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Shut Up and Get Strong

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High-Rep drop sets, density circuits, and complexes are all sexy training methods that help you crush training plateaus.

 

But there’s a problem: Most lifters aren’t strong enough to actually reach a plateau. Instead, they’re program hopping, weak, and minoring in the minutia.

I see it with clients all the time:

One week it’s density training circuits to get shredded. Two weeks later, they’re bulking with German Volume Training. These are all great programs when properly planned, but too much exercise and programming variety is hurting everyone’s gains, yours included.

The bottom line is just get strong, that’s nearly always my first focus with new online and in-person clients.  Hit a double bodyweight deadlift. Bench press 1.5 times your weight for reps. Clean your bodyweight.

All of these physiological goals will go a lot further for building a lean, muscular, and strong body than every sexy training methods on the interwebz.

The basics are this:

  • Without a solid strength base, drop sets and crazy finishers are pointless. Stop majoring in the minor and get strong first to build muscle.

 

  • Building strength makes you more explosive. Strength builds a base for speed and power so you can develop athleticism.

 

  • Building strength allows you to build more muscle. Focusing on strength means you’ll be able to achieve greater metabolic stress and force muscles to grow.

 

  • Strength is important to losing fat. Working on strength preserves muscle and increases metabolic rate while in a caloric deficit.

I love variety. Some days I want pizza, and the other days I want ribs. All days I want steak and maybe some bourbon.
In training,  I like to change it up, but I make sure the most important task is covered: improve strength. Sure, bourbon and steak drop sets, complexes, and sexy methods make an appearance, but they’re secondary to strength.

Improve performance and place a premium on strength development and you’ll reach any goal faster.

This article received a lot of positive feedback, with a big shout out from my good friend Dr. John Rusin, as he covered it on the Strength Doc Podcast for his article of the week while adding tons of incredible coaching insgiht.

Listen Here:

Shut Up and Get Strong on the Strength Doc Podcast

 

Read it Here:

>>>Shut Up and Get Strong<<<

Discover the Power of Complex Training

[A variation of this article was originally published on EliteFTS.com]

Here’s what you need to know:

1.Post-Activation Potentiation is the driving force behind the benefits of complex training.

2. Complex-pair training, when scheduled in appropriate training blocks, can improve power and rate of force development (RFD).

3.Complex training works best in trained, advanced level athletes. Unless you can move a decent amount of weight this isn’t for you. If this is you, stop watching Miley Cyrus twerkin’ it, go pick up heavy stuff, and raid the fridge.

Adding 5 pounds to the bar each workout might work when you’re a rookie, but not once you’ve earned your keep in the power rack.

Long term gains aren’t achieved solely by linear workouts. Soon, your linear periodization and s-medium T-shirts no longer get the job done.

You’ve hit the dreaded plateau.

Plateaus will occur in the weight room. Luckily, one strategy reigns supreme in helping you bust through your current levels of strength, power, and muscular development. The time has come to add strategically designed complex training to stimulate explosive growth and strength.

Enter complex-pair training, an advanced training strategy to add some spring to your static strength, new slabs of muscle, and develop a powerful physique.

This advanced strategy has an athlete perform a high-intensity strength training exercise followed by an explosive exercise that mimics the biomechanics of the strength training exercise, such as a deadlift and a broad jump.

The driving force behind complex training is a phenomena known as post-activation potentiation.

What Is Post-Activation Potentiation?

Post-activation potentiation, commonly abbreviated as “PAP” is a physiological adaption describing the immediately enhanced muscle force output of explosive movements after a heavy resistance exercise is performed (Robbins 2005). It is believed that the contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions.

Essentially, the nervous system becomes excited due to the heavy load from the previous exercise, causing in increased response in the subsequent explosive exercise (Rixon et al. 2007).

How PAP Works

Post-activation potentiation primarily occurs in type 2 fast twitch muscle fibers, so the advanced technique is best used to maximize performance of explosive based activities such as weightlifting, sprinting, jumping and throwing activities (2,6).

Luckily, type 2 muscle fibers are also the muscle fibers with the most potential for muscle growth.

*Note: This is awesome.

There are two proposed mechanisms for PAP. (Stay with me on this one, as the science gets a little heavy.)

1.) According to Hamada et. el (2000), there is an increased phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chains during a maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). This allows the actin and myosin binding (for muscle contraction) to react to the increased calcium release. This reaction triggers a cascade of events leading to enhanced force muscle production at the structural level of muscle (Horwath & Kravitz ).

Thus, increased muscle activation yields a greater duration of calcium ions in the muscle cell environment, yielding a greater phosphorylation of the myosin light chain protein (Rixon et al. 2007).

Basically, the chemicals in your body that make your muscles contract get hyper sensitive and contract harder. 

