Understanding CNS Fatigue

30 Jun

Intense training places a tremendous amount of stress on our central nervous system. To give you an idea, it takes the CNS up to 5-6 times longer than muscles to recover from an intense training session. This means that while your legs might feel fresh 3-4 days after a max-effort squat, it could take your CNS up to a month to fully recover!

(Notice I said “intense” training. Not everything you do in the gym takes the same toll on your nervous system. Fast, explosive movements such as Olympic lifts, dynamic training, and plyometrics place the highest stress on the CNS. Heavy free weight lifts like squats and presses also place a high level of stress on the CNS. Isolated movements and anything done on a machine are not CNS intensive.)

So why should this be important to us? Your CNS is responsible for recruiting motor units in muscles, controlling their firing rate, and coordinating any muscle activity. If your nervous system is fried, performance is going to suffer severely.

Think of your body as a car and your CNS as the battery. As the battery starts losing power, all those flashing lights and computer systems that allow the car to run start functioning more and more poorly until one day the car just won’t start. If you push your body in the same manner without ever giving your battery (or CNS) a chance to recharge you will eventually hit the same wall.

You aren't the Energizer Bunny. Take the time to recharge your batteries!

The key to keeping your nervous system up to speed and avoiding overtraining lies in autoregulation. Autoregulation simply means understanding what physiological state your body is in on a given day, and actually LISTENING to this message. It took me years to finally understand that pushing through multiple shitty workouts in a row does not make you any tougher or more of a bad ass. All you are doing is setting yourself back mentally and physically. In training, it is crucially important to know when your body needs to cut a set short, or even cut out the entire training session for the day.

As it stands today, we really know very little about how our nervous system works and how we can maximize its efficiency. However, there are several biomarkers that we are aware of that can serve as indicators of how fatigued our CNS is at a given time:

1)      Dan John wrote about using a dot test in which he would take a pencil and make as many dots on a piece of paper as possible in a period of time. Thanks to people who develop online games for websites with names like http://www.i’mboredasshitanddon’tdoanythingatwork.com we have tools like “the space bar game” http://www.zimm-co.com/PressTheSpaceBar/pressthespacebar2000.html which records our results for us. Thanks, nerds. Test it out for a few days after your body has been fully rested to find your average score. Then, retest yourself upon waking up in the morning every so often. If your score drops anywhere from 10-15% your CNS may be getting fatigued.

2)      Recording your heart rate upon first waking up in the morning is another great way to gauge the state of your CNS. Count how many times your heart beats in 1 minute, and always test yourself in the same position. A jump in your resting heart rate is a sign of overtraining.

3)      Jump tests like the vertical or broad jump also work as indicators. Not everyone has the equipment needed to test their vertical on a regular basis, so the broad jump may be a better option. As with any of the other methods, test yourself for several days to establish a baseline average. Repeat this test every day before you train and keep an eye out for any glaring drops in your numbers. (This method may not be as reliable due to the fact that a drop in jump distance could be attributed to muscular fatigue as well as CNS fatigue)

4)      Lastly, something I picked up at the Amped seminar this past weekend is that if the palms of your hands are extremely red or if the temperature of the weights always feels cold, it might be time to cut your training short that day. (I have no idea what the mechanism for this is, but Smitty said it is dead on accurate almost all the time)

Train hard, train smart.


Warm Ups

20 Jun

Too many people walk into the gym and want to immediately start cranking their workout without any warm up or preparation. This is a recipe for disaster. Among other things, an effective warm up will reduce your risk of injury, increase heart rate and muscle temperature, and improve the quality of your workout.

So what is an effective warm up? It sure as hell isn’t sitting on a stationary bike for 5 minutes before jumping into the squat rack. A quality warm up should start with foam rolling. If you or your gym doesn’t have a foam roller, a hard medicine ball works just as well. Spend about 20-30 seconds on all major muscle groups (upper & lower back, glutes, IT band, quads, calves). For a great video that explains how to do it, check out Eric Cressey here: 

Now that you’ve rolled out it’s time for some stretching. A lot of people have started to hate on static stretching over the past few years – and a lot of people also now have muscles so tight that they can’t perform basic movement patterns correctly. Light static stretching before a workout is not “bad”. It will loosen up tight muscles, increase your range of motion, and allow you to perform exercises more safely and with better form. Some of the most common tight spots include hamstrings, glues, and hip flexors so spend some time loosening these areas up in your warm up. Joe D gives a very good explanation of static stretching and a lower body routine in this article: http://www.defrancostraining.com/ask-joe-test/44-flexibilitymobility.html

The last phase of your warm up should include a series of dynamic movements to get your heart rate up and prime your CNS for your workout. Think of things like bands, jumps, running drills, etc. I’m not going to go into great detail here because there are literally enough dynamic drills to fill a book. In fact, Jim Smith and Joe DeFranco did exactly that with their Amped warm up DVD and manual. It’s a simple, in-depth, easy to understand resource that I use all the time. You can check it out  more here:

Your total warm up routine should not take you more than 15 minutes from start to finish and by the end of it you should be sweating and out of breath. Try it out for yourselves and let us know how it goes!

