“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.”
Cicero
 20161106_152750

…read The Perfect Rep, by T-Muscle contributing writer, Christian Thibaudeau.  Of course I’m biased here (because this is precisely how I train the vast majority of my time in the gym), but this is, bar none, the best explanation of how each rep of a workout ought to be executed that I have ever come across.

Thibs tends to frame the process in terms of “force” and “acceleration”, whereas I choose to use the term “power” but, in essence, we’re both talking about the same phenomenon.  Speed of execution and cns stimulation reigns; the actual weight used takes a back seat – a mere means to an end.  The number of reps and sets in a particular movement are used only as a gross quantification of more specific auto-regulation.  And truth be told, I’m quite sure that the most well-known (notice I said “well-known”, not “the best”) strength and conditioning coaches realize that this training method is, in  fact, the bedrock methodology required in the building of an efficient athlete (or a bodybuilder, for that matter).  It’s not the only method, of course – but I would go so far as to say that it ought to comprise the backbone of all weightroom methodologies.

Are raw strength and RFD important?  No doubt, they are.  But only insofar as their correlative contribution to peak power production, and the rapid recovery and repeatability of that power production.  It’s a cyclic, yin-yang natured thing, improving a trainee’s athleticism.  And for those interested primarily in bodybuilding, or just “lookin’ good nekkid”?  Yep, this is a bedrock methodology for those folks, too.  The only difference here is that I’d revert away from this methodology at a little greater frequency so as to pursue other more “TUL-heavy” protocols.  Like any methodology, you can only wring so much out of it before you’ll have to shift to something different.  When to shift and for how long becomes just another variable to learn to master.

But back to the point I was establishing before I slipped into the bodybuilding thought: why is Thibs’ “Anaconda” methodology not more generally recognized?  Because it can’t be readily quantified, that’s why.  It’s a touchy-feely, nebulous and dare I say, vague idea to try to get across.  You can’t put a hard number on effort, speed, acceleration, intensity…feel.  How do you package something like that? (other than to tie it to a pricey supplement 🙂 )  It’s the same with auto-regulation; akin to the Paleo diet, in that the devil resides squarely within the individual implementation of the theory.  Concepts that are repeat with subtleties, ambiguities, and yes, sometimes out-and-out contradictions.  Concepts that only transfer fractionally, at best, via the written word.  Has anyone ever learned a martial art from a book?  Volumes could (and have) been written about the martial arts; how, though, is a craft that must be passed on in the presence of the teacher.  To a lesser extent, the same is true with this manner of training.  Not “getting it” doesn’t mean it’s ineffective, or not applicable to you, it simply means you probably require hands-on instruction, continual guidance – at least until you reach that point where you can fly on your own.

The short clip at the end of the article is good as well.  Notice the difference in execution speed between Kevin (the bodybuilder) and Nate (the athlete).  It would be interesting to film this using Dartfish technology so as to be able to figure the total power output difference between these two guys, and then compare that output to perceived effort.  Over time, one could then set up a bio-feedback loop where maximum power is generated at some known (kinetically) speed and correlated perceived effort.

Enjoy the article, and let me know what you think.

In health,
Keith


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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.

23 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a curmudgeonly young man when it comes to Tmuscle’s hype machine. When it’s broken down, no filler, we get:

    1) Lift as fast as you can.

    2) Avoid eccentrics to avoid soreness (so you can train 3x/day and use their “Anaconda Protocol” 3 times a day, puking 3 times from taking in way too much liquid).

    3) Use the stretch reflex.

    Nothing ground breaking here. Full speed explosion is why powerlifters use bands. CNS priming can happen in more ways than just speedy reps, including one or two extra heavy negatives before your first “work” set, or a really heavy hold before a work set. They all work.

