Compensatory Acceleration Training guide

Compensatory acceleration training (CAT) was made popular in America by Dr. Fred Hatfield. Mel Siff, in his book Supertraining, explained CAT as the process of purposely accelerating a barbell throughout the entire concentric contraction phase of a lift versus allowing the load on the barbell and changes in mechanical advantage to dictate the velocity of the barbell. I have mentioned the term in several past articles, but today we will take a closer look at this important method.

By Travis Mash

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What is Compensatory Acceleration Training?

CAT is a measure of intent. Most barbell exercises increase in resistance throughout the range of motion of the movement. In the bottom of the squat, maximum resistance is applied to the hip joints, knee joints, and to each intervertebral joint of the spine. However, that resistance is minimized throughout the concentric phase due to a gain in mechanical advantage to the point the athlete can cruise through the last few inches of the lockout. 

The CAT method is performing any movement with maximal intent throughout the entire concentric contraction creating maximum velocity and acceleration. Whether an athlete is handling light loads or near maximum loads, CAT tells them to apply maximum force into the barbell until lockout. 

Why is Compensatory Acceleration Training important for athletes and the general population?

In my article, “The Size Principle”, I explained the importance of recruiting high threshold motor units. As a review, high threshold motor units are the motor units (MUs) innervating the bigger and more powerful fast twitch muscle fibers. The recruitment of high threshold MUs is important to hypertrophy, strength, power, and maximizing the rate of force development at any load. 

Application of Force

Sir Isaac Newton’s 2nd Law states that force is equal to mass times acceleration (Force=Mass x Acceleration). There are three ways to increase force production: either lift a heavier load, lift a load faster, or both. This method of maximum intent throughout the entire concentric phase does more than just recruit the maximum number of high threshold MUs. Maximum intent improves the rate at which those MUs are recruited along with improvements in synchronization and coordination in the recruitment of high threshold MUs. 

Simply put, CAT:

  • Maximizes the total number of high threshold motor units
  • Improves the synchronization or near simultaneous discharge of those high threshold MUs
  • Improves the coordination between the motor units of the agonist and antagonist making sure they work together to improve movement velocity.

Overall force production is influenced by:

  • Neuromuscular system’s high threshold motor unit recruitment (total number, rate, synchronization, and coordination)
  • Overall efficiency of the neuromuscular system particularly in the stretch shortening cycle
  • The amount of cross bridges formed between the myofilaments myosin and actin
  • Elasticity of the joint

Force is a major determining factor in the following adaptations:

  • Improvements in strength
  • Improvements in hypertrophy
  • Improvement in high rate power and speed production

The application of force determines which of those adaptations are stimulated during training. It comes down to the force-velocity relationship, which is why the measurement of velocity is so important. For a deep dive refer back to my article “Repetition Velocity: the Adaptation is in the Speed” to understand this process more clearly. 

Simply put, if the goal is to maximize strength and hypertrophy, maximum force and intent is required to maximize myosin-actin cross bridges and high threshold motor units. To maximize high rate power and speed, maximum velocity and intent is required to maximize high threshold motor units. The problem with high speed repetitions is that the contraction is too fast to maximize cross bridges, so hypertrophy and max strength is sacrificed. 

The common denominator in all of these adaptations is maximum intent along with the maximum amount of velocity at the particular load is required to maximize whatever adaptation an athlete is trying to achieve. Now let’s look at the application of compensatory acceleration training.

Applying Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT) to your programming

The key is performing each repetition of each set with maximum intent and therefore creating maximum velocity. The initial obstacle is overcoming the urge to put things on cruise control towards the completion of the concentric repetition when the mechanical advantage shifts in the athlete’s favor. This is where velocity based training becomes crucial to maximize this method.

Applying Velocity Based Training to CAT

The first thing the athlete needs is a velocity to shoot for whichever load they are lifting. I recommend creating a force velocity profile for  each athlete. At that point, each athlete will have a velocity for each potential load. Below is an image showing my team’s average velocities for the corresponding percentage of 1RM in four different movements:

Compensatory acceleration training image-1

Once an athlete has their force-velocity profile, they now have a velocity to shoot for and potentially exceed. The simple way to increase an athlete’s rate of force development is to increase the load that they are able to handle safely at any particular velocity. 

