Whether you’re a football player, boxer, MMA fighter, or any kind of performance athlete, you’ve likely happened across many methods and training techniques for increasing your speed, strength and conditioning. What you might not have happened across or given enough attention to, is the high/low training method. Established years ago by Charlie Francis, the high/low method has foolproof results that allows you to reach your maximum speed, strength and fitness without burning yourself out.
History Behind the High/Low Method
Charlie Francis, best known for training 100m sprinter Ben Johnson, developed the high/low method through his work in neural recovery and sports training. His method came about from the stress put on the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is essentially the powerhouse for athlete’s performance and coordinates all muscular movements. As the CNS is pushed in intensity, the more it decreases in power and performance, and the longer it takes to recover; much longer than the muscular system. However, most athletes and trainers only place focus at the muscular level. This means athletes who have just undergone a rigorous training session may think that they are ready for the next bout when their muscles have recovered, not when the CNS has. Without going into too many details, this results in neural fatigue over an extended period of time. So no matter how hard your muscles are working, you’re going to be under-performing. Thankfully, this is where the high/low method can help.
How the High/Low Method Works
Simply put by the name, the high/low system is a method of organising your training week based on the neurological demands of each training session. In essence, it is a system of high intensity workouts, followed by low intensity workouts. Its sole premise shatters the notion of pushing yourself 100% every day. Doing that is no longer viable, because even if you aren’t aware of it, there is no way you can perform at your peak the next day, when your CNS is still fatigued from yesterday. In fact, if you push yourself too hard each day, you could enter the training black hole, where your stuck performing at ‘moderate’ intensity. However, there is a catch. During the high intensity workouts, you should be pushing yourself 100%, to reach a higher heart rate, explosive movements and to exceed your personal best in whatever activity it is. It’s during the low intensity workouts where you take it down a notch and instead focus on sharpening your techniques, learning new sporting skills or movements, and improving your aerobic capacity.
What constitutes a High Intensity and Low Intensity Day
To give you a better idea of how it works, here’s an example of a high/low method training schedule I’ve used to organise football athletes’ off/pre-season training. The training includes 3 high intensity training days, two low intensity days, and two rest days:
Why the High/Low Method
The benefits of the high/low method are confounding. First off, it improves your performance by enabling the athlete to perform at a maximum level, helping you achieve new levels of strength, speed, power and conditioning. Second, it incorporates time to learn and hone your skills. Third, it helps prevent over-training and injuries by allowing your body critical recovery time. And even better, the high/low method has practical applications for any sport, fitness junky or gym goer.
Getting Started with the High/Low Method
The high/low method is a great way to organize your training over the course of the week. But there are a few things outside of the method you’ll want to determine. And, as always, everybody and sport is different and you’ll need to keep that in mind before organizing your week (this is where having a personal trainer can be very beneficial).
Last but not least, some guidelines or considerations you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Set a minimum of 48 hours between high intensity days to get a full recovery for both your muscles and CNS.
- Do not perform two high intensity days after one another.
- Pair up complimentary sporting skills on the low intensity days to get the most out of your training.
- Keep track of your improvements!
Hopefully this has provided you some valuable information on how you can better organise your own training to smash through plateaus and reach maximum performance.