I was asked a very simple question in the gym today by a gentleman. "What are you doing?". The short answer was that I was throwing a medicine ball back and forth against a rebound pad, but what the guy really wanted to know was why? "Does that build muscle?" "Not directly". "Does it increase your speed?" "No". "Then why do it?"
This series of questions introduces us to the concept of extra workouts. These are workouts that do not necessarily serve to directly increase the bio-motor qualities of our sports but instead increase our work capacity, aid recovery and induce hormone release. By performing extra workouts we better equip our bodies to perform those workouts that DO serve to increase the required bio-motor qualities and hence make greater progress in the long term. Benefits are accrued from extra workouts because increased blood flow aids recovery, lactic acid is associated with release of growth hormone, glucose disposal and nutrient uptake are greater following extra workouts and increased work capacity allows the body to accept and recover from greater training loads in the main workouts. If recovery ability is in abundance extra workouts can be performed more intensely as a mean to bring up weak points or build muscle tissue.
When considering how to structure extra workouts you must bear in mind a few simple thoughts. First of all the load used for an exercise in an extra workout should never exceed 30% of the maximum possible load. Say for example you can perform an overhead press with 125 kilos. The muscles involved as prime movers are the deltoids and triceps. Therefore if you were performing an extra workout for the deltoids and triceps you would use loads of 37.5 kg or less at all times. There is no minimum load for an extra workout. For example the medicine ball I worked with today weighs only 3 kg which is around 2% of the maximum load of the prime movers involved. Don't be afraid to use very light loads in extra workouts. Put your ego aside!
The second important point in extra workouts is to focus on raising work capacity over the whole workout. You should not be taking long rest periods in an extra workout. Why would you need to? The loads after all are very light so there is little need for rest. Keep moving throughout the workout.
Final point is to keep extra workouts short in duration. My workout today took in upper body work to raise work capacity and aid recovery, abdominal work for the same reasons, work to raise lactate tolerance and enhance recovery for my lower back and hamstrings and stretching work for my hips and hamstrings. The total time taken was 21 minutes. Times of 3 - 30 minutes are appropriate for extra workouts. Rep speed during extra workouts should be moderate to slow. On faster lifts or throwing exercises do not attempt to put a lot of power in to the reps, perform them quite gently.
Here are some specific example of exercises and techniques that are appropriate for extra workouts, split up according to body parts.
Alternate cable pullthroughs with back extensions and reverse hypers for 2 minutes each with minimal loads, 6 minutes total.
Perform seated good mornings alternated with leg raises for sets of 100 reps each set, 2 sets total.
Throw a medicine ball against a rebound pad for 1 minute at a time from a "crunch" position. Perform cable wood chops for 30 seconds each side then repeat the med ball throws. 3 minutes total.
Throw a medicine ball or barbell backwards over your head from the floor. Walk to it, repeat. Do this 50 times.
Perform pike jumps for 30 second intervals with 30 seconds rest. 3 minutes total.
Perform light dumbbell swings from between the legs to overhead. Alternate hands on each repetition, never letting the dumbbell return to the floor.
Perform hybrid exercises with the barbell in sequence. For example clean the bar, then front squat it 3 times, then press over head 3 times, lower bar behind head, perform a jump with the bar, then back squat, then jerk the bar from behind the head, return bar to floor. The weights used will be light on hybrid exercises. The point is to gently tax the whole body through barbell exercise. You can use any combination of light barbell exercises that you like, as long as you don't put the bar down between reps at any time.
Pressing Structure (chest, shoulders, triceps).
Perform light dumbbell presses for 3 minutes or more at a time, from the chest or overhead.
Perform tricep extensions with a light dumbbell or a length of bungee cord for high reps (50+) or time.
Perform front, side or rear raises, again for time or high reps (50+).
Throw a medicine ball from a standing position off the chest, either to a partner or against a rebound board.
Perform jerk style leg splits for 1 minutes intervals, alternated with bungee cord standing leg curls, again for 1 minute. 4 - 6 minutes total.
Perform free hand (no weight) squats for high reps or time.
Drag a sled or tire over ground for distances of 40 - 100 metres. Vary your stance from very upright to bent over, dragging the weight via a belt / harness or by attaching the rope to your ankles / heels. Face forwards, sideways or backwards.
Extra workouts are another small tool in the battle for greater progress in our main workouts and training sessions.