The Right Stimulus


A good training program hinges upon providing the correct stimuli to an athlete’s system. A single stimulus may or may not cause an adaptation. However, an accumulation of similar stimuli with in a threshold will evoke a specific adaptation. Stimuli are not always summative in nature. Think of it in terms of addition and subtraction (this is far too simplistic to be accurate, but it gets the point across), each stimulus is either positive, neutral, or negative. The summation of all these stimuli will give you the magnitude of the adaptation.

Understanding what you want

Before deciding what exercises and modalities you want to implement, you need to understand what your goal is. A goal is essentially a summation of adaptations. If you want to jump high, you have to have specific physiological and neural characteristics that coincide with your each other. Once you have determined what these characteristics are, you can start to decide what stimuli you will need to apply.


Example of some desired physiological and neural traits for jumping

-Large number of type 2 fibers

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-High neural outputs

-Proper intramuscular coordination

-Proper inter-muscular coordination

-High rate of force development

-Force producing contractile properties developed in hip, knee, and ankle



There are many factors that go into a stimulus-adaptation process and a lot of them are not well known. However, for the sake of simplicity we are going to pretend like we do know how adaptations work and exactly what stimuli are required to evoke specific changes.


Once we have decided our goal and the required stimuli to reach the goal, we can start to figure out what exercises will work best. Remember, the exercise itself is nothing special.


The exercise is just a medium (piece of equipment) through which a concept (you desired stimulus) is applied. As long as the medium does not hinder the stimulus, theoretically all exercises that fall in that category will be equal


Going back to original example of jumping, we can look at how exercises do not equal stimuli (that’s backwards thinking). For example, you program a barbell jump with two different athletes.


Athlete #1 is relatively weak and the ground contact times of the jumps are very high. The athlete has a slow eccentric loading velocity and in turn a slow concentric contraction.


Athlete #2  is very strong. You have him perform the same exercise, but unlike the weak athlete, his jumps involve high eccentric velocities, low ground contact times and high velocity concentric contraction.


Do you think these two athletes are getting the same stimulus?


Just because these two athletes are performing the same exercise does not mean they are getting the same stimulus. When looking at the weak athlete, the medium (the barbell) is hindering their ability to apply the concept of the movement (reactive jumping). Despite looking the same on paper, these two athletes are experiencing two different stimuli.


(Exercises are not equal) A simple example of how the same exercise can be greatly modified by simple adjustments. The first jump is a counter movement jump with no landing impact. The second jump is a more reactive jump (less knee bend) preceded by a small hop to increase eccentric velocity (greater stretch). The last variation is a continuous jump requiring higher degrees of eccentric absorption and energy transfer than the previous two, due to the higher eccentric velocity and stretch imposed on the muscle. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• Depending on the level of athlete you are working with these jumps may have difference influences based on their capabilities. If the athlete is weak in the movement then the continuous exercise may become much more of a "strength" exercise dependent on the slow SSC while a stronger more proficient athlete may perform it as a faster SSC exercises with much less knee bend and ground contact time. Just because you are doing the exercise doesn't mean you are getting the right stimulus. Understanding what you want out of the exercise will help you modify it and apply it to the right level of athlete.

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In order to make sure we are getting what we want out of training, we have to take a step back and understand what we are actually trying to accomplish. Once you learn the core concepts, everything will take care of itself. Application is not based on a cookie-cutter approach from a selection menu of exercises and workout routines. Proper application is based on accurately directing stimuli, through a wide range of means, that allows for the stimulus to be best expressed.



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