hsve question about sets to failure or not , is better for type 3 ? what is cortisol responae to failure sets compare to ntf , 1-2 reps short from failure ? and Heavy Dutt style training , CNS overstimulate + muscle under stimulate ?
If you read some of my newer articles you’ll know that when we talk about CNS overstimulation we really are referring to producing too much adrenaline, which can desensitize the beta-adrenergic receptors, which leads to the symptoms associated with overtraining (loss in motivation, decrease in strength and speed, lower muscle tone, etc).
Adrenaline is released when cortisol elevates. Specifically, any potentially stressful situation releases nor-adrenaline, which increases focus and mental acuity, allowing you to know if the situation is a true danger.
If the body sees the situation as a true stress it releases cortisol. Cortisol’s function is to make sure that you are ready to face the situation. It releases energy so that you don’t run out and it increases adrenaline levels to increase competitiveness, aggression, strength, speed, reaction time, speed of thinking, etc.
Essentially we can say that the more cortisol you produce, the more adrenaline you release.
When it comes to training there are 6 variables that can increase cortisol.
- Training Volume
One of the main functions of cortisol is mobilizing stored energy and maintaining a stable blood sugar level. The higher your training volume, the more energy and glucose you use.
This means you’ll mobilize more fuel and you’ll also bring blood sugar down. For those reasons, a higher volume of work means a greater release of cortisol, which leads to more adrenaline.
- Training Intensiveness
This relates to how hard you’re pushing a set. Not the weight on the bar really, but how close to death you get! For example, getting 3 reps at 340 pounds while keeping 3 reps in the tank is less “intensive” than doing 12 reps to failure with 260 pounds.
I don’t like going high in volume and intensiveness at the same time. Focus on one of these with one high and the other fairly low, or use a moderate level of both.
If you keep up with coaches and their training methods, you could say that Fortitude Training, Dorian Yates’s workouts, and DC training are pure intensiveness-dominant programs (very low volume) whereas Mike Israetel or guys like Jay Cutler use more of a volume-dominant approach while keeping more reps in reserve.
There’s a caveat. Not all volume is created equal. A set of squats doesn’t have the same impact on cortisol and adrenaline as a set of wrist curls or calf raises. Similarly, going to failure on a deadlift will not have the same impact as going to failure on triceps pushdowns. That’s why you can’t look at volume and intensiveness in isolation.
- Psychological Stress
When a set or a workout gets you a bit nervous before you do it, that’s psychological stress. When you amp yourself up before a set, that also increases psychological stress. In this category we could put very heavy weights, especially PR levels, but also workouts in which you know you’ll suffer.
- Neurological Demands
The harder the brain needs to work during an exercise or a workout, the more adrenaline you produce. That’s because you need to amp your brain up (neurological activation) which is done, in large part, by activating the beta-adrenergic receptors in the brain.
Several things can increase neurological demands:
- Exercise Complexity: Multi-joint moves are more neurologically demanding than single-joint exercises. Free-weights are more demanding than machines.
- Exercise Novelty: The more efficient you are with an exercise, the less demanding it is.
- Exercises Combinations: Combining two or more exercises (superset, antagonist pairings, circuits) is more neurologically demanding because you need to switch a motor task on every set.
- Speed: The more explosive a movement is, the more neurologically demanding it is.
- Force: When you need to produce more force, the nervous system works harder.
An interesting point: The better and more efficient you become at an exercise, the more automatic it becomes, the less stressful it is. Take the Olympic lifts for example. They’re tremendously demanding on the nervous system. But for an elite lifter who’s been doing them for 15-20 years they’re no more neurologically demanding than a simpler exercise for you and me.
When rest intervals are kept short, adrenaline stays up more. That’s one of the reasons certain people just get out of the zone if they rest for too long between sets. This is normally the case for people who break down adrenaline fast and subconsciously know that they’ll be very up and down if they rest for too long.
On the upside, those who are efficient at breaking down adrenaline are less likely to suffer from training burnout because they’re less at risk of downregulating their receptors. But those who don’t have that advantage can increase their risk of burning out if their rest intervals are too short
When you’re trying to beat the logbook at all costs, kick your training partner’s arse, or post the best score on the board for the WOD, you’ll be increasing adrenaline more than if you stay more chill during the workout. This is the less impactful variable, but it can still contribute to overall training stress.
Volume and intensiveness have the greatest impact on cortisol/adrenaline. That’s why, in natural individuals, especially those who are more prone to cortisol/adrenaline production like type 3s need to make sure that only one of these 2 is elevated at the same time.
Technically speaking, Heavy duty would be fine because it’s low in volume. But as you pointed out, from experience, it doesn’t provide enough growth stimulation past the beginner stage. It is an approach that is great in theory, but might not be sufficient. If you use such a low volume, you will need to increase frequency to have enough overall weekly volume.
But you are correct, going to failure (maximum intensiveness) will increase cortisol (and adrenaline) more than stopping 1-2 reps short of failure. That’s why if you go to failure, you should not use a high volume of work.
Nobody said thank you, so let me say thank you CT for such a great explanation.
Really appreciate all the effort you show on this forum.
Agreed. All the free info and tips from one of the best in the world at what he does
It’s me who wishes to thank you guys for the interest and trust over the years.