The Equipment Guys

Maximizing High Quality Reps with High Velocity Potentiation Clusters


By: Dennis Adsit and Cal Dietz

Off-season, pre-season, or in-season, strength coaches are always looking to maximize the number of high quality reps they can get in the weight room from their athletes. A high quality rep is one done at maximum speed and maximum power. The problem is that speed and power drop off quickly after two to three reps and then recovery is needed.

If you read Triphasic Training: A Systematic Approach to Elite Speed and Explosive Strength Performance book, you know I am a big fan of Contrast training in general and the French Contrast method in particular. The French Contrast is a fancy name for a combination of complex and contrast methods. A “complex” is a heavy compound exercise followed by a plyometric that mimics the same pattern. A “contrast” method is a heavy set followed by a drop set. This is a great approach for improving sports performance in those sports requiring high rates of force production. But the quality of the reps definitely drops off as fatigue sets in and this might not be ideal, especially when trying to peak an athlete.

If maximizing the number of high quality reps is the objective, an alternative approach which shares some similarities with the French Contrast might be right for you: High Velocity Potentiation Clusters. These High Velocity Potentiation Clusters typically involve a single, high velocity rep of an exercise in the below 80% 1RM range, followed immediately by an unweighted, max effort plyometric that mimics the same movement. After resting for 20 seconds the pair of exercises is repeated for between six and eight reps. In general it is just a pair of exercises with rest in between, but I will also discuss some variations involving more exercises for advanced athletes.

Let’s dig into this a little more to show how this works. First, let’s talk about the exercise selection. The first exercise is really the priming or potentiation exercise designed to prime the nervous system for max effort. The theory is that loading a movement prior to an explosive activity stimulates the nervous system and increases motor unit recruitment. A number of choices are available for this priming exercise…power clean, snatch, front/back/Sport Back squat, dead lift or even a weighted squat jump would all work fine.

To be clear it is really the second exercise…the max effort, high velocity plyometric that we want to maximize quality on. For that exercise, you can have them jump over a hurdle or jump to a box (too minimize impact). These approaches have their place as you will see in the examples below. But the key question is: are you getting the max effort on each jump? To ensure max effort, I would recommend a jump mat or a Vertec. You could also use a tendo unit to measure the speed of the jump vs. the height.

On this plyometric, you can also have the athletes jump from the floor in a deeper position. This would be considered jump training or acceleration training and is fine if that is the focus, but that really isn’t plyometric training.

If you want to do plyometric training or training for joint stiffness in higher squat positions, my preferred choice is the drop box jump, where the athlete drops of a 12-18 inch box in an athletic position and then reverses direction immediately for the max effort jump. Stop the downward momentum and explode back up. Again, the examples below will give you some variations you can implement depending on your focus.

Second, let’s talk about loading. The drop box jump is obviously unloaded to mimic most competitive situations. The load on the priming exercise is important however. Some coaches do their potentiation exercise with heavy loads, but I don’t recommend it. I would keep the load on the first exercise below 80% for two to three weeks and then drop the load to below 55% for another two to three weeks. Further, in the weeks leading up to competition, I would drop the load to the 25-30% range.

I have nothing against going heavy. It is perfectly appropriate and necessary to go heavy for multiple weeks in the off season. However, I feel most strength coaches are loading their athletes too heavy for too long. If you read my book you know I am a huge advocate of using lighter weights to more closely mimic athletic competition and to focus on speed and reactivity.

A third issue is the number of repetitions and sets. With this potentiation approach a set of six to eight reps should easily be possible. For well-trained athletes, after 3 mins of active rest, you could repeat another set of six to eight reps. If I was close to a major competition, I would only do one set. If you are in the middle of summer or don’t have to worry about fatigue and your athletes are well trained, you could go as high as 3-4 sets would be appropriate.

The goal of course is to increase the number of high quality reps. To help maintain quality, you could monitor the jump mat, Vertec or Tendo and stop after a 5% drop off. This might mean less than a full two sets or it could mean more, depending on your athletes.

Finally, I want to make a couple points about when to use this approach. I wouldn’t implement this approach until I had completed a full six to nine week cycle of the triphasic method, meaning a two to three week eccentric phase, a two to three week isometric phase, and a two to three week concentric phase all at 80+% of 1RM. This approach is best thought of as a peaking method, so it should have a solid base of strength training underneath it.

In general, one would think about programming like this being for advanced athletes with extensive “training” ages. However, with such a huge focus on high quality movement, it doesn’t just have to be advanced athletes that benefit from this. It could be safely incorporated at the novice level, whenever a coach would normally begin to building plyometrics into his or her programs.

Finally, I have gotten some great feedback on Potentiation Clusters, especially from high school coaches. They were “amazed” and “surprised”…amazed their athletes made so many advances and surprised because it seemed like the athletes were not working as hard. The key here is the higher quality…yes it is less reps with a lighter load, but the max effort on every rep is driving the performance increases they are seeing.

I will close with some specific examples to give you a feel for how and when to use this approach.

Example #1:  Acceleration Focus

Here is a sample cluster potentiation set that would be implemented for athletes during their speed strength cycle of training. This would follow a heavy loading cycle to help transform the strength development into speed development for the athlete to perform better on the field. Note the sport back squat, the lighter loads, and the box jump would indicate a very specific focus on the acceleration aspect of performance.

  • Sport Back Squat – 1 rep 65-80% +  Box Jump / 1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • Sport Back Squat – 1 rep 65-80% + Box Jump / 1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • Sport Back Squat – 1 rep 65-80% + Box Jump / 1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • Sport Back Squat – 1 rep 65-80% +Box Jump / 1 rep
  • Rest 2-3 minutes, then repeat for a total of 2 to 4 sets

Example #2:  Top-end Running Speed Focus

This cluster set would also follow a heavy strength cycle and with the exercises involved you would look for this to develop more joint stiffness qualities for top-end running speed.

  • Hex Dead lift – 1 rep 65-80% +  Hurdle Hop / 1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • Hex Dead lift – 1 rep 65-80% +  Hurdle Hop / 1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • Hex Dead lift – 1 rep 65-80% +  Hurdle Hop / 1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • Hex Dead lift – 1 rep 65-80% + Hurdle Hop / 1 rep
  • Rest 2-3 minutes, then repeat for a total of 2 to 4 sets

Example #3:  Peaking Focus for Team Sports, Basic Approach

This peaking cycle cluster follows the Triphasic Training loading model for peaking which would follow the two previous clusters. This cluster and loading model would be used two to four weeks before your most important competition. This would also be used for acceleration sports versus your top-end speed sports (note the reduced loads and the use of the drop box jump to emphasize change of direction). Keep in mind, that when peaking your athletes, you need to reduce the volume.  This would entail using only 1 to 3 sets at the most.

  • 25-30% Load Squat jump 1 rep + Drop box Jump / 1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • 25-30% Load Squat jump 1 rep + Drop box Jump /1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • 25-30% Load Squat jump 1 rep + Drop box Jump / 1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • 25-30% Load Squat jump 1 rep +Drop box Jump / 1 rep
  • Rest 2-3 minutes, then repeat for a total of 1 to 3 sets

Example #4:  Peaking Focus for Team Sports, Advanced Athletes

This is an excellent example of a peaking model for a more advanced athlete who has a training base and has already progressed through the Triphasic Training model. With the triple cluster method a coach can use various motor qualities when peaking. For example, loaded squat jumps would be done to an acceleration depth to help with the first 3 or 4 steps during sprint start, the Drop Box Jump would be done at a mid-range angle for applying force and the accelerated band jumps would be done with minimal joint angles to facilitate top-end speed qualities. This just shows the diversity and potential of using clusters and the high-quality work that can be done for certain bio motor qualities.

  • 25-30% Load Squat jump/1 rep +Drop box Jump/1 rep +Acc. Band Jump/1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • 25-30% Load Squat jump/1 rep + Drop box Jump/1 rep +Acc. Band Jump/1 rep…15-20 seconds Rest
  • 25-30% Load Squat jump/1 rep + Drop box Jump/1 rep + Accelerated Band Jump/1 rep
  • Rest 2-3 minutes, then repeat for a total of 2 to 4 sets

Example #5:  Peaking Focus for Team Sports, Advanced Athletes, French Contrast Style

This cluster style of training mimics the French Contrast laid out in Triphasic Training which has been one of the most effective speed development training tools that I have ever used. As in the prior triple cluster sets, you can see that one can either focus on acceleration training or top-end speed training during the sequencing of exercises to get the maximum results for the qualities desired in the athlete. You can also mix various bio motor abilities to cover sports with multiple motor qualities that need to be trained.

  • 55-80% Sport Back Squat/1 rep + Drop box Jump/1 rep +25-30% Squat jump/1 rep + Hurdle Hop 1 rep
  • 15-20 seconds Rest
  • 55-80% Sport Back Squat/1 rep + Drop box Jump/1 rep + 25-30% Squat jump/1 rep + Hurdle Hop 1 rep
  • 15-20 seconds Rest
  • 55-80% Sport Back Squat/1 rep + Drop box Jump/1 rep +25-30% Squat jump/1 rep + Hurdle Hop 1 rep
  • Rest 3-5 minutes, repeat for a total of 2 to 4 sets

french-contrast

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Cal Dietz

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