Q: I read the excerpts from your upcoming vertical jump manual and notice you talked about muscle recruitment being a key factor and it's relationship to adrenaline and output of the nervous system. Are there any supplements I can take to help both nervous system output and also recovery?
Yes there are plenty of things you can take to enhance adrenaline and nervous system output. The international olympic committee has a list of them a mile long on it's banned substances list! Substances like modafinil, ephedrine, and even caffeine work by jacking up levels of epinephrine (adrenaline) which can help athletes perform better by increasing their muscle recruitment. However, there is a price to pay for this.
Anytime you increase things artificially by using a drug, your body will decrease it's own production of whatever is being increased. So, if you take something that artificially increases nervous system output, you'll likely feel lethargic, tired, and have a hard time performing once that substance wears off because your adrenaline levels will be lower then normal. The same thing can happen if you train extremely hard and boost your neural output above and beyond what it's accustomed to - you can be worn out for days afterward.
A better approach is to naturally increase neural output, which you can do by taking natural precursors to the stimulatory neuro-transmitters your brain makes like epinephrine, dopamine and acetyl-choline. I recommend a stack consisting of the following amino acids and natural foods:
Acetyl-l-carnitine- 500-1500 mg (enhances energy processes and increases both epinephrine and acetyl-choline)
L-tyrosine- 3000 mg- Provides a natural building block for dopamine and epinephrine
Lecithin or Phosphatidylcholine- 5000 mg (lecithin) or 1500 mg (phosphatidylcholine)
These supplements will supply precursors your brain needs to manufacture it's own stimulatory neurotransmitters. If you take them once a day prior to a workout they'll give you a "pick me-up" without bringing you down later like high doses of caffeine or stimulant type drugs might. For enhanced effectiveness you could also add in the following:
Piracetam- 1500 mg
DL-Phenylalanine- 500 mg
Piracetam will enhance your memory and awareness and DL-phenylalanine will provide building blocks for dopamine and phenylethylamine (the brains natural stimulant) and has the ability to increase the action of our pain killing endorphins, which is good if you're experiencing soreness.
Now as far as addressing neural recovery, the single most important thing you can do is get enough sleep. Being sleep deprived automatically puts extra strain on the nervous system so sleep is paramount. I would go so far as to say it's better not to train at all then have to train when majorly sleep deprived. One thing that can help relax the nervous system and induce proper sleep is magnesium. Most athletes are deficient in magnesium so I recommend everybody take 300 mg per day.
The nerves fire the muscles. When the nerves get low on their fuel, they can't work and they need plenty of rest to refuel themselves. Many experts in the world of athletic preparation commonly quote that the central nervous system takes 5-6 times longer than the muscles to recover. Because the CNS is common to the whole body, lack of recovery of the CNS is one reason why you should also try to get at least 48 hours of rest in between extremely neurally demanding activities. These include anything that requires a near maximal effort. Lifting maximal weights, plyometrics, and sprinting at top speed are not activities you want to do everyday because they drain your nervous system. Conditioning drills, lifting weights equivalent to 70% of your max or lower, medium intensity agility drills, and form running drills are exercises that can be performed more frequently because they're not as draining.
Hope this helps!
Q: I am an assistant football coach for a high school. My question relates to conditioning. We have pretty good overall team speed but I don't know how to train for football specific endurance without compromising team speed. Last year the head coach ran the guys into the ground prior to the season and this caused a decrease in speed and acceleration for quite a few players. This year the task is mine for setting up the yearly strength and conditioning program. Any advice/insight is greatly appreciated.
As you know football requires short bursts of activity (4-6 seconds) followed by 30-40 second rest intervals and requires the ability to maintain top speed for 4 quarters. First, realize this is an essentially 100% anaerobic activity. The term Anaerobic means without oxygen. It would be impossible to run multiple 50 yard sprints without resting in between each one because the intensity is too high. Compare this to jogging or cycling where the intensity is at a lower level and can be carried out for extended periods without a break. However, football still requires well developed aerobic capacities due to the short rest intervals, but relying on simple aerobic methods like jogging is not enough. To develop specific endurance for football does require some form of interval training.
