Part 2: Neural Reconstruction Phase

If you carefully study my article, Different Destinations, Different Journeys, you'll learn that training for maximum muscle size and maximum strength/power are two different animals. While any strength program will lead to some gains in both size and strength, the relative importance of these gains will vary depending on the type of training performed.

My bodybuilding training includes a bit more heavy lifting than most "regular" bodybuilding programs, and as such will lead to some significant strength gains. Regardless, if at the conclusion of your physical transformation you're interested in peaking your strength either to recover the strength you might have lost during your quest for the body beautiful, or to learn to use your new muscle to the maximum of its capacity, then its time to include a brief neural training blitz which will focus on maximizing CNS efficacy. This will enable you to rapidly gain strength while allowing your muscles to grow even bigger by finally giving them a break so that they can supercompensate.

During this phase we want to use training techniques and methods which have a very important neural component while having a very low energetic demand and a reduced impact on the muscle tissue. Three types of training will be used:

Max Intensity Isometrics/Functional Isometrics or Partials

If you've been following my work you know I think highly of properly applied isometric training, be it as part of an isometric/dynamic contrast set, as an isometric exercise/dynamic exercise superset, or as a stand-alone training method. Quite simply, I've seen it work too well on too many athletes to not believe in it.

Most of the isometric methodologies I use are derived from my Olympic lifting background. Back in the golden era of American weightlifting, Bob Hoffman published two books on isometric training for increased strength. These books detailed the training methods used by two Olympic lifting champions: Louie Riecke and Bill Marsh.

Lou used what I've dubbed as overcoming isometrics, which is basically trying to move an immovable object (trying to overcome its inertia). It refers to pulling or pushing as hard as you can against a bar (or an object) that can't be moved. This is best performed in a power rack with the barbell contacting the safety pins (the latter are what makes the bar immovable).

Bill used a variation of isometric training which was called functional isometrics. This was a misnomer; a more appropriate name might have been partial isometrics or yielding isometrics as I call it. This form of training differed from the original Riecke method by the nature of the actual intent toward the barbell. While in the Riecke method, you tried to push or pull an immovable weight, in the Marsh method you'd execute a partial lift (lifting only a few inches) with a supramaximal load and you'd hold the barbell in place, trying to prevent it from dropping back down.

Both methods can be effective, and both can actually complement each other just like concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering) muscle actions complement each other. Overcoming and yielding isometrics do have different neural patterns and thus lead to different training effects. While overcoming isometrics may have a greater impact on concentric strength, yielding isometrics will probably have a more significant effect on eccentric strength and muscle mass.

In recent years, mathematician-somehow-turned-bodybuilding-author Pete Sisco, wrote about a training method called Power Factor Training. In his more recent work called Train Smart he details a training method that he claims as his own, yet it's really nothing more than an exact reproduction of the old Bill Marsh method! Not to take anything away from Sisco's work, the methods he describes do work, but they work best if used as part of a grander scheme of training which also includes full range of motion lifting.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, isometric training and power partials can be especially useful in our present case because of the incredible demand they place on the CNS. You see, during a maximal isometric action you can recruit up to 10% more muscle fibers than during a maximum concentric or eccentric action.

Furthermore, during an isometric exercise you can place the muscles under maximum tension for a much longer period than during a regular dynamic contraction. This requires a souped-up neural drive! When used for a brief training cycle it can have a drastic impact on the CNS, just the kind of impact we need after a long period of low CNS stimulatory training such as bodybuilding work.

Explosive or Ballistic Exercises

Explosive exercises also carry an important neural component because a super high muscle tension/force must be produced in a brief period of time. This requires a very important neural drive.

So while explosive exercises such as speed bench pressing and squatting (lifting a load of 50-60% as fast as possible for a low number of reps) aren't taxing on the muscles themselves and don't lead to a significant level of fatigue, the impact on the CNS is actually quite large. The same could be said for plyometric drills, Olympic lifts and ballistic lifting (jump squat, ballistic bench press).

So in our case, these drills are also perfect as they'll place a very important stimulus on the CNS while allowing the muscles themselves to heal and grow at the same time. And for those of you who like to be able to play sports at a high level, these drills will obviously make you a more efficient athlete.

Near Maximal Lifting for a High Number of Total Reps

I want to make it clear that I'm not talking about maximal lifting in the 90-100% range. While this type of work is indeed a very powerful CNS stimulus, for our current purpose, which is to reprogram the CNS (not to peak it), this type of training is too taxing and wouldn't allow us to handle the training volume required to accomplish our rewiring job.

Instead, I'm talking about lifting loads that involve the CNS heavily, in the same motor pattern as with maximal lifting, but which aren't too taxing on the body. The work of several sport scientists such as Jürgen Weineck have established that level to be 80-85% of the athlete's maximum.

What we want to do is perform as many unfatigued reps as possible with that load within a workout. I say "unfatigued" because we want to reprogram the CNS by having the body use a very similar motor pattern every time. Most lifters will be able to do 5-8 reps with 80-85% of their maximum on a given lift. The technique we want to use is to perform approximately half those reps. For example, if you're able to lift 85% of your max for 6 reps, you'd use sets of 3 reps.

You'd then use a technique similar to Coach's Staley's EDT which is also used by Canadian Olympic lifting coach Pierre Roy and Eastern Block sport scientist Ladislav Pataki. Basically you'll perform as many sets as you can handle within a 15 minute timeframe.

The difference relative to a muscle-mass oriented EDT program is that each set should be relatively easy (meaning that you have 2-3 reps left in you on each set). Ideally we want to shoot for 10-12 sets of 3-4 reps within a 15 minute timeframe if you use 80%, and 8-10 sets of 2-3 reps if you use 85%. When using this method we only use 2-3 exercises per session. I find that with athletes, a bench press and power clean (from the hang) workout is best.