2.) The second theory is based on the H-reflex, an excitation of a spinal reflex elicited by afferent muscle nerves. It is theorized that the PAP intervention enhances the H-reflex, thus increasing the efficiency and rate of the nerve impulses to the muscle (Hodgson, Docherty, Robbins, 2005).

In other words, your nervous system get’s jacked up full go from a heavier exercise that matches the movement pattern of the unweighted movement, such as a power clean. When an explosive exercise such as a vertical jump is performance, the body is primed and ready to fire on all cylinders.  As a result, the fully engaged nervous system powers up your jump to new heights.

The complex pair is then repeated for a number of sets. Over time, this improved neuromuscular efficiency improves the muscles ability to generate power.

It’s fun to be jacked, but the real bad-asses are jacked and explosive. You should have a little pop to go with your physique, not be as soft as melted butter.

Here are some common sample exercise pairings

Main Exercise:                        Explosive Movement:

Bench Press                               Clap Push Up, medicine ball chest pass

Shoulder Press                           Overhead medicine ball slam/ throw

Squat                                          Jump squat, vertical jump, box jump

Deadlift                                      Broad jump, kettlebell swing

Explosive Exercises For Complex Pairs

 

 

Considerations

Rest Periods

There is a balancing act between fatigue and PAP following a heavy strength movement. The key is finding a balance between the two, and I’ve found everyone to be different.

If the potentiation of the nervous system exceeds the level of fatigue, the explosive movement will be performed with more force and a higher rate of force development.

Bingo! Then we have both acute and long-term benefits of PAP.

But how long do we rest?

As it stands there is no uniform agreement about the optimal recovery required between the pre- load stimulus and subsequent muscle performance to gain optimal performance benefits (Macintosh et. al).

A comprehensive meta-analysis (Wilson et al) of Post Activation examined multiple variables, including rest periods and found both rest periods between 3-7 minutes and 7-10 minutes to yield significant power increases due to PAP, whereas longer time periods did not.

It’s important to note that the explosive exercise tested in many trials happened to be competitive sprint testing, rather than solely potentiating to bust through lifting plateaus.

As a Coach I must work within the time constraints of a typical session. For this reason, I   keep rest periods anywhere from 1-3 minutes between high intensity resistance exercises and explosive exercises, with active rest and mobility exercises performed between. A 1-3 minute rest period allows for PAP training stimuli while promoting a higher workout density and sufficient training volume, both important variables.

complex training

(Contreras, Post-Activation Potentiation: Theory and Application)

Workload:

To develop power, training intensity must be high enough to produce a potentiation effect. Workloads between 70-95% have shown the greatest positive effects on subsequent explosive exercises, although loads above 80% 1-RM have appear to have the greatest potentiating effect(4,12). In explosive exercises that use resistance (if at all) stay light, under 10 lbs. This places focus on moving fast and speed development.

Sets/Volume:

Volume is a tricky when it comes to PAP. Too much and you risk fatigue and limited PAP response. Too little and there isn’t a large enough training response for your ambitious goals.

“So what do I do?”

Volume can be achieved in a few ways, by increasing the number of sets total, the reps in each set, or both. Gilbert and Lees (2005) found performing as few as one set, and up to five sets, of an exercise has been successful in eliciting potentiation.

Gullich and Schmidtbleicher (1996) found sets consisting of greater than five total repetitions or 5 seconds of total contraction time are not advisable because of the fatigue induced.

In most cases, I use 3-5 sets of 3 repetitions. Do 3 Sets if you’re shooting more for strength/power gains and 5 sets if you’re aiming for hypertrophy and more power endurance.

Complex Training Workout Program:

Complexes maximize workout efficiency by combining a strength movement with an explosive movement. By maximizing the rate of force development (RFD) you will blast past stubborn plateaus and reach uncharted levels of muscular development, power, and strength.

A Sample 6 Week Progression may look something like this:

Week Load Sets/Reps(Strength Movement) Sets/Reps(explosive) Rest Between strength/ explosive movement
1 80% 5X4 5×4 60 s
2 85% 5X3 5×5 90s
3 90% 4X3 4×6 120s
4 (back off) 85% 3X3 3×3 60s
5 90% 5X2 5×5 90-120s
6 95% 5X2 5×4 120-150s

 

Monday: Movement Focus Squat Pattern

1a. Strength: Squat

1b. Mobility: Ankle/ Hip Mobilization

  1. Explosive: Countermovement Vertical Jump

Accessory Work: Vertical pulling, pressing, sled work

 

Tuesday: Movement Focus Horizontal Press

1a. Strength: Close Grip Bench Press

1b. Mobility: T-Spine Mobilization

1c. Explosive: Supine Medicine Ball Chest Pass

Accessory Work: Single leg, hinge pattern, weighted carries/ offset loading

 

Wednesday: Active Recovery/Off

 

