Sensory information dictates our perception of the world around us-whatever world that may be to you. That world may be walking down the street feeling the sunlight on your face, holding a barbell in a gym, or sitting at a table holding a loved one’s hand. Our brain needs accurate sensory information from our environment, in order to connect. Sensory information includes the linkage of both the external environment (sensory) and internal environment (emotions). Representations of our environment can occur with both real and remembered stimuli (1). Human behavior and motor control is based upon ACCURATE sensory information (19,21,22). Vision, vestibular, and somatosensory (pain, touch, temperature, and proprioception) input provides our brain with the information it needs to make accurate motor and behavioral responses. The brain needs this afferent information in order to feel safe and know that it can protect itself against threat. You need the ability to sense and feel.
What we have learned from Part 1 is that physiological adaptations during training are due to the planning of stress. As humans, we need the stress response to survive. Stress is training variables (i.e reps, sets, intensity, loads, velocities, etc.) and the cascade of the HPA axis is the window into performance. But we also need to be able to turn it off when it is not needed.
A chronic state of stress will limit adaptation and performance. A chronic state can lead to changes in environmental perception, behavior, and anxiety (level of tension). Allostatic overload is a term that reflects the pathophysiology that chronic over activation of the stress response of regulating systems can create. These changes can reflect compensation patterns for movement and be reflected physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. Part 2 will be dedicated to the physical adaptations to allostatic overload.
However, we need to appreciate that it is not just physical. Part 1 discussed emotional and behavioral overload such as heightened threat perception, anxiety, increased level of alertness and tension, and difficulty relaxing (parasympathetic access). “Hyperactivity of amygdala may be part of mechanism through which normal fear process translates into anxiety disorder in some individuals” (15). “Stress- related neuroplastic changes are associated with decreased behavioral flexibility” (4,5).
Everything is connected.
“Do whatever you want, just know that it has a consequence” - Chris Chase
What does this look like?
Wolff’s Law states that bone in a healthy human will adapt to the loads under which it is placed; if loading on a particular bone increases, the bone will remodel in order to support the increase in load over time. This law also applies to muscle, the muscle will hypertrophy if there is an increased demand on the muscle. For example, if the body is lateralized to the right, the vastus lateralis is eccentrically loaded to support body weight thus creating hypertrophy.
The pictured athlete is lateralized TO THE RIGHT. Not only is it evident in this picture, but it was determined through testing.
Muscles are SUPPOSE to function in a specific way but the position that the muscle is in due to boney landmarks dictates the function. Function is dictated by position. Stress will pull athletes into an extended position due to an increase in muscle tone of spinal erectors, lats, traps, gastrocnemius, and superficial neck muscles. Performance can be effected due to overreliance on non-
oxidative energy systems in these muscles.
Superficial neck muscles such as the sternocleidomastoid and traps will be recruited to pull clavicles up to create more space vertically when the diaphragm is not in the most efficient/correct POSITION to function. Both the tendon (attachment point) and belly of the superficial neck muscle will hypertrophy due to increased load. Hello, neck pain.
It doesn’t stop at physical properties of the muscle. Firing patterns can be altered, in which neural pathways for breathing are going to be normalized and directed to using superficial neck muscles instead of the diaphragm, internal obliques, and transverse abdominals to breathe. If the rib cage or pelvis positions are altered and pathophysiology develops, neural firing patterns needed for all three planes of movement (sagittal, frontal, and transverse) may be altered. This may lead to compensation patterns and limit function of major, powerful muscles such as the gluteus maximus.
Impingement may also be a symptom of allostatic overload. An athlete may experience impingement because of lack of anatomical afferent information of where the body is in space. Positional impingement is the instability from misaligned structural position or orientation. Often athletes who experience impingement symptoms (feeling of ‘pinching’ at a joint) lack sensation and resort to a safety pattern. Misaligned body structures can be the result of allostatic overload and impingement becomes the response to threat.
What to do?
Sensory processing will reduce emotional intensity and DE threaten the environment and/or task. A low- resourced environment due to a lack of sensory information is likely to result in high levels of stress. Use tempos to SLOW PEOPLE DOWN. Get people to think, find, feel, and process information. Can you feel this? Can you find that? Feel appropriate muscle working and utilize spatial and ground references to provide athlete with sensory information.
Ground and spatial references that provide perceptual feelings will provide brain with sensory information to respond with the appropriate motor signal. Finding and feeling creates stimulation and stabilization which will help assist symptoms of impingement.
We all need sensory processing for proper motor function; this in combination IS performance.
