By Ryan Humphries:
Co-Owner: Axistence Athletics
If you’ve been around a while, you know that the Axistence Coaches are into education...
On a fairly routine schedule, we run off to seminars, learn from the best in the industry and then bring back what we can incorporate into the Axistence programming. It could be a new technique, an entire new methodology, or maybe a just a new way of looking at things. If we think it can help our members, then we figure out a way to work it in.
This is how the Axistence method has been built over the last decade. From CrossFit to MovNat to StrongFirst to TRX to Olympic Weightlifting to Strongman and more, we like to take what works from the best systems in the world and trim off what doesn’t.
Last weekend, coaches Ryan, Sean, Abbey, and Garrett had the opportunity to participate in a programming improv held by StrongFirst. Known for being the industry leaders in kettlebells, the StrongFirst philosophy revolves around a minimal effective dose for maximal effective GAINZ. However, they don’t just work with kettlebells.
Their biggest strength (pun intended) is breaking down research to find out what truly makes strong humans, and then developing plans from that research. From Powerlifters, to Olympic Lifters to Gymnastics athletes, to thousands of case studies, the education they deliver is based on nearly a century of research.
So what did our coaches take away from this one? Well, aside from being validated and feeling good about what we’re up to, we also got some great insight and tips on ways we can improve.
I'll break down two of the biggest nuggets below:
“Taking a day of rest before a test might not be optimal”
Research shows that athletes are statistically stronger when they train the day before a max lift vs. having that day off. In the past we’ve always tested on a Monday. And although having a full “day of rest” before seems like a good idea, this may not be “optimal”. The reasons behind this are not entirely known, but it's theorized that working out moderately the day before may partially prep the central nervous system, making the body a little more "primed" and ready to do work. They key is not to overdo it.
It’s also true that this may only matter for very serious athletes. That being said, this is one of those small changes that could make a big impact, and shouldn't impede anyone's GAINZ.
This cycle we'll be shifting the AXFOS to Tuesday instead of Monday.
Also known as a “Cluster Set”, A Ladder is a sneaky way to get in more reps with less damage to the muscle resulting in greater overall strength. Sounds neat right? They are.
Here’s how they work. If I want to do a set of 6 reps, I could just do a set of 6 reps. However, I could also break that set of six down into a set of 1, then a set of 2, and then a set of 3...
Why would I do that?
Well, the more reps you do, the more lactic acid builds up in the muscle. The more lactic acid builds up, the more the pH changes. The lower the pH (the more acidic) the less the muscle is able to work at its maximum capabilities.
Think of your muscles like an old school Viking ship. Each time the folks below deck pull the oars, your muscles contract. Now imagine there’s a leak, and water is pouring in where everyone is trying to row. What happens when the water is up to their ankles? their knees? Their waist? That’s your muscles when they’re loaded with lactic acid (Inefficient, and ready to give up).
Wonder why those last few reps looked like dog shit? Your Vikings are downing bruh.
Now before we make acid the bad guy (like the CIA tried to do back in the 60’s....cough, cough, MK Ultra...) let’s talk about why we need a little burn.
A little burn/acid/high pH, will allow the muscle to adapt and overcome. When a muscle gets too acidic, it starts to break down. When it recovers, it’s often stronger and bigger. Want bigger biceps? A bigger booty or a bigger “insert body part here”? Feel the burn… (sets of 6-12).
So how much burn is enough? And how much is too much?
Well, the more you burn, the more you destroy. The more you destroy, the more time you need to recover. I’m not just talking about recovery between reps or sets, but between training sessions. *Think about how you feel the day or three after Murph….essentially 20 rounds of that 6-12 rep range. Not only are you probably incapable of moving well, but you definitely shouldn’t expect to hit any strength PRs the next day.
When strength is the goal, we need to focus less on the burn and more on the total volume. This seems to be the key. Specifically, the volume of reps completed in the 70-80% range of your 1RM. This is where the majority of your training should be focused.
70-80% 1RM --> 50-60 % of your training
81-90% 1RM --> 30-40% of your training
90-100% 1RM --> 0-10% of your training
If we're looking to "BUILD" things, then staying between 60-70% and hitting those sets of 6-12 is probably going to be our best bet.
However, if we truly want to get STRONG, then we need to minimize muscle damage, and maximize both muscle tension during, and recovery after. The only way to apply maximal muscle tension is with adequate recovery. Don’t believe me? Try to do a max lift after hopping off the Rogue Echo bike. On second thought please don’t do that.
So Ladders! Let's say you can do a back squat for an 8RM. If strength is the goal, then we need to work in the 70-80% range. 6 reps would be 75%. However, if your max is 8, then sets of 6 is gonna be a sick burn….and not in any entertaining way. Soooooooo, enter the ladder.
If sets of 6 is the goal, we’ll hit it like this:
Do a set of 1. Stop, rest, shake it out.
Do a set of 2. Stop, rest, shake it out.
Do a set of 3. Stop, rest, shake it out.
Boom. Now you’ve knocked out 6 reps, you’ve kept your acid low and your muscle tension high. Those reps also probably looked a lot better than a set of 6, meaning that the correct muscles were working.
Your body will clear lactic acid pretty quickly if you let it. Turns out we don’t like being super acidic. So by doing a ladder and taking a little rest between reps (also known as a cluster set) you not only allow the pH to stay low but you’ll be more likely to hit the maximum tension on each lift, resulting in firing the proper muscles, resulting in you seeing GAINZ quicker, safer, and with less soreness.
Let's wrap it up!
So if we want to be as fit as possible does it mean that we can never “Feel the Burn?” Absolutely not. In fact, cycling in periods of pure “Burners” or “Grinders” can elicit many other positive benefits. Also, we can build up our tolerance to lactic acid by pushing the envelope. Short sprints work the best for this (Think less then :30 seconds).
Also, although I mostly just talked about lactic acid and "the burn" for strength athletes, here's a fun fact for you: Superior endurance athletes are not the ones who have the best lungs, they're actually the ones who have the highest lactate threshold...
Big takeaway: Feeling the burn is good now and then. It's fun, it gives you the pump, and it can build a solid booty. Feeling the burn too often will trash your muscles and wreak havoc on your body. How often you should push yourself depends on your specific goals, your personal lactate threshold, and how recovered you feel that day. I wish it was a one size-fits all approach, but that would just make it way too easy.
Until next time, train smartly, train consistently, and if your goals call for it, feel the burn.
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