Sunday 9.11.11

The CrossFit Total is coming back on the lasw week of this month, along with 5K run and Fran to complete our quarterly benchmark week

In very general terms there are two ways we get stronger: muscular strength and nervous system strength. To develop muscular strength is relatively simple, just add more muscle. Nervous system strength gains are made by recruiting more muscle motor units. There are hundreds of examples of small people who can out lift large muscular people, which is a result of the small guy or gal having the ability to recruit more motor units than the large guy. The strongest people in the world are those who blend large strong muscles with an efficient nervous system.

So how do we train the nervous system? The best way I have found is a technique called post-activation potentiation. Sounds all cool and sciency, but because I'm neither cool nor sciency I'll break it down like this: Post-activation potentiation is lifting or supporting a larger load than you intend to train with right before your work sets, causing your work sets to seem lighter than they are. Post (meaning after, as in after the really heavy set) activation (as in you are activating otherwise dormant motor units within the working muscle groups) potentiation refers to an effect that last for several minutes. Your tricking your nervous system into lifting more weight, and because it's instantaneous you know you didn't gain a bunch of muscle in that time, it's your CNS working more efficiently. The technique works equally well with using a ballistic movement to warm up for a heavy lift.

Ok, so how do we use PAP (I hate acronyms but I really don't want to type that big word over and over 'cause I suck at typing)? I'll give you a few examples:

Example #1: This last week I was training power cleans and I had been stuck unable to lift 295 for several weeks. So I went to the PAP. I warmed up as I usually do with increasingly heavier sets of low reps, never more than three, as to not fatigue myself. My last power clean warm up set was 275 for one rep. I then jumped past my 295 sticking point to 315 where I did 3 reps of clean high pulls (basically a power clean without the "catch"). Then I made one more jump to 355 (approximately 120% of my 295 target) and did one set of 3 cleans pulls (basically a deadlift with a powerful hip extension and shrug). I then dropped right to 295 after about a 2:00 rest period and power cleaned it easier than my 275 set had been in the warm up. I kept the ball rolling and a few minutes later by hitting a new 3rm power clean at 270. The week prior I had failed at 295 (it wasn't even close) and only got 1 rep at 270. I did not have some miraculous muscle gain in a week's time, nor did my technique suddenly become perfect. I just tricked my nervous system. I probably should've tried for another 5 lbs jump but I didn't want to get greedy.

Example #2: When I do weighted pull ups I normally gradually add more weight as I work up to my work set weight. Months ago I was stuck at 75 lbs as my 3rm for weighted pull ups. I decided to try the PAP method of using ballistic movements as warm up sets. I did sets of 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 rep explosive chest to bar pull ups with only body weight. I then went straight to 80 lbs and finally set a new 3rm PR.

Example 3: Many of you have experienced this same phenomenon without knowing it. The last time we programmed Fran (21-15-9 reps of thrusters and pull ups) as the metcon, we programmed a 1rm thruster for the SWOD before it. Many of you worked to weights WELL past what you would use during Fran, the prescribed weights for which are 95 and 65 pounds for men and women. After Fran was done, and after you got off the ground and normal breathing was restored many of you remarked that the thrusters felt light in the workout. You experienced the effects of PAP!

So why should you care? The next time a 5rm lift comes up as the SWOD, try working up to a heavy single, heavier than your 5rm goal weight (studies have shown 110-120% to be good goals to shoot for). Take your rest period and then load your new 5rm weight and crush it. The keys are to not overdo it, as in don't do too many reps in your warm up and definitely don't hit failure on your heavy single. You should feel strong and energized after the heavy single, not beat down.

I personally do some form of PAP for most lifts. As you continue to do it you will teach your body to recruit more motor units and become a more efficient lifter, meaning you get stronger. With the CrossFit Total coming up at the end of this month, your're gonna want to set some new PR's! bc


  1. 7 mile hill/trail run with "Motorin' MikeC"..Tough Mudder, I think were ready.

  2. Running WOD#3--1 hour 15 min running
    6.69 miles 11:15 avg. pace
    Strong headwind, walked more than I wanted, generally sucked. Glad it's over.