Consider the pelvic floor when you squat. Pelvic floor dysfunction can lead to pelvic floor pain, poor bladder control (adult diapers), vulvodynia, erectile dysfunction in males, and dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse). “The pelvic floor muscles contribute to postural (control of lumbar spine and pelvis) and respiratory functions” (7). During periods of increased intra-abdominal pressure such as lifting pelvic floor muscle (puborectalis, puboccygeus, and iliococcygeus) activity is increased to prevent or limit rostral displacement (anterior tilt) of the floor, maintain bladder neck, and assist with urethral and anal closure. If the pelvic floor is not in a good position during activity, weakness and dysfunction may result.
If pelvic position is not restored after lifting (external load) and the pattern/position becomes normalized, it further leads to pelvic floor weakness and possible dysfunction. Improper consideration of the position of the pelvis and function (descent) of the pelvic floor during training can lead to allostatic overload. Improper consideration of the position of the pelvis and function of the pelvic floor muscles during external loading (lifting) OR the inability to return to a neutral position after loading may lead to weakness and dysfunction. Consider the health and function of the athlete years after they are done training with you. What are you leaving them with?
Re-think and APPRECIATE how the athlete is anatomically positioned and how this position is allowing and creating movement. How do you do this? TEST. The most beneficial thing I have taken away from Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) course is a greater understanding of anatomy and exercise selection that provides the athlete with the most benefit and least amount of cost on the system. Let’s use the example of a kettlebell swing: The athlete (on right) demonstrated bilateral pelvic anterior tilt with testing. During the KB Swing, the athlete is not maintaining foot contact with the ground, externally rotating the femur into further ranges of external rotation without the ability to flex, adduct, and internally rotate (I know this via testing).
So my question is, why would I prescribe an exercise that forces them to greater ranges of external rotation when I know that they are stuck in external rotation? If I force them to go into a greater range of motion in this position, I am driving them into pathology (overlengthening of ligaments, etc.). Is this beneficial? No. Can I find other ways to work on hip hinging and explosive hip extension? Yes. Be creative and understand the individual.
Address anatomical stress patterns. Promote exhalation and systemic flexion to change entrenched and automatic extension position. Get people to EXHALE. IF your athlete is stuck in extension, is giving more extension the best for that athlete? OR is it leading them down a path of pathology? This doesn’t mean stop training? NO, it means manage the consequences. Are they performing exercises in a safety pattern? Then DE threaten. DE threatening the task and/or environment will reduce stress on the system. For individuals who test as pelvic forward/anterior tilt, trap bar deadlifting may be more beneficial in terms of position to strengthen the posterior chain than squatting under high loads. (Understand the context: I work with collegiate athletes how are not competing for money and will most likely not compete at a higher level, so future health and function is a consideration.)
Create a comfortable, welcoming, and positive environment. Positively influence environment, mitigate athlete’s perceptions of both security and risk (2), create quality relationships/social interactions, and educate/provide awareness. Consider psychological stress, just as much as physical stress; know that they are interrelated.
“We spend so much time and energy designing programs and arguing about ‘best’ exercises or ‘best’ session designs, and yet so little time reflecting on how best to positively manipulate training and competition contexts to optimally reduce the negative impacts of stress.” - John Kiely
As a strength and conditioning coach, the best way to manage cost in consideration of allostatic load is with exercise selection. We shouldn’t just modify exercises if an athlete is injured or has physical restrictions, we should modify exercises to avoid unnecessary wear and tear. Choose exercises that avoid pain, provide appropriate position while maintaining intensity. For example, safety bar squatting instead of back squat to avoid shoulder wear and tear and allow athlete to maintain proper position throughout movement. We all have a tendency to want the biggest and best results as fast as possible, however focus on achieving sustainable long-term returns with the overall health and future of the athlete in mind.
About the Author
– Strength and Conditioning Coach at Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
– PhD. Exercise Physiology, Springfield College
– M.S. Strength and Conditioning, Springfield College
– B.S. Nutrition, Keene State College
– Follow on Instagram: mboland18
– Visit: www.michelleboland-training.com
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- 4. Cerqueira, J. J., Pego, J. M., Taipa, R., Bessa, J. M., Almeida, O. F. X., & Sousa, N. (2005). Morphological correlates of corticosteroid-induced changes in prefrontal cortex-dependent behaviors. Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 7792–7800.
- 5. Ganzel, BL, Wethington, E, & Morris, PA (2010). Allostasis and the human brain: Integrating models of stress from social and life sciences. Psych Review 117(1): 134-174
- 6. Hodges, P.W., Sapsford, R., & Pengel, L.M. (2007). Postural and respiratory functions of the pelvic floor muscles. Neurourology and Urodynamics 26: 362-371.
