This article will outline how I utilize the High/Low Training System to properly program workouts for my high school, college, and professional athletes. This training system was popularized by the famous Canadian sprint coach, Charlie Francis. The charts shown in this article are excerpts from his published work.
When properly programming training sessions for your athletes, it becomes critically important to understand the chart shown above. This chart acts as the framework for how I program training sessions for my athletes. Observe some examples of different movements and their varying degrees of CNS demand, reflective of motor unit recruitment. Exercises shown on the far left are more demanding on the athletes central nervous system than exercises shown on the far right which are less intensive.
What Makes a Movement CNS Intensive?
Here’s some factors that contribute to motor unit recruitment and, therefore, the degree of CNS demand: speed of movement, degree of resistance that must be overcome, amplitude of movement, number of working muscles, size of working muscles, volume of work, and density of work. Knowing this, we can gauge CNS impact by various forms of movement and plan training accordingly for our athletes.
For example, here’s a chart that is great for understanding how sprint intensity impacts CNS demand. On our high CNS days we will sprint maximally 95%+. We will do this for 2-3 days during the week. On our low CNS days, we will incorporate tempo runs which are referred to as “low intensity runs” in the chart below.
Order of Movements (Ordered Based off CNS Demand)
High Demanding Movements
- Maximal Effort Sprints
- Explosive Medicine Ball Throws
- Plyometric Jumps (Explosive, Elastic)
- Lower Body Compound Movements
Low Demanding Movements
- Tempo Runs (75% of Best Time or Slower)
- Upper Body Movements (Bench Press, Military Press, Lat Pull Down etc.)
- Isolated Supplementary Movements (Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions, etc.)
- Mobility/Movement Circuits
After observing this information, it becomes evident that we do not want our athletes performing two high CNS training sessions on consecutive days. Completing two high demanding training sessions on back-to-back days will increase the risk of injury and hinder the athletes output. It’s imperative that we follow a high demanding training session with a lower demanding training session to optimize recovery. On a low CNS training day, we want to design movements that allow the athlete to recover in preparation for the next high CNS training session.
Weekly Training Schedule
Specific exercises, total volume, and intensity will differ for each athlete. However, how we schedule training sessions throughout the week does not. The first day of the week will start with a high CNS training day and will be followed by a low CNS training day. We will not train two high CNS training sessions on back-to-back days. We need to use the low training days to allow the athlete to recover adequately and be ready for the next high demanding day. Generally speaking, here’s what a weekly training schedule will look like for our high school, college, and professional athletes.
Weekly Training Schedule Using a High/Low Training System: Day 1 (Monday): High CNS Training Day Day 2 (Tuesday): Low CNS Training Day or Off Day 3 (Wednesday): High CNS Training Day Day 4 (Thursday): Low CNS Training Day or Off Day 5 (Friday): High CNS Training Day Day 6 (Saturday): Low CNS Training Day or Off Day 7 (Sunday): Low CNS Training Day or Off
High CNS Training Days
On our high CNS training days, we like to place the exercises that impose the most CNS demand early on in the training session. We want the athletes fresh, and output high for movements that impose the most demand. Here’s two examples of what a high CNS training session will look like for our advanced and intermediate athletes.
Sample High CNS Training Session for Advanced Athlete: A1. Movement Prep + Dynamic Skips Speed Block B1. Maximal Effort Sprints with Complete Recovery Power Block C1. Explosive Medicine Ball Throws - For our advanced athletes these are usually designed specifically for the individual with the goal of improving sequencing in their swing or pitching motion. With that being said, I like programming theses drills following their sprints to ensure high outputs. I don't want one of my athletes performing a specific drill in a fatigued state which can impact their skill. Strength + Power Block D1. Heavy Lower Body Compound Movement D2. Plyometrics (Explosive/Elastic) - Depending on the total volume we superset our heavy lower body movement or dynamic-effort lower body movement with a bilateral or unilateral explosive or elastic (plyometric) jump. Accessory Block (Designed based off the individual athletes needs. This is only completed if the athlete is not fatigued) E1. Bilateral or Unilateral Row Variation E2. Bilateral or Unilateral Lower Body Exercise (Based off the main movement prior) E3. Anti-Movement Core
Sample High CNS Training Session for Intermediate Athlete: A1. Movement Prep + Dynamic Skips Power/Deceleration Block B1. Explosive Jumps (Low Volume) EX: Snapdown Series (We will spend a total time of 5-7 minutes on this block. The volume is so low that it won't impact their sprints in the next block.) Speed Block C1. Build-Up Sprints or Maximal Effort Sprints (Based off the athlete and where they're currently at. We start with build-ups and progress to maximal effort sprinting.) Lower Body Strength Block D1. Lower Body Compound (RPE: 6-8) Lower Body Strength Block E1. Lower Body Compound (RPE: 6-8) Upper Body Strength Block F1. Upper Body Push F2. Upper Body Pull Core Strength Block G1. Iso Core Series With this sample training day, you'll notice the exercise volume is more than the advanced training session sample shown above. Younger athletes with a low training age aren't moving the same numbers of weight as an advanced athlete. This will induce less stress on the CNS. In addition, the output these athletes are expressing is far less than and advanced athlete who is more explosive and applies more force with each foot strike. For the majority of these athletes we will train three days per week so were including some accessory work towards the end of the training session that would be saved for a low CNS training day. Generally speaking, most of these athletes low CNS training day is spent off from training.
Low CNS Training Days
To reiterate, on our low CNS training days, we’re looking to enhance recovery and prepare the athlete for the next training session which will focus on higher demanding movements. To accomplish this, we will program continuous movement circuits, tempo runs, sled drags (upright, lateral, backwards, etc.), upper body exercises, and isolated supplementary arm work. Here’s two examples of what a low CNS training session will look like:
Sample Low CNS Training Session #1 A1. Movement Circuit B1. Dynamic Skips C1. Tempo Runs
Sample Low CNS Training Session #2 A1. Movement Circuit B1. Bilateral or Unilateral Upper Body Push B2. Anti-Movement Core C1. Bilateral or Unilateral Upper Body Pull C2. Anti-Movement Core D1. Shoulder/Upper Back Exercise D2. Isolated Bicep Exercise D3. Isolated Tricep Exercise D4. Anti-Movement Core
Hopefully this article was able to explain the High/Low Training System and how I utilize it with my athletes! If you have any additional questions, feel free to send them over to my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Off-Season Training Programs
If anyone is looking for workouts using the High/Low training methodology described in this article be sure to check out our training programs below!