Thursday: Movement Focus Hinge Pattern

1a. Strength:Deadlift

1b. Mobility: T-Spine/ Hip Mobilization

1c. Explosive: Broad Jump

Accessory Work: Horizontal Pulling, horizontal pressing, sled work

 

Friday:Movement Focus Overhead Press Pattern/ Olympic Lift

1a. Strength: Split Jerk

1b. Mobility: T-Spine/ Hip Mobilization

  1. Explosive: Overhead Medicine Ball Press-Throw

Accessory Work: Squat Pattern, Single Leg, weighted carries/offset loading

Wrap Up:

Unleash the power of complex training to shatter your strength training plateaus. As Yuri Verkhoshansky described PAP “ Imagine lifting a half-full can of water that you thought was full.” In other words, your jumps will feel like jumping on a trampoline after an extra scoop of pre-workout powder in your shaker cup.

The combinations included are by no means an end-all, but it’s important to match the movement patterns of the strength exercise and the explosive exercise. I wouldn’t advise training this way for long bouts of time, but strategically planned complex cycles will add plates to the bar, new found power, and pack on new slabs of muscle.

References:

1.)Contreras, B. (Designer). (2010, 05 4). Post-Activation Potentiation: Theory and Application [Web Drawing]. Retrieved from http://bretcontreras.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/capture.jpg

2.)French DN, Kraemer WJ, Cooke CB. Changes in dynamic exercise performance following a sequence of preconditioning isometric muscle actions. J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Nov;17(4):678-85.

3.)Gilbert, G, and Lees, A. Changes in the force development characteristics of muscle following repeated maximum force and power exercise. Ergonomics 48: 1576–1584, 2005.

4.)Gullich AC and Schmidtbleicher D. MVC-induced short-term potentiation of explosive force. N Stud Athlete 11: 67-81, 1996.

5.)Hamada T, Sale DG, MacDougall JD, Tarnopolsky MA. Postactivation potentiation, fiber type, and twitch contraction time in human knee extensor muscles. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Jun;88(6):2131-7.

6.)Hilfiker R, Hübner K, Lorenz T, Marti B. Effects of drop jumps added to the warm-up of elite sport athletes with a high capacity for explosive force development. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 May;21(2):550-5.

7.)Horwath, R., & Kravitz , L. (n.d.). postactivation potentiation: A brief review. Informally published manuscript, Exercise Science , Retrieved from http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article folder/postactivationUNM.html

8.)Macintosh BR and Rassier DE. What is fatigue? Can J Appl Physiol 27: 42-55, 2002.

9.)McCann, MR and Flanagan, SP. McCann, MR and Flanagan, SP. The effects of exercise selection and rest interval on postactivation potentiation of vertical jump performance. J Strength Cond Res 24(5): 1285-1291, 2010

10. Rixon KP, Lamont HS, Bemben M. Influence of type of muscle contraction, gender, and lifting experience on postactivation potentiation performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007; 21: 500–505.

11.)Robbins, D.W. Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2005, 19(2): 453-458.

12.)Saez de Villarreal, E.S., Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J. & Izquierdo, M. (2007). Optimal warm-up stimuli of muscle activation to enhance short and long-term acute jumping performance. Eur J Appl Physiol, 100 (4), 393-401.

The Secret of Absolute and Relative Strength for Athletes

Key Points:

-Absolute strength and relative strength are both vital to athletes, but more attention must be paid to relative strength for athletes.

– Strength is a key component for athletic success, but of one of many components

-Further increasing strength levels may reach a point of diminishing returns in athletic performance if the pursuit of strength is overemphasized other components of sport.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Absolute strength gets all the glory, but relative strength for athletes reigns king. In other words, being strong isn’t enough; you need to be strong for your size, too.

Wait…What?


“I thought being super strong was a cure all?”

relative strength for athletes

There’s a reason athletes don’t train exactly like powerlifters, and a reason powerlifters don’t train exactly like athletes. They require different skills, have individual needs, and limited resources to train.

To be honest, not everyone needs to be jacked out of their minds or squat 400 plus pounds to be a better athlete. Those guys are a dime a dozen– by lifting progressively heavier weights, cramming enough food down your gullet, and sleeping enough you’ll get big and strong. 

On the contrary, you rarely see smaller guys performing insane feats of strength in sport. Think 5’8″ Nate Robinson throwing down Tomahawk dunks amongst 7’0″ centers. His relative strength is exceptional and when combined with sound technique, you have explosive power. 

Why This Matters

As a relative strength athlete and coach of relative and absolute strength athletes I’m fortunate to have an improved perspective on what my athletes need to emphasize to maximize training and carryover into sports. Athletes spending too much time adding plates to the bar reach a point of diminishing returns if it causes un-necessary allocation of training and recovery resources and extra body mass.