Train hard, train smart.



The Best Exercise You (probably) Aren’t Doing

15 Jun

Sprinting. If you were expecting some old secret Russian training technique than only 6 people in the world have ever heard of, sorry to disappoint. Sprinting is an amazing tool that few people think to include in their training. Don’t get scared away by the word “sprint” because you don’t run a 4.5 40-yd dash. Sprinting simply means moving from point A to point B as fast as possible.

Why sprinting? Good question. If you read ‘Fat Loss For Freaks’ then you’ll be familiar with the term oxygen debt. (If not, go check it out.) Sprinting is a tremendous way to create oxygen debt in the body and burn through calories all day long.

You'll never find a sprinter who isn't shredded and athletic.

Sprinting elicits a release of growth hormone in the body. We’ve all heard that term a lot, but what is it really? Growth hormone is released by the anterior pituitary gland and stimulates all of the following responses: tissue uptake of amino acids, synthesis of new protein, long bone growth, glucose synthesis in the liver, and mobilization of fatty acids from adipose (fat) tissue.

Sprinting can generate forces up to 8-10x your body weight. Think about that for a second. This would be similar to a 200lb person squatting 2,000 pounds – on one leg. Simply put, there is no exercise in the gym that can mimic actual sprinting in terms of power and force production.

Lastly, sprinting will provide a huge boost to your cardiovascular fitness. Whether you’re a competitive athlete or not, it sucks to be out of shape. And no, being strong as hell is not an excuse to be a fat slob. Unless you are a professional powerlifter, maximal strength should not be the ONLY important factor in your training.

If powerlifting isn't your goal, fat and unathletic should be out of the question.

You aren’t going to feel like Usain Bolt on your first sprint workout. Understand going in that if you haven’t done any type of sprint training for a while it’s going to be tough, painful, and probably miserable. Suck it up. Start out small with some 50-yard sprints and work your way up to longer distances in time. Sprint up hills if you have any nearby. Also, utilize sled drags and prowler sprints if you are (un)lucky enough to have the equipment available to you. If you’ve never experienced the prowler flu first hand, I won’t bother even trying to describe it.

Train hard, train smart.

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Seven Words That Changed My Life

13 Jun

This is an article submitted for publication on EliteFTS a couple weeks ago. Hopefully it gets picked, but in the meantime I figured I’d share it on here also:

I saw a quote that said, “A man without a dream or a vision shall perish.” I believe this is true, and applies directly to the way we set goals for ourselves. Our goals and dreams are the things that motivate us, inspire us, and give us the hope to achieve something on a day to day basis. However, I also believe that a person who has a goal, but does not take immediate and continuous action towards turning that goal into a reality is just as doomed to perish as the person with nothing. Once we set a goal for ourselves there are a million different ways we can go about achieving it, but the one thing that will always remain the same is that first step. Taking action. That is what makes all the difference between failure and seeing your dreams come true.

            About a month ago I was sitting in my bedroom clicking through articles on Elite FTS and I remember reading ‘Functional Muscle’ by Kyle Newell. http://articles.elitefts.com/articles/training-articles/functional-muscle/ I saw under the article that Kyle was a physical education teacher by day and a strength and conditioning coach by night, and that his gym was located about 20 minutes from my home. As someone who is looking to follow the same career path, I decided I would email Kyle and see if he had any need for an intern over the summer. I could have just sat on my ass and watched TV that day, but instead I took action. I took that first step towards reaching a goal that I want to achieve in my life. Long story short, I’ve been working with Kyle at his new facility for a few weeks now and the amount of experience and knowledge I have already gained is beyond what I ever expected. Every single day I see myself coming closer to reaching my goal. To think it all started with something as simple as clicking the ‘send’ button on an email. It all started with that first step.

The point I am trying to make is that whether your goal is entering that first power lifting meet you’ve been thinking about, getting out of a lousy job and finding a career you love, losing those 10 pounds, or anything else you can possibly imagine, do not hesitate to take action. NEVER be afraid to take that first step. The second one will be easier, then the third. Chase your goals relentlessly and doors will start to open up for you, opportunities will begin to present themselves, and one day you will step back and realize how far you’ve come. All because of that first step…

The title of this article is “Seven Words That Changed My Life,” so I guess it’s about time I told you what those words are. I know they will not have the same effect on everyone as they did on me, so interpret them however you choose and hopefully find some meaning in them. Let me preface this by saying that each year on my birthday, my grandfather sends me a poem typed up on the ancient typewriter that’s been sitting in his house for much longer than I’ve even been alive. This is taken from the poem I received on my 21st birthday:

Expansive are the middle years

Filled with zip and zest and lust.