Interval Training involves repeated bouts of exercise with specified rest or recovery periods. It is possible to train both the Aerobic and Anaerobic systems in one workout using interval work. This is because during the rest intervals the heart rate is still kept high enough (above 60-70% maximum heart rate) to be considered in the "aerobic" zone.
Now the problem with interval training as you already experienced is many coaches get carried away with it and end up breaking their players down and actually making them slower. Realize that interval training is a conditioning tool only and should not be used for speed development! No matter how much your players legs and lungs burn after those 20 gassers they're not developing the ability to increase their absolute speed!
This is because speed development requires one to run at least 90% or faster then their current peak abilities with extended rest periods.
With interval training lactic acid and oxygen accumulate and hinder the ability to run at maximal speed. Another problem is that interval training, although it won't develop top speed, is still fast enough to be intense and does stress the body and requires significant recovery time. As a rule of thumb this refers to intervals run at a pace between 70-90% of your maximum speed or effort.
We can call this type of training anaerobic endurance or intensive tempo training. This is also the area where football specific endurance is best developed so it's application can be a bit tricky because it can break the system down and also affect speed negatively.
Another type of interval training method is extensive interval or tempo training. This conditioning method calls for intervals to be run at 70% or less of maximum speed with more recovery. This method will still develop aerobic and anaerobic capacities, yet not drain the system like more intense interval methods will.
A good conditioning program for football should incorporate both methods. Here are some examples of each.
Anaerobic Endurance/Intensive Intervals
The goal here is to build up the ability to tolerate lactic acid and recover faster between bouts of maximal intensity.
100-400 Yard runs with a 1:1 or 1:2 work to rest ratio repeated for around 15 minutes total. If a run takes you 20 seconds to complete than you rest 20 seconds. Start at 100 and built up to 400 as you become more conditioned, then drop back down to 100.
10 x 200 Yard Runs with 1:1 work to rest ratio
10-15 x 10 second agility drills with 20 second rest intervals
Develop a blend of aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. A general guideline is you should be able to run the last sprint just as fast as the first. The intensity should be kept at a moderate pace.
15-20 x 60 yard sprints at 60-70% max speed with 25-30 seconds between each.
10-15 x 100 yard sprints at 60-70% max speed with 35-45 seconds between each.
Now, lets go over how to incorporate this into a long-term plan.
I would tackle your objective by using different phases with a different emphasis in each phase, corresponding to the start of your season. Each phase should last somewhere around 3-5 weeks so that gives you plenty of time to prepare. In fact, you have plenty of time so you can run through various phases more then once.
This doesn't mean that you will only be focusing on one quality per phase, but the focus and frequency of each quality (general fitness, speed, acceleration, agility, and anaerobic endurance will change depending on the phase).
Focus of Various Phases
Phase 1-General Fitness - Get into the groove of things without getting too specific or too intense. (ie. Jog for 20 minutes, Walk/Jog combinations,bodyweight circuits, basketball, circuit training etc.)
Phase 2-Acceleration Development- The goal here is to develop max acceleration (ie. sprints between 10-30 yards totalling around 300 yards per session, weight room training focused on max strength.
Phase 3-Max Speed- The goal here is to develop max speed(ie. sprints for 30-60 yards totally 300-500 yards per session, weight room training focused on max power)
Phase 4-Agility drills and Anaerobic endurance- Here the focus shifts to the more specific qualities required in football - agility and anaerobic endurance. Your players will already have a good base of general fitness and endurance so that they adapt quickly.
Phase 5-Football season starts
Sample Weekly Structure To Follow Throughout All Phases
Day1- Train whatever quality the focus is on for the phase and lift
Day2- Extensive Tempo- 60-70% sprints with the last one run just as easily as the first (ex: 100 x 10-15 with 30 second rests)
Day3- Max Acceleration, agility / Lift
Day4- Anaerobic Endurance/Intensive Tempo
Notice how all qualities are worked throughout the entire process with a varying emphasis on each depending on the phase? This will allow your players to maintain and add to all necessary qualities throughout. Once you have developed the specific endurance levels of your players, using a gradual approach you'll find they can maintain it rather easily.
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