A Targeted Approach to Threshold Training: Understanding Intention

How to identify and train for different types of training thresholds as well as understanding the why behind your training.

In the myriad of exercises on the internet, you’ll see a division between “functional” exercise and pure strength work. Understanding how to differentiate between the different thresholds of exercise and train accordingly can give you more out of your training program.

In my previous article, I outlined how to raise the ceiling on your high threshold movements by addressing your functional thresholds. This article will be based around differentiating between the levels of thresholds that you can train with and their respective merits.

With powerlifting training, there will be 3 main types of thresholds that you can work with; low, high, and medium.

Low threshold activities: These are generally tasks that represent very low effort and low amounts of tension. Sleeping, walking around, eating dinner. The nervous system will sit in a “rest and digest”, parasympathetic state. Consider this like having your car turned off and sitting in a parking lot. You could probably do this indefinitely

Medium Threshold Activities: These fall between low and high threshold activities. Things like bicep curls, lunges, etc will fall into this category. There is some tension going on but it is far from maximal. Think of this as driving the speed limit. Your car engine can withstand this for a long time, but you’ll need to stop for gas eventually.

High Threshold Activities: Of the highest caliber, these can be considered the most stressful activities. Things like a 1 rep max back squat, a street fight, and sprints are all examples of high threshold activities. Going back to our car example, this would be the equivalent to redlining your car on a top speed run at the drag strip… You get humongous performance for a short burst of time, but you can only do it for so long before you blow a gasket, need to stop for gas, or take some time to work on your engine and do the appropriate maintenance and repairs as this tends to be the most stressful type of activity.

While this picture may be old, it’s a great example of high threshold activity. This was 102% for me at the time and my face definitely makes it look like it.

So why even bother differentiating between these in the first place? If I can do the exercise easily, shouldn’t I just push harder?

Yes and no. If you are doing an exercise that’s supposed to employ a high threshold strategy in the first place, go ahead and push forwards. If you’re doing something low threshold like a 9090 hip lift, there isn’t really progression intended with the exercise in the first place. The goal there could simply be about cooling off and letting the nervous system “unwind” – a particularly useful tool for after a training session or on a rest day.

If you can’t “switch off” and do your low level movements as low level movements and always “over achieve” by bracing into them, holding your breath, etc, you’re reducing your movement capacity potential and don’t have a higher threshold pattern to use when you need to do something harder than sleeping. Relaxation has to precede joint centration which, in turn leads to appropriate muscle activation.

As you can see in the chart below, the lower the load of the movement, the more an individual can breathe. These are arbitrary values, but they’re intended to show there’s an inverse relationship between how much tension you need relative to how much you can breathe in a given movement/position.

An inability to breathe with 360 degree expansion (see more about this herein a given position means you can’t adequately control the position in the first place because you can’t even regulate the most basic of functions – breathing. Loading a position is different altogether, but if you don’t have unloaded control, adding load won’t help.

Show me someone whose back is always tight and I’ll show you someone with a jacked up nervous system that can’t fully relax or get good muscular balance in a given pattern.

So, given the information above, what should you even do about it?

Simply put, understand the reasoning behind the exercises in your training. As long as you know this, you can execute accordingly. Treat your low threshold movements with a low intensity strategy and your high threshold movements with high intensity ones. You should be able to breathe and chill out with the easy stuff and create as much rigidity as is required for your hard stuff. The higher the level of tension required for the task, the more you need to lock down (ex. 1RM squat, in the bottom position).

Just in the same way as you program a bicep curl to get your biceps bigger, or pause squats to get you stronger out of the hole in your squat, you should understand the reasoning behind the exercises you do and adjust how you do them to reflect the intention.

Have any questions about the content of the article? Want to learn how to incorporate this work into general powerlifting training? Send me an email mentioning this article for a free consultation [email protected]ngeryoupt.com