Accommodating Resistance (bands and chains) to maximize CAT

In my article, “External Resistance and the Potential Adaptations”, I explain how bands and chains alter the strength curve of strength movements. For example, when an athlete is near the completion of a back squat, normally the repetition is easier due to the change in mechanical advantage. However, with bands and chains, the top of a squat, press, or pull is harder to complete. Accommodating resistance naturally teaches athletes to accelerate throughout the entire movement in anticipation of the increasing load.

Bands might be a bit better because they allow the athlete to accelerate all the way to completion without worrying about the bar leaving their torsos. One of the reasons athletes tend to decelerate near completion of a lift is the anticipation of the bar launching out of their control especially with lighter loads. Bands anchor the bar firmly to the body.

Remember to surf the curve with Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT)

I saw the term “surf the curve” in reference to the force-velocity curve in the office of Dr. Tim Suchomel recently, and it reminded me to make this quick point in reference to CAT. If an athlete’s goal is maximizing power, speed, or strength, there are adaptations on each end of the force-velocity curve that will help. 

Compensatory Acceleration Training (Force velocity curve)
Image 2

Remember an expression of a particular quality of strength or power at a particular rate isn’t always the best way to improve that quality. If an athlete wants to get more powerful at a high rate of velocity, spending time improving maximum strength might help. First, they will surely increase the amount of hypertrophy and their ability to produce peak force. A bigger muscle will always have more potential for power output. Otherwise, why did the Major League Baseball players crush so many home runs during the steroid era?

On the other hand, spending time in the lower loads with higher velocities can improve an athlete’s rate of recruiting high threshold motor units, which is also beneficial for maximum strength expression. The key is knowing which athlete needs strength and which needs explosion. I recommend reading my article “Practical Uses for the Dynamic Strength Index” to determine the individual needs of your athletes.

Does Compensatory Acceleration Training work?

The short answer is yes, but I will reference the science and some studies confirming the method as useful. First, the Size Principle tells us that high threshold motor units are only recruited with maximum intent and velocity. We also know that there are benefits from surfing the force-velocity curve with different barbell velocities especially with maximum intent.

What does the research say?

Margaret Jones performed a study on 24 NCAA baseball players using CAT and accommodating resistance with the bench press to demonstrate the effects of the two methods on maximal strength. The players increased their 1RMs by an average of 11% in just 5-weeks. The short duration is what jumped out at me (M. Jones, 2014). 

Maximum strength and countermovement jump (CMJ) height were compared in two groups both performing moderate volume of sets ranging from 3×2 and 3×8 (some heavier loads and some lighter loads to match the rep scheme) for six weeks. One group performed all repetitions with maximum velocity, with immediate velocity feedback on each repetition to maximize intent. Another group performed the same volume and loads but at half velocity of their max velocity potential increasing the overall time under tension. The results showed that the group performing each repetition with maximum velocity almost doubled the half-speed group in max strength and CMJ height improvements (Pareja-Blanco et al., 2014).

Conclusion

In conclusion, compensatory acceleration training is an effective method for maximizing strength, speed, and power. The key to ensuring maximum intent is being met is using velocity based training. Whether athletes are performing the maximum effort method, the dynamic effort method, basic linear periodization, or even jump training, I would recommend using a GymAware RS or FLEX unit to maximize velocity and intent, and in turn ensuring the maximum amount of adaptations are taking place. As always, email me at Travis@GymAware.com with any questions or ideas for future articles.

References

  1. Jones MT. Effect of compensatory acceleration training in combination with accommodating resistance on upper body strength in collegiate athletes. Open Access J Sports Med. 2014 Aug 4;5:183-9. doi: 10.2147/OAJSM.S65877. PMID: 25177154; PMCID: PMC4128835.
  2. Blanco, Fernando & Rodriguez Rosell, David & Sánchez-Medina, L & Gorostiaga, Esteban & González-Badillo, Juan. (2014). Effect of Movement Velocity during Resistance Training on Neuromuscular Performance. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 10.1055/s-0033-1363985.

Download: How to get started with velocity based training [use case]

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Coach Travis Mash

Travis Mash

Being a World Champion in powerlifting, Travis competed at a world-class level in Olympic weightlifting and has coached professional Olympic weightlifters alongside Don McCauley and Glenn Pendlay at Team MDUSA. Now Travis coaches the most successful weightlifting team in the USA.