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"Hyper-Potentiation" – A Unique Approach To Training Simultaneously For Size And Strength

June 9, 2010 12:36 PM



If you haven't read Pavel's, Beyond Bodybuilding, you should. If you have, I recommend you read it again. Arguably one of the best but most underrated concepts that book is the series. Essentially it's using a selection of progressively heavier loads to a top set, and then repeating that progression. Here's what it looks like:
100kg/5, 110kg/5, 120kg/5, 100kg/5, 110kg/5, 120kg/5, etc.

Essentially it's a strength cycle compressed into one training session. But, it is so much more than just that.

When I look back in my training journals over the past 4 years, my fastest progress has been made both in my strength work and my technical work by implementing the Series Protocol.

Interestingly, in my chosen sport of Olympic Weightlifting, there is a very large speed component because the power output in each lift is very high. Bear with me here because I am about to go on a history of training tangent.

I was first introduced to the concept of training for speed by my weightlifting coach, Alfonso Duran, who received his Master of Sport in Cuba for his work on "zone loading" while training track and field athletes. He came up with three zones of loading for specific motor abilities, each to precede the other and each to "prime" the following zone. They are:

   Speed: 50-70% of 1RM
   Power: 60-80% of 1RM
   Strength: 70-90% of 1RM

Depending on how you set up your cycle, you can train in one zone for a number of weeks and then transition into the following zone and then so on. For example:

   Cycle 1: 50-55-60-65-70
   Cycle 2: 60-65-70-75-80
   Cycle 3: 70-75-80-85-90
   Cycle 4: Peaking to Max

I will not get into the many different permutations of this style of loading. But suffice to say, it works great.

There are several different methods to potentiate the CNS for faster strength gains, both short and long term. Two familiar ones are using a dynamic effort before a maximum effort and using a maximal effort before a dynamic effort. Examples for each are using a vertical jump before a heavy squat (Fred "Dr. Squat" Hatfield, the first man to squat over 1000lbs, used this method) and performing a supra-maximal hold with 120% of your best squat before you perform repeated sets with 80% of your max squat (Chad Waterbury is a big advocate of this method.) Both work. There are several ideas as for which works better for who, but that's for another article.

The point is simply this: Light loads can potentiate heavy loads and heavy loads can potentiate light loads. Even more simply put, light loads moved quickly can make heavy loads feel lighter. And heavy loads [moved as quickly as possible] can make light loads feel even lighter.


Let's Go Surfing.

Here's what's commonly known as the "Force-Velocity Curve."

(Remember that Force = Mass * acceleration, where Acceleration = change in velocity / change in time.)

What this curve shows us is that when force increases, velocity decreases and vice-versa.

It also shows us that there is a peak power output somewhere in the middle of that curve. (See dotted parabola.) With high velocity, there is low power, and the same is true with high force.

"What's all this got to do with the series?" I hear you asking right about now? It means that we can literally surf this curve in almost every training session as we compress Alfonso's zone-loading parameters into single weeks, even single training sessions, instead of 12-week periods!

What it means is that you can expose yourself to frequently more heavy loads and trick your body into making them feel lighter than they normally would by using the series. Yes, this is a form of micro-periodization, or micro-cycling, but it makes use of some neurological tricks to exploit a faster training adaptation.

But as Ron Popeil, the infomercial king says "Wait – There's More!"

Remember that one of the keys to gaining strength is frequent practice and a higher volume. Or as Professor V. Zatsiorsky states, "Train as heavy as possible, as often as possible, as fresh as possible." The hyper-potentiation method allows you to do just that. You are able to touch the heavier loads without "training on the nerve" as the Old Time Strongmen used to say, and still train with a relatively high volume because the average training loads are relatively light.

For example, if your squat session looks like the following (represented as percentages):

(50/3, 60/3, 70/3, 80/3, 90/3) x2, your average load is still only 70% of your 1RM. But you were able to perform 30 high quality reps with that average load.

