Ok, so I know a good amount of you are somewhat curious about this "genius" program I keep talking about. So, today I'll give a detailed look at how I came up with it and why it works so well. Just a heads up, this post will probably get somewhat technical.
Focus on the Central Nervous System:
What I've found with most great strength training programs is that they assume the athlete has a pretty decent understanding of strength training in general. This assumption makes the program skip over a building phase that only experienced lifters would know to do before getting started. Many of these programs will start right off the bat with the use of percentages for their progression, and honestly, the vast, vast majority of people out there do not have a good understanding of what their 1 or 3 rep max lifts are at all. If you begin a program using a percentage of a made-up number, you are going to be fighting with trial and error for the entirety of the program rather than having incredible gains. I guarantee that if you prime all of your systems before diving into any known strength program, your gains will be insane. That's why I program a priming phase. Whether you're an experienced lifter or completely green to the iron game, if you are not primed properly you will only be hindering your potential gains.
Your nervous system acts as a sort of central control for muscle recruitment. If lift up a box that weighs 100 pounds, your brain sends a signal to your muscles to tell them how much they need to contract to handle the weight, and the amount of movement you plan to do with that weight. If your brain is not prepared to lift up a heavy weight, well, you'll probably have some issues trying to move that huge box from your basement to the garage. But just like your muscular system, you can train your nervous system to adapt quicker and quicker to greater loads. You can actually "strengthen" your nervous system through proper training, just like you do your muscles. The more primed your nervous system, the easier it will be to move heavier weights, easy as that. Now here's the controversial part: many people think that you can simply prime this system through a few basic movements. You can read up on some good info about eccentric-less exercises that are designed to fire up your nervous system before a lift. You could also get all old-school and slap the hell out of your training partner right before he/she is going for a max squat (sounds a bit funny, but it actually does work). The idea is "waking up" your systems through something extremely energetic, getting your endorphins roused and ready for fight! And this is all well and good except for the fact that there's only so much "waking up" you can do directly before you lift. If you overloaded your body the week before, with weight, with stress, with crappy nutrition, bad sleep, etc., you might hit a PR, but not one as big as you could have hit. If you prepared your body and mind in unison, and THEN got yourself all amped up with adrenaline before your lift... Well, you'd hit insane PR's like all my guys have been hitting over the past 6 months (we're talking 30, 40, 50, 60 pound gains over a few months for pretty experienced lifters).
So how do I prime this little nervous system thing? Nothing new here: progressive overload. This is something good ol' Milo of Croton taught us back in Ancient Greek times. To train for the Olympics, he carried a calf on his shoulders every day until the start of the Games a bunch of years later. By the time the Games came around, the calf had grown to a full blown cow and he could easily carry the thing around. This is commonly used to explain how to properly build the muscular system (it adapts to the progressively heavier weight by getting stronger), but is usable for the nervous system as well. Knowing how the nervous system works now, it makes sense that the brain must also adapt to the progressively heavier loads so that it can tell the building muscles to move properly. It's simply a matter of timing the two of these systems to work and grow in conjunction with each other.
Trail And Error:
Start by giving yourself 3 weeks of ascending weight load. I write in a 3x5 week, then a 5x5 week, and finally a 5x3 week (the first number is the amount of sets you do, the second is reps performed per set). Each of these weeks has you adding weight each set so your nervous system and muscles can get plenty of time to get on the same playing field. I think of it as a trial and error phase. You just sort of add weight and do movements in a seemingly non-specific way.
The 4th week has a set-weight 5x5 template. This is your classic strength-building set up. At this point your body and nervous system are pretty warmed up and ready to go. So, we take a very challenging weight and overload the body with higher reps. I allow for a adding on, or taking away of up to 10 pounds over the course of the 5 sets, but after 3 weeks of some pretty decent lifting, everyone should have a decent idea of what weight to use.