    There is nothing new under the sun, but hype and fat bars help. 😉

    • Hype aside, it is a great breakdown of the proper way to perform an explosive rep. A simple thing, yes – if you happen to know how to do one. Instructing one who doesn’t know (or hasn’t considered the importance) via written word is a daunting task. Think how many people go through their entire training lives performing “normal” reps. Maybe they’ll throw in some slow eccentrics now and again, but that’s about it. But you’re right – there is nothing new under the sun. Ballistics, plyos, RFD training, ect. are all barking up the cns activation tree. I think that most trainee’s, though (from my observation and interaction) – even “advanced” trainees/athletes – have no clue about potentiating/stimulating the cns, or how it can figure into their overall training scheme.

      But ya gotta give it up to the marketing guys at T-Muscle, though. Nice supplement tie-in. 🙂 And without that, Thibs would be a fantastic, albiet always on the brink of financial disaster, S&C coach.

      • Keith, the “SRP Turnaround” sounds a lot like the drop squats you do, no?

        Recently I’ve had less time, and drive, to train as I’ve been busy with work, painting our new house, etc. I’ve been experimenting with my training, and I have a question that I would appreciate your, and Skyler’s, thoughts on:

        The type of training Thib’s is espousing seems to spare the nervous system any unnecessary fatigue (from any grinding reps) so you can train again asap. Would the same training style work if I wasn’t able to train again for a week? Or would eccentrics and other grinding reps then prove useful as a way to inroad the muscles/cns since a week is likely plenty of recovery time anyway.

        Does this particular training style necessitate a certain dose/frequency, outside of which it is ineffective?

        Thanks as always for your insights.

        -Bryce

        • Yeah, this type of training, if done properly, necessitates more frequent “hits” than a program that is designed to carve deep muscular inroading. Consider the contrast between something like the old East Bloc/Bulgarian Oly lift training methods to a Mentzer-like (or BBS-like) protocol. Of course, you can easily fry the cns as well; thus my reliance upon auto-regulation (in an acute, per workout sense), and drop-off tracking (in an overall sense). This is just my take on things though, looking through the prism of my hybrid style of training. It would be interesting to get Skyler’s take on this.

          • I’ve already vented my concerns for this article, or rather, the supplement pushing that comes with it. That said here’s my take:

            1. This sort of rep work does require frequent training. It’s greasing the groove to the nth degree. If you’re a Bulgarian lifter or perhaps in the midst of a Blitz cycle multiple times per day training will NEED this CNS-sparing effect.

            2. That said, you can certainly prime the nervous system in the lighter sets as he noted and then break into the heavier/more grinding type reps. I see some powerlifters mention the need to not treat light weights like heavy weights (i.e. accelerate warmups) but I never understood that in the context of CNS activation.

            3. If you’re in a once a week scenario, take a page out of the books of Thibs and John Christy. Infrequent training is going to require recruiting as many of the fast twitch motor units as possible, so why not use speed and eccentrics to your advantage?

            -Work up to your top-set weight with accelerating 1’s or 3’s.

            -Depending on the exercise, either use a supra maximal warmup or a couple heavy negatives as your final warmup set. So if you’re squatting 300lbs for your workset of 5 to 8 reps, you’d want to hit 1 or 2 singles with 330 to 350lbs (auto-regulate this). If you’re doing something like dips, do a couple negatives with double the attached weight (i.e. bodyweight + 50 for 8 rep work set would equal a BW+100 for 2 negatives)

            -If you’re feeling snappy, drop the second work set 10% and focus on speed. To make up the load difference, add 1 rep to the work set. I like to do this with squats and deadlifts.

            So that’s my take. Comments?

            Best,
            Skyler

          • I think we’re singing from the same hymnal, Skyler. My actual training is a best fit between what I know to be effective, and the amount of time I have to devote to the pursuit. Note that I am not (currently) a competitive athlete, nor a competitive bodybuilder – so at times what I actually do may be in contradiction to the advice I give (which I hope is appropriate to the questioner’s goals). It’s all a juggle of goals, available time and priorities, and the realization that one cannot (effectively) serve two masters – training for sport and training for hypertrophy will always be somewhat at odds with one another. And yet, at the same time, they are complementary. Knowing how to manipulate this yin-yang-ness between the two is the great “mystery”, as it were. Try to apply too much science, in the absence of art, and the “answer” becomes ever-more elusive.