- 7. Lovallo, W. (2016). Stress & Health: Biological and psychological interactions. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA.
- 8. McEwen, B. S. (2000). Allostasis and allostatic load: Implications for neuropsychopharmacology. Neuropsychopharmacology, 22, 108–124.
- 9. McEwen, B. S. (2004). Protective and damaging effects of the mediators of stress and adaptation: Allostasis and allostatic load. In J. Schulkin (Ed.), Allostasis, homeostasis, and the costs of physiological adaptation (pp. 65–98). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press
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- 17. Sterling, P., & Eyer, J. (1988). Allostasis: A new paradigm to explain arousal pathology. In S. Fisher & J. Reason (Eds.), Handbook of life stress, cognition, and health (pp. 629 – 649). Chichester, England: Wiley.
As coaches and athletes we’re always in pursuit of the same thing:
And that progress will come in many different shapes and sizes. For one person it may mean losing 15 lbs, for another it may mean deadlifting 500lbs, and for another it may mean winning a world championship.
At the end of the day, however, progress is always the uniting principle by which we can gauge the effectiveness of a training program:
Is it taking you/he/she closer towards their goal?
If yes, then you’re making progress.
If no, then you’re not.
BUT, here's the magical question: how do I or my athletes make progress?
But not just any stress, it has to be the right type of stressor, at the right time, in the right amount. If any of those factors are off, then you won't be incurring the type of positive adaptation you're looking for.
While there are many variables to consider when putting together a comprehensive training program, I'd like to focus today on one that I believe doesn't get enough attention, and the implications it has for training. And that variable is called: The Minimal Adaptable Load.
The Process of Adaptation
Before continuing, it's important that you know a thing or two about adaptation since that is, at the end of the day, how we make progress.
Thus, let's walk through the basic process.
In the graph below you'll notice fitness level is on the y-axis and time is on the x-axis. The 0 point on the y-axis represents your current fitness level, while above it represents improvement and below represents decline. It's important to note that any fitness quality can replace "fitness level" on the y-axis. For example, you could easily get more specific and put something like speed strength, or starting strength, or absolute strength, but for today we'll just focus on the broader concept of fitness.
As you can see in the above graph, the process of adaptation follows a pretty simple formula:
Step 1: Provide a stressor/training stimulus
Step 2: Fatigue
Step 3: Recovery
Step 4: Supercompensation
Step 5: Involution
If you'd like to read more about adaptation, then checkout this post I wrote for Eric Cressey a little while back.
Let's take this a step further and consider three separate scenarios:
Scenario 1: Not Enough Stress (Purple Dashed Line)
In this scenario, the athlete has not been stressed nearly enough. While they did accumulate low levels of fatigue, it wasn't enough to force a positive adaptation (notice how the purple dashed line doesn't cross back over the original fitness level).
Scenario 2: Too Much Stress (Red Dashed Line)
This is the exact opposite of our first scenario: the athlete has been stressed far too much (driven too low) and can't adequately recover. In other words, they dug a hole too deep to climb out of (again...not surpassing the original fitness level and maybe even getting worse).
Scenario 3: Just Right (Green Dashed Line)
Jackpot! The athlete has been stressed enough to force adaptation to occur. Fatigue accumulated, but it was the right amount of fatigue because the athlete could adequately recover from it.
The Minimal Adaptable Load
What you just experienced in Scenario 3 is the minimal adaptable load. And seeing as this is a term you're probably not familiar with (I'm fairly certain I made it up this past weekend) let's go ahead and define it:
The minimal adaptable load represents the total amount of volume in tons/lbs/kgs that must be lifted over the course of a designated period of time in order to incur a positive adaptation in a fitness quality.
Hopefully I don't need to explain why this concept is important, but this value does change with time. When you first start off training you can practically just look at weights and get stronger, but once you've been lifting for a while it takes a little more effort to keep putting weight on the bar.
Which brings us to our next big point:
The Beginner vs. The Advanced Athlete
I think the real beauty of the minimal adaptable load shows through when considering how you go about training a beginner vs. a more advanced athlete.
Since the beginner has a lower training age it won't take nearly as much stress/load to improve a given fitness quality. The more advanced athlete with an older training age, on the other hand, will require significant stress/loading to improve a given fitness quality.
For example, take a freshman in high school who hasn't touched weights once his entire life and an all american going into his senior year of college. Different scenarios?
You bet your ass they are.
And that has to show through in their programming.
The beginner can afford to train several different fitness qualities at once because it doesn't take much loading to incur a positive adaptation. For example, let's say it takes 300 lbs of volume (and this is a completely arbritrary number) for him to see improvement in maximal strength. That's not much at all, so you can afford to go after multiple qualities at once.
