Lift Heavier and Run Faster Using This Drill

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What drill you say? The box drill.

What is the box drill??

A drill that involves a box. What else would it be???

Seriously though, it's a simple and incredible effective way to warm up before your workouts. And, as an added bonus, it lets you measure how fresh (or fried) your central nervous system (CNS) is.

Why Your CNS Matters

While we're on the topic of the CNS, many of you may not realize or care why it's important to measure it before a workout.

Let's look at this scenario...you walk into the gym ready to kill a 1-rep max deadlift. You've been hitting weights at or around 90% of your max on all lifts and even tossed in 8x 400m repeats that left you wobbly for a day. You want to end it on a high note by pulling at least a 10 pound PR.

You warm up, go through your work-up sets, and then realize you're fried at a weight that's 20 pounds LESS than your current PR.

WTF mate?

You're CNS is fried. After stressing it all week with weights around 90% of your max and grinding through 8 brutal 400m repeats, your nervous system has raised the white flag. It needs time to rest and recover.

Now, let's check out another scenario. You hit the weights hard, but only at 75%-85% of your max. You still do some sprints, but you kept them explosive and had full rest in between. There was no grinding them out.

You approach your end of the week the exact same, aiming for a 10 pound PR. The warm up goes smooth and the work-up sets are flying off the ground. You get to your current PR and.......it goes up with ease.

"Damn..." you think to yourself, "I could have EASILY knocked out 3 reps on that".

So you add the 10 pounds, you're at your goal for this workout, and it happens again. It comes up easily.

"Fuck it. 20 pound PR."

The weight goes on and the bar comes up a little slower this time, but still easy.

These two scenarios are simplified versions of what happens when your CNS is fried (Scenario 1) and when your CNS is fresh (Scenario 2).

Knowing that you're CNS is fried let's you feel at ease that you're actually not getting weaker...you just need to recover some more to be at your peak. On the flip side, if you're peaking for a competition, you can use the box drill to make sure your CNS is fresh and ready to fuck shit up.

Quantifying Your CNS Fatigue/Freshness

Ok, back to our scheduled topic. Why and how does this box drill let you measure your CNS?

Muscles recover fast than your nervous system. That's what we see in the scenarios above. In the first one, your muscles may be ready to get to work. But, without the proper rest your nervous system can't effectively signal the muscles to contract.

On top of that, when you CNS is fatigued, your muscles may not even fire the correct order. What used to be a finely tuned movement is not sloppy and all over the place because the nervous system is fatigued.

On top of being a fantastical way to measure quantify the state of your CNS, these types of drills are a good way to become more explosive and powerful with just your body weight. The "race against the clock" aspect of the box drill forces you to shorten all phases of the muscle action (eccentric, isometric, concentric).

Real World Example

Here are my numbers from last week and a few observations:

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 6.45.08 AM
Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 6.45.08 AM

**UPDATE** Some clarification needed on my part. The numbers that run across the top of this chart are just short-hand versions of the "types" of pattern I'm doing. So the "12" in the chart above is short hand for what I refer to as "1-2" below, which is simply jumping/hopping from box 1 to box 2. 

14 = Box 1 to Box 4

124 = Box 1 to Box 2 to Box 4 then back to box 1

So, the simpler way to say it is that each single number refers to the boxes you'll hit and in what order you'll hit them in. Clear as mud now?

  1. Monday (3 Dec) was average. Those are the numbers I get almost every day.
  2. Tuesday (4 Dec) was well below average. I pushed it a little too far on Monday and you can see that my CNS still isn't recovered by the time I get to Tuesdays workout.
  3. Wednesday and Thursday was a bit of a rebound effect. This has only happened to me on a few occasions and I can't pinpoint exactly why/how/when it happens.
  4. Friday was spent in class and then on the road headed towards the Army/Navy game, so no workout that day.

How to do The Box Drill

The overall concept is super simple. You either draw or imagine a box on the ground. This box is made up of 4 smaller boxes and labeled 1-4. Next, you set a timer for 10 seconds (I prefer my gymboss for this, it's pretty damn sweet) and then get as many contacts as you can in that 10 seconds.

Alpha Male FTS - Box Drill

Tip ** You can count every contact, but you might get to the point where your feet are moving faster than you can count. To combat this, I'll just count every contact in the box I started in and then multiply by 2.

The different variations are simple to remember and simple to adjust if you get bored. Just pick 2-3 of the boxes and jump between them in a repeatable pattern. The 6 variations I always do are 1-2, 1-4, 1-3, 2-4, 1-2-4, and 2-1-3.

You should start off doing them all with both legs at first, and then when you get to the point that it's not as complicated, switch to doing them all on a single leg.

Your Turn

Give this a shot when you go hit the gym or the track today. You don't need to substitute it for anything else, just start off with it and then take notice of how different you feel. I can guarantee that your heart will be pounding, your legs will feel stronger, and overall you'll be ready to attack your workout.

Brain and Brawn, Fresh