          • This is what I appreciate about not having a sport that I’m actively participating in. I can approach physical fitness out of pure enjoyment/curiosity.

            I can usually stick with a given protocol long enough to reap the benefits, and then boredom leads me to realign my goals and change up my protocol.

          • I see this got under you when I meant to reply to Bryce’s conundrum.

            There’s lots of ways to skin a cat, even if you don’t currently do what you’re recommending. This is different than “do as I say, not as I do,” it’s “do as I say because it’s what I’ve done before.”

            If we just followed the science, we’d be doing 20 reps of negative only knee extensions because that’s what was tested. 😉

            Best,
            Skyler

          • Yes, modern sports science seems to suffer simultaneously from the inability to properly interpret empirical findings (viz this study; more in an upcoming post), and the lack of insight necessary to approach questions germane to strength and conditioning from a reasonable theoretical basis. The same could be said of modern (mainstream) nutritional science.

  2. Interesting post. It would seem that it might be a good mid week workout for those doing a BBS style workout once a week or so. You get some added benefit without a tiring grinding workout. I think I will try this out today(5 days since a BBS workout and 5 days before the next). Any thoughts?

    Always good to read your thoughts as I am one of those less knowledgeable readers.

    • Keep in mind the dose/recovery/rebound correlation. Doug has included a nice representative graph in BBS. We want to attempt to time the next workout when we are in the “rebound” zone (Doug might have a different label for this zone – I don’t have access to a copy of BBS at the moment, though, to see). Just as in the Three Little Bears, we want our soup not too hot, and not too cold, but just right; or, in other words, you’re dealing with a workout equivalent of a mixed metaphor. In the same way that I don’t think it’s effective to vary modalities (widely) intra-workout, I don’t think it’s effective to do so in the context of a particular block, either. That’s just my personal opinion, though. Others may have devised a way to weave these modalities together to form an effective, seamless overall workout block, though I’ve not yet run across such.

  3. Keith,

    Good stuff your pointing me to, as always. 😉

    Some of my own recent results with “explosive-ness”.
    Per Bryce’s advice I started doing only 3-4 pulls ups at a time explosively. Going for a lightness and weightless feeling. Since I switched to doing pull ups this way, I’m now able to do 2 muscle ups.
    I was able to do 15-20 dead hang strict slow pullups before…but couldn’t get the muscle up.
    I have a lot to learn in the gym I’m sure….but I learn from doing, and carefully observing what happens to my body when I experiment with different things. Thanks for always providing me with quality signposts and maps.

    Best wishes for a magical holiday season to you and your family and all the best wishes for an amazing 2010.
    Marc

  4. I read this article a few days ago and was confused by the fact that it stands in opposition of the TUL principle while still claiming to provide the same benefits.

    I guess in terms of hypertrophy, any new stimulus is going to produce results provided that you’ve hit on the correct level of intensity required to convince your body it needs to change.

    It seems that physical culture (athletic OR aesthetic) is as much art as it is science.

    • It seems that physical culture (athletic OR aesthetic) is as much art as it is science.

      My sentiments exactly, Jerry. I’d go so far as to say that there’s more that we don’t know (science-wise) about exercise than we do. We have to be adept at using what little science we do have to create the overall art of physical culture. Specifically to your point here, hypertrophy is truly a yin-yang phenomena between proper doses of TUL activity and cobbling cns efficiency via explosive movements. To muddle the waters further, there exists no clear-cut delineation between TUL and cns work unless you speak of either extreme side of the spectrum. The trick to intelligent training and/or coaching is to properly juggle goals, weakness, proper modalities vis-a-vis the situation, specific modality intricacies, programing block duration, etc. It can be daunting, yes – but therein lay the fascination 🙂

  5. Thanks Keith for such an insightful blog and link to such an interesting article. I have been following your blog for a month or so now, and dabbling in the Paleo lifestyle (nothing serious diet wise, but trying it on and off). Thanks for all of the great info.

    However, is there any way we could have an acronym link/faq somewhere? I am pretty familiar with most of the terms that you use, but occasionally (especially in the comments to this article), I am unsure as to the meaning of some of them. TUL? BBS? Maybe a bit of a list would be nice for us newcomers? Thanks again for a great site.

