“We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were, for the moment, unpopular.”
Many, many trainees seem either unable to grasp, or unwilling to believe, that short-duration, high-intensity, simply-constructed workouts occurring at infrequent intervals can be so blisteringly effective at producing enhanced athleticism, muscularity and fat reduction. The main problem, or intellectual leap that must be undertaken, here — I believe — is to first understand what constitutes a sufficient biological stimulus required to elicit a desired response. Too much and/or too frequent a biological “cue” can, of course, be as detrimental to overall progress as too little and/or too infrequent a biological cue. I’ve discussed before the concepts of “drop-off” and “auto-regulation” as these concepts pertain to continued progress. The second point is revolves around possessing the know-how to construct a workout that achieves a high-impact biological cue in an abbreviated period of time. Maintaining a targeted, high degree of central nervous system (CNS) stimulation is key to achieving maximum “bang” for the workout time “buck”; priming the pump, so to speak, so as to wring the maximum amount of power possible from a given circumstance (i.e., modality, desired time under load, etc).
In this previous post, we deconstructed the rep, learning what it means, what it looks like, to perform an exercise repetition that is truly productive. But let’s now break that down even further. Is there something we can do prior to executing that perfect series of repetitions, that will lend even more productivity to the endeavor? You bet there is — effective CNS stimulation. Think of proper CNS stimulation as a ramp-up, heightened muscular awareness, fast-twitch activation, or a targeted, high-intensity CNS proprioception. Ever see elite sprinters pop-off a few explosive knee-to-chest jumps just prior to settling into the blocks? CNS stimulation, my friend.
So what does this look like in a practical sense? Well, let’s deconstruct one of my recent, morning workouts and see just how I utilize this phenomenon in my own training. This is my Twitter post following that morning’s weight session:
This AM’s w/o: RDL (Conc.) + SLDL (Eccentric) x 5, Floor press x 5, Snatch Grip High Pull (from hang) x 3; 4 rounds. Blog details soon.
First I’d like to point out that I post all of my workouts to Twitter, and that you don’t have to have a Twitter account to to see these posts, as they all appear to the right of my blog (the last 10 or so posts, at least). The nature of Twitter, though, doesn’t allow for detailed elaboration; this is both good and bad, depending upon your point of view. I rather appreciate it as a medium of brevity that is a perfect compliment to the longer “blog format”, but I digress. Back to the subject at hand.
Let’s deconstruct that day’s workout, focusing on a single exercise within that morning’s circuit — the basic floor press. First, though, let’s look at the overall timeline of this workout: 5:45 AM — coffeed-up and in the gym (following a 1 hour commute, by the way). 5:55 warm up completed; heart rate is up, beginning to sweat. 6:00 AM Bars loaded and staged; begin circuit with “feel/priming” sets. 6:10 — full-on blood, guts and fury. 6:30 — pulled the plug on the last movement, staggered to the showers, and prepped to face to workday. 45 minutes, top to bottom — yes, it can be done. Easy? No friggin way; and if it was, everyone would do it, right?
As far as a fabulous brief, high-intensity workout goes, I’ve got all the bases covered; but here’s the obstacle: I want to tax and fatigue every fast-twitch fiber I’ve got (for each particular movement) — and I’ve got a very short time window in which to accomplish that task. That’s a tall order. I’ve got an ace up my sleeve, though, that’ll help me do just that. Now what little trick did I employ just prior to sliding under the bar for each set of floor presses? Ballistic push ups. Just 3 or so; not enough to tire me out, just enough to fully wake up and prime my CNS for the movement to come, and give those fast twitch fibers the signal that, hey guys, it’s time to wake up and get in the game. Then I slid under the bar and proceeded to punch out my 5 (or so) reps, attempting maximum bar acceleration with each rep. I increased weight on each set until I reached the point where, on the 5th rep of the 4th cycle, I hit a “grind it out rep”, and at that point, I pulled the plug on that exercise. And, having done this for quite some time (30+ years, can you believe it?), I can pretty well approximate loading, reps schemes, and sets — even when exercises are paired within a circuit (like the floor press was in this example) with a good deal of accuracy. Sometimes I’ll exceed expectations and other times I’ll fall short. And the scary thing is that I usually know how just how I’ll perform in the workout about midway through the warm up, and it all depends upon how my CNS is responding to that warm-up. Stuff of urban legend, I know — but hey, it’s true. Just a tad sluggish? Not today, bud; still, though, you’ve got to “endeavor to persevere”. Feel like someone just tagged you with a set of crash paddles? Here comes one for the record books, guaranteed.
And note that the preliminary ballistic movement need not be the exact same movement as the main course — an approximation is fine. For example, in the workout above, my pre-RDL/SLDL ballistic movement was an explosive knees-to-chest jump with a “stuck” landing in the full squat position. I popped-off just 2 or 3 immediately prior to beginning the set. The same ballistic movement precedes all of my pulling movements; deadlifts, low pulls, clean variations, you name it.
Give pre-set ballistic movements a shot, and let me know what you think. If anyone out there is following a BBS style workout, I believe a pre-set ballistic movement will really get you primed for added resistance and TUT for each prescribed exercise. Also, if used properly, I believe vibration plates can elicit similar CNS/fast twitch fiber-stimulating effects. I think it would be fascinating to study the resulting effects of this: if Dr. McGuff could somehow incorporate vibration technology within the equipment he uses for his machine-based BBS workouts, then compare an “all things equal” pair of study groups — both BBS-trained, one “vibrated”, the other not. I really believe there is “something to” vibration stimulation vis-a-vis enhanced CNS/fast twitch fiber activation, however, the hucksters have latched onto the “something for nothing” sales angle (loose weight with no effort) and turned the technology into a parody of itself. Look beneath the hucksterism, though, and I think there’s a worthwhile technology there.