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SESSION NOTES: Heavy Barbell Conditioning (708-711)

Complete three rounds of 60s max unbroken reps for the three movements at 75% of your max, resting 120s after each.

 

Programming Science:

This session contains one element of each of the four major barbell movement types, through a combination of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. Movement types include anterior chain (or squat-based), posterior chain (or deadlift/hip hinge), upper body press and upper body pull.

The inclusion of all movement types ensures musculo-skeletal balance, and also creates a ‘blood shunting’ effect, where your body is required to deliver oxygen and fuel, and remove waste, from large and alternating muscle beds.

This session isn’t the most effective method of getting strong, nor is it the best way to build cardiorespiratory endurance, however, it is highly effective at achieving a mix of both in one session as a form of concurrent training. Percentages are programmed rather than weights to ensure the correct stimulus, that both cardiorespiratory endurance and muscle strength are trained equally.

It trains your ability to lift heavy weights under cardiorespiratory duress.

As this session requires you to go to failure, you will achieve a very high level of motor unit activation. Motor units are the motor neurons (nerves) and the muscle fibres they ‘switch on’. When we contact a muscle, we are in fact only contracting a small number of muscle fibres. We can’t turn a muscle fibre ‘half on’, it’s either ‘on’ or ‘off’. When you stop a set before failure, you are failing to maximise the number of fibres you’re activating. By going to failure in the sets in this session, we are maximising the number of motor units we’re activating, which means we’re able to get a lot of effect from a relatively small amount of work (albeit at a higher intensity).

Health and Body Composition Benefits:

This session delivers benefits from both resistance-based training, and cardiorespiratory training.

Resistance training (using your muscles to lift heavy weights, either external weights or yourself) makes you stronger. Strength is one of the greatest predictors of both your lifespan (how long you live) and your healthspan (how long you live in a healthy state).

Resistance training like this will also improve your flexibility (by going through a full range of motion), posture and coordination. It will also build stability around your joints and spine to give you a healthy musculo-skeletal system and reduce joint and back pain.

The session will minimise losses in bone mineral density and will improve your balance. Strength and balance are the two strongest predictors of falls later in life, so this is an effective way to train fall prevention, and insure your independence into old age.

This session increases your lean muscle mass and muscle fibre size. Muscle is a metabolically active tissue, so increasing it will maximise how much energy your body burns at rest. This makes it an effective session to reach healthy levels of body fat, both visceral fat (around the organs) and subcutaneous fat (under your skin). After this session, your body will go through a prolonged state of ‘EPOC’ (excess post- exercise oxygen consumption), meaning you’ll continue burning energy long after you finish training – further aiding healthy body composition.

The cardiorespiratory element of this session also has considerable health benefits, with this session creating favourable changes to cardiovascular disease (including reductions in blood pressure) and respiratory disease. This session will also lower your resting heart rate and increase blood flow to the brain.

As a result of this style of session, you will experience changes in blood chemistry, including favourable effects on cholesterol, blood glucose, triglyceride and lipid levels.

Performance Benefits:

The heavy levels of resistance in this session are designed to increase your strength – increasing both your one rep max, and your ability to lift submaximal weights. By being stronger, you can lift more weight, and you will be able to lift submaximal weights faster and for higher reps because they’ll be at a lower percentage of your max.

As strength is an element of power, getting stronger will also improve your ability to move faster – beneficial for more power-based, explosive movements (like Olympic lifting).

This session will also improve the efficiency of your fast-twitch muscle fibres (those responsible for lifting heavy and fast), and will improve your neuromuscular efficiency (your ability to turn on a very high percentage of your muscle fibres).

The primary benefit of completing resistance training under cardiorespiratory duress from a performance perspective is to improve the ability of your body to sustain repeated muscle contractions.

This session achieves this by training the glycolytic and oxidative energy systems which generate ‘ATP’ (adenosine triphosphate) which fuels movement. By completing this session and training these energy systems, we’re able to raise the lactate threshold, the intensity at which hydrogen ions begin to accumulate, causing cell acidity. Raising this threshold allows you to exercise at a higher rate for longer, with less fatigue.

As a result of this session, you’ll experience performance-boosting changes in intramuscular substrate storage (increasing energy availability for muscle contractions) and increased enzyme activities (increasing the rate of energy delivery to the muscles).

Additionally, the repetitive muscle contractions create positive changes at a muscular level.

The high repetition movements in this session train the ability of your muscles to resist fatigue – increasing their stamina. This comes from improvements in the efficiency of slow twitch (fatigue resistant) muscle fibres.

As a result of the volume of repetitions, this session will increase the mitochondrial density in your muscle cells, allowing them to more efficiently convert energy into fuel. This means you can sustain higher rates of muscle contraction before fatigue or failure.

The higher volumes will also increase capillary density in your muscles, allowing for efficient delivery of oxygen and fuel, and removal of waste products (further adding to the fatigue resistance).

These muscular changes also occur in the ventilatory muscles, particularly with the need to breath and brace while lifting heavy loads, improving breathing efficiency.

As this session requires you to go to failure, you will achieve a very high level of motor unit activation. Motor units are the motor neurons (nerves) and the muscle fibres they ‘switch on’. When we contact a muscle, we are in fact only contracting a small number of muscle fibres. We can’t turn a muscle fibre ‘half on’, it’s either ‘on’ or ‘off’. When you stop a set before failure, you are failing to maximise the number of fibres you’re activating. By going to failure in the sets in this session, we are maximising the number of motor units we’re activating, which means we’re able to get a lot of effect from a relatively small amount of work (albeit at a higher intensity).

Strategy:

Strategy does not play a major part in the session, as each set is completed to close to the point of failure. You should not pace this, but achieve maximum unbroken reps in each set.

In the rest intervals, you should complete active recovery (keep moving), to help to ‘buffer’ hydrogen ions out of the blood and maximise your recovery for the next interval.

How it Should Feel:

You should feel equally limited by your cardiorespiratory endurance and strength/stamina. It should be difficult both because the loads are heavy, and because you’re breathing hard.

You should have to fight hard to keep moving for as much of the 60 seconds as possible.

Scaling Guidelines:

As this is based on a percentage of your own max, you shouldn’t need to reduce the weights. If you have a low ‘training age’ (haven’t been training for long), you may need to ‘scale up’, increasing the weights to ensure that you’re equally limited by both ‘heaviness’ and ‘breathing’.

If you’re new to Olympic lifting, consider lifting from a higher position (for example, from the top of the knee or the power position) to preserve your technique.

Modify around injuries with exercises as close as possible to the stimulus of the movement you’re modifying.

Common Mistakes:

Many people will stop a repetition or two short of what they can actually achieve. Aim to push well past the point of discomfort.

Sacrificing form and technique under fatigue is a danger here. Although this may get you a higher score in the session, it will damage your technique and will blunt your long-term health and performance gains.