workout —

  1. Regular Grip (over/under grip) Deadlifts + SLDL (Straight Leg Deadlift) Eccentrics x 3’s and 2’s
  2. Barbell Floor Press x 3’s and 2’s (I elevated my back off the ground just a tad with a step class platform)

As many rounds in 15-minutes as possible.

The modality I chose to work with in this pairing was this: max power output in these particular ranges of motion in a given unit of time (15 minutes).  Now, at first glance this might not look like much of a deviation to a normal set/rep setup, and certainly not enough of a deviation to note, much less keep track of.  However, the normal set/rep scheme leaves the issue of time — and therefore, overall power — open-ended.  Remember the very basic power equation — Power = Work/Time, with Work being a function of Force multiplied by Distance. Now, if we keep Time constant at 15 minutes, and Force is constant (I’m not dabbling with the working weight once I’ve got it set), the only thing left as a variable here is Distance. With the range of motion of each exercise being held constant, the only other factor that can change to affect distance is the number of repetitions performed in each exercise.  This is just a long-winded route to explaining what you already intuitively know — that the more reps of the two exercises performed, in a fixed amount of time (and in the chosen rep range, as explained below), will translate into an increased power output for that particular rep range within a 15 minute window.  Everyone together?  Stick with me, there is a point to all of this, really.

This method of training is, by the way — like virtually every other training method out there (save for some of Jay Schroeder’s stuff) — nothing new.  Charles Staley has coined this method Escalating Density Training; when Christian Thibaudeau speaks of Canadian Bear Training, he’s talking about what’s essentially the same thing, albeit with a few tweaks here and there.  You’ll also see quite a bit of CrossFit influence here as well.  I put my own little twist on it, and call it — well, I haven’t gotten that far yet.  I need something catchy from the marketing department.  Anyway, here’s my twist: I manipulate the weights used in each exercise to fall within a certain rep scheme (modality) so as to increase the overall power output in that particular modality.

For example, my max power output for this particular exercise pairing, under this particular time constraint, may actually (and most assuredly will) occur under a totally different weight/rep scheme (I know, empirically, that it’s a lighter weight/higher rep combo).  And this is one perfectly valid way that I could go about measuring “improvement” — an overall power increase (this, in a nutshell, is Staley’s basic EDT system).  But what if I wanted tweak the process even further?  What if I wanted to emphasize my fast-twitch fiber contribution in these movements over that same time period, even at a detriment to my overall power out put?  And why and the hell would you want to do that, you ask?  Well, let me use sprinting repeats as a quick example.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I can cover one mile in a 5 minute run, and that equates to a certain overall power output.  But let’s say that I can only cover 1/4 of a mile worth of all-out 40-yard sprint repeats in that same 5 minute time period. Now, even though my overall power output during that 5-minute period is higher with the continuous run, is that really going to improve my ability to perform on the soccer field, where I’m obligated to perform a series of all-out sprint repeats?  Am I better off to improve the number (and speed) of my 40-yard repeats, or the total distance I can cover in a 5-minute continuous run?  I’d say I’d be better off improving the speed of each individual, and number of, repeats.  It’s simply more sport-specific.

So this is just another wrinkle, nothing more, in the workout pantheon.  It’s neither the best way, nor only way, to measure progress — it’s just another available tool, that, under the right circumstances, just might be the tool you’re looking for.  And speaking of improvement, how would I measure improvement in the particular modality and time bracket I performed on Wednesday?  Two things, really: (1) I could complete more overall reps (at the same working weight) of this exercise pairing within the 15-minute time frame, or (2) I could increase the weight a tad, assuming I don’t suffer on the total repetition output — because, remember, our power output is, in this case, dependent upon the product of the number reps and the weight used. I logged that product for each exercise on Wednesday — next time I attempt this I can either shoot for increasing the number of overall reps obtained at the same weight, or jack the weight just a bit and see what happens to my end total (reps x weight) within the specified time frame.  My rule of thumb is that, as I approach the top end of my rep brackets (I use 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12) consistently throughout the 15-minute ( or whatever time bracket I choose) duration, I’ll bump up the working weight a bit.  Do it long enough and you’ll develop a feel for what to tweak to result in a higher subsequent power output.

And why those particular rep brackets?  Well, they happen to correspond nicely to my own personal,  goal-related, issues — power production in the 0-5 second, and 5-10 second range and overall hypertrophy (9-12 rep range).

In Health,

Keith

8 COMMENTS

  1. Keith,

    Any advice for those of us that don’t want to get much bigger, if at all? I’ve been thinking that I may want to work on getting stronger without gaining much size, in a grease the groove sorta way. Any thoughts on an approach like that? I tend to keep my reps low in general (singles, doubles or triples), whenever going heavy. I only use high reps during metcons like fran, etc, and it seems like you follow a similar approach, yet I get the idea you aim for hypertrophy as well. Am I wrong in not wanting extra mass?

