10 Second Body

When I was a but a wee-lad, after the great Y2K tragedies, my brother and I discovered something amazing.  It was The Fast and The Furious, and it was one of the greatest movies of our childhoods.  We would watch that movie on rainy days, multiple times, with subtitles on to help memorize the words.  On the good days, one of us would play Need for Speed and the other would watch, then we would trade.  Between lacrosse, swimming, and drum lessons, I was preparing to be a street racer.

In one of the more touching scenes of the movie, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is explaining to Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) exactly why he races:

It’s a great scene, and we can apply Toretto’s heart felt world to the same love of heavy strength training.  To paraphrase:

I live my life in the creatine-phosphate cycle. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.

Dom was on to something here, and neurophysiologist Chad Waterbury discusses the same concept in weight training.  A simple search of “Chad Waterbury 10 seconds” yields plenty of pages that discuss one thing: limiting set length to 10 seconds or less to maximize muscle fiber recruitment.

Maximum muscle fiber recruitment comes form moving the heaviest weight one is capable of, or from moving a sub-maximal weight as fast as possible.  In addition to maximal lifting and speed work, Chad also advocates high-tension exercises to maximize muscle fiber recruitment, leading to improvements in maximal strength and power.  Watch Chad’s explanation of motor unit recruitment here:

After years of reading Chad’s articles, I had the opportunity to attend his lecture at the Perform Better 2012 Summit, and I spent some time considering the ideas he was sharing.  I based one of my workouts in Providence on 10 second sets, and enjoyed a faster-based, appropriately timed workout.  See, most of my strength and power training is 10 seconds any way, so I didn’t see a dramatic change in what I was doing.

In the past month and a half, I’ve spent much more time thinking about and applying Chad’s 10 Second Rule, and am considering how I can base different workouts on specific energy systems.  This also includes some information that Cal Dietz shares in Triphasic Training in Episode 104 of the Strength Coach Podcast. Sure, it becomes a hodge-podge of strategies and techniques, and I’m doing my best to combine them into something that is effective, sustainable, and fun.

Let me share with you an example of a workout that follows the 10 Second Rule, and some of the major benefits that I’m finding form them.  A recent morning workout consisted of hip dominant work as well as vertical pushing and pulling, which were all confined to 10 second sets.  These varied slightly, but the rep range for all fell between 3-6.  The workout looked like this:

  • Hang Clean, 4×3
  • Band Resisted Deadlift,  8×3, 225lbs + EliteFTS Monster Mini bands (~164.8lbs of tension)
  • Hand Stand Push-Up, 8 x 10 seconds (3-6 reps each set.)
  • “Cheater” Single Arm Chin-Up, 8 x 3 per arm.

The hang cleans were for a bit of technique work because I haven’t done them in a while.  The Chin-up variation was from Ben Bruno, who could lead an exercise invention think-tank.  Here it is:

The whole workout lasted about half an hour, including warm-up time and doing some chit-chat after wrapping everything up.  Among other things, I appreciate that these are full body workouts, they’re rather short, and have a lower metabolic demand than sets that are based on traditional rep numbers.

Full Body Workouts are underrated in an exercise society that likes to arbitrarily chop bodies into seemingly related muscles, hoping that some ‘rest’ while others are working.  It’s next to impossible to do that, and I find that most people do the best with full body workouts.  Because we’re keeping the set time down, you can build a productive workout that includes exercises that allow you to “Push something, pull something, and use your legs.”

These workouts are far faster than a traditional workout, unless you’re including a higher number of sets to accumulate volume or you’re including a different style of training into the workout.  For those pressed for time, or who doesn’t necessarily enjoy maximal strength work, a 10 Second Rule may be just what you need to address strength and power, then move on to other obligations, or training that you consider to be more fun.  Just don’t tell Dom Toretto.

Lastly, the lower time under tension (TUT) can be desirable for those who have to train again or be physically active later in the day, as well as those who aren’t that eager to have a pump during their workout or be very sore afterwords.  Those folks will appreciate the invigorating effects without the crash that tends to come with higher TUT and larger training volumes.  Or, if you’re like me, it just makes you feel better prepared for another short workout later in the day that focuses on higher-rep training, anywhere upwards of 7 reps.  (For example, I flipped a tire, did inverted rows and push-ups, and ran some sprints.)

There are several benefits to following Chad’s 10 Second Rule, and if you’re a habitual user of much longer sets, you should see some quick improvements in strength and power by cutting your set length and focusing on high-load, high-power, high-tension exercises.  If you give it a try and enjoy how you feel, let me know in the comments below!

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