The advanced athlete, on the other hand, might need 10,000 lbs of volume (again, made up number) to see progress. Thus, he needs to periodize his programming to focus on one fitness quality at a time. He cannot train max strength, strength speed, and speed strength simultaneously because it'll be impossible to make progress in any category. If he actually did perform the necessary amount of loading in each category he'd be so overtrained that he'd get worse.
Keeping Track of Training
The other important thing to note is that you should be keeping track of your training (and your athletes training if you're a coach).
If you don't have these numbers, then how are you ever going to appropriately monitor training from month to month, and year to year.
For example, let's say you hit a 3 month block aimed at improving your deadlift. At the end of those three months you retest and see very minimal gains. What should you do next?
Well...you should consult you're training log. Look at volume, look at intensity, look at how many different fitness qualities you're attempting to train at once etc. In essence, bury yourself in the numbers and figure out where your program is coming up short.
Granted, there are other variables to consider as well: nutrition, total allostatic load etc. But having a training log is an invaluable tool when it comes time to making consistent progress over the long haul.
While we touched on some bigger concepts in today's article, here are the three major takeaways I hope you have:
1. Identify your and/or your athletes training age because it will have a big impact on how you approach programming for them.
2. Keep track of your and/or your athletes training with a detailed training log because it gives you invaluable data on training volume etc.
3. Begin thinking in terms of the minimal adaptable load (i.e. how much volume needs to be lifted over x amount of time for me to see gains in y lift).
As always, feel free to post questions, comments, concerns and/or pictures of people curling in the squat rack below.
about the author
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Your body has its own bank account.
It’s an account full of what we’ll call adaptive currency, and it’s responsible for buying you different fitness qualities. For example, say you want to add 10 pounds to your deadlift…well, that’s going to cost you.
In fact, every decision you make in both life and training impacts the size of your bank account and influences how much “money you have to spend” at any one time.
For those of you out there who have aspirations to perform at a high level, and stay healthy doing so, it’s vital to understand this concept...
Be sure to checkout the rest of the post over at Eric Cressey's site by clicking the link below:
about the author
Everyone knows recovery is truly essential to facilitating adaptation. No matter how hard you work one day, if you aren’t properly recovering from the stress imposed on your body then it can, and will, negatively impact your whole training week. In a nutshell, adaptation happens because you’re imposing a similar stressor over a prolonged period of time, which then forces mechanical and neural changes throughout the body. These adaptations, however, can plateau or even decline when major imbalances in stress and recovery exist. Let’s start with the training week since it’s essential to making real change. Week after week of continued and varied stimulus is the driving force behind your gains. And while a single training day is simply not enough to induce adaptation in your body, it’s the summation of many good training days over the course of several weeks that make big things happen. In order to adequately recover from these individual sessions, and show up fresh day after day, your nutrition must be spot on. Here’s an easy way to think of this: the more effectively you recover from the training day the more you will be able to handle next session, and the more able you are to handle the next session, the greater your gains will be over time.
A very effective way to improve recovery from session to session is via pre-intra-post workout nutrition (also known as peri workout nutrition). While there are literally thousands of potential options for nutrition throughout the training window, it’s important to understand that proper nutrition can fuel you to adapt better to the training stressors being imposed.
Better Adaption= Better Gains
I typically find myself training later in the day after already consuming 2-4 whole food meals. On these days, I prefer liquid nutrition around my training because it will digest easier and faster. Not only that, training shakes have proved time and time again to be incredibly convenient when meal prepping or in a rush.
Two of my favorite sources for training centric nutrition are highly branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD) and whey hydrolysates.
Now whey hydrolysates have been around for some time, and about 15-20 years ago there was word on bodybuilding magazines that hydrolysates could induce greater skeletal muscle growth versus other protein sources. Their popularity has phased in and out over the years, but more and more quality research has been fueling their most recent surge. Specifically, hydrolysates from di and tri peptides are the choice recommendation for supplementation. And just so we’re all on the same page: hydrolysates are basically protein molecules that go through a filtration process that cleaves most of their peptide bonds making them much easier to digest.
These broken down protein molecules are not only utilized faster than intact whey (isolate, concentrate), but they are more effective when combined with high glycemic liquid carbohydrates:
- They have a substantially greater insulinotropic effect than intact whey and carbs.
- They significantly increase glycogen stores in skeletal muscle.
A very interesting study using male bodybuilders found that they recovered peak contraction force in only 6 hours following100 maximal quad contractions while supplementing with hydrolysate. This is only one study, but its results are relevant to the performance field, and it also shows the direction hydrolysate studies are taking which gives the results more efficacy.
Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin (HBCD)
Highly branched cyclic dextrin has been gaining a lot of popularity in the performance community as well. It is a chemically changed amylopectin molecule to actually give a cyclic look to the chain. The real efficacy for using these intra workout specifically comes from their lack of insulin response. The chains are very dense, and in your shaker bottle have a low osmolality, this means they can quickly bypass the osmo-receptors of the stomach. Also, due to their cyclic structure the chains are broken down at once.
Here’s something else worth noting: training is a catabolic process and needs high amounts of sympathetic drive in order to overcome stress. Insulin, however, is the chief anabolic hormone, and happens to be closely linked with the parasympathetic nervous system. This is often where the sugar crash conflict comes when using certain carbohydrate sources intra workout. So…by using highly branched cyclic dextrin we can avoid the sugar crash and maintain sympathetic drive.
Training Centric Shakes
*The macro-nutrients in the below examples are specific to me. They are based off my my daily caloric intake, macro distribution and my own meal plan. If you want help coming up with your own plan, then feel free to contact me via our coaching page.
Here’s the kicker: I’m kinda broke. I can’t always afford 4-5lbs of HBCD a month along with 4-5lbs of hydrolysates to use for all of my training shakes. The great part about the protocol I’m about to show you is its affordability. Replacing hydrolysates and HBCD at opportune times decreases the amount you will need per training session substantially.
The first shake, coming 30 mins before training, utilizes intact whey isolates and only 50% of the carbs come from HBCD. By the time your workout hits, the amino acids have been broken down from the intact whey and help facilitate the driving of glucose to the cell. The dextrose will also help spike insulin to drive glucose to the cell, however, cutting it with the HBCD makes coming down from the insulin spike much more manageable. This ideally should create an even environment for total uptake of the pre training macros.
The autonomics of intra training nutrition make it more difficult to cut the shakes with anything, but it is the smallest shake of the trio. By using whey hydrolysates and HBCD intra workout you can recover better during and after your training.
The post workout shake uses only dextrose for the carbohydrate source to obviously help shuttle nutrients to the cell, but also facilitate the recovery process by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The whey hydrolysates will immediately begin rebuilding the mechanical damage done to the body, and will be exaggerated by the dextrose based insulin spike.
This is only my attempt to interpret the research I’ve seen and somehow apply it to a real training scenario. I could be totally wrong, but for me, everything is way more fun when I step out of the box. I know this article had a lot of science, and I’m sure you’ll have some questions, so feel free to drop them below in the comments and I’ll help you out.
Also, below are two links if you’re interested in reading more on either HBCD and/or Hydrolysates:
For more info on HBCD click here
For more info on Hydrolysates click here
about the author
Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals. Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).
It’s that time of the year again. That time when fitness fanatics such as you and I are declared war upon by delicious and unforgiving foods, parties at the exact same time we usually workout, and so on so forth. While the food and activities surrounding the holidays are great, you need to increase your awareness to avoid losing your hard earned gains.
In other words, you need a strategy.
So let’s put this in a situation. You get out of work at 5pm, and there’s a holiday party you have to be at by 6:30pm. Thus, you can’t spend your usual one to two hours at the gym.
By the time you get to the gym and change, it’s already 5:15pm. You have to be out of there with something accomplished by 6 to then get home, clean up, get your swag on, and get to the gathering.
This should be a no brainer, but 45 minutes is more than enough time to get an awesome workout in. You just have to turn your beast mode on and be ready to get nasty.
And no, the way to do this is not slugging on a treadmill for 30 minutes, but rather via a training methodology known as high intensity circuit training.
Circuit training is moving from one exercise to another without resting, but don't confuse this with interval training: high intensity bouts followed by a controlled rest period repeated for x number of reps (the Tabata 20 on/10 off has become a well known example).
Although interval training is effective, today I’m talking all about circuit training, the benefits of it for fat loss and athletic performance, the physiological effect it has on your body, how to properly design a circuit training program, how to fuel up for this type of training, and the philosophy of quality over quantity.
Let me start by giving you a few reasons why you should have circuit training in your current program if you don't already.
It is time efficient: you can get a full warm up, main workout, and cool down in in less than 45 minutes.
You operate in an anaerobic state (no oxygen available to the body) while circuit training, which can actually increase your aerobic capacity (VO2 Max), which means you can work longer and recover quicker.
