Q: Is it necessary to reach your absolute genetic strength potential in order to achieve your genetic potential for muscle growth? I have heard some say that as long as your weights increase, so will your muscle, but I would think that the nervous system has a lot more do do with strength progression than muscle size right? If one were to progress from doing an 8 rep max squat with 200 pounds as a beginner to doing an 8 rep max squat of 450 wouldn't the amount of muscle growth achieved from this strength progression be determined by the style in which they trained in order to reach that level? Furthermore, when one uses pure strength training parameters to stimulate strictly the neural adaptations of strength gain, how do you know if a stagnation or reduction in progression is due to maxing out neural adaptations for your size and needing more volume to stimulate hypertrophy or if it is due to cns inhibition which occurs when you use low reps for too long? Also, is nonfunctional hypertrophy a common problem for low rep trainers?
Yes your example is 100% correct. Strength and size do tend to correlate but there isn't a completely linear correlation. It's possible to become significantly stronger without gaining muscle size and it' also possible to become significantly bigger without getting a whole lot stronger. Eating also has a lot to do with this as it tends to be the limiting factor for muscle growth. Without excess calories not a lot of growth will take place. One who trains like a bodybuilder yet never eats excess calories may gain some strength but probably won't put on much if any size. One who trains with low reps like a strength lifter yet eats like a horse will still gain plenty of muscle.
Programs designed to build strength without much size include the brief maximal tension method. Significant loads of 85-95% are used for 4-5 exercises for 6-10 sets of 1-3 reps 2-3x per week. This type of training produces an increase in strength without an accompanying increase in muscle mass.
As for your 2nd question, it has to be analyzed over a period of many months with periodic peaks and valleys in the programming. If one consistently stalls out at the same strength levels at a given bodyweight despite practicing sound training, organizational, and recovery methods then it's likely the stagnation is a result of near maxing out of current abilities. If the stagnation occurs practically overnight following a period of increased strength, increased loading, or increased intensification, then it's likely the stagnation is a result of CNS inhibition and/or over-reaching.
Now to your last question, no, irrational muscular hypertrophy is not a problem for low rep trainers. Irrational adipose hypertrophy of the waistline may often be a problem for this group however!
Q: What is the maximum amount of continuous time I should try to bring up my reactive ability? What is the optimal volume of plyometrics I should do during a reactive phase?
Reactive ability and explosive strength tend to respond to training much quicker then strength and hypertrophy. In general the total length and volume would be about 60% of what it took you to gain strength. Therefore if your maximum strength phase lasted 7-12 weeks your explosive focus would last 4-8 weeks. I don't think anyone really needs more then 3 specific phases of this per year.
For something like an 8 week phase I like to use one 4 week phase incorporating more "force" type reactive exercises followed by one 4 week phase incorporating more "shock" and "speed" type reactive exercises.
An example of the first is this workout here:
Drop Jump x 3
Box Squat x 85% x 3
Reactive Squat x 50% x 3
Glute-Hams x 5
Backwards wide stance Drop Jump into squat x 3
Drop jump w/straight legs on balls of feet x 3
Jump Squat with pause x 30-40% x 3
Jump Shrug with pause from knee x 5
An example of the 2nd is this workout here:
Depth Jumps x 3
30 yard sprints x 3
1/4 rhythmic jump squat x 30% x 10
Glute Hams x 5
Depth Jumps into split squat (lunge) stance x 3 (perform like a regular depth jump but land in a lunge stnace and rebound off both feet to jump)
50 yard runs x 3
Single leg triple jump x 3 (stand on one leg and execute 3 consecutive triple jumps trying to cover as much ground as possible)
One would alternate those workouts performing a workout every 2-4 days. Additional supplementary exercises like step-ups, leg curls, hip machine, etc. could be included as well. Over a short period of time (4-8 weeks) and providing a foundation of strength with barbell movements is already set in, high intensity reactive methods like depth jumps and drop jumps also serve to increase absolute strength. Thus heavy strength work can be pulled out temporarily.
Whenever you're really focusing on separate phases like this the majority of the time you never want to get completely away from any one given quality. During an explosive dominant phase you could still do enough basic strength training to maintain your gains. This could be as simple as 3-5 sets of 3-5 squats one day per week. During a strength phase you'd still want to include some explosive work. This means you'd still do plenty of low and medium intensity jumps along with sprints. The main difference woudl be the "focus" of the phase.
Beginners and intermediates can bring up everything all at once and have no real need to go from phase to phase like above.
As for volume, the general quantity of high intensity reactive exercises like depth jumps, drop jumps, and reactive squats etc. should not exceed 380-400 repetitions over an entire 4 week phase. The old soviet recommendation is 40 jumps 3 x per week for 4 weeks.
