External versus Internal Focus
An Excerpt from Training for the Professional Man of Arms

Combative behavior and performance capabilities are dependent upon an extremely wide range of factors. A great many of those factors, perhaps most, are virtually uncontrollable. It then is incumbent upon the individual who engages in combat to even more stringently enable himself to learn to control those factors that he does have some control over. In our area of personal combative endeavor, there are two main areas that one can effective enhance capabilities: combative skills and combative fitness. While there is a fair amount of information out regarding skills training - ranging from excellent to potentially dangerous - there is considerably less information out concerning combative conditioning and fitness. Most of what little is out there on the popular market is aimed at popular concepts of sport combat, such as pop martial arts, grappling, and so on. There is virtually nothing that is aimed for the realities of lethal combat.

In approaching training for combat fitness, there are many aspects of sports conditioning that can be utilized. Certainly over the past forty years, there has been huge gains in sports science, particularly in the realm of physical conditioning. However, the physical aspects of sport and combat fitness are relatively simple. What is even more important, and unfortunately greatly neglected, are the neural demands of dealing in the extremely stressful - physically, mentally, and emotionally - environment of combat. Towards that end, I have been preparing a book on neural-drive training. The following excerpt from that book deals with physical training that is aimed at enhancing neural capabilities as well as physical.

"What is combat fitness? Combat fitness is the fitness that enables one to perform in a combatively effective manner under the conditions of extreme physical and mental stress that are inherent in the real combat environment of injury and death."

External versus Internal Focus

Focus on External Factors: the weight
In conventional weight training, being able to lift a X-amount of weight is typically the goal. How the weight is lifted is hardly even a consideration. This is because the focus is on an external factor - moving the weight. For example, when doing a simple barbell exercise, such as barbell squat, the athlete takes the bar on his shoulders, lowers to the bottom position in a controlled fashion, then pushes upward to get the bar back up. Moving the bar is the focus, and the effort exerted will only be the amount of effort necessary to move the bar. Even in working around the 80% max level, people just don't naturally use more effort than necessary to raise the bar. While this type of "minimum effort needed" efficiency can effectively develop muscular strength, it is only minimally useful for neural-drive benefits.

Focus on Internal Factors: Speed
In neural-drive training, the amount of weight is secondary. Concentrating on overcoming the weight is a distracting factor. In neural-drive training, the key focal elements are internal, that is they are neural-attempts to perform as strongly as possible, not based on simply moving the weight, but moving the resistance as quickly as possible, as efficiently as possible, as explosively as possible, and/or combinations of some or all of the above.

Speed as an Intensity Factor
In many of the neural-drive exercises, speed is the key focal element. For example, when we do the pull-up we do it in the ladder rep pattern, and we time for speed. For example, my training partner (my son, Hunter) will start with one rep, and I'll time him with a stop watch. We have found by experience that it is better for the timer to start the action. My stop watch makes an audible beep when the start button is pushed. That beep is the signal for Hunter to start. I'll stop the timer at the end for the movement. Maybe he'll do the one rep in .83 seconds. Then I'll do one, and he'll time me (of course, I'll try to beat his time). Then he'll do two reps, and he might do it in 2.17 sec. Again, it's my turn, and again I'll try to beat his time. We'll time each of the groups of reps, and are always naturally trying to beat both each other's times and our own times from previous workouts. The timing adds an element of intensity that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Speed, of course, is one of the key intensity factors: the only way one can perform with speed is through neural-drive. Remember the difference between jogging and sprinting. By timing an exercise the athlete is stimulated to voluntarily move more intensively, greatly increasing the training benefit of the exercise. If you just do a typical 3 sets of 10 reps of pull-ups, you probably will get better at exerting enough effort to "just do it," but you will not get better at explosively performing and your neural-drive receives only the minimal stimulus necessary to finish off the set.

In the list of core neural-drive exercises in the back of the book, those that should be timed will be designated.

Balance and Body Movement Control
Not all the exercises in neural-drive training are based on speed of movement, nor are they suitable for timing for speed. In some of the exercises, the neural-drive demand is centered on control of the movement, including balance, correct action and directional control. For example, in the leg exercise called the Enpi Squat, the movement is a single-leg squat. The key in performing the movement is not explosive speed or heavy weight, but correct movement:

Enpi Squat
Start: Stand naturally with the feet at roughly hip width apart. Hold the hands in front of the body about waist level. If holding weight, hold the weight (such as a 5 lb plate) tight to the body roughly around the waist area. The back should be straight and the knees and hips fully extended though not hyper-extended [Figure 1].

1. Cross step the right foot in front of the left foot, placing the foot forward and just to the left of the left foot. Shift your bodyweight onto the right foot at the same time as you step [Figure 2].

2. Start the downward movement by bending your front knee forward and the hips to the rear, keeping the back as straight and upright as possible [Figure 3].

3. Lower the hips until the point of the hip is roughly at the same level or slightly lower than the knee joint, i.e., the femur is parallel or slightly below parallel with the ground [Figure 4]. Keep the weight on the forward foot, using the rear foot only for balance.

4. At the bottom of the movement, consciously shift all your weight onto the front foot, and lift the rear foot slightly off the ground.

5. With all the weight shifted to the front, foot, start moving back up solely using the front leg to rise. Control your balance while rising all the way to a fully extended position.

6. At the top of the movement, move your rear foot to a position parallel with the front foot.

7. Follow the same process with the opposite foot.

In performing this movement, the most difficult part is the transition at the bottom. While lowering, the weight of the body is mostly on the forward leg, but the rear assists in supporting and balancing. At the bottom, it is necessary to shift all the weight onto the forward foot before rising. This takes a conscious effort as the natural inclination is to cheat and let the rear foot help start the upward movement. It take an amazing amount [OF] neural effort to control this tendency. The normal squat is much simpler: simply go down stop, then rise back up. The neural effort is in simply overcoming the weight resistance. In the Enpi squat, you have to overcome the weight resistance, and the almost overwhelming desire to "cheat" with the rear foot. However, if you cheat, then you take away a great deal of the training effect in joint stabilization, balance, and movement control. So to be optimally effective, the brain has to be fully involved in controlling the movement from the start to the finish. While it seems like it should be easy, it's amazing how few people are actually ready to let their brains work at this level of neural intensity.

Ballistic Distance
A neural-drive movement that is tied to speed is ballistic distance. In these exercises, the distance (or height) of the body/object being moved is the objective. Some of these movements are closed kinetic chain movements in which the body itself is the projectile. Jumping/hopping over a measurable height is an example of a closed kinetic chain exercise in which ballistic distance is the neural-drive training factor. By trying to achieve or go beyond a certain height the neural system must concentrate on the action. As one fatigues, the attempts become more difficult and demanding upon the neural system. The other type of ballistic distance exercise is open kinetic chain. An example of this is the "medicine ball chest put."

MB Chest Put
Start: Standing with the left foot a full step forward of the right foot, the medicine ball is held in the right hand just in front of the right shoulder. The left arm counter-balances by being extended in front of the body (Figure 5).

1. Shift the weight forward onto the front foot, bending both knees and bringing the rear foot forward at the same time. While the bodyweight is shifting forward, strongly extend the right arm forward, "putting" the medicine explosively forward (Figure 6).

2. At the end of the "put," the rear foot should be up by the front foot, with the body in a 1/4 squat position (Figure 7).

3. Switch feet and do the "put" with the opposite hand.

The aim in the MB chest is to throw the medicine ball as far as possible. If possible it's best to do the exercise with a partner who can catch the thrown medicine ball (with a 30 lb medicine ball this is an exercise in itself) and quickly return it.

Obviously, the more explosively you throw the ball the further it will go. As well, the more efficiently you use your body to add power to the throw, the more effectively you'll throw the ball. With good mental focus on the action, you'll begin to train yourself to move as effectively and explosively as possible. If you only concentrate on how far you throw, you'll only throw as effectively as your arms are able. The key is learning to throw with your body and your arms. The neural-drive training here is both in movement control and explosive action to achieve ballistic distance.

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Hunter B. Armstrong, Director ~ The International Hoplology Society
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