*note from James: Don't get confused here. We've talked before on the site about how adaptations from anaerobic glycolysis directly butts heads with aerobic development, and that's still true. What Nick is talking about, more specifically, is the contractile ability or strength of your heart. By working near a maximal heart rate for 30-90 seconds, you can increase the force with which your heart contracts, therefore pumping out more blood with each contraction. This is a more advanced technique, and works on a different aspect of aerobic development, but can still be utilized to squeeze out as much aerobic capacity as possible. Ultimately, your heart rate dictates the adaptation, so it's a good idea to track it throughout your workout.
Depending on intensity and duration, you continue to burn calories for 16-48 hours after a circuit training session. This is credit to EPOC or excess post exercise oxygen consumption. More on that below!
You will see massive improvements in anaerobic conditioning, speed, power, agility, muscle hypertrophy, and most of all mental toughness.
It is a great tool to structure around your heavy lifting days to trim body fat.
It is fun, challenging, outside of the box, and you feel like you’re the hulk while you’re doing it.
EXCESS POST EXERCISE OXYGEN CONSUMPTION
The best way to explain EPOC, and how it keeps your body burning calories after your workout, is the credit card metaphor used by Anja Garcia. Since you're operating in an anaerobic state (without oxygen) while circuit training, your body is building up lactic acid and goes into an oxygen debt (just like spending money that you don’t have yet). Now, after the workout, your body has to work to replenish the oxygen debt and flush out that lactic acid. This process takes energy, and thus burns more calories. How long it takes your body to recover is dependent on the intensity and duration of the workout.
DESIGNING THE PROGRAM
The first thing that you should ask when designing a circuit training program is, “what am I preparing for and how do I make this program relevant to my goals?” If you are working out simply because you love to work out and stay fit, then circuit training can be a great vehicle for staying lean and you can take whatever avenue you want. But if you’re approaching it from an athletic performance stand point, you need to make your circuits relevant to the demands of your game.
I will give an example. I am a hockey player; the average hockey shift is probably about 30 seconds to a maximum of 1.5 minutes. So when I design my circuits, I want to make them similar in length and physiological demand of a hockey shift. To give you an idea, here is what a sample round might look like for me:
Treadmill sprint, 20 seconds, 12 mph.
Dumbbell bent over row, 8ea arm
All three moves are done straight through without resting then you repeat. If you rest between sets (every time you do all three through) is dependent on what you’re preparing for, what adaptation you're looking to get, and what level of conditioning you’re at. For a Crossfit athlete or martial artist, I would say absolutely no rest between sets because of the high volume/endurance nature of what they do. Again, all of this will be dictated by where the athlete currently is, and where he or she wants to go.
For example, if you're an MMA or Crossift athlete with a resting heart rate in the 70's, then a circuit training session would look drastically different for you than someone who has a heart rate in the 50's. You first need to acquire some aerobic capacity before you tackle anything else. Thus, your circuits would be at a lower intensity, with a heart rate between 120-150 BPM.
Another example is hockey, aka my game, where we rest between shifts. Thus, I might take a short rest between sets. A great way to gauge if you’re ready to get into your next set is to monitor your heart rate. In particular, you're looking for your heart rate to drop back down to 120 BPM because it signifies full recovery.
Again, once you've identified where you are, and what adaptations need to take place to get you where you want to be, your circuit training sessions will be driven by your heart rate.
Let me translate that sample round I gave you, and make it into a template for you to use when you’re designing your program:
1A. Metabolic move
Sprint, agility ladder, fast pace ropes, prowler pushes, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, medicine ball slams, something that gets you moving and shoots up your heart rate. Usually like to do this move for time. 15-30 seconds.
1B. Opposing muscle group to 1A
If you did a sprint in 1A, move to an upperbody/core move such as a push-up, shoulder press, russian twist, or front bridge plank. The reps or time frame you do here is dependent on the move. For a general prescription, it should take about 25-30seconds. Also, keep in mind that your heart rate is going to be high from 1A, so keep the loads lower here.
1C. Opposing muscle group to 1B
A simple example would be if you did a bicep curl in 1B, you do a tricep pushdown in 1C. The reps or time frame you do here is dependent on the move. For a general prescription, it should take about 25-30seconds.
The combination of all three moves equals a round. Do each round 2-3 times straight through. Have at least 3 rounds for every time you do a circuit training session.
Disclaimer: The example moves and exercise prescriptions I have given here are for a general consensus not speaking to any one individual. Adjust according to your own fitness levels and abilities.
If you stay within the template I just gave you, your circuit rounds can last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Given the intensity of these circuits and the fact you'll be working hard for 30-90 seconds, your body will be physiologically operating in what is called Anaerobic Glycolysis.
