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It’s common knowledge that a light jog on the treadmill and a dynamic warmup are must-dos before any training session. But a lesser-known piece to the pre-training puzzle that you’re probably missing is CNS priming.
Short for “central nervous system,” your CNS is your body’s control center. It acts as the middleman between your brain and your muscles. For example: Let’s say you’re about to do a back squat—your feet are in place, your hands are gripping the bar, and you’re ready to drop down. To initiate any of these actions, your brain shoots off a signal to your CNS, which orders your muscles and joints to react accordingly.
Like your muscles—which can underperform if they’re not well rested or you didn’t warm up properly—your CNS can be fatigued. As a result, you’ll feel tired and slow, and your favorite moves may start to feel like a drag, according to Andrew Triana, a trainer to elite-level Strongman competitors and the co-owner of the Performance Vibe (theperformancevibe.com), a fitness community that offers nutrition and performance coaching.
“Luckily, we have the power to prepare our CNS to train,” Triana says. “When your CNS is excited, or primed, you feel you can flex hard and focus deeply. Imagine it as paving the way for your middleman to hit less traffic and make all the green lights on the way from your brain to the muscular contraction.”
To achieve this, Triana recommends performing any of the plyometric moves, or primers. They’ll wake up your CNS without burning you out to get you ready for more effective lifts.
As a bonus: Science also shows that including plyometric moves can make you more powerful. One study, published in the Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, found that a program that combines both plyometrics and weight training was far more effective for increasing hip-and thigh-power output compared with just a weight or plyo program. Go figure.
Start out by performing just one or two of the moves you see here before a training session, and be sure to keep track of how many reps it takes for you to feel “turned on.”
“When you’re ready to go, it’s very noticeable,” Triana says. “You’ll be sweating slightly, you’ll feel mentally in the zone, the reps will feel easier, and you should feel lighter and more nimble.” All five of these moves are similar in terms of how they prime you to lift, so feel free to pick a few favorites and stick with them or cycle through them. “Think of them as tools to have in your toolbox,” Triana adds.
Do them before your typical warmup and mobility work.
Before each rep, take a deep breath. Make sure you’re focused before initiating the movement.
Adhere to the set prescription listed for each move. For reps, don’t exceed four per set. Each rep should feel better than the last. However, if you’re doing these on a nonlifting or easy day, you can go two to three reps past when you feel “awake” to help increase your power output.
Use a light weight. “My World’s Strongest Man competitors use between eight-and 12-pound medicine balls for these,” Triana says. “So pick a light weight, between four and eight pounds, and be as explosive as possible. Speed is king.”
Rest 45 to 90 seconds between sets if you perform one or two reps; rest two minutes between sets for any number of reps beyond that.
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