    -bryce

    • Bryce,
      Most hypertrophy gains are realized via high volume/high(er) repetition schemes. Conversely, placing an emphasis on targeting fast-twitch muscle fibers and CNS stimulation via lower repetition work (i.e., <3 reps) and low rep power/Oly work will increase strength and power while not affecting hypertrophy as much (relatively speaking). Folks like power lifters and wrestlers all want increases in strength without the increase in size/weight, so you’re not alone in your desire. I think this strategy will work to a point (max muscular/CNS coordination), then if one wishes to become stronger/more powerful, there’ll be the need to build a “bigger engine” — more muscle. This is kinda where I am. Then the question becomes “how strong/powerful is strong/powerful enough?”. My personal goal is to maintain an elevated power/BW ratio. And obviously, with such a goal, excess BW eventually becomes a detriment — power just can’t keep up.

  2. Keith-
    I see where you are going with this. If you remember the “mid” portion of the Warp Speed workout, there were two 10-minute circuits somewhat like this (e.g., step-ups and DB swings, alternating, 24 reps, as many rounds in 10 minutes).

    This makes sense to shock and to get in a nice workout in a smaller timeframe.

    I think this weekend I’ll try and work in some sprints; if that doesn’t pan out, it will be something like this.

    Bryce-

    Any reason for not wanting some extra mass?

    • AT22,
      The key with this kind of a “timed” workout is to choose your exercise weights (and the resultant rep scheme) consistent with your goals. I always use 7 reps as the middle of the road, strength/hypertrophy target. Interestingly enough, most people will approximate their best overall power output (at least, in the 15-minute zone) with a weight that will allow 6-8 reps throughout the 15 minute duration.

  3. Keith

    I am a BJJ enthusiast, and when I get back from deployment, I’d consider competing again, in small in-house amateur tournaments. If I did, I’d obviously like to be as light as I can be, while still maintaining my strength. Also, I am working on developing various gymnastic skills, all of which would benefit from being lighter. Obviously losing fat is a bigger factor here, and I’d gladly gain 1-3 lbs of muscle to lose 5-8 lbs of fat.

    I am not that big (6′, 200#, bf?) but I’m pretty sure I haven’t reached that point where I’m tapping my potential at this size. The next question is, since I’m not trying to get bigger, should natural hgh production be a concern? Will producing less of it hinder my ability to reinforce those neurological pathways? Conversely, will producing more of it automatically lead to hypertrophy, even if I’m not using those higher rep schemes?

    Thanks Keith. I can’t tell you how cool it is to be able to share in some educated discourse about this stuff. On board I’m surrounded by either the bench and biceps crowd or the endless eliptical/treadmill crowd. There are very few people focused on power with whom I can share my interests.

    -Bryce

    • Bryce,
      That being the case, I would concentrate on the low-rep power moves — Oly lifts and their derivatives. Also, explosive, low -rep sets in the basic planes of movement (DL, Dip, pull-up, standing Presses). Obviously, you’ll need a good base of conditioning as well, and for that I would recommend Tabata sets (sprinting, barbell & DB combos, etc.). Diet wise, make sure you’re taking in plenty of good fats and, obviously, cut the grains and simple carbs (I know this is tough when in the military). Get as much rest as you can (again, I know it’s tough in the military, especially when deployed).

      I wouldn’t worry too much about the GH factor vis-a-vis your workouts. GH provides many wonderful benefits to the body outside of hypertrophy enhancement. For what you’re concerned with, any increased hypertrophy due to repeated, enhanced, GH spikes will be negligible.

      As an aside, I’ll tell you this: the best predictor I have ever seen for assessing athletic talent ( not counting particular skills, i.e., assessing raw talent) is the basic vertical jump. This is closely followed by a sprint start (10-15 yard sprint), a shuttle (change-of-direction) sprint and the hang clean. I’m planning a post for this very soon. Anyway, look at what it takes to excel at these tasks — explosive, short duration power, a “tuned” CNS and a strong posterior chain. Look at enhancing these attributes and it will help you to become a better athlete. Note than none of these are necessarily hypertrophy sensitive. An enhanced power-to-BW ratio is, in my opinion, what all athletes should be trying to improve when in the gym. This should never, though, be done at the exclusion of skills training.

  4. Keith, thanks a lot for your detailed response! I have been trying to focus on all those things, and have recently started sprinting (distances between 50-200 feet) to develop my explosiveness. I agree that this is what makes an athlete, and I’ve never been good at any of those things, so they are what I’m focusing on!

    I look forward to that post, and you aren’t kidding about it being hard to sleep and eat right underway. Still, I can do it with some discipline.

    Cheers,
    bryce

    • Just continually strive to be the best that you can be, Bryce. That’s all any of us can do. Choose your goal(s), implement an intelligent training scheme and diet lifestyle to support the acquisition of that goal, fight “the good fight”, and enjoy the ride.

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