*note from James: this depends on the structure of the circuit, but for the type of circuit Nick is prescribing you will spend the majority of your time in a "Lactic state." But note that it's important to acquire a near maximal heart rate in order to improve the contractile strength of the heart. You don't just want to slosh around above your anaerobic threshold, unless the demands of your sport etc. require it.
Glycolysis is the breakdown of stored glycogen/glucose (carbohydrates) in the muscle to produce ATP (our body’s primary energy source) when no oxygen is available.
To put that in more simple terms, carbs are crucial for this type of work. So do your best to get in quality, denser carbohydrates throughout the day and/or around your workout. This will help not only ensure that you have enough energy for your workout, but it will also aid in recovery.
One more nutritional thought I want to share with you comes from my own trial and error, and it's on the subject of meal timing. I have found that these workouts are best when you feel light. Keep your big meals at least 4 hours from these workouts. You can have a small snack like a piece of fruit or a Cliff bar one hour out.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
When discussing circuit training, the idea of quality over quantity has to be covered. Circuit training is not throwing a random osh kosh of exercises together, doing them sloppy, and lying on the ground from exhaustion by the end of the workout. When you are looking at that template I gave and trying to pick your exercises, always ask yourself:
“Why? How does this fit in conjunction with the other exercises and is this going to make me better?”
Yes, you want to feel like you got in an awesome workout, but more importantly it needs to fit in with your overall goals. But the idea of throwing moves together just to be exhausted needs to abolished. Do not work to be tired; work to perform!
About the Author
Nick Mancini is a young up and comer in the fitness industry. Since age 18, Nick has been a certified trainer under the National Strength and Conditioning Association. His mission as a coach is too not only help his clients loose fat and gain muscle, but to inspire and empower his people to pursue higher ground in life. He is currently working on a project to offer his services online called Faith Fire Fight. Nick studies at The College of New Jersey majoring in exercise sciences and plays for their hockey team.
Are you a creature of habit?
I know I am.
I like routines and tend to stick to them. It helps me stay productive and keeps me on track.
Occasionally I’ll mix it up, but most of my days look pretty similar.
I’m willing to bet you’re in the same boat.
You probably get up around the same time, eat similar things, and go through a daily schedule that varies by fractions instead of wholes.
As nice as routines are for day to day living, they can be disastrous for your training.
I’m not talking about warming up and all that jazz. I’m talking about the lift itself.
If you show up to the gym and do the same lift over and over and over again you will not make progress over the long haul. Sure…in those first couple of weeks you might see some gains, but that’ll eventually come to a screeching halt as you hit the dreaded wall of no progress.
Similar to the Dikimbe Mutombo commercial, but instead of rejecting rolled up paper he’s rejecting your desire to (fill in goal of choice).
This is usually when I hear from people–when progress stops being had. It just so happens the quantity of the “help I’m stuck” emails has been rather high recently, and in looking over all of their “routines” one thing stands out immediately: the lack of variety.
Adaptation rules all.
But seriously…it does.
It dictates who you are now and who you will become in the future. The nice part is you can control for adaptation if you understand it.
Thus, adaptation can be defined as the adjustment of an organism to its environment. The environment provides the stimulus and then our bodies will adapt.
Training is no different. We provide a stimulus, whether it be running, squatting, or doing push ups, and then our bodies adapt.
Not all stimuli, however, are created equal. Some will produce a positive adaptation, some will produce no adaption, and some will produce a negative adaptation (for our purposes negative adaptation simply means decrease in performance).
The three types of adaptation can be classified as follows:
Stimulating- magnitude of the training load exceeds the previous level causing a positive adaptation.
Retaining- magnitude of the training load equals the previous level causing no adaptation
Detraining- magnitude of the training load falls below previous levels causing a decrease in performance.
You can picture a graph with physical fitness on the y axis and training load on the x axis. The stimulating load will arch up, the retaining load will stay flat, and the detraining load will arch down.
Law of Accommodation and Law of Diminishing Returns
Two other important concepts to understand are the law of accommodation and the law of diminishing returns.
In a nutshell, the law of accommodation states that the response of a biological object (human in our case) to a constant stimulus diminishes over time. This makes logical sense. As your body sees the same stimulus over and over again it will eventually adapt and the stimulus no longer has an effect.
We can use music as an example. The first time you hear a new song it may be awesome. Play it on repeat for a few days and you eventually will no longer like the song.
The law of diminishing returns gets after the same idea: over time the magnitude of adaptation that occurs from a given stimulus diminishes. For example, a beginner lifter can see gains from simply squatting the bar because he or she has never performed the movement, while an elite powerlifter can lift a near maximal load and see hardly any adaptation because of the increased exposure to the stimulus.
