7 Ways to Minimize CNS Fatigue

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

There’s a simple formula for size and strength gains.

Supply the signal to force adaptation to occur without doing too much damage in the process.

In other words, you do the work necessary to force the muscle to grow bigger and stronger but consciously take steps to minimize three things:

  • Spinal compression
  • Joint degradation
  • CNS (central nervous system) fatigue

Like Lee Haney said,

“Stimulate, don’t annihilate.”

Today we’re going to focus on CNS fatigue. If the CNS is not recovered or ready to perform at max capacity your training and thus, your results will suffer.

Here are seven ways to minimize CNS fatigue and ensure that you always remain fresh.

1) Tone it Down a Notch

If you’re one of those people who always gets fired up like Lyle Alzado before a set there’s a good chance you are suffering from some type of CNS fatigue.

I did this for years and can honestly remember not sleeping more than a few hours each night for a very long period of my life.

That sucked.

You can’t get that nuts, crank up the Slayer, hit smelling salts and head butt the wall before every set. Hell, even doing it once per workout will fry you.

Reign it in a bit and train with focus but not so much off the wall intensity. You’ll feel a lot better when you do.

2) Do Less Work at 90% and Above

Training at or above 90% of your one rep max is very stressful to the CNS. Yes, you should do it occasionally, but not all the time.

And when you do be sure to limit the attempts done in that range. If you follow Prilepins chart stay on the low end.

For the most part, I prefer to have my clients work up to 85%, and no higher, for most of their strength work. The 90% stuff is still done but with far less frequency.

3) Steer Clear of Failure

When you train to failure you burn yourself out and delay your recovery from one workout to the next.

Always finish your sets with something left in the tank and be sure that the final rep of each set was crisp and clean.

No slow grinders.


4) Don’t Overuse Advanced Level Plyo’s

Jumps are a big part of my programs. However, there can always be too much of a good thing. Basic low level jumps can be done with more volume and frequency but weighted jumps and depth jumps need to be minimized.

Keep an advanced form of jump in the program, at a low number of ground contacts, for no more than three weeks.  After that completely stop jumping for a week or switch to some very easy bounding type drills.

5) Use Straps

Gripping excessively heavy weights can be quite stressful on the CNS. Using straps on most Olympic pulls (except cleans) and deadlift variations can remedy this.

If you plan to compete you will, obviously, want to train the competition lift without straps but use them on assistance work. I’m not advocating straps to help you artificially lift more weight than you can without them. That’s not what they should be used for.

I want you to use them on a weight you could lift without straps but simply use the straps to ease the CNS stress because you don’t have to grip the bar so tightly.

6) Use Fat Bars

Squeezing a pencil thin standard bar and trying to crush it with all your might is stressful to the CNS. It’s not normal either. There’s never time in real life where you would grip something that thin with that much force.

The body associates the closed fist with the fight or flight response.

Opening the fist up a bit and gripping a wider diameter bar is somewhat less stressful. That is why I have no problem with people doing farmers walks sans straps. The handle is usually much fatter and you can almost have a relaxed calm about you while walking with the missiles versus the intense focus required to grip a regular thin bar.

I have advocated the use of fat bars for years now and this is just one of the reasons why.

At Renegade Gym we only use the best of the best, angled fat grip bars. I love them so much that I contacted the owner of the company and was able to get a 5% discount for all members of The Renegade Nation on these exact bars.

If you have a home gym or your own training facility these are the bars you want to have. Be sure to get them with revolving sleeves to keep your elbows healthy.

If that’s not in your budget right now I still highly recommend ordering a pair of Fat Gripz.

7) Get More Sleep

As usual, the way to improve almost anything comes down to getting more high quality sleep. If your sleep is suffering your CNS will probably not recover quite as quickly and you won’t feel quite up to par when it comes time to train.

Get to bed earlier and take the necessary steps to ensure deeper sleep.

If you liked this post I’d greatly appreciate you hitting the LIKE button and sharing the love.


