Training: The High/Low Approach


          The High/Low Approach to Training Athletes


In over 30 years of performance enhancement (training of athletes), I’ve had the opportunity to sit and discuss training and performance with some of the greatest minds in the field.  I’ve visited Zatsiorsky on several occasions, Judd Logan , Bondarchuk, Issurin, Yessis, Dave Tate and Jim Wendler, Louie Simmons( who I’ve actually lived with he and Doris for a week plus countless visits) and the late Charlie Francis  (whose cell phone number I still keep in my phone along with his wife Angela in honor), Val Nasedkin and Joel Jamieson.  I’ve been in live surgeries with Dr. Freddie Fu, Dr. Vonda Wright, and Dr. Tony Miniaci. Spent countless hours at UPMC Sports Medicine and with my close friend, Michael Hope. I have hired assistants who are way smarter than me, Allan DeGennaro, James Smith, Tom Myslinski and many interns like Mike Guadango(freakstrength) , Andrew Sheaff , Anthony Mychal, and countless others whose names escape me. All in an effort to increase my knowledge and understanding of the human body and its vast abilities.

At the age of 55 my mind is cramped with information but always aware of the individual’s response to a stimulus is highly specific to that individual. With all this being said I have also used millions of periodization concepts to get my athletes bigger, stronger and above all, faster. The one concept I have used with unbelievable success is Charlie Francis’s vertical integration (high/ low) approach to performance enhancement (with some Westside revolved around it) .

Why high-low approach? Here’s why:

1. Football is an alactic-aerobic sport!!! That’s right I said aerobic because it is the development of the aerobic system that serves as the backbone of alactic work from a recovery standpoint and repeated high intense effort standpoint.
2. It will not confuse the body. If you want to confuse the body go do CrossFit. You got one ass you can’t ride multiple horses!
3. Allows the body to super compensate not just seek homeostasis.
4. As level of preparedness increases, the intensities must be separated into high and low to account for increasing recovery requirements from the high intensity training sessions.  This is why I’m so critical of coaches who train high intense daily. For example speed mon/ thurs and agility tues/ fri. Are you kidding me ? Where is your brain?!?!
5. The high/ low approach will vastly improve absolute output with smaller volumes. It’s a no- brainer!!!!
Now you ask,” what are high and low intensity and I didn’t hear a mention of medium intensity???”

Let’s identify what constitutes each of these intensity zones.

1. High intensity or high CNS stress training (95-100% intensity).  Intensity is defined as degree of effort when compared to maximum capacity. This is referred to alactic power and capacity work. It enables the athlete to rehearse the sporting activity at high intense efforts. It is anti- circulatory and sympathetic dominant.  It increases neural demand and speed reserve and requires 48-72 hours of recovery between sessions.  It produces a feeling of fatigue hours after completion, especially with power development.

2. Medium CNS stress training (76-94%). This is lactic power and capacity. This IS NOT the energy demand of American Football.  It is not lactic based, so quit telling your athletes they lift weights after game day to clear lactic acid from their system! The problem with this intensity zone is the superimposed glycolitic and aerobic training effects that cause a profound impact on adaptation. It confuses the body. It’s too slow for alactic power/ capacity and too fast for recovery. Thus, as preparedness increases it must be accounted for as high intense CNS training.  Plus according to Viru 1995/Volkov 1986, this type of training inhibits aerobic enzyme and mitochondria production.

3. Low CNS stress training (<75%) aerobic power and capacity. This is pro-circulatory and resets PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) tone. It increases capillary density slowing blood flow down. This enables blood to stay in contact with tissue longer increasing nutrient transfer and waste product removal. It also keeps motor neurons hot lowering electrical resistance and increasing MU activation. Low stimulus requires 12-24 hours of recovery between sessions. The athlete is also able to maintain muscular heat from the general warm up. Two of its most important properties is it secures the adaptation of the high CNS stressor all the while teaching relaxation as the athlete maintains sprint posture. If you can’t relax you can’t run fast!!!! It is this property that is overlooked and never mentioned.

Now you can see the value of the high/ low approach and why it is so beneficial to the training of power/ speed athletes. Go Train!!!

6 Responses to “Training: The High/Low Approach”

  1. Matibu

    Does a Westside split fall into this high-low approch??? Do dynamic days fall into low intensity???

    • Coach X

      Matibu: First , this is a great question and i knew at somepoint i’d get this. Here’s my thinking ( take it or leave it) . My question to you to begin is this , do you know why Louie has his upoerbody dynamic effort day on Sunday? Most have no idea, so look at something. 0-20% is straight neurological speed, 20-40% starting strength, 60-80 accelerative ( the training zone as Dr. Fred Hatfield calls it and Cal Dietz tells us that this is where velocity and force are NOT inversely related due to the role of the SSC! Buy his book Triphasic Training), 80-100 maximal effort strength. Notice i left out 40-60%? Because its non- qualifable for a lifter but for said lifter its recovery/ restorative. This allows the Westside lifters to never miss a training . As Louie told me accummulate, compete, restore. Even though the goal is to more the bar fast its NOT that stressful to the CNS due to the fact you are only activating 35% of MU’s when you bench. This does not produce enough fatigue to be accounted for and the rest of the training session is repeated effort work aka , circulatory ! Now some would argue that DE is highly stressful but once again i look at the involvement or activation of total MU’s. it ain’t anywhere near as stessful to the CNS as alactic power, explosive medball throws or plyos. And remember as these increase weights decrease lowerbody speaking. As preparedness increases intensities must be separated to allow for recovery from the HIGH CNS stressor. Again the percents used are restorative and the bar speed does not induce fatigue to the CNS, in my opinion. I’ve used the Westside modified template for years with college and pro athletes with NO adverse effects. I do not use accommadating resistance all the time on this day. So in response to your question for a lifter yes and if understood yes for the athlete. If activating 35% of MU’s cause s you that much CNS fatigue hang it up. As louie says , don’t using lifting to get in shape, you better be in shape to lift !!!!!!!

      • Matibu

        First of all, thank you a lot for answering my questions.
        On regards on the first questions, I think Louie has his speed benching on Sunday to leave a 72hr window between every max effort (high CNS stress) session.
        As I train mainly team sports athletes and Im a huge fan of Westside; Im very interested on how you applied/apply to Westside methods with your athletes. Right now Im using a lot more chains to accomodate resistance than bands since bands are more stressfull. Why are you using more straight weight these days???

  2. Levi

    Coach X,

    Great article brother!! Obviously you’re not (and rightly so) a proponent of stupid things for football players like gassers, 110’s, etc… that develop the lactic system. What about teams the REALLY speed the game up like Oregon, where the rest time in between plays in so short. Would they be needing to train the lactic system at least a little bit?

    Thanks Man!!

    • Coach X

      Levi: Great question! No, you dont need to train the lactic system. During development of a-lactic capacity, adjust rest intervals to Mimic those of the game. Remember, average play is approx 3 seconds, surely not enough time to enter into the lactic environment. The rest intervals between play in no huddle offenses Is still 15 to 20 or so seconds- I know, I’ve timed it every time we played west Virginia! A well developed aerobic system & expanding the environment of a-lactic capacity will take care of it.

      • Warren Buirch

        Coach X,

        Great article! I love your idea of using Verticle Intergration in football and team sports! My question lies in using it for sports such as basketball. I have seen a lot basketball teams having kids run sprints during practice and ride bikes when they come off the court. How would you apply the Hi/low aproach to basketball. Charlie before he past the way, told me to train basketball players like shot putters, he was helping me with my model before he past way.

        How would you train a basketball team using a high/low approach?


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