The Training Hierarchy Pyramid™ (THP), the Training face of CST’s Three-Dimensional Performance Pyramid™, is the map that we use to program our training. It’s the key to crafting an incrementally progressive program that will get you to your goals in the most expedient manner possible. In this article I’d like to take a closer look at the THP and it’s component parts, and to present an example of what such a progression might look like.
The Pyramid Deconstructed
General Physical Preparedness (GPP) is the level of the Training Hierarchy Pyramid at which we seek to develop the particular energy system to be utilized. Another term for this is Work Capacity. It is here that we build the rounded base that will support our efforts towards a specific goal.
Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP) is the level at which we sophisticate our GPP work to develop the range and depth of the skills that we are preparing. It is also at this level that we train slightly outside the scope of our intended activity to provide a “safety valve” for when movement deviates from the expected. Another term for this is Sophistication. It is here that we tweak our GPP preparations in the direction of our intended goal.
Specific Skill Preparedness (SSP) is the level of the pyramid at which we deconstruct the target skill into its elementary motor components, their practice, and the practice of the movements between these components. This is also referred to as Specificity. For example, in martial arts this is the level of the pyramid where we would incorporate a process of Static, Fluid and Dynamic Drills (which is also the Practice face of the 3DPP).
At the Mental and Emotional Preparedness (MEP) level of the Training Hierarchy Pyramid we seek to develop neural drive and disinhibition, stabilization of autonomic and hormonal arousal, and attentional strength and stamina. This is where we take our Clubbell work into the further ends of density training, where we fight off our Inner Pansy to maintain focus on technique and breathing when the going gets tough. This is also where we confront our fear-reactivity in a movement. This is sometimes referred to as Drive.
THE TRAINING HIERARCHY PYRAMID IN ACTION
That’s a quick explanation of the diagram. To clarify the process, what it means to work a progression up the pyramid, I’d like to offer an example of program design taken from my own training. I crafted this program to address an area of fear-reactivity in my lower back that was causing me to brace (and to experience extreme discomfort) in the Clubbell Swipe.
I suffered a deadlifting injury in 2002 (the most severe in a string of similar injuries) that caused me to be bedridden for several days and that greatly affected my training and my daily life. I got to the point where I had to hold on to the side of the sink while brushing my teeth to prevent the painful spasms and bracing that would otherwise result from bending over unassisted. Strangely enough, this bracing didn’t usually occur while on the mats during martial arts training and my range of motion in that realm wasn’t especially limited, though I did feel a weakness. Perhaps it was a survival mechanism that trumped my fear-reactivity, with a 200lb training partner barreling down on me!
In hindsight I feel that this string of injuries was directly attributable to the power breathing protocol that I had followed for about a year and a half. Under that training protocol I noticed an immediate increase in how much I could deadlift, followed by an immediate decrease in my performance on the mats. Performance impediments included breath holding (whether I wanted to or not) and greatly decreased mobility. And it only got worse from there. As a lifting method it felt stable on the outside, but wobbly on the inside. My training partner noted identical observations. And the power breathing protocol was storing tension faster than our Warrior Wellness and Body Flow work was able to release it. It took us several years, after discovering RMAX, to undo the damage that we had done to ourselves.
But that’s another story. Let’s take a detailed look at how I crafted my first back rehab progression.
GPP (work capacity) – I continued to clean the slate with Warrior Wellness, working incrementally towards those areas that were limited by spasms and discomfort. I also sought the advice of a sports medicine doctor, who referred me to a physiotherapist specializing in sports injuries. I was given a set of progressive exercises that worked the transverse abdominus in isolation. I worked diligently at those exercises and increased my work capacity in each (in terms of gradually increasing the reps and sets). I would then add on the next set of exercises. After about a month and a half I was able to complete all of the exercises that I had been given and I was pronounced ‘cured’. I knew, however, that my work had just begun.
Transition – The transition between phases of the THP should be so incremental as to be barely noticeable. After being released from physiotherapy I took the basic transverse abdominus exercises and began to sophisticate them. For example, one exercise involved lying on my back and bringing one leg up knee to chest. Another exercise involved lying on my back with both knees up and allowing one knee to open/close to the side. I sewed these two exercises together so that I was moving my leg up the outside, then bringing the knee in, then moving down the center to bring the leg flat again. It made a circular motion through one quadrant. I also did the opposite –outside to in, and inside to out. I sophisticated all of the physiotherapy exercises that I had been given in this way.
SPP (sophistication) – In the SPP phase I sought to further strengthen my core, beyond the simple TVA isolation exercises. Inspired by a similar program that Coach Sonnon was working at that time, I embarked upon a cycle of hi-rep spinal rocks. I included all of the variations from Be Breathed, an equal number of each, and increased the amount each session until I reached my target goal of 500 spinal rocks in one session. I also included compensatory motions in the form of static holds of the Shoulder Bridge, Hand Bridge, and eventually the Shin Bridge, breathing into the tension and trying to relax.
SSP (specificity) – It was time to begin practicing the skills involved in the Swipe. I worked on the two component exercises of the Pendulum and the Armpit Cast. They had never caused me bracing in the past. Flare-ups seemed to be a result of the ballistic nature of the full Swipe, and the loading that occurs in the back position at the top. I began practicing the Swipe at a level of Skill -- not enough reps or sets to fatigue too much, just enough to practice the mechanics.
Transition – When my skill practice became comfortable I began a Swipe density cycle. I was very comfortable at the strength range of the cycle, so the transition to the more challenging phases (up around the endurance range) happened very gradually.
MEP (drive) – As I neared the final stages of the density cycle I was forced to confront the fear-reactivity in my lower back that seemed to occur alongside the ballistic loading in the top position. It seemed to get worse when the going got tough – and was partly a result of bracing and dropping into lower levels of breathing. I made it my performance goal to relax into the movement and to breath at a minimum level of Skill. I began by applying a performance exhalation to brace my core and to reassure myself that the position was safe. By the end of the cycle I was able to maintain Expertise level breathing without conscious effort, and the painful bracing had gone. Goal accomplished!
I hope this example gives you a better idea of how to apply the Training Hierarchy Pyramid to your own training!
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