Leave a Reply

39 Responses to 7 Ways to Minimize CNS Fatigue

  1. J Dawkins March 19, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Hi Jason – great post, as always.. I think the whole CNS issue is criminally under appreciated.. I’ve been guilty of over training due to a lack of knowledge when I started lifting weights and for me its the number one game changer, I couldn’t believe how much I improved when I cut back a little, yet people still seem to think that more is more. Cheers for the advice as ever. JD.

  2. Gary Deagle March 19, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    All are very easy for everyone to start applying, except number 3 can take some getting use to. I find though if you really realize that you are not going to magically force yourself into personal bests in that moment of that single rep then it clicks mentally to stay far from failure.

    As you scale back and start beasting every workout and really get use to the last rep same as first rep mindset then it is money in the bank.

  3. Jason March 19, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    This CNS thing isn’t something most people think about. It doesn’t scream out to you like overworked muscles do.

    Plyos are tough. There are very few people I have do them. Agin they are not something people feel when doing them thus they get overused.

    I never thought about gripping as being tough on the CNS. It is little tips like this that made me decide to attend your camp next month. As a coach I feel it is important to keep learning and the reminders help too. There are things I forget about but your posts make me think of them again. Great post.

    • Jason Ferruggia March 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

      @Jason- Awesome. Thanks, man. Looking forward to meeting you there.

  4. Shane March 19, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Jason, why are you advocating the use of straps now? In your minimalist training, you claim: “Next on the list of supportive gear would be straps. Again, I think that when you use artificial aids to help you lift more weight than the body’s weakest link can handle you are setting yourself up for injury in the long term.” what gives?

    • Jason Ferruggia March 19, 2012 at 11:18 am #

      Shane- Good question. Then I was talking about using straps as an artificial aid to help you lift more weight. Nowadays I don’t have anyone train anywhere near that heavy or close to failure so the straps aren’t even being used to lift more weight but just to ease the stress on the grip. Thanks for bringing it up. I will go back and edit as others may have this question.

  5. huh? March 19, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    I’ve been training to failure for years on advice of others. Interesting to see you advocate so strongly against that. I’ll make the change and see how that works out.

    Static-X? Really? Here’s hoping you listened to better ‘metal’ (I cannot, in good conscious, classify Static-X as metal…). The 90’s are long gone, leave all the crap bands there, too.

    • Jason Ferruggia March 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

      My music list is ten miles long. And I love the 90’s; something I will make no apologies for. I would never listen to Static X outside the gym but they have a handful of songs I like for heavy lifting.

  6. Jack March 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Interestingly, Ivan Abadjiev highly advocates training every day, never attempting less than a maximum weight, and training sometimes up to 5 hours a day, and his athletes have won many more medals than Americans have.

    Of course, there is a slight difference between Olympic lifters and normal, everyday people as far as recovery ability goes, but it’s still interesting to think about.

    • Jason Ferruggia March 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

      @Jack- True, indeed. I like and recommend training every day as well but I like to scale the intensity down a bit. For my guys it seems to work well for their goals, while preventing them from ever getting too beat up. But I am hugely influenced by Eastern Bloc Oly methods.

    • Anoop March 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      Olympic lifting is totally different.

      There is no grinding and eccentric component in olympic lifting..And we are talking about a elite few who trains with his methods.They do this for a living. Also, don’t forget the vitamin ‘S’ component too.

      Avg Broz does something similar.

  7. Alex March 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    That tip on closing the fist related with the fight or flight response is great, i can really feel that just closing the fist, my body gets tighter and my neck stiff as when im in a fight.. awesome advice !!

    But isnt that gonna hurt your grip and forearm development ?
    I dont use any gear at all..

    And that fight response may be exactly what makes us break our limits, if i do the same motion not grippin i dont engage the muscles in the same way and my body feels looser..

    • Jason Ferruggia March 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

      @Alex- See, the thing is you still want to be drum tight from head to toe when performing most exercises, it’s just that when and where there is an opportunity to do so you should minimize fatigue.

      So you should always try to crush the bar on a pressing exