How to Hot-Wire Your Nervous System For Instantly Better Strength and Conditioning Performance

A Simple Exercise Strategy You Can Use For Immediate Performance Enhancement That Can Be Done In One Minute Or Less

What I’m about to reveal to you is no secret, but I do sort-of feel like I’m about to give you classified information. You see, at a Circular Strength Training certification seminar I attended back in 2011, Scott Sonnon, whom is the creator of the CST system, disclosed to all the attendees that in a European group of elite powerlifters that he had worked with, one simple strategy improved their max lifts by an incredible 20%. When he said that, I muttered in disbelief, “20%,” to which he nodded to confirm.

Now, whether or not that is actually true remains to be seen, but I don’t think Scott is one to out-right lie about something like that. Regardless, even if it’s somewhat true (e.g. the numbers weren’t quite 20%, or they weren’t really elite powerlifters, or something to that effect), this is probably something worth paying attention to – and I have been. In fact, I’ve been putting this little theory to the test almost every day since 2006 – even before I knew what I was doing.

Now, I’m no powerlifting expert, but I do know that when you get to an elite level in powerlifting, a fraction of a percentage increase in one of your lifts is something to be proud of. Heck, just one more pound added to your total is reason to celebrate, and Scott divulged to us that this little trick led to a whopping 20% increase in strength performance. And it didn’t take weeks or months. It happened instantly – within one seminar.

Show Me The Money!

Now, you might be thinking that this is an interesting theory, and it remains so, but I’ve found that this one strategy does, in fact, dramatically improve performance in not just weightlifting or even strength training, in general, but in all forms of physical activity. Let me repeat that. There is one simple trick that anyone can perform which will dramatically improve performance in any and all forms of physical activity. Yes, all of them.

Now, unfortunately, I don’t have a peer-reviewed study to point you towards for evidence, proof, or validation of any kind. Believe me, I wish I did! But this isn’t exactly at the epicenter of modern research, and you’ll understand why in a minute. So, you’re just going to have to take my word for it. But more importantly than that, I’d encourage you to try it out for yourself. Instructions for how to do that are below. Believe me, you’ll know right away if it works or not. It’s that whole “instant” thing, and all that.

The Twist

Unfortunately, what it is and how it works is not altogether appealing or sexy. It’s not a supplement you can take, or a hardcore exercise variation that can crank up your results if you apply enough effort. In fact, the strategy is really low-key, nondescript, and even boring. It’s one of those things that nobody really wants to do, but doing it is crucial, and not just for performance enhancement.

And it works – every time. And I’ve validated that for myself almost every day since 2006 – both in my own training and with my clients.

So, what is it? Well, like I said, it’s no secret – not at all. The method itself has been around for awhile, but it’s never been articulated and leveraged in the way I’m about to describe to you until quite recently (past decade or so).

So, here’s how it works. Take an exercise, or any movement for that matter, and determine what the primary working joint complex is. For example, for any squatting exercise, the hips would be the primary joint complex involved. The pushup exercise would either be the shoulders or elbows based on your perspective (both are primary joints in the pushup exercise). Regardless, for whatever activity you want to improve, determine what the primary joint complex is. Then, it’s time to hot-wire it for peak performance.

How to Hot-Wire Your Nervous System For Peak Performance

Maybe you should hop on the treadmill or exercise bike to get your heart rate up, or just perform a few reps of the chosen movement to warmup, right? Well, those aren’t necessarily wrong answers, but they’re certainly not the optimal solution for waking up the nervous system while also minimizing fatigue, which will in turn, increase your performance.

An optimal way to prepare yourself for an exercise is by carefully selecting an appropriate joint mobility drill for the primary joint complex. So, for example, if you’re about to do a set of bodyweight or barbell squats, you would perform some hip mobility exercises because the hips are the primary joints involved in the squat. But it’s not quite that simple.

According to the program design model taught in CST, we would have you select one joint mobility exercise that involves the same, or a similar range of motion as will be used in the exercise itself (that is skill-appropriate for our clients – and higher level skills take precedence over lower level skills because they generally offer more benefits). This range of motion should also correspond with the degree(s) of freedom that the movement involves (see the six degrees of freedom Wiki for more info). So, in the squat exercise, which is primarily a heaving exercise (moving the body up and down), the hip joint is both pitching and surging (bending forward/backwards and moving forward/backwards, respectively). So, we’d want a mobility drill that simulates this movement pattern. A trinity squat would be a good option, as would be some variants of the spinal wave exercise. There are lots of ways to do it, of course, and the more exercises and movements you’re familiar with, the more options you’ll have at your disposal.

But the idea is that if you warm up that specific range of motion with a properly-performed joint mobility drill, then your performance in that exercise should increase immediately because you’ve communicated to your body, through movement, that it’s safe to move through that range. You’ve awakened your nervous system and have it firing on all cylinders. In other words, you’ll get better access to your strength and conditioning because of the warmup drill. If this is all getting a little bit confusing, then don’t worry, it’s normal. And that’s why CST Professionals exist. Now, maybe a few examples will help clear up the confusion.

