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Strength training with EMS during the competitive season

(Even when injured!)

By Hammer Nutrition

What will the variety of Compex strength programs do for you? The programs will actually build strength more effectively than you could ever build strength in a traditional weight room setting. Additionally, you'll find it takes less time to recover between strength training sessions. The result is that you'll be able to absorb your Compex strength training and traditional training load throughout the year.

A number of the principles that guide a weight trainer through various phases of training annually can be applied to strength training with a Compex. (These periodized programs are discussed on pages 27-29). However, as endurance athletes, the weight training principles that involve range of motion, kind of contraction, speed of contraction, and firing patterns are of little consequence because they are not specific to endurance sport endeavors. Since training in the weight room to attain these adaptations increases the time to recover between training sessions, some training space used to train specifically for the endurance sport is lost. For this reason, most athletes will weight train in the pre-competitive season and then greatly reduce or stop their weight training altogether as they spend more time with sport-specific training. It's unfortunate, but a good part of the gained fitness is lost when the weight training stops or is curtailed.

And then there is strength training with Compex. The programs for Strength, Resistance, and Endurance have been pre-programmed to take into account:

1. A warm-up phase to increase the mechanical efficiency of a shortening muscle and increase the ability to recruit more of the muscle for the upcoming training session.

2. A contraction and alternating recovery phase repeated for a preset period of time designed to deliver an optimal training load.

3. A recovery phase to shorten the recovery period required before meaningful training can be repeated.

When strength training with Compex, the load on the joints and connective tissue is minimal. Also, there is no cardiovascular load associated with performing these programs. As a result, the recovery from running these programs is quicker than with traditional strength training methods. This allows an athlete to strength train throughout the year, gain and maintain the desired adaptations, and leave more room for the sport-specific training that must be done.

Take a look at the training situations on pages 27-29 that you can use to increase your strength and improve your performance.

For those building strength while injured

[Situation 1]

Compex is a very powerful tool for helping to build strength while injured. The contractions elicited with Compex are not generated instantaneously. This contraction build is not noticed by the practitioner, but the nature of the contraction protects connective tissue and joints. Even with this level of protection, the involuntary contraction can recruit more muscle fibers than are recruited with a maximal voluntary contraction. This allows a 100% healthy athlete to build strength more effectively than they could with traditional resistance training programs. In the case of an injured or rehabilitating athlete, where voluntary nervous signals are hampered, the involuntary signals will get through to rebuild strength and balance in muscle groups.

Here's a simple and very powerful way to proceed:

  • Train the muscle groups that have been affected.
  • Train the right and left side simultaneously. Recent clinical studies have demonstrated that the affected side will learn from the unaffected side and guide the re-education of the injured area.
  • Always balance the degree of contraction on the right and left side. Do this by the look and feel of the contraction.
  • No matter what program you use, always take the intensity up to your threshold of tolerance. You'll find that this threshold increases as the program progresses. Continue to find your threshold of tolerance every few minutes. Compex is very powerful. You can contract the muscle to a point that is intolerable. Of course, this level of stimulation is not practical, and yet you cannot hurt yourself with Compex.

Since you can contract more muscle with Compex than you can with a maximal voluntary contraction, you could get quite sore. To prevent this undesirable effect, use an intensity that is below your threshold of tolerance for a few sessions. After running a program for about a week, you can get aggressive with the level of contractions without the downside of delayed onset muscle soreness.

The Endurance program is a slow-twitch (Type I) muscle fiber program, Resistance trains only intermediate fast-twitch (Type IIa), and Strength trains only dedicated fast-twitch (Type IIb). You use all three during exercise, even ultra-distance events and workouts. Training all three muscle groups is the way to go.

Train the target muscle groups as follows until you are rehabilitated. (At that point you can get on a different plan discussed later.)

  • Day 1 Endurance on all target muscle groups
  • Day 2 Resistance on all target muscle groups
  • Day 3 Strength on all target muscle groups
  • Day 4 repeat day 1
  • Day 5 repeat day 2
  • Day 6 repeat day 3
  • Day 7 rest from Compex

This is more strength training than you would want to do if not rehabilitating from an injury. When rehabilitating, traditional training is very limited, so recovery for the next training session is not as big a consideration. Getting stronger so you can return to your normal training more quickly is the focus.

