TECHNIQUES TO BOOST PERFORMANCE
POST-ACTIVATION POTENTIATION (PAP)
Though this is still a bit of a theory, the idea here is that by using a moderate-to-heavy lift targeting the same muscles, you will improve (potentiate) your power on a subsequent plyometric or power-type move. Some theorize that the muscles are neurally “primed” — more muscle fibers are turned on after the lift — making the power move that much more powerful.
For example, doing squats before box jumps: Even though the athlete may be fatigued after the squat, the potentiating effect can stick around for several minutes during recovery. A recent meta-analysis suggests performing the lift at a moderate intensity (60 to 84 percent of your one-rep max) and resting three to 10 minutes between sets until you feel recovered because fatigue can counteract the PAP effect.
Moves to try: Back squat box jump, bench press medicine-ball chest pass
Systematically changing the exercises, sets, reps, resistance and rest periods allows athletes to recover and optimize their training during a competitive season. The traditional style of periodization is linear, progressing from a base level of fitness to a specific skill-set target: As the year progresses, intensity is increased, rep ranges are decreased and exercises become more sport-specific. During the competitive season, intensity is kept high but the number of exercises, sets and reps decrease so as to prevent overtraining and burnout. After the season is over, there are two to three weeks of active rest, then the process begins again.
Another way to periodize is in a nonlinear or an undulating fashion in which both intensity and volume are varied throughout the entire year, sometimes depending on how an individual feels that day. This is useful for anyone, athlete or not, to prevent chronic injuries and overtraining and keep your muscles fresh and growing. Plan your workouts to take you through phases that change up your sets, reps and intensity every four to 12 weeks, and allow yourself a few weeks off from the weights and cardio at least once a year.
A complex means something different depending on whom you ask. They can either be strength-power supersets that use PAP (see above) or a workout made up of several exercises done in a row that uses the same weight and that is done without setting the weight down. This second type of complex is perfect for metabolic conditioning, and both can be great timesavers.
Complexes using lighter weights can be used as specific warm-ups for heavier lifts to come. For example, warming up with five reps of deadlifts, hang cleans, front squats and overhead presses with a naked barbell can elevate body temperature and get your mind-muscle connection firing so you’re ready to rock once you load up the bar for the workout.
Barbell complex to try: Deadlift, hang clean, push press, back squat, push press (repeat)
This is probably the most functional training around, teaching the body to use reactive power to change direction quickly while demanding control over dynamic balance in all planes of motion. Drills can be individualized to mimic different distances (tennis court vs. soccer field), locomotive patterns (lateral shuffle vs. linear acceleration/deceleration) and change of direction patterns (side step vs. cutting). Even if you’re not training for a specific sport, agility drills can help develop speed, balance and control, and they are a fun way to do your cardio in an atypical way.
Even if you don’t have an agility ladder, cones or mini-hurdles (though those are all affordable and portable), you can use chalk to draw boxes for foot-drill patterns or set up water bottles instead of cones to mark off yardage for sprints.
Drill to try: T-Drill. Arrange four cones 5 yards apart in a T shape. Start at the base of the T and sprint to the center cone. Change direction and side shuffle to the left cone, then change direction again and shuffle to the right cone. Shuffle back to the center cone, then put it in reverse to backpedal to the start.
Though visualization can never substitute for actual training, it can help when you’re not in the gym, court or field. Mentally practicing the objectives of an activity is usually better than imagining the outcome of your goal. For example, taking yourself through the sensations (grip, foot placement, muscle activation) of a perfect power clean is going to be more helpful than imagining your excitement at getting a personal record.
When you’re actually training, however, choosing whether to focus on internal sensations (i.e., activating specific muscles) or external objectives (i.e., pushing the floor away or driving the bar up to the ceiling) depends on the type of movement, the load and the experience of the lifter. Lighter loads seem to benefit the most from internal focus, and heavier loads tend to need more external cues to get the job done, especially for less experienced lifters. And that gym bro who strikes a pose before each set? He might actually be onto something: Isometric contractions done right before a lift can help you focus on engaging the right muscles during the set.