Building High-Performance Muscle™

Continuum Training II
Understanding Various Strength Training
Continuums for Optimal Conjugate Design


In Part I, Christian covered the contraction speed continuum. Now he'll be tackling the power continuum. Get your thinking caps on!


The Power Continuum

While the contraction speed continuum is based on the external outcome of the exercise (the speed of the movement), the power continuum is based on the involved physical capacity of the strength-power continuum, which looks something like this:

Eccentric strength work Isometric strength work Concentric strength work Concentric strength-speed work Concentric speed-strength work Reactive work

As you can see, we work our way from the methods with the highest force output but the lowest acceleration, down to those with the highest acceleration factor and the lowest force production. You could say that we work from limit strength work to explosive work.


Eccentric Strength Work

Most people are significantly stronger during the eccentric (lowering/yielding/negative) portion of an exercise. While the ratio between eccentric and concentric strength varies widely from one athlete to the next, it's generally agreed upon that eccentric strength is between 120-140% of concentric strength.

So working limit strength in the eccentric regimen will place a significant overload on the muscles and nervous system, providing a very powerful growth stimulus. Furthermore, eccentric training preferentially recruits fast-twitch muscle fibers, making it a very good method to increase strength, power, speed, and size.

To perform a proper eccentric overload, there are three training techniques I recommend:

1) Weight releasers

This is a great tool for the development of maximum strength. It consists of a pair of hooks which can be attached to the bar. You add extra weight on the releasers providing an overload during the eccentric portion. As you lower the bar, the hooks are "released" from the bar as they hit the floor, thus unloading the extra weight and allowing you to complete the concentric (lifting) portion on your own.

The weight on the bar should be around 80-85% of your maximum. You can increase the weight on the releasers as long as you can execute the eccentric portion in no less than five seconds. If you can’t, the weight is too heavy.

2) Added eccentric manual resistance

This is the poor man’s weight releaser! You simply substitute the releasers for a sadistic training partner. His job will be to push down on the bar during the eccentric portion of the exercise. He adds as much resistance as possible, provided the athlete can lower the bar in five seconds.

What's interesting with this method is that you can perform sets of more than one rep (as opposed to the weight releasers), and your partner can modulate the added resistance depending on your fatigue state.

Sets of 3-5 reps are recommended and the bar weight should once again be around 80-85% of your maximum.

3) Negative overload

This is your good ol' negative technique. You load the bar with a weight that's above your maximum. You lower it under control (again, no less than five seconds) and your partner helps you execute the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement.

With this technique you can also use more than one repetition (or you can do singles as well). Let the movement prescribe the weight: if you can't control the load for five seconds on the way down, it’s too heavy.


Isometric strength work

We covered this in Part I.


Concentric strength work

This refers to the maximal effort method of performing sets in the 90-100% range. So the reps per set should be 1-3 (sometimes working up to five if using methods such as clusters and rest-pauses).

The best techniques to use when performing concentric strength work are:

Set no.1

Set no.2

Set no.3

Set no.4

Set no.5

1 rep at 87%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 92%

1 rep at 92%

7 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

12 sec. rest

1 rep at 87%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 92%

1 rep at 92%

7 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

12 sec. rest

1 rep at 87%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 92%

1 rep at 92%

7 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

12 sec. rest

1 rep at 87%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 92%

1 rep at 92%

7 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

10 sec. rest

12 sec. rest

1 rep at 87%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 90%

1 rep at 92%

1 rep at 92%


Concentric strength-speed work

Strength-speed is the first type of power training. It refers to the capacity to accelerate a relatively heavy load. The best examples of this method are the Olympic lifts and traditional exercises performed with max speed at 45-55% of your maximum (preferably with added band resistance). Both of these techniques have already been described earlier in the article.


