How To Program For Optimal CNS Performance [Video Mini-Course]


Optimizing the central nervous system seems to be the holy grail of human performance.

With topics like Velocity Based Training and Athlete Readiness gaining momentum, more and more coaches are seeing the importance of training (and optimizing) the Central Nervous System.

Here at TrainHeroic, I'm pretty lucky to have access to some of the Iron Game's top minds. So when we decided to put together a series on program design for optimal CNS performance, we looked no further than Derek Woodske.

Derek is an NCAA All-American and National Champion in Track & Field. On top of that, he broke two Canadian National Records and won multiple national championships while on the Canadian National Team.

After retiring from his competitive career, Derek coached in the NCAA and the NFL.

Just so you know what you're getting into - each of the videos below ranges from 2-8 minutes. Be sure to bookmark this page if you want to come back later and browse the content.

Goal Setting Revisited: What To Do Before You Write A Single Workout

A wise man once remarked, "Begin with the end in mind." Before you get to writing your programs, it's probably a good first step to set some goals.

In this video, Derek will take three periodization principles that you're used to (Macro, Meso, Micro Cycles) and apply them to goal setting.

It's a dead simple, practical, and highly effective way to get clear on the biggest outcome you hope to achieve and put a clear plan in place to make it happen.

After all, a goal without a plan is just a dream. And as coaches, we're not in the business of building dreamers.   

Goal setting is easy. Actually tracking these goals takes a bit of follow through and organization. You can build a spreadsheet in Excel and check-in with your athlete's progress as needed. Or, if you're a TrainHeroic customer, you can set + track individual athletes goals and analyze their real-world training data in one central place.


Fig 1 - Using software like CoachHeroic can help you optimize your goal setting + tracking workflow. By having clearly defined training goals, your athletes will love seeing progress. As an added bonus, they'll work hard knowing that you will hold them accountable to that end result.

Annual Planning: The VI/LP Model

VI/LP stands for Vertical Integration and Linear Progression. It's a unique approach to organizing your training plans with the end goal being optimal CNS function.

Vertical Integration is a method of sequencing training made famous by Coach Charlie Francis. In a nutshell, vertical integration can be explained as “all training components are being performed at all times – only the volumes vary”.

Linear Periodization is a much more common approach to organizing a training plan. The Linear Periodization model starts with a high volume + low-intensity training cycle and as the athlete nears closers to their competitive season, the volume drops and the intensity rises.

In this video, Derek explains how to utilize both methodologies to sequence your annual training plan for a more effective (and safer) stimulus on the central nervous system. 

Movement Sequence: CNS to Metabolic, Compound to Isolation

Would you ever do a high metabolic demand movement immediately before a high power output lift? In CrossFit, sure. But in the Sports Performance world, no, you wouldn't.

Why is exercise sequence important? Because how you structure a training session (stressor) will determine the response (adaptation) that athlete gets. It's pretty simple - if you're trying to get big and add muscle mass, body part splits and high volume training do very well. In contrast, when it's time to get strong, higher intensities are needed to maximize mechanical tension.

If you are training for a specific goal, then your movement sequencing and loading protocol must adhere to a very strict standard: "CNS to metabolic, compound to isolation."

Exercise Selection: Are You Being Practical or Emotional?

A series on program design wouldn't be complete without a section on exercise selection. In this video, Derek kills the sacred cow of having your "go-to" list of exercises and also challenges you to view exercise selection through the eyes of an investor: managing risk while seeking as much reward as possible.

Using the same exercises over and over again is a kin to having a limited selection of tools. If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. After all - a new study just killed the sacred cow of "only do full depth squats". It all depends on the context (the end goal), and your job as a coach is to chart the safest and most effective path toward that goal.

You can build your own library using Excel, or get a jump start using CoachHeroic's library of 1,500+ movements.

Fig 2 - Building your own exercise library will ensure that you always have the right tool for the job. Using CoachHeroic, you can categorize movements in a way that makes the most sense for you - by muscle group, movement pattern, or modality.

On a side note, we recently published a great guide on movement progressions and regressions - bookmark this page and use it as a starting point to building your own exercise library.

Peaking: Limit Stimulus Variability (Make It Boring!)

Progressive overload is a core principle of program design - in order for an athlete to improve their biological capacities (adaptation), they must be placed under an appropriate amount of stress (stimulus).

With that in mind, there are a number of ways a coach can apply that stress - metabolic, volume, intensity, frequency, novel movement patterns - it all works.

But, when preparing for a big competition, some approaches are better than others. In this video, Derek explains why you should limit the variability during the competitive season.  

Does More Training Volume = More Progress?

And we wrap this mini-course up by talking about the importance of restoration.

As strength coaches, we're great at heaping mounds of stress on our athletes. We invest so much time into writing training programs, staying up to date with the latest research in strength and power training, and even invest our money in new technology. But all that work is lost if an athlete get's worse, get's sick or injured.

Restoration is KEY to developing resilient athletes. And in order to see great results, it doesn't have to anything crazy. Something as simple as 5 minutes of breathing exercises can help an athlete tap into their parasympathetic nervous system and kickstart the recovery process.

Derek does a wonderful job of synthesizing the core message when it comes to training: "An athlete will progress only to the degree that they can recover."

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Fig 3 - As training load increases, an athlete's progress will increase assuming they are recovering. As soon as recovery takes a dip, the athlete's progress will follow suit in the form of decreased performance, sickness, or injury. Prioritizing restoration is key if you hope to help your athletes reach their potential. Note that this chart is for example purposes only and is not based on any real data.

About The Author

Colby Knepp is the man behind the Marketing at TrainHeroic. He's also a husband, father, strength coach, former rugby athlete and life-long learner. Colby is a big fan of a Moscow mules, ass-to-grass squats and Korean BBQ.