The 5th week is the key to the first phase of the program in that we set our 3 rep maxes. Every single athlete has put up a very impressive 3RM since I have started using this program. Again, this is because the nervous system and muscular system are primed and ready to go! Everything is working in harmony, and good things tend to happen when harmony is heard!
After this we hit a de-load week; very basic, same stuff but not as heavy (I write in 3 sets at about 60% of that 3RM). And after that comes phase 2 of the program. This is where things will look relatively familiar for anyone with any serious barbell training experience. Using the 3RM numbers we established, we get into a 5 week (with 1 week at the end for de-load) phase of specific percentages that again, progressively overload the the body up to that 5th week where we get to see that awesome 1 rep max we've been hoping for! In terms of the specifics, I threw together percentages that made sense to me based on my experience and things just clicked. And since I first wrote the program, I've only tweaked those percentage ever so slightly one time (I took one set away from week 7 as that day is a total shock to the body anyway, and having 6 sets was teetering on the brink of death..so, yeah).
Now we have Olympic lifting, accessory work, and metabolic conditioning. Oh boy, now the fun starts! Well actually, turns out I don't have to get into crazy detail with this stuff as I program it for only two reasons when programming for strength: technique and prep for other lifts. The technique aspect is to both to become better at Olympic lifting, and to get a bit better at controlling your body through space and around other things. Olympic lifting is extremely technical and the focus on form allows for a better understanding of controlling your own body. The prep side of things is all about firing up your nervous system to get it ready for the big, heavy lifts. So, I program pretty basic moves depending on the clientele. If it's a CrossFitter, I'll program in a progression of accessory pulls (snatch and clean pulls, high pulls, pulls off blocks) as well as plenty of power snatch and power clean work, and full snatch and clean work. For the athlete and 9-5er it's a little more simple with mostly hang power work and some pull accessory work. I usually use a modified program from Catalyst Athletics for the Oly work, but again, it all really depends on the clientele.
Accessory And MetCon:
For accessory work and metcon I usually combine a good bit of them. Things like kettlebell swings, presses, push ups, pull ups, lunges, step ups and so on, can all be programmed intelligently into a metabolic conditioning workout. I always remind people to make sure to NOT overdo it here. Especially if you're a CrossFitter, you may have a tendency to want a "WOD" that completely kicks your ass. Well, if it kicks your ass with a specific purpose (like fatiguing your posterior chain and forcing you to generate power with your hips without risking good form) then great, kick away. But if you just throw a bunch of exercises together that look cool but you can't give a detailed explanation as to why it was written, you suck at programming, enough said. I will put the other accessory lifts into a circuit either directly after the strength portion of the session, or after the metcon if it was a tad less intense. These exercises are things like: reverse hypers, GH raises, good mornings, bent rows, Turkish get ups, windmills, etc.
Like I said before, this is not really new stuff in terms of training programs, just a new and COMPLETE approach that I think tends to get lost when most people get started with something. Not sure why I haven't seen a program written like this for the public ever (I know plenty of coaches who will naturally do this sort of thing for their private clients), but so be it, there is one now!
I know there are probably a million more things I could write concerning this program, but i just wanted to lay out the basics for all of you so you could see where I'm coming from. I would LOVE feedback on this, so, please feel free to say what you like. This whole programming thing has become something of a passion for me, and I know it's a never-ending learning process. All I know is it's fun as hell figuring out how to design something that makes people better!
Oh, and if you want to see this program in action (and how I implement Olympic lifting, accessory work and metabolic conditioning for the CrossFitter and the athlete, you can check out the CP East page on this site, and, check out the site below. Both are using the template, but both are very different in how they look. CP East is designed for high school, collegiate, and professional athletes, Courage Workout is designed for up and coming competitive CrossFitters. I also program for myself and a few training partners based on this same template; I'm working now on getting those workouts posted up somewhere as well.
Courage Workout (program design site for CrossFitters)
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