These two ideas may seem simple, but they’re powerful. You always have to keep them in mind and respect they are there.
Also, these two laws bring to light the importance or need to continually challenge the system–a concept known as progressive overload. As the system adapts you have to continually provide it with a greater stimulus, or else you’ll flatline and eventually die off.
Another way to get after progressive overload is via variance–finding ways to change your routine to continuously generate a stimulus greater than what your body is used to.
How To Vary
When it comes to varying your routine you really have two options:
Change the load
Changing the load comes down to manipulating volume and intensity.
For sake of this conversation, volume will be the total number of lifts performed. Here’s an example:
You do 5 sets of 4 reps in the bench press. Your volume that day is:
5 x 4 = 20 reps
Intensity, on the other hand, deals with the average weight of the barbell, and can be calculated by dividing the total weight lifted by the number reps. The greater the weight the greater the intensity. Here’s an example:
Say you do 4 sets of squats for 5 reps a set, with each set looking like this:
Set 1: 100 lbs
Set 2: 100 lbs
Set 3: 120 lbs
Set 4: 120 lbs
To calculate total weight lifted you’ll do the following:
(100 x 5) + (100 x 5) + (120 x 5) + (120 x 5) = 2200 lbs
To find intensity you’ll divide 2200 by the total number of lifts:
2200/20 = 110
There you go. The average weight lifted that training session was 110 lbs.
With that in mind, I want you to think about how you can vary a training session.
Go ahead and take a minute and write something down.
So to vary a training session you’d have to either increase sets, increase reps or increase the load (general rule of thumb is to decrease volume as intensity goes up. just so you don’t make that mistake). Let’s see what that looks like the next time you squat:
You come back in to squat and decide you’re going to do 4 sets of 2 reps. Your sets look like this:
Now let’s find intensity:
(150 x 2) + (160 x 2) + (175 x 2) + (175 x 2) = 1314
1314/8 = 164
Notice what happened.
Your volume decreased from 20 reps to 8 reps, but your intensity increased from 110 to 164.
Now I wish we could go into more depth on this front, but there’s just not enough time to do so because what we’re beginning to tread on is periodization–the art of planning training to control for volume and intensity in the most effective manner.
That convo will have to wait for another day, so just remember to change up volume or intensity and you should be good for now.
Change the movement
Another way to mix things up is to change the movement. The opportunities here are limitless, so don’t be afraid to get creative.
Here are a few examples:
Change the movement completely
This is as simple as it sounds. Pick an entirely new movement. You’ve been doing squats…try deadlifts. You’ve been running…try pulling a sled. The list can go on and on.
Add chains or bands
Putting chains or bands on the bar can completely change the movement by way of accommodating resistance. Although it may not seem much different to you, I can promise you’re body and central nervous system think it’s different.
Change your stance
Another easy way to mix things up. Instead of doing something standing up drop into a half kneeling or tall kneeling stance. Try squatting with a wide stance. Try squatting with a narrower stance. Try deadlifting while standing on a small platform to increase the range of motion. Just use your imagination and have some fun with it.
Vary the tempo
A lifts tempo is often overlooked. You can change how long the eccentric, concentric and sticking point of the lift lasts. For example, while doing a single arm dumbbell row take 1 second on the concentric portion, 1 second on the sticking point and 3 seconds on the eccentric portion. I think you’ll enjoy the different stimulus.
Change the type of bar you use
Unfortunately, a lot people do not have access to a wide variety of bars. I’d be willing to go even further and say most people don’t know different bar types exist. Either way, they can be an extremely powerful tool in your toolbox. Here are a few to get you started: trap bar, swiss bar, cambered bar, and safety squat bar.
(If you’re in the market for bars I’d recommend checking out Rogue’s selection. They have some of the best stuff around. Just click this link and it’ll take you straight to the page: Rogue Weightlifting Bars)
This has been a very brief overview of how to vary up your routine, but I hope you’ve gotten something out of it.
Adding variety to your training routine should be fun. Get creative, experiment, and see what works best for you.
As I mentioned earlier, variety will depend on your training experience.
If you’re a beginner, you won’t need to vary your routine as much as an experienced lifter because you haven’t spent much time around the stimulus. And please god take advantage of that. Don’t get all trigger happy and start changing things up every two weeks. Ride out the good wave while you can. Continue performing a lift as long as you’re seeing progress. Once progress drops off then change things up.
For intermediate and more advanced lifters, a generalized rule of thumb is to change things up every 3 to 4 weeks. Start there and see how things go. As you lift you’ll get a better feel for how your body adapts and how long you can spend on any one thing.