Synaptic Facilitation

What the **#$%!& Does That Mean!?

Well, I’ll explain, but first….

Chris wrote a great post the other day about Getting Results.  I dug it, and basically his motive was to address one of the biggest problems we face.  Just getting to the dang gym.  Before I worked at CPM (and even now that I do) I have trouble some days getting my workout in.  We all struggle with this, but I know it’s possible because I watch people do it, and I know it is possible.  Chris did a great job addressing steps we all should be mindful of in getting ourselves in here to work on our fitness.

Getting to the Gym……check

So one thing that has bothered me as a coach is pullups.  They’re hard, even for people who can do a few strict they’re hard.  This to me is a problem because I know people who come to the gym every week without fail, who push their limits, and who still can’t do a strict pullup.  That is a testament to the difficulty of this singular movement.  So what do we do?

Here’s Where Synaptic Facilitation Comes In

There’s a guy you may have heard of named Pave Tsatsouline.  He hails from Mother Russia and is the man largely responsible for bringing kettlebells to the west (thanks alot right?).  He also is the guy who trained the Russian Spetnaz, i.e., the elite Russian Special Forces, and he is now a subject matter expert to our Marine Corps, Secret Service, and Navy SEALs.

He knows his stuff.  I like him because his philosophy is simple and he practices what he preaches.  Back to the synaptic thing.

Complex Sounds, Simple Concept

Basically the term synaptic facilitation means that doing a certain thing repetitively will make you better at it (without getting into neurons, the CNS, and the physiology part).

When Pavel was working with the Spetnaz, they had to be able to perform 18 dead hang pullups with a 22 pound bullet proof vest on as one of the PT requirements.  Pavel prepared them to do this by pairing the men up and having them do pullup ladders.

Guy A would do 1 pullup, then Guy B would do 1, Guy A 2, Guy B 2, and so on and so on until one of them started to feel that they were nearing fatigue.  At this point they would start over at 1.

By the time they had to take the PT test, the 18 pullups were no problem.


Lets focus solely on body weight movement (we won’t diverge into the world of load and how much weight we should be moving to improve for the simplicity of this article).

Assume we want to get better at pullups.  How do we do it?  Well Pavel has an equation:

Specificity + Frequent Practice = Success

Ahhhhhh……..that’s simple.  And that is why it is beautiful and why it works.  I’d love to say this, “If you want to get better at pullups, then do more pullups” and leave this article at that, but I feel as though I should elaborate a little further without complicating matters.

Getting better at bodyweight movements (pullups) boils down to this:

  1. Intensity
  2. Repetitions
  3. Volume
  4. Frequency

If 20 pullups is your max, do 10.  If 1 pullup is your max, do ring rows.  That is what is meant by intensity.  Don’t come close to failure.

Focus on less repetitions over longer periods of time.  Work on using the correct muscles (shoulders instead of arms for the pullup) and ingraining good movement patters into your brain.

Volume refers not to how many pullups you can do per set, but how many are you doing over the course of a day/week/month.  If you are performing pullups (or ring rows) 3 days a week for 15 minutes before class, that is going to add up in volume quickly over a few months.

Frequency put simply: 1 set of 5 every day is better than 5 sets of 5 every five days.  Do a little every day and see greater results.

Use This For Pullups, Or Anything

Want to get that first strict pullup or increase the number of pullups you can do?  Every time you come to the gym before or after class play around on the pullup bar or the rings.  Try Pavel’s ladder.  Do 1, rest, then do 2, rest…….and so on.  When you feel fatigue coming, start back at 1 and repeat.  Do this at least 3x per week and I’m betting your pullups are going to look A LOT better within a couple of months.

The beauty of keeping things so simple is that they are then easily related to anything you desire to apply them to.  Think Pavel’s formula can be applied to more than pullups?  I think so.

The O-Board Says…

5 Rounds For Time
“My Kettlebell and Me”
10 Weighted Stepup (w/ KB)
15 KB Sumo-Dead-Lift-High-Pull
20 KB Swings
25 KB Russian Twist

Same KB Throughout

Post by Stets.