  • Week 1 choose level 1 for all three programs
  • Week 2 choose level 2 for all three programs
  • Week 3 choose level 3 for all three programs
  • Week 4 choose level 4 for all three programs
  • Week 5 choose level 5 for all three programs

This plan will remove a great deal of the neural inhibition that keeps muscle fibers from getting the signal to contract. Compex will give you a large (even larger than pre-injury) pool of motor units (the nerve cell and the muscle fibers that the nerve cell innervates) that you can incorporate into the unique firing patterns used to swim, bike, run, etc. Youll be stronger, given that it is the removal of a good share of neural inhibition that is far and away the biggest contributor to increased strength.

For the healthy athlete looking to build strength continuously throughout the year

[Situation 2]

  • Do Strength for 5 weeks three times per week, spending one week at each of the 5 levels.
  • Do Resistance for 5 weeks three times per week, spending one week at each of the 5 levels.
  • Do Endurance for 10 weeks three times per week, spending two weeks at each of the 5 levels.

This is the basic 20-week block that anyone can cycle through endlessly with terrific results. Spending more than 8 weeks with either the Strength or Resistance programs results in training for adaptations that have been fully gained for a particular cycle. More than 12 weeks of Endurance training would result in a plateau as well.

If you want to throw in a different cycle from the one above and not just repeat the same cycle, you have a number of viable options. These options all involve a mixed phase of training and introduce more of the maintenance of the adaptations already developed. This maintenance is reflected in training one time per week with a particular program. Here are a few examples:

  • 5 weeks of Strength two times per week and Resistance one time per week
  • 5 weeks of Resistance two times per week and Strength one time per week

If you want to emphasize endurance instead of strength or resistance, then train Endurance two times per week and either Strength or Resistance one time per week.

For more variability, alternate in 5-week blocks which program you add one time per week to Endurance two times per week. For instance, a 10-week training block could look like this:

  • 5 weeks of Endurance two times per week and Strength one time per week, followed by
  • 5 weeks of Endurance two times per week and Resistance one time per week

For those training more muscle fiber types in shorter blocks

[Situation 3]

There are two approaches that you can take to achieve this.

3 weeks on and 1 week off

  • Train two muscle fiber types three times per week for each muscle group you train.
  • Take at least one day off between training sessions for each muscle group.
  • After three weeks, take one week off and repeat the cycle.

This three week on and one week off approach can be continued indefinitely.

Here is a specific plan that has worked well for those who have followed it:

  • Do Strength and Resistance on the quads and glutes for three weeks, using these programs three times per week with at least one day off between sessions.
  • Spend the first week at level one, the second week at level two, and the third week at level three.
  • At the end of three weeks, take a week off from Compex strength training with the two programs.
  • Start the cycle all over again in the same way. This time, spend the first week at level two, the second at level three, and the third at level four.
  • Again, take a week off from Compex strength training.
  • When you start the next cycle, start at level three in the first week, level four in the second, and the final level five in week three.

5 weeks on and 1 week off

  • Train each muscle group two times per week with at least two days off between training sessions for one muscle fiber type.
  • Train a different muscle fiber type on different days two times per week with at least two days off between training sessions.

In total, each muscle group is being trained four times per week by alternating the muscle fiber type trained.

For those maintaining (possibly tapering)

[Situation 4]

If you want to maintain the increased level of recruitment you gained from strength training with Compex, but are not looking for further gains that could impact your sport to a greater extent,

  • Train a given muscle fiber type for two weeks at least two times weekly with at least one day off between fiber type training for each muscle group trained.
  • After two weeks of training, take one week off.

This is a great approach during a taper. Time your "off" weeks so that on the week before a very important event you are using the Compex for recovery and warming up, but are taking the week off from strength training. If you stop training for more than one week, you will start to lose your increased ability to recruit more muscle fiber.

Basic principles of any EMS training program

As you can see, there is a great deal of variation that can be introduced into crafting a program that will meet your needs. Remember to always keep these principles in mind:

  • Train with one program for at least three weeks and not more than eight weeks (Endurance not more than 12 weeks).
  • Train with these programs a minimum of two times per week. Three times per week is ideal.
  • Take at least 48 hours between training sessions for any muscle group.
  • Do not find your threshold of stimulation tolerance during the first three or four sessions. Let your muscles adapt.
  • After this, find your threshold of stimulation tolerance and let this guide how forcefully you make the muscle contract.
  • Know that this threshold increases during the running of a program, so continuously increase the level of stimulation as the program progresses.