Stop Taking Every Strength Building Article as the End all Be All

Contrary to what’s pushed in most major fitness publications absolute strength isn’t the end all be all–you must be relatively stronger than your competitors to gain a distinct advantage in sports that are based around speed, power, and movement.

You may love lifting heavy as much as anyone, but there is a point when “strong” is strong enough and the risks of pursuing further strength enhancement outweigh the rewards.

Relative Versus Absolute Strength 

I want to be crystal clear–absolute strength is essential for athletes. To be relatively strong you must have a base of absolute strength.

Relative strength= absolute strength/bodyweight

However, athletes that move their body through space such as gymnasts, sprint athletes, and combat sports with weight restrictions reach a point of diminishing returns when training for maximal strength and size. If training is too focused on improving maximum strength above other training variables then we’re missing the boat on training athletes to their sport.

Take the following example:

Ben Johnson, juiced or not juiced, was an absolute beast on the track and in the gym. With a 600lb+ squats at 170-180lbs he was absolutely stronger and relatively stronger than his competition, but would training to improve his squat as the primary mode of training necessarily improve his performance if other training suffers and he potentially gains weight to accommodate his training?

Here are some hypothetical numbers:

625lbs squat at 175lbs= 3.57x/bw

650 lbs squat at 185lbs= 3.51x/bw

Or a More practical Example:

405lb squat at 200 lbs = 2.025 x/bw

425 lb squat at 225 lbs = 1.89 x/bw

As you see,  being  stronger in an absolute sense doesn’t always mean stronger in a relative sense, which is more important for movement. This difference might seem minor, but if the additional weight results in being a step slower, or losing the ability to decelerate the body is the athlete really better? I’d venture not.

Relative Strength for Athletes 

There are many factors to consider, but heavy strength training is a tool for improvement, not the end-all be-all in performance. Does the allocation of resources towards building more strength with potential gains in size outweigh the benefits of higher relative strength and corresponding improvements in agility, speed, power, and coordination?

No, not when the athletes sports are mostly movement based.
You may be looking to get as big as a house for cosmetic reasons or for lifting more weight–that’s fine and there are always exceptions for absolute strength athletes like lineman, and strongman competitors. However, if you’re looking to get the most out of athletic  movement then gaining absolute strength and size isn’t always as important as improving relative strength for athletes.

Lets Discuss:

It’s important that lifters, competitive athletes, and trainers all understand the basis and limitations for certain styles of training. Training and improving absolute strength does a lot of great things, but it’s not the end-all be all to performance. Being absolutely strong isn’t enough– believing that is simply promoting another unquestioned training myth.  The real bad-asses are relatively strong– and able to run, jump, cut, and move their body like high-performance machines.

I know I’m opening a pandora’s box and going to get some flack for down talking absolute strength, but it’s a discussion that needs to be had and I want to hear your thoughts. Drop me a comment below and lets start the conversation. 

photo credit: Gil Laury via photopin cc

Build Your Strength Base

If you’ve been a consistent reader you know being weak is something I refuse to experience ever again. At 14 years old and a whopping 5’3″ 103lbs I was playing freshman football. Apparently, 14 was the age when my friends “decided to grow” and I was content being a blonde-haired, baby-faced munchkin.

I was sprinting down field on a kick-off and getting in position to make a tackle. I thought, “Why is this dude sprinting directly at me with the entire field open?” As it turns out I happened to be the path of least resistance.

Boom. 

I got trucked.

I’ve never been a big guy, I stand 5’9″ 180lbs, but never, ever, did I feel as helpless and weak as that moment. Although much of it was a matter of maturation, running through me was easier than running to open space.

I was vulnerable, I was weak, and I provided less resistance than a blade of grass.

I left that practice asking myself “Why are you weak? How can you get better?” From that moment on I refused to ever be weak again.

Strength is emphasized with all my clients whether they’re an athlete or trying to get shredded abs for summer. Luckily, improved strength improves more than your confidence, it improves all other training qualities.

Seriously, it doesn’t matter-Fat Loss is accelerated, muscle-building is stimulated, sports performance improves, and longevity increases by emphasizing a strength base.

Like anything else there is a risk:reward that must be taken into account. My opinions aren’t extreme on either end– strength building is a tool to achieve a goal. I prefer to address strength on a case by case basis where I consider the risk and reward of each exercise for each individual before starting the program.

Building strength isn’t for the faint of heart, it requires hard work, careful planning, and sound execution. Strength get’s tossed to the forefront of nearly every training program and although care must be used, it’s a great tool for improved health and performance. With that said I put together my arguments and why you need to make developing pure-strength a key focus in your routine.

Arnold Schwarzenegger liked it, so that means it must be pretty good, or we’re becoming BFF’s. Check it out.

Click me, I don’t bite!

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