Sample Weekly Schedule

The training schedule for this three-week block is similar to what I do with my athletes. It's based on three workouts per week, training the whole body at each session and using different methods on each training day.

Monday: Explosive lifting

Tuesday: OFF/Abs

Wednesday: Isometrics

Thursday: OFF

Friday: OFF/energy system work or GPP work

Saturday: Neural EDT

Sunday: OFF

The training volume is super low during these workouts; rarely will the session be over 45 minutes long. Most of the time they last around 30 minutes. Don't worry, this is all your CNS needs to be stimulated.

While muscle tissue remodelling (increasing muscle mass) is somewhat volume dependant, CNS reprogramming is more dependent on the intensity of the neural drive and frequency of stimulation; volume actually has a very low impact as far as CNS improvements are concerned. If anything, excessive volume hinders CNS improvements.

Monday

A. Speed bench press

Sets: 5

Reps: 3

Execution: Use 50-60% of your maximum and perform the lifting action as fast as humanly possible. The addition of resistance bands (Jumpstretch bands or Iron Woody bands) is recommended on 3 of those sets.

Rest: 45-60 seconds

B. Power clean from blocks

Sets: 5

Reps 3

Execution: Lift the bar explosively utilizing a powerful leg, hip and back extension.

Rest: 90-120 seconds

C. Ballistic bench press (Smith machine)

Sets: 3

Reps: 5

Execution: Using 20-30% of your maximum bench press, project the bar in the air as high as you can. Do this exercise in a Smith machine. If none is available, perform a medicine ball throw from the chest instead.

Rest: 60-90 seconds

D. Jump squat

Sets: 3

Reps: 5

Execution: Use a load that's 20-30% of your maximum full squat (or 10-15% of your maximum half squat) and jump as high as you can with the barbell on your shoulders. Only dip down as low as you would if you were doing a regular vertical jump.

Rest: 90-120 seconds

Wednesday

A. Functional isometric bench press (strong position)

Sets: 3 per position

Reps: 5-10 seconds hold per set

Execution: In the power rack, set a loaded barbell on the safety pins, place a bench in the power rack (or lie on the floor). Load the bar with 90-120% of your maximum bench press. Lift the bar 1-2 inches and hold that position for as long as you can. Continue to add weight as long as you can hold the load for at least 5 seconds. Once you reach that top weight (the top weight you can handle for 5 seconds) you perform 3 work sets. In the starting position, your elbows should have an angle greater than 90 degrees (in other words, start the bar in your strongest position).

Rest: 90-120 seconds

B. Functional isometric deadlift and shrug

Sets: 3 per position

Reps: 5-10 seconds hold per set

Execution: In the power rack, set a loaded barbell on the safety pins. Load the bar with 90-120% of your maximum deadlift. In the starting position the barbell is 1-2 inches above the knees. Lift the bar in the completed deadlift position and shrug your shoulders (contract your traps). Hold that position for as long as you can. Continue to add weight as long as you can hold the load for at least 5 seconds. Once you reach that top weight, perform 3 work sets.

Rest: 90-120 seconds

C. Functional isometrics back squat

Sets: 3 per position

Reps: 5-10 seconds hold per set

Execution: Once again, set a loaded barbell on the safety pins of a rack. Load the bar with 90-120% of your max squat. In the starting position the barbell is set so that your knees are bent 90 degrees. Lift the bar 2-3 inches and hold that position for as long as you can. Continue to add weight as long as you can hold the load for at least 5 seconds. Once you reach that top weight, perform 3 work sets.

Rest: 90-120 seconds

Saturday

A. Power clean from the hang

Sets: as many as you can in 15 minutes

Reps: 2-4

Load: 80-85%

Rest: aim for 8-12 sets in 15 minutes

B. Bench press

Sets: as many as you can in 15 minutes

Reps: 2-4

Load: 80-85%

Rest: aim for 8-12 sets in 15 minutes

C. Barbell rowing

Sets: as many as you can in 15 minutes

Reps: 2-4

Load: 80-85%

Rest: aim for 8-12 sets in 15 minutes

Nutrition and Supplements

This three-week CNS reconstruction/muscle supercompensation block is aimed at getting your body into top functioning shape. With the previous mutation phases you focused on making your body look good nekid, and this required a certain nutrition and supplement strategy. However, we now want our body to fully recover and then some!

We now need to switch to a nutrition plan that provides an ample supply of nutrients. Yes, you may add a pound or two of fat (but I doubt it, most likely you'll gain some water weight but that's it), but you'll also add up to three pounds (or more) of lean muscle mass while getting your CNS into overdrive!

During this phase your nutrition plan doesn't have to be as precise as during the preceding phases. Still focus on eating good clean food, but a little treat here and there is fine. Aim for around 18kcals per pound of bodyweight. A ratio of 40/40/20 (protein/carbs/fat) is perfect at this time.

Supplements are also important. I can't overemphasize the importance of Power Drive during that CNS phase. I'm not normally one to say that you must use a certain supplement, but I'd honestly not consider doing this phase without Power Drive.

As a CNS potentiator, Power Drive will darn near double the efficacy of this short phase: first by improving focus and neural drive during the workouts but also by increasing the rate of CNS recovery between workouts, which is critical to the success of this last phase.

Wrap-Up

At the conclusion of this mutation cycle you should now be bigger, leaner, stronger and more powerful. Where you choose to go at this point will be up to you, but whatever your future goal may be, it'll be much easier to reach it now!