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Undulate to Invigorate Gains

Q: Do you ever employ undulating loading patterns with your athletes? Tudor Bompa presented that concept in his book Serious Strength Training as if it were one of the 10 commandments of strength training. I’ve never heard of it and am curious to know if it’s something that I should incorporate into my own training.

A: Yes. In fact, my own model on undulating loading patterns has been compared in the scientific literature to other modules of training. You should definitely use it.

As a rule of thumb, I would say that the musculature grows best when both high-volume phases, known as accumulation phases, are alternated with high-intensity phases, known as intensification phases. The respective length of each phase will be affected by a variety of factors, such as nutrient intake, serotonin and dopamine ratios, hormonal makeup and fiber-type makeup.

Accumulation phases are normally characterized by the following:

• More exercises (two to four per bodypart)

• Higher reps (seven or more per set)

• Lower sets (two to four per exercise)

• Higher volumes (number of total sets x total reps)

• Lower intensities (below 80 percent)

• Shorter rest intervals (30 to 90 seconds)

A typical accumulation phase may consist of three exercises done for three sets of 12 to 15 reps, resting an average of 75 seconds between sets.

Intensification phases are characterized by:

• Fewer exercises (one to two per bodypart)

• Lower reps (one to six)

• Higher sets (10 to 12 total sets per bodypart)

• Lower volumes

• Higher intensities (80 percent of max and above)

• Longer rest intervals (three to five minutes)

A typical intensification phase may consist of two exercises done for five sets of four to six reps, resting an average of three to five minutes between sets.

Keep in mind that there are plenty of ways to undulate the training loads, but this is the one I prefer. To put it into practice, you might try alternating intensification and accumulation phases about every three weeks, or every six workouts. In other words, do an accumulation phase for six workouts, and then switch to an intensification program for six workouts.

Q: I lift weights a few hours before my karate lesson, and I have much greater speed and strength in my strikes. Is that normal? Shouldn’t I be fatigued?

A: No, it’s quite normal for your karate-specific strength to be enhanced by a weight-training workout done before you go to the dojo. What you’re experiencing is a phenomenon called post-tetanic facilitation.

When you recruit high-threshold motor units, as you do in a weight-training workout, and then take a 10-minute rest period, there’s a temporary increase in strength that lasts four to six hours. That’s why NHL superstar Joe Sakic lifts a few hours before going on the ice on game day.

That trick for enhanced power performance is thought to have been developed by former Soviet Union sprinter Valery Borsov, an Olympic gold medalist of the early ’70s. Ideally, you should wait four to six hours between the sessions.

Q: You’ve said that stretching the antagonist muscle between working sets—as opposed to the agonist—is far more beneficial and productive. While I’ve found that method works well for both my clients and me, would you elaborate on the specific reason it’s so productive?

A: Static stretching temporarily weakens muscles. Thus, if you stretch the triceps statically, the biceps will encounter less resistance when contracting. That’s why static stretching of the hip flexors before a jump test improves performance.

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit www.CharlesPoliquin.net. Also, see his ad on page 241.  IM

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