Most training should be CNS intensive; speed of, strength of, power of, quality of, even conditioning and recovery work affects the CNS, just at a lesser percentage of 100% effort, which is unattainable anyway. You can’t separate the nervous system from the rest of the body. (The S.A.I.D. principle rules all)
The latest reaction to this whole CNS “craze” is blown way out of proportion. Much of it is in response to Mike Boyle’s programming changes he made this past summer with his the Boston University men’s hockey team and the conferences in which he presented on it. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved his presentations (I saw him present on it in Atlanta, which was the same presentation I saw a couple months earlier on the DVD of his talk he did at his own winter seminar at his facility), I like his line of thinking on things, and the fact that he isn’t afraid to make changes. The problem is he presented on his situation, repeat: HIS situation, with elite level college hockey players. People take this as the bible and think it relates directly to them. Sorry folks not many are working with those types of athletes.
Boyle works with higher-end athletes with his BU hockey team, and it was only really affecting his 3rd and 4th year guys. Their numbers were basically “stalling out” after 2 years with the program. Guys that have been in the program already for 2-3 years, plus knowing hockey, many of these guys are 22-23 years old (most play 1 or 2 years of juniors after high school). So you dabble a year or two extra of a little more serious training after high school, and then get to Boston University where Boyle puts them through the rigors for 2 more years and by year 3 they hit a wall. Add to it that they are college kids who live off pizza and beer and sleep only about 6 hours a night (I remember the days, I know, I have been there and done), so I would say their recovery isn't to great. Training is only as good as the ability of the body to recover. And recovery does take some effort.
So Coach Boyle makes their training a little less "CNS intensive". If I am one of his athletes I am thinking: "Hell yeah! We don't have to do as much, and we get basically two 'guns' days a week, and only one day of hard conditioning. Yeah I am going to work a little harder."
A player's psyche does make a difference.
Everybody hears about this CNS intensive training and begins to start treating the human body like some expensive piece of crystal. Yeah the body is precious, but it is lot more resilient than most people think. People have survived more dire situations than sprinting or stepping under a bar. I think CNS intensive, if there is such a thing, really only applies to those who are closer to their genetic potential, which nobody will ever ultimately achieve, but some get a hell of a lot closer than others. A young 16-18 year kid who is squatting a decent number around 350-400 and all his numbers follow accordingly, isn't really that close to his genetic potential, as much as some might like to think. And again, it depends on what each athlete is training for, is it strength, speed, power, conditioning? Where and what is the focus?
Our athletes at UND, train their asses off with what many people would call too "CNS intensive" training, but we still make gains year in, year out. If an athlete drops off at testing time, we look at many factors such as: did the athlete become sick at any time where-after training session numbers began to drop, does the athlete take care of themselves outside of training, do they eat well, sleep, outside stressors, injuries during the competitive season or off-season, etc.? Yeah the 3rd and 4th and 5th year (in the case of football) athletes don't make the gains that 1st and 2nd year players do, but they have been following similar programs since they stepped on campus. Program changes, in Boyle's case, go a long way, but most of it’s because the recovery factors haven't changed. It's not intensity, volume relationship; it's recovery - volume relationship that truly matters.
Good recovery, high volume.
Bad recovery, low volume.
Intensity always stays high (based on volume).
Obviously there are always exceptions to everything, but for the most part intensity should stay as high as the volume allows, following logical progressions.
Charlie Francis was one of the first guys (that I am aware of) that really brought to light the whole CNS fatigue thing, and we have to remember who he was working with. He was working with athletes who were near the peak of human potential and had been training with the guy for around 11 straight years, consistently. However, he didn't start worrying about the CNS control until all other factors were taken care of, nutrition, recovery (massage, EMS), hard training on the basics, and drugs (it has to be done at the Olympic level otherwise you wouldn’t be Olympic level). I don't think Charlie was too concerned with controlling Ben Johnson's CNS fatigue when he started working with him at 15 years old in 1977. Now did he monitor training stress, of course, but probably not to the extent that he did in the mid '80’s. Not until his athletes were hitting national and world marks did he really adjust his training to regulate CNS fatigue.
The majority of athletes aren't that close to world caliber marks.
But it would be ignorant for me to say that Charlie Francis was the first to ever to regulate CNS fatigue. Training stress has been regulated for years. You don’t think the ancient Greeks did some monitoring of their athletes? The Romans monitored the training of the Gladiators. What it all really comes down to is adjusting the training based on the level of the athlete and giving recovery focus. Training the human body has been around for a few years.