    I did try out this more explosive/self-regulating approach to training in moy workout yesterday, and contrary to what I expected, I actually had several Personal Records for my exercises rep wise. Weird, but I am happy, and I will definitely continue to utilize this approach come the new year, when I am starting up the 5-3-1 program for 6 months or so.

    • This is something I’ve been wanting to do – it’s just a matter of trying to find the available time to do so. For now, though, TUL = Time Under Load (otherwise known as Time Under Tension); BBS = Dr. Doug McGuff’s fantastic book, Body By Science.

  6. Could someone further explain the concept of the micro-drop? Is he advocating that you release tension at the bottom of the movement? Wouldn’t that be non ideal if you’re “in the hole” for an exercise like the squat?

    • Two things: (1) enhanced stretch reflex ==> sets up the next concentric, and (2) enhanced cns stimulation/prime; in essence, this is RFD work. Remember, the weights being used here are optimal for max power generation, so we’re talking 65 – 85% (ballpark) 1RM. “Non-ideal” is only relative to what aspect you’re attempting to work. There are many sensible reasons for wanting to avoid the stretch reflex in a particular movement (mostly germane to power lifting/raw strength applications), so this is a matter of properly matching desired outcome to applicable training method.

  7. Thanks for putting the link up. All seems to make sense and its good to have a reminder about these things. Sometimes you just need to see things written down to take it in. I’ve had a couple of workouts using this method and my joints feel a lot better even though they’re probably put under more force now that I used to before.

    Just wondering what your thoughts are for modifying it if hypertrophy isn’t your main aim? I’m fairly happy with the size I am at the moment and I’d just like to increase strength and muscle density. I’m not sure about reducing the number of sets because the reps are so low. Is it just a case of cutting down on the steak and eggs?

    • This is what I do when I want to move into a strength-emphasis block – and in fact, this is what I will begin to do tomorrow: I’ll use the same rep scenario, but I’ll do a straight set of singles in rest-pause fashion – something akin to “Dog Crap” training, if you’re familiar with that (though I morph this particular method to suit my needs). In my experience, this type of training affects strength to a much greater degree than hypertrophy (TUL is still pretty low, even at 18 -21 singles/reps). Any hypertrophy that does occur will be functional, i.e. increased fiber size rather than the non-functional sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Check back over the next few days, as I’ll be explaining this method a little as a time (and as I have the time) as I progress through this particular block. As always, learn to listen to and trust your body, and eat the proper (Paleo) foods to satiation. Let the workout dictate the hunger/feeding/satiation response. The rest will take care of itself.

  8. Keith,

    I’ve been geared toward slow heavy reps ever since reading Arthur Jones and Darden’s writings years ago. I try to be open minded and have started to experiment with some of these faster reps. I have discussed vertical jump development with you and Skyler on separate occasions and I’ve become more interested in it lately since I have a son who’s starting to play basketball. There is a company called Powernetics that manufactures a machine for doing squat type training. They recommend fast, explosive reps and report some excellent results. Of course it may just be advertising. The local high school has one of their machines called “The Bear” and it feels pretty good. After reading this article and your comments on rep speed it got me to thinking about Powernetics and their approach. Their website is http://www.powernetics.com/index.php?pgid=1

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks,
    David

    • I’ve heard nothing but good things about the powernetics line, and they seem to have crafted a set of machines that allow for the emphasis to be placed on the explosive movement without having to worry about fatigue induced technical issues. My advice would be to work the hell out of the units and wring all that you (or your son) can from them. Just keep in mind that no single tool is the be-all, end-all, and all tools have their inherent limitations. What these machines will not help develop is fine body control – either in a single, explosive event or under fatigue/duress. This is where the free weight/Oly derivatives come into play. Smart integration of these diverse methods would seem to be a pretty good fit, and I think coupled with smart strength work programming would give one a very solid, weight room base from which to progress.

      I’m jealous, and if I had access to these machines, I’d definitely put them to use – if that means anything to you.

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