Combative behavior and performance capabilities are dependent upon an
extremely wide range of factors. A great many of those factors, perhaps
most, are virtually uncontrollable. It then is incumbent upon the individual
who engages in combat to even more stringently enable himself to learn to
control those factors that he does have some control over. In our area of
personal combative endeavor, there are two main areas that one can effective
enhance capabilities: combative skills and combative fitness. While there is
a fair amount of information out regarding skills training - ranging from
excellent to potentially dangerous - there is considerably less information
out concerning combative conditioning and fitness. Most of what little is
out there on the popular market is aimed at popular concepts of sport
combat, such as pop martial arts, grappling, and so on. There is virtually
nothing that is aimed for the realities of lethal combat.
In approaching training for combat fitness, there are many aspects of sports
conditioning that can be utilized. Certainly over the past forty years,
there has been huge gains in sports science, particularly in the realm of
physical conditioning. However, the physical aspects of sport and combat
fitness are relatively simple. What is even more important, and
unfortunately greatly neglected, are the neural demands of dealing in the
extremely stressful - physically, mentally, and emotionally
- environment of combat. Towards that end, I have been
preparing a book on neural-drive training. The following excerpt from that
book deals with physical training that is aimed at enhancing neural
capabilities as well as physical.
"What is combat fitness? Combat fitness is the fitness that enables one to
perform in a combatively effective manner under the conditions of extreme
physical and mental stress that are inherent in the real combat
environment of injury and death."
External versus Internal Focus
Focus on External Factors: the weight
In conventional weight training, being able to lift a X-amount of weight is
typically the goal. How the weight is lifted is hardly even a consideration.
This is because the focus is on an external factor - moving the weight. For
example, when doing a simple barbell exercise, such as barbell squat, the
athlete takes the bar on his shoulders, lowers to the bottom position in a
controlled fashion, then pushes upward to get the bar back up. Moving the
bar is the focus, and the effort exerted will only be the amount of effort
necessary to move the bar. Even in working around the 80% max level, people
just don't naturally use more effort than necessary to raise the bar. While
this type of "minimum effort needed" efficiency can effectively develop
muscular strength, it is only minimally useful for neural-drive benefits.
Focus on Internal Factors: Speed
In neural-drive training, the amount of weight is secondary. Concentrating
on overcoming the weight is a distracting factor. In neural-drive training,
the key focal elements are internal, that is they are neural-attempts to
perform as strongly as possible, not based on simply moving the weight, but
moving the resistance as quickly as possible, as efficiently as possible, as
explosively as possible, and/or combinations of some or all of the above.
Speed as an Intensity Factor
In many of the neural-drive exercises, speed is the key focal element. For
example, when we do the pull-up we do it in the ladder rep pattern, and
we time for speed. For example, my training partner (my son, Hunter) will
start with one rep, and I'll time him with a stop watch. We have found by
experience that it is better for the timer to start the action. My stop
watch makes an audible beep when the start button is pushed. That beep is
the signal for Hunter to start. I'll stop the timer at the end for the
movement. Maybe he'll do the one rep in .83 seconds. Then I'll do one, and
he'll time me (of course, I'll try to beat his time). Then he'll do two
reps, and he might do it in 2.17 sec. Again, it's my turn, and again I'll
try to beat his time. We'll time each of the groups of reps, and are
always naturally trying to beat both each other's times and our own times
from previous workouts. The timing adds an element
of intensity that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Speed, of course,
is one of the key intensity factors: the only way one can perform with speed
is through neural-drive. Remember the difference between jogging and
sprinting. By timing an exercise the athlete is stimulated to voluntarily
move more intensively, greatly increasing the training benefit of the
exercise. If you just do a typical 3 sets of 10 reps of pull-ups, you
probably will get better at exerting enough effort to "just do it," but you
will not get better at explosively performing and your neural-drive receives
only the minimal stimulus necessary to finish off the set.
In the list of core neural-drive exercises in the back of the book, those
that should be timed will be designated.
Balance and Body Movement Control
Not all the exercises in neural-drive training are based on speed of
movement, nor are they suitable for timing for speed. In some of the
exercises, the neural-drive demand is centered on control of the movement,
including balance, correct action and directional control. For example, in
the leg exercise called the Enpi Squat, the movement is a single-leg squat.