Concentric speed-strength work

This is the second type of power training. Once again the aim is to impart maximum acceleration to a source of resistance, but now we’re talking about the capacity to accelerate a small load. Good examples of this technique are ballistic lifts (jump squats, jump lunges, ballistic bench, medicine ball throws) and loaded sport movements (e.g. sprinting with a speed chute or sled).


Reactive work

Reactive work is also called plyometric work. It refers to exercises in which there's a powerful and rapid loaded stretch of the muscle and tendon structures immediately preceding an explosive concentric action. When performing reactive work, the delay between the eccentric stretch and concentric propulsion (also called "coupling time") should be minimal.

When talking about reactive work we’ll often refer to basic plyometric drills such as the depth jump and depth push-ups. Depth jumping, also known as shock training, was developed by Yuri Verkhoshansky in 1977. The objective of this method is to increase concentric power and force output by stimulating the muscles and reflexes via a "shock stretching" action preceding the overcoming portion of the movement.

This is accomplished by dropping from a certain height (typically 0.4m to 0.7m, although heights of up to 1.1m have been used by very advanced athletes) to elicit a powerful stretch activation, then jumping up as high as possible immediately upon landing.

It's been well-established in both Eastern and Western studies that depth jumping, or shock training, can significantly increase power production and vertical jump height. This is mostly due to the following factors:

Soviet literature gives the following guidelines when practicing depth jumps:


Training Organization with the Power Continuum

Power continuum training is best suited for athletes, and not powerlifters or bodybuilders since the main objective is to build power. Depending on the training phase the athlete is in, we’ll want to include anywhere from four to six of these methods within the same training unit (week of training/microcycle).


Conjugated

An athlete needs to maximize all the portions of the power continuum if he wants maximum gains in performance. You must see the continuum as a chain which will break at its weakest link. Also, remember that each method is a stepping stone for the next method in line.

However, you can't focus on all six methods at the same time during the whole season. This is due to the important demands imposed by other athletic activities such as track work and sport practices. So most of the time we’ll want to work on three or four of these capacities at a time.

General preparation phase: Early in the off-season training. The goal is to build a foundation of strength

Specific preparation phase: Mid-portion of the off-season training. The goal is to maximize the capacities required in the given sport.

Pre-competition phase: The last period (4-6 week) before a big event or the start of the season. The objective is to be in top form at the given event.

Note: Reactive work is dropped to avoid CNS burnout and allow the delayed effect to take place.

When using a conjugated system we’ll want to divide the capacities to be worked into several workouts. For example:

General Preparation

Specific Preparation

Pre-competition


Complex

If we use complex training we still want to focus on the same capacities during the same training phases. But this time we'll use a complex (circuit) system, working all the selected capacities within the same workout. We'll use the following split:

For example:


General Preparation Phase

Workout 1: Lower body, quads dominant

A1. Back squat with weight releasers
1 rep with 80-85% on the bar and an extra 20-30% on the releasers (eccentric total of 105-110%)
Lower the bar in 5 seconds
Rest 2 minutes before A2

A2. Squat structure functional isometrics (mid and high positions only)
3-6 seconds per position, lifted 2-3’’ from the starting point of that position
90 seconds of rest before A3

A3. Back squat
3-5 reps at 85-90%
2 minutes before A4

A4. Speed squat (with bands if available)
3 reps at 45-55%
2 minutes before starting a new circuit


Workout 2:Upper body, push dominant

A1. Bench press with weight releasers
1 rep with 80-85% on the bar and an extra 20-30% on the releasers (eccentric total of 105-110%)
Lower the bar in 5 seconds
Rest 2 minutes before A2

A2. Bench structure functional isometrics (mid and high positions only)
3-6 seconds per position, lifted 2-3’’ from the starting point of that position
90 seconds of rest before A3

A3. Bench press
3-5 reps at 85-90%
2 minutes before A4

A4. Speed bench (with bands if available)
3 reps at 45-55%
2 minutes before starting a new circuit