Q: Do you have any good exercises for glutes? I do squats, deadlifts, and all the other basics but my glutes just don't seem to get much stimulation
First of all make sure you're able to fire your glutes. Do these 3 drills:
1. Lie on your stomach and lift one leg off the ground and squeeze.
2. Get in a lunge position with your right leg foward and place your right hand on your right glute. Descend slowly down into a lunge and focus on feeling that glute fire as you rise up.
3. From a seated position in front of your computer or wherever place your feet on the floor and try to contract your glutes.
Do those exercises periodically throughout the day and before every lower body workout.
Also work on stretching your hip flexors and your hamstrings.
From now on everytime you do a squat, deadlift, or any sort've leg exercise go slowly and focus on squeezing your glutes during the concentric phase of each movement.
For a turbo-charged glute frying movement try this. I'm still waiting for this one to catch on with the women in gyms everywhere because it's that effective.
Do single leg split squats with your back leg elevated. You've probably heard of this movement before but what I want you to do is go down all the way but lean your torso very far forward as you descend and straighten it out when you rise. In fact you want to almost lean over and touch the floor. Experiment with different stance widths, tempos, and repetition parameters. I generally prescribe 6-10 reps per set. You can do them with dumbells, a barbell on your back, or even without any weight. Regardless of how your perform them if you cant feel your glutes when you do this movement then somethings wrong!
Q: In regards to the nervous system and potential for explosiveness and power, are all people born with the same neural capability and trainability, or are some people born with nervous systems already more suited for explosiveness. Is the separation between average and elite athletes in high power events limited mostly by fiber composition, body structure, or neural capacity? How do you describe Adam Archuletas ability to achieve the results he did.
As for the central nervous system 1/2 of it is very trainable and 1/2 of it isnt. The speed that the nervous system sends and receives signals is pretty much genetic. This will be relevant to having quick hands, quick reflexes and the like. For example, your ability to quickly tap your hands and fingers and place and your reaction reflexes are largely genetic. However, when it comes to the ability of the nervous system to recruit muscle, that aspect can be improved an average of 40%.
For example, you can take a beginner who is only capable of using 50% of his muscle and over time improve that to 85 or 90%.- and that's without even increasing the strength of that muscle. That aspect of the nervous system is more relevant to most athletes anyway.
Therefore, Athlete A may be able to tap his feet in place twice as fast as Athlete B but Athlete B may be able to beat athlete A in a sprint. That's because athlete B is able to put out more horsepower per stride then athlete A.
overall the 5 main factors would be:
1. Body structure
2. Neural Factors (quickness + muscle recruitment ability)
3. Relative Strength levels/Movement efficiency (responsible for how much power is generated when the CNS fires the muscles. Strength of the muscles in relationship to bodyweight and ability to move efficiently and fully utilize plyometric ability)
4. Muscle fiber type and proportion
5. Mental factors (dedication, persistence, knowledge etc.)
Factor #1 you can do nothing about. Factor #2 you can improve some 40%. Factor #3 you can improve 100% or more. Factor #4 you can improve 40%. Factor #5 you can improve 100% or more.
Any one of those factors can be limiting and it's usually a combination of things. Most of them are inter-related. If you simply focus on what you need to do to improve upon then 2, 3, and 4, will improve as a natural side effect of your training.
It's also worth noting that nobody has ever reached their absolute ability. No matter how advanced you are there's always something you can to to improve one of those factors above.
As for guys like Adam Archuleta I call these guys 1/2 genetic freaks.
You see, with guys like him all the aspects of the nervous system and natural muscle/tendon/bone length and structure are already in place and all that has to be done is add the amount of horsepower expressed when that CNS fires. Or in other words, add muscle and strength. The nervous system is already able to call upon and use that muscle efficiently. When you add some muscle to that nervous system and those long gangly legs then watch out. Yet without the muscle and strength then you won't see much of anything. Guys with that type of potential are a dime a dozen but most never take advantage of it cause they're still gonna have to do some serious training to add strength and that takes time and dedication. Many are also late bloomers when it comes to physical and sexual maturity. Many would appear as anything but gifted initially because they're often skinny, awkward, slow, and unathletic with knobby knees and the like.
A true genetic freak on the other hand, would not only have an excellent nervous system already in place but also have the muscle to go along with it without any training. These are the guys who come in the gym and squat 500 lbs, bench 300, run a 4.5 forty, VJ 35 inches, and sit at 5% bodyfat without ever doing a single thing. As for elite athletes, many are going to fit into one of those 2 groups.