So, let’s say you need to warmup for a set of pull-ups or chin-ups. You’d identify the primary working joints as the elbows and shoulders (ie humeral shoulder, not the scapular shoulder). So, you could do some elbow and shoulder mobility drills. And if you’re doing lunges, then some mobility drills for the hips and knees would be best. And if the activity was sprinting, then mobility drills for the legs would obviously be best. I’d probably start with forward/backward leg swings because that movement mimics what the hip joint does when sprinting. Are you starting to see how it works?

Instead of performing a general warmup, you perform a specific warmup to target the exact ranges of motion you’ll be moving through in your training session. And if you do it right, you’ll get the general warmup anyways. This is a critical distinction between the Circular Strength Training system and every other training system I’ve ever encountered. CST strives to deliver the most precise results possible through intelligent, detail-oriented programming mixed with a system for using your own intuition, among other things. It’s precision fitness to say the least.

Summary of the Strategy

1) Identify the exercise or movement to be performed
2) Identify the primary working joint complex in that exercise/movement
3) Select a joint mobility drill that takes the primary joint complex through the same range of motion as the chosen exercise using the six degrees of freedom as a guide
4) (optional) Select the most-suitable and highest skill (ie most beneficial) mobility drill based on clients knowledge of the exercises and physical ability
5) Perform mobility drill for 30-60 seconds as part of the warmup prior to exercise.

Now, you don’t need to do it this way. This is merely the general template that CST employs in its workout program. You could perform a few mobility drills for one joint complex, or work on a few different joints for one exercise. Or, you could even perform a complete joint mobility warmup before your training sessions to cover all of your bases, and supplement with specific drills when necessary, which is what I usually do.

Final Words

Fortunately for you, you don’t need to know HOW all of this works for it to work for you. Like I said before, I started doing joint mobility training back in 2006 long before I even thought about its performance enhancement benefits. I just wanted to heal some aches and pains, and while I was busy doing that, I learned that I could dramatically improve my performance using the same exact movements I had been practicing all along. And nowadays, it’s very rare for me to do any kind of physical training without first doing a joint mobility warmup because I notice such a huge difference in my performance.

Now, it’s not enough to simply blast through some mobility exercises and expect it to work instantly. How you perform your mobility drills will determine their effectiveness. And how you perform them will change with time (as you acquire skill and improve your ROM), but in general, joint mobility exercises should be performed smoothly and slowly through the full available range of motion and no further. It should be an exercise in shaving away tension, not moving into pain, and going right to your edge, but no further. There are a lot of subtle nuances to it. So, it’s important that you learn to do it right. The free program on this page is an excellent learning tool and will give you the gist of it.

And if you want to grab the bull by the horns and learn this stuff for real, there’s a great deal on a joint mobility package available on this page.

I’ll tell ya. This mobility stuff is a hard sell. But it’s been working gangbusters for me for years now, and I get emails all the time with personal stories of triumph from people who overcome seemingly insurmountable odds with some simple range of motion drills. No barbells, dumbbells or chains required. Maybe you’ll be next.

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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach

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P.P.S. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/perpetualplum/

6 Responses

  1. Marcello Teofilatto

    Hi, John.
    Does this work for static strength, too? I want to improve my TGU, because sometimes I can’t hold the kettlebell over my head while sitting down. So, maybe I’d need some static strength. Could it be useful to remain in the locked position of a pushup, to prime the shoulders? Thanks.

    • Hi Marcello,

      Yes, absolutely. But as an aside, when I hear that you’re having trouble holding a kettlebell overhead while sitting down, a strength deficit isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Usually, this type of problem is a range of motion problem. Either your joints are immobile, or the surrounding musculature is so tight as to prevent full range of motion at the joints. This is a very common problem because raising the hands overhead is a deep range of motion, and one that most people don’t use and move through on a regular basis. So, it’s easy for this range to get locked up from tension, immobility, etc.

      So, what I’m trying to say is that I feel the need to reiterate what I said in my article that this strategy isn’t a cure-all. It does absolutely improve performance, but only up to a certain point, and it might not be what one needs for any given problem. It can’t hurt, and it will almost always help, but it may not be enough in-and-of-itself for an issue like this.

      I hope that makes at least some sense :)

  2. Why would this be better than just doing a light weight warm up set of an exercise?
    It seems to me a warm up set would enable you to warm up your joints with exactly the same ROM you will need for the actual exercise.

    • I can’t provide a scientific explanation, Ben – only my own observations. But that said, I think it has something to do with the fact that a joint mobility drill takes the chosen joint through a full range of motion, which sends a signal to your nervous system about how much range of motion is considered “safe” to move through at that given moment. This also, in turn, increases the ROM possible in any given exercises that uses that joint complex, which is a good quality in-and-of-itself. So, my theory is that this may then trigger the body to allow more strength to be applied through that range of motion.

      That said, a warmup set is usually a great idea, and an even better option is doing both a joint mobility warmup AND a warmup set of chosen exercises. Generally speaking, the more you can ease into high intensity training without compromising your performance potential, the better, IMO. When you have the time, the energy, etc., do it.

  3. Marcello Teofilatto

    Thanks. I’ll check my shoulder and pecs mobility, and review my warmup (maybe halos pre-fatigue my abs). All the best, M.T.

  4. Awesome, never thought about this. Definitely going to get involved in this

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