Thursday, May 20, 2010

Should i do this next set? Pre-cognitive Fatigue Testing

In a work out, how can you tell if you're sufficiently recovered to do another set or if your *nervous system* is too fried to try? How can we get a measure that you can't inadvertently cheat cuz we're so keen to get in our sets, we might be willing to kid ourselves?

Range of motion checks which are used in Z-Heatlh, and are becoming popular in approaches like Gym Movement (overview) are grand for many things, but they're cognitive: we can push a toe touch a little more or less between efforts; we need to think about whether this last test compares with this current test. That's fine, but sometimes, we might want something where we really don't have to think about it - especially when already pushing ourselves. We want something that's precognitve. Balance testing is one way to get at this nervous-system response.

Simple practice: before starting a set, stand on one foot, turn head sharply to the left; notice stability, then turn head sharply to the right; notice stability. The spin MUST be fast to get the fluid in the inner ear moving.

Now, do the same test with the other foot.

Repeat the whole sequence with eyes closed.

The important thing here is to benchmark performance - if standing on the left foot, ya kinda fall over with your eyes closed when turning right fast, that's ok; just make a note to self of how you performed.

Now go for your sets. (Thanks to tom robinson posing for the above demo)

Ready Ready? If you have a question mark about the next set planned, redo your balance tests right after your last set. If you're wobbly in new ways from the baseline, you know that you are NOT ready to continue another set - well, your nervous system isn't.

The key now is to wait your usual reovery time, and retest. Are you back to at least where you were when you came into the gym? No? wait longer. Retest. if by five minutes you're still unhinged, bag it.

Feedback. I've been using this approach for everything from skipping sets to pressing sets, and the results are better quality sets and better recovery.

Last night my workout said i had two more sets of presses and pistols to go, but my recovery test was still wobbly, so i bagged the sets. On another occaision, between skipping sets i was all over wobbly mid workout; waited to recover, and each time after that i checked balance i was way way more stable, and had some of the best sets i've had. Just from that mid-set breather.

I like this check because it's not debatable: if i've nearly fallen over in a closed eye test where i was stable before, that's telling me something about my sensory-motor capabilities at this moment. Why would i want to add load to that?

Resources for More Like This: This test and many many more are available on a new Z-Health DVD Mini Course: Essentials of Elite Performance. It's an actual course - what they're calling a mini-course, based on their 3day Essentials of Elite Performance workshop (overviewed here).

If you can't get to the workshop (calendar here), or just want to get going now on skills like these now, the DVD course has a whole TON of sensory-motor self-assessments and tune ups.

Please check the site for the full list of Good Things covered on the 3DVD/6.5 hours course.

And here's a cool thing: if you get the DVD, are smitten with the material, so you sign up for the full Essentials workshop or R-phase Z-Health course, you'll get 100 bucks off the tuition of that course.  That's nice.

Anyway, i'd be keen to hear from you on how you find the balance test. Talking with some z-health master trainers, i've been reminded that different tests work differently in different contexts. If you're doing something where you're highly experienced, the balance test mayn't show fatigue as well as say a peripheral vision or range of motion test - it depends on the individual. Which is what makes this particualr DVD set cool: it provides a range of self-tests, as well as the rationales behind them, so we have good resources for our self-diagnostic tool box that are clear, unambiguous and repeatable.

But to repeat - please let me know how this one works for you and where you used it in what routine.

Related Resources

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Colin said...

Very interesting mc

I experimented in the past with good success "subjectively" monitoring daily lifting. Years ago I also took myself from not being able to run a mile to completing a half marathon 3 months later with the help of a heart rate monitor.

So I'm all for anything that can help us listen to our bodies for safe, efficient progress.

I'm considering purchasing either the GM or Z dvds (you might want to check some of the links above btw).

What I don't understand is that I've read it suggested that the GM stuff is contained within Z Health levels. Or certainly something similar to it. Is GM then a new application then of "old" Z material?

Also did you ever get your GM dvds and what were your overall impressions of it?


dr. m.c. said...

Hi Colin, thanks for the feedback - i think the links are tamed - sometimes blogger seems to be possessed.

Yes i did get the GM DVD. The general vibe reflected by Josh Hanagarne is that "the next one will be better" - i'm not sure if that means Grip N Rip 2, which i haven't seen, or something else.

In talking with Mike Nelson, his take is that the application of ROM tests throughout a workout - testing each exercise - is a unique application of this kind of test - i hope i haven't misrepresented that.

I can say from my experience in z (i started later than Mike, so perhaps things evolved) that that kind of testing is what i was taught, and it's certainly taught at the Essentials workshop. Indeed, the zed mantra is "test everything. test/retest" ROM is one approach to test stuff and Mike and Adam and Co. are having great results with this in their training. I think Mike has been saying he's been moving to this kind of in move testing with clients almost exclusively. And he's a zed master trainer, phd candidate in kinesiology, so a smart and practiced coach.

What was reinforced at the essentials course in particular, is that ROM is one of a variety of self-test available; it's also an approach that, from my perspective, privileges propriocepctive feedback it seems, when sometimes a visual or vestibular or pre-cog dominant test may be more telling (depending on the context).

You can check this yourself with the above test with eyes open and eyes closed and not the difference.

My bias is to be aware as much as possible about as much of the sensory-motor system as possible, so approaches that explore and exploit that, and offer me that range of tools, and rationales for them, appeal to me.


Colin said...

A very well thought out and detailed response, I got a lot out of it. Thank you.

I shall experiment with the test detailed in your article and let you know how I get on.


Mike T Nelson said...


I do use the range of motion test now for more everything and I find that is works well.

Let me know if there is anything I can help you with

Rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
Extreme Human Performance

Roland Fisher said...


I just tried the test and I like the implications. I'll be using testing the test in the next while and I'll let you know how it goes.

Do you find that when you do the baseline test, and if one of the four movements is noticeably poorer than the rest, that the worst movement is the last to recover while working out?

dr. m.c. said...

hi roland,

you know i haven't tracked that question of which is the longest to recover.

Interesting idea - thanks.


dr. m.c. said...

roland, by the way - how's the grip strength measure going?


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