Power Law Strength Training (Updated & Simplified)

Editor’s note – Here’s a repost of a piece from a few years back that’s still just as relevant today.  I made some minor revisions to the routine, but the core principles are the same.

Have fun!

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If you take away all of the trappings of your modern life, you are still the same Cro-Magnon that walked the earth over 50,000 years ago. This means that your body is optimized for specific types of activities – and not optimized for others.

paleohuman

The overarching truth is that you are physiologically designed for low intensity/moderate duration activities accompanied by intermittent, variable, and high intensity “short burst” events.

In ancient times, this meant long periods of walking, carrying food and water, and occasionally sprinting after prey or fighting/fleeing predators. In modern times, this translates to “power law” activities such as sprinting, recreational bicycling, volleyball, basketball, soccer, and tennis – all of which involve intermittent “explosive” physical activity coupled with extended periods of lower energy movements.

Endurance activities such as marathons, iron-distance triathlons, long distance swimming events, lengthy spinning/aerobics classes, and chronic treadmill workouts are unfortunately NOT power law activities. While these activities may be highly rewarding and enjoyable, they are actually “anti-evolutionary” and therefore physically detrimental to humans if sustained over long periods of time.

Power law strength training is characterized by short burst, higher intensity movements and activities that stress the larger muscle groups. It is designed to mimic our paleolithic activity patterns and develop the optimal balance of slow twitch (ST), fast twitch A (FT-A), and fast twitch B (FT-B) muscle tissue.

Below are the essential exercises and sequences with links that demonstrate the techniques. NOTE: You can substitute other exercises (i.e. cable rowing for bent rowing) as long as you are effectively engaging the same larger muscle groups.

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The Exercises:

Upper Body Sequence

Lower Body Sequence

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The Routine:

  • Follow a 16-8-4 routine for the upper and lower body sequences – except for squats and dead lifts – Do a set of 16, a set of 8, and a set of 4 repetitions for each exercise using progressively more weight on the latter two sets if you can. If you find yourself unable to do this sequence in its entirety, try for a 12-6-3 or 10-4-2 sequence (or just use less weight!).
  • For squats and dead lifts, do a 5 x 5 routine – Do 5 consecutive sets of 5 repetitions each.

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Important Tips:

  • Protect your spine – Always brace your abdomen whenever doing any lifting (even when changing weights). Pay special attention to this when doing dead lifts and squats.
  • Protect your heart – Never strain or go to failure as this raises blood pressure unnecessarily. Do not hold your breath or grip too hard when executing the movements – be sure to exhale as you push or pull the weight.
  • Protect your joints – Avoid any twisting motions with your knees, lower back, neck, shoulders, wrists, or ankles – especially if you are lifting or carrying any weights.
  • Keep moving – Do not rest between sets or exercises. Try to average 10-15 seconds max in between sets. Why this is important – The compressed intervals between sets and exercises are the primary factors driving the success of this type of training. By keeping the rest periods to a minimum, you significantly increase the growth hormone levels in your system without increasing the stress hormone levels.
  • Smooth movements are best – Lower the weights more slowly than you raise them, up a bit quicker than down. Move faster on the lighter part of the set and near the end of each sequence.
  • Do not eat or drink anything during a work out – If you are thirsty, have a sip of water (i.e. no “energy drinks”).
  • Keep your workouts very short and intense without overtraining – Get in and out of the gym in 45 minutes or less and work out no more than once or twice a week.

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