All for the taking

If you just.

Fat Loss For Freaks

12 Jun

Summer is here, and you know what that means… Lines of people grinding out hour after hour on the treadmills and ellipticals at your local gym so they can finally get that toned beach body!

Cardio sucks. I hate it and I don’t waste my time doing it. Something about jogging in place for 45 minutes while watching re-runs of Oprah just doesn’t do it for me. So how can we possibly shed fat without long bouts of steady state cardio? The answer lies in metabolic circuits.

Metabolic circuits are a combination of resistance training and high-intensity interval training. You pick a few exercises and perform them back to back, with as little rest as possible. Then, repeat the circuit for a given number of rounds. These are fast paced workouts that should take you no more than 25 minutes to complete AT MOST. If it takes you longer, you’re resting too long between rounds.

The reason metabolic circuits are effective at burning fat is the creation oxygen debt, also known as EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). Think of it as your body working overtime. After you are done training, your body still needs to consume oxygen in order replenish Creatine-Phosphate stores, restore oxygen in blood and muscles, bring down your elevated body temperature, and remove lactic acid. These physiological responses will result in an increased metabolic rate and BOOM, all of a sudden you’re burning extra calories hours after you finished training.

When choosing the exercises to plug into your metabolic circuit try to stay away from isolated movements like bicep curls or tricep pushdowns. Instead, stick with compound movements like squats, burpees, pushups, etc. If it’s your first time trying a metabolic circuit, stick with mostly bodyweight movements. An example might look something like this:

Burpees x10

Chin ups x10

Alternating lunges x5 each leg

Push ups x10

*All exercises performed back to back. Repeat 4-5 times.

If you’re a more experienced lifter, feel free to plug in whatever exercises you think would work best for you. Just keep in mind that we want to keep the weight between 50-60% of your 1RM.

If circuit training isn’t your thing or your gym is too crowded to try it, another great tool is Tabata training. Unlike circuit training, you will pick oneexercise and perform as many reps as possible for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this 8 times without stopping. Again, it is necessary to use a compound movement such as squats, burpees, or even sprinting if you’re a serious bad ass. It sounds simple but I promise it will feel like 4 minutes of hell.

Treadmills suck.

Circuit training is brutal, bad ass, and 1,000x cooler than watching Oprah with the treadmill set on 4. It is an excellent way to jack up your conditioning and develop mental toughness at the same time also. Lord knows the world could use some more of that. Try a circuit out on your own, and drop a comment letting us know how it went!

I will never post a workout or training tip on here that I haven’t tried myself. Any trainer out there who does not practice what they preach is totally full of it. That said, it’s time to head to the gym and crank out this week’s metabolic circuit. Here’s what I’ll be doing:

1)      1arm DB snatch x5 each arm

2)      DB thrusters x10

3)      Jump lunges x5 each leg

4)      DB rows x8-10 each arm

5 rounds

90 seconds rest or less between rounds


10 Jun

Push yourself to learn something new every single day. This might sound like a daunting task to some people, but “something” could be as simple as one idea or even one sentence that sticks in your mind and teaches you something new. It doesn’t sound like very much, but try it for a month straight and all of a sudden you just learned 30 new things. Try it for two months, that’s 60 new ideas. Things start to add up quickly. For a great analogy that reinforces this point, check out this article on EliteFTS.com:  http://articles.elitefts.com/articles/training-articles/the-red-drop-theory-and-talking-to-nine-year-olds/

Think about your job. You didn’t wake up one day, say “I want to be _______,” and then go get that job right away. You spent years in school learning about how the job works, hopefully put in hours of your own time, and now that you have that job you probably still spend time keeping up with new information and trying to stay ahead of the curve.

The same principle applies with training. You can’t wake up one morning and decide, “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to get stronger” and expect these things to happen without investing your time both in and out of the gym. I’m not asking you to become the next Louie Simmons and be a walking encyclopedia of training information. I’m asking you to learn one thing, anything, each day that will help you get closer to your goal.

Ron Burgundy owned many leather bound books, and he was the best news anchor in America.

After we closed up the gym last night, Kyle and I spent a few minutes talking in the parking lot. One thing he told me that stuck in my mind was that every person who lives in a house worth $500,000 or more has a library. No, it’s not because they like to show off their vast collection of leather bound books. It’s because they were hungry to learn. They wanted to be the best at what they did so they went out and got those books and read every damn one of them.

Learn or get left behind.



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