The key in performing the movement is not explosive speed or heavy weight,
but correct movement:
Start: Stand naturally with the feet at roughly hip width apart. Hold the
hands in front of the body about waist level. If holding weight, hold the
weight (such as a 5 lb plate) tight to the body roughly around the waist
area. The back should be straight and the knees and hips fully extended
though not hyper-extended [Figure 1].
1. Cross step the right foot in front of the left foot, placing the foot
forward and just to the left of the left foot. Shift your bodyweight onto
the right foot at the same time as you step [Figure 2].
2. Start the downward movement by bending your front knee forward and the hips to the rear, keeping the back as straight and upright as possible
3. Lower the hips until the point of the hip is roughly at the same level or
slightly lower than the knee joint, i.e., the femur is parallel or slightly
below parallel with the ground [Figure 4]. Keep the weight on the forward
foot, using the rear foot only for balance.
4. At the bottom of the movement, consciously shift all your weight onto the front foot, and lift the rear foot slightly off the ground.
5. With all the weight shifted to the front, foot, start moving back up
solely using the front leg to rise. Control your balance while rising all
the way to a fully extended position.
6. At the top of the movement, move your rear foot to a position parallel
with the front foot.
7. Follow the same process with the opposite foot.
In performing this movement, the most difficult part is the transition at
the bottom. While lowering, the weight of the body is mostly on the forward
leg, but the rear assists in supporting and balancing. At the bottom, it is
necessary to shift all the weight onto the forward foot before rising. This
takes a conscious effort as the natural inclination is to cheat and let the
rear foot help start the upward movement. It take an amazing amount [OF]
neural effort to control this tendency. The normal squat is much simpler:
simply go down stop, then rise back up. The neural effort is in simply
overcoming the weight resistance. In the Enpi squat, you have to overcome
the weight resistance, and the almost overwhelming desire to "cheat" with
the rear foot. However, if you cheat, then you take away a great deal of the
training effect in joint stabilization, balance, and movement control. So to
be optimally effective, the brain has to be fully involved in controlling
the movement from the start to the finish. While it seems like it should be
easy, it's amazing how few people are actually ready to let their brains
work at this level of neural intensity.
A neural-drive movement that is tied to speed is ballistic distance. In
these exercises, the distance (or height) of the body/object being moved is
the objective. Some of these movements are closed kinetic chain movements in
which the body itself is the projectile. Jumping/hopping over a measurable
height is an example of a closed kinetic chain exercise in which ballistic
distance is the neural-drive training factor. By trying to achieve or go
beyond a certain height the neural system must concentrate on the action. As
one fatigues, the attempts become more difficult and demanding upon the
neural system. The other type of ballistic distance exercise is open kinetic
chain. An example of this is the "medicine ball chest put."
MB Chest Put
Start: Standing with the left foot a full step forward of the right foot,
the medicine ball is held in the right hand just in front of the right
shoulder. The left arm counter-balances by being extended in front of the
body (Figure 5).
1. Shift the weight forward onto the front foot, bending both knees and
bringing the rear foot forward at the same time. While the bodyweight is
shifting forward, strongly extend the right arm forward, "putting" the
medicine explosively forward (Figure 6).
2. At the end of the "put," the rear foot should be up by the front foot,
with the body in a 1/4 squat position (Figure 7).
3. Switch feet and do the "put" with the opposite hand.
The aim in the MB chest is to throw the medicine ball as far as possible. If
possible it's best to do the exercise with a partner who can catch the
thrown medicine ball (with a 30 lb medicine ball this is an exercise in
itself) and quickly return it.
Obviously, the more explosively you throw the ball the further it will go.
As well, the more efficiently you use your body to add power to the throw,
the more effectively you'll throw the ball. With good mental focus on the
action, you'll begin to train yourself to move as effectively and
explosively as possible. If you only concentrate on how far you throw,
you'll only throw as effectively as your arms are able. The key is learning
to throw with your body and your arms. The neural-drive training here is
both in movement control and explosive action to achieve ballistic distance.