Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Green Lantern workout part I

What's that? Shameless search engine fodder just because there's a movie coming out? Well, maybe. But bear with me!

Aside from being a strength training geek, I also happen to be a comic book geek. Yes lifting weights and reading comics may seem like odd bedfellows but I assure you my bookshelf is one part Zatsiorsky to one part Alan Moore.
Anyway, the green lantern is a slightly more obscure superhero, lacking the recognition of superman or batman, despite inhabiting the same fictional universe. He is a member of the green lantern corps, an intergalactic police force who protect the universe from various threats with the use of their power rings (yes, I know, but stick with me here). The ring is capable of producing anything the ring-bearer imagines, provided he keeps it charged by placing it in his power battery (the physical green lantern of the title) and reciting the green lantern oath-
"in brightest day, and blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight,
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power, Green Lanterns light"

Ok Zack, shut up and get to the point.

Well, allow me to draw an analogy between the green lantern's ring and your central nervous system (CNS).
(warning, massive oversimplification ahead)
The CNS is absolutely crucial to strength training. In fact strength training IS central nervous system training by definition, as the CNS is ultimately the engine, the coordinator and the limiting factor for force production.
Any time you perform a set of an exercise you are doing two things, you are stimulating the CNS and you are accumulating fatigue both of the local muscles involved and the nervous system itself.
The trick is to keep the stimulation high and the fatigue low. So, the CNS is your power ring, it will let your muscles do whatever you want, but you have to keep it charged. See? I got there eventually!

So how do we stimulate the CNS without fatiguing it excessively? How do we keep that ring charged?

First of all, some simple principles for training effectively without accumulating massive amounts of fatigue. Then in the second part of this post I'll provide some strategies for training that will actually recharge the CNS.

Train frequently- seems counterintuitive, but when you employ the other fatigue-limiting techniques I'll list it becomes second nature. I truly believe there is no physiological reason for most people to have "rest days". That's not to say there aren't lifestyle or psychological reasons but that's another story. The nervous system requires and thrives on frequency. High frequency also builds work capacity, which allows you to train , you guessed it, more frequently! Infrequent, high intensity style training is a vicious cycle as the less you train, the less capacity you have to train (the less "fit" you become if you like) and therefore the less work it takes you to overtrain. So remember, there is always something you can do, every day, to make yourself better.

Avoid training to failure on bigger movements- I am not an absolutist and there is a time and place for nearly every training technique. But in general, on big barbell exercises like squats, deadlifts and presses, it's better to lift more often, for more sets while not taking those sets to absolute failure. This allows you to do more work overall which is the name of the game. I'm not advocating training easy mind you, so if you can text and squat you're doing it wrong.

Do not emphasise the lowering phase (particularly on big exercises) if you also want to train them frequently- the lowering or "eccentric" phase of any lift is what does the most damage and accumulates the most fatigue. If you can only get in the gym a few times a week, then accentuating the eccentric phase with a slow lowering tempo has it's uses. But you can't both train frequently and do this. Eccentrics can be useful but they don't allow frequency, and frequency trumps all!

Do a few things well- you only have so much power in your battery . Don't use it up on exercises that don't directly tie in to your goals. To be honest, for most people this probably just translates to more squatting and less silly single leg/unstable/machine exercises. Bottom line, spend most of your time on the most productive exercises.

Ok, that does it for the first part of this post, next time- how to use a training session to enhance CNS recovery.

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