“Well I’d drive down Sunset Boulevard
My hair blowin’ in the wind
I’d stop at fancy places
And they’d finally let me in…”
– Charlie Robison, Sunset Boulevard
In previous posts, I’ve touched on the importance of rep speed (here and here are just a couple of examples) and auto-regulation (here) as they pertain, or should pertain, to one’s overall training plan. And now, in one of the better articles that TMuscle has run, Christian Thibaudeau dishes on his version of rep speed manipulation, auto-regulation and “activation ramp” (or what I refer to as simply CNS priming). It’s good stuff, and if you’re serious about getting the most out of your time in the gym, I’d highly recommend finding a way to incorporate these ideas into each and every training session. Check out Thib’s article, here, then c’mon back for a few of my additional thoughts on the subject.
For starters, I couldn’t agree more with Thib’s idea that to go into a workout with a pre-determined set/rep scheme is just flat out wrong minded. That’s not to say, though, that you shouldn’t have a framework from which to begin. In other words, I go into a session knowing what modality and movements I plan on working; specific sets, reps and weights, though, I feel as I go along. It’s not that I have no idea here — I do — it’s just that my overriding goal is to improve over the long haul rather that to hit some pre-determined, daily goal. Remember, sets, reps, TUL — these are all constructs of the mind that the body could give a rat’s narrow ass about. Thibs puts it this way:
You have to stop looking at the wrong variables. Numbers, sets, reps, and rest periods are only tools. The real question is, what is your physiology telling you?
These variables are all important signposts, yes — but the body’s only real concern is with what to do with the biological cue it’s been given. And that “cue”, to be effective, has to fall within the narrow sweet-spot between adequate stimulus and overtraining. In other words, I can go into the gym knowing that I want to work, say a deadlift and dip combination movement pattern in a 5 (sets) x 3 (reps) modality. That’s my framework from which to begin. I also have a ball park feel for the weights I’ll be handling — but I am in no way, shape or form married to matching or exceeding those weights. Now, at the end of the workout, will my end numbers wind up looking like a linear progression from the last time I performed this workout? 9 times out of 10, no. But if I’ve manipulated these variables with any amount of acumen, and if I’ve sufficiently squelched an ego that constantly yells for more of the tangible or “show” evidence of progress (especially weight on the bar), I can effectively hit that biological cue “sweet spot” every outing. And what is it that makes this sweet spot a constantly moving target? Quite simply, it’s all those variables (i.e., “stressors”) outside of the gym that one has very little control over. Old school periodization then, and/or cookie-cutter programs will only be successful (and I use this term loosely here) insofar as one is able to adequately control these stressors. And unless you’re an athlete who’s life revolves around training, recuperation and competition, I’d say you’re out of luck in attempting to nullify these variables. Minimize? Yes, quite possibly. Sufficiently nullify so as to make a pre-written periodization schedule work? Well, good luck with that. I liken this to virus prevention — you can wash your hands all you want (analogous to stressor control), but if your immune system is not up to the challenge, the virus (lack of progress) will eventually hand you your ass. I agree with Thibs when he says:
“…I choose to look at periodization for what it is: a general guideline of splitting your training into specific periods where you work on one goal…”
It’s not that periodization is wrong, it’s just that it’s a tool of limited use/value.
The Force Spectrum
Note: when I post my workouts on Twitter (which I do following every training session), what I am posting is the session’s framework. The actual individual movement’s sets, reps, rep speed, weights used, recovery periods, etc. are not, because of time constraints for the most part, listed. And although I keep track of this information, its usefulness to me in planing future workouts is limited. Remember, each training session occurs in a space that is unique to that point in time, and that particular confluence of variables will not happen again. My training session relative to a particular point in time, then, must be mailable enough to adjust to these unique variables (which can never be fully predicted), and still deliver the correct stimulus relative to that unique point in time. This is where competence in auto-regulation and manipulating the force spectrum come into play. Don’t worry — it’s not nearly as complicated as it seems.
First, remember our old friend, the power equation:
Power = (mass x acceleration) x distance/time
And power, in my ever-so-humble opinion, is the key not only to athleticism (obvious), but also (arguably, granted) to muscle hypertrophy. What Thibs is describing in his 5 x 3 bench press example mirrors what I actually do in the gym. What you’re aiming for is a perfect melding of power output in a particular movement, auto-regulated to a particular and unique set of point-in-time circumstances. Now, how do we get the body primed for its greatest power output in a particular movement at a unique point-in-time? (1) adequate warm-up, and (2) what Thibs calls “feel sets” and what I call “CNS priming” — differing terms for the same phenomena.
The secret to weight training is that there is no secret. But like any art, it requires practice, diligence, intelligence, and a narrowly-defined goal. Pick and rotate through a wide variety of basic, functional movements with these principles as a guide (from Thibs):
- execute each rep with the aim to produce the maximum amount of power possible
- become skillful in the art of auto-regulation
- learn to properly manipulate the CNS to achieve the first bullet point
Strive to reach that point where, as Bruce Lee says, “…a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick…”