I used this method to peak my leg strength on the front squat for my clean and jerks. In a two-week period, I ramped up my front squats to 160kg for multiple sets of singles.

Here is how that particular workout looked – it was at the end of the week after two previous, but incrementally loaded front squat sessions:

   (140kg/1, 150kg/1, 160kg/1) x 3; 140kg/1, 150kg/1

I completed three series and stopped the fourth when my speed dropped and the load started to feel too heavy.

Application.

Ok, so how do you apply this idea of "hyper-potentiation" to your own training program? Well, we will cover barbell training, since Pavel covers kettlebell training in Beyond Bodybuilding (p.13-15).

The major key is to use larger than normal jumps in loads between the starting and finishing sets to take advantage of the light-heavy contrasts. So the five pound and 2 ½ percent jumps are out. Always move the loads as fast as you can while maintaining control. Doing so helps you increase your power output, which is very helpful for strength and power athletes. (Not only that, you can take advantage of moving through the power zone during your series.)

For strength, you will generally want to stick with 3-5 reps, while occasionally visiting the 1-3 rep zone.

I recommend you set up a series of two-week cycles where you add 5-10lbs to each lift on the following cycle.

   Week 1: 50-60-70, 55-65-75, 60-70-80. Reps per set = 5.

   Week 2: 55-65-75, 60-70-80, 65-75-85. Reps per set = 5.

   Weeks 3-4: Add 10lbs to each percentage for lower body and 5lbs for upper body.

   (All numbers refer to percentages of 1RM. A comma separates each day/workout.)

My recommendation is to begin the week with more series – 3 to 4, and finish the week with fewer series – 2 to 3 as the loads start to increase. This follows one of the time-tested principles in strength training – as intensity increases, volume must decrease. But it's all up to you and how your body feels.

For increased muscle mass, you can use the same loading zones, but decrease the frequency and increase the total number of series per workout until you are between 50 and 100 reps per exercise, per workout. Make sure you increase your calories as well.

Depending on your conditioning levels, there is an inverse correlation between reps and number of series performed for your particular exercise. The fewer the reps – 1 to 3 per set, the more series you can perform and vice-versa.

This training methodology suits itself best for use with one, possibly two exercises per training session. Any other exercises are done for straight sets with different loading parameters.

For example:

   A.Clean and Press: ((50%, 60%, 70%, 80%)/5) x 2-3
   B.Front Squat 3x5
   C.Barbell Row 3x6

Or:

   A.Back Squat: ((60%, 70%, 80%, 90%)/2) x 2-3
   B.Press: ((60%, 70%, 80%)/2) x 2-3
   C.Hanging Leg Raises x 2x5

If you haven't been training in the 80-90% range for while, then you will want to take a week or two to get there. Do not attempt to get there your first session using the series. Put together a short two-week micro-cycle and aim to hit 90% the last day of the second week.

A few final notes: It is important to remember that the number of series you can perform are not set in stone. A great rule of thumb to ensure you continually maintain progress is to terminate your sets when your speed drops. "Grinding" the weight – that is – struggling under the load and pushing out "long" reps that take up to five seconds, will fry out your CNS.

After you drop back down to start the series over again, that first light load should literally fly up! If it does not, you probably finished your series too heavy. Quit for the day and make a note for the next session.

There you have it – hyper-potentiation – an excellent, and arguably faster method to accelerate your strength and power gains with the option to pack on some extra beef.




Geoff Neupert, Master RKC, CSCS, has worked in the fitness industry since 1993 as a personal trainer, college strength and conditioning coach, and personal training business owner. He is a former weightlifting national qualifier and state champion. He has logged over 19,217 hours of one-on-one personal training and counting and has been training both his clients and himself with kettlebells since January 2002. For more great strength information, check out his blog, ChasingStrength.com or KettlebellSecrets.com.
 

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