Workout 3: Lower body, pull dominant

A1. Eccentrics-only Romanian deadlift
1 rep with 105-115% of your max
Lower the bar in 5 seconds
Rest 2 minutes before A2

A2. Pull (deadlift) structure functional isometrics (low and mid positions only)
3-6 seconds per position, lifted 2-3’’ from the starting point of that position
90 seconds of rest before A3

A3. Romanian deadlift
3-5 reps at 85-90%
2 minutes before A4

A4. Power clean from the hang
3-5 reps at 70-80%
2 minutes before starting a new circuit


Workout 4: Upper body, pull dominant

A1. Eccentric manual overload seated rowing (partner pushes down on weight stack)
3-5 reps
Lower the bar in 5 seconds
Rest 2 minutes before A2

A2. Rowing structure functional isometrics (mid and high positions only)
3-6 seconds per position, lifted 2-3’’ from the starting point of that position
90 seconds of rest before A3

A3. Bentover barbell rowing
3-5 reps at 85-90%
2 minutes before A4

A4. Speed barbell rowing
3 reps at 45-55%
2 minutes before starting a new circuit


Specific Preparation Phase

Workout 1: Lower body, quads dominant

A1. Front squat
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A2

A2. Speed squat (with bands if available)
3 reps at 45-55%
2 minutes before A3

A3. Jump squat
10 reps at 20-30% of max squat
2 minutes before A4

A4. Depth jumps
10 reps
3 minutes before starting a new circuit


Workout 2: Upper body, push dominant

A1. Incline bench press
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A2

A2. Speed bench (with bands if available)
3 reps at 45-55%
2 minutes before A3

A3. Ballistic bench
10 reps at 15-25% of max bench
2 minutes before A4

A4. Depth push-ups
10 reps
3 minutes before starting a new circuit


Workout 3: Lower body, pull dominant

A1. Good morning
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A2

A2. Power clean from blocks
3-5 reps at 70-80%
2 minutes before A3

A3. Light power snatch from hang
3-5 reps at 50-60%
2 minutes before A4

A4. Jump lunges (no weight)
10 reps
Minimal ground contact time
3 minutes before starting a new circuit


Workout 4: Upper body, pull dominant

A1. Bentover barbell rowing
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A2

A2. Weighted chins
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A3

A3. Speed rowing
3 reps at 45-55%
3 minutes before starting a new circuit


Pre-competition

Workout 1: Lower body, quads dominant

A1. Back squat
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A2

A2. Speed squat (with bands if available)
3 reps at 45-55%
2 minutes before A3

A3. Jump squat
10 reps at 20-30% of max squat
2 minutes before starting a new circuit


Workout 2: Upper body, push dominant

A1. Incline bench press
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A2

A2. Push press
3-5 reps at 70-80%
2 minutes before A3

A3. Ballistic bench
10 reps at 15-25% of max bench
2 minutes before starting a new circuit


Workout 3: Lower body, pull dominant

A1. Romanian deadlift
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A2

A2. Power clean from hang
3-5 reps at 70-80%
2 minutes before A3

A3. Jump lunges
3-5 reps per leg at 20-30% of bodyweight
2 minutes before starting a new circuit


Workout 4: Upper body, pull dominant

A1. Bentover barbell rowing
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A2

A2. Weighted chins
3-5 reps at 80-85%
2 minutes before A3

A3. Speed rowing
3 reps at 45-55%
3 minutes before starting a new circuit


Conclusion

This series should've given you a good insight at what can be accomplished with continuum training. And I only scratched the surface here! There are other types of continuums; for example, the resistance continuum:

Eccentric strength work Isometric strength work Concentric strength work Concentric strength-endurance work Concentric endurance-strength work

And there are several other ways of organizing training. But hopefully these articles will spark some interest in the possibilities of this novel training approach. It’s very effective and powerful and those who take the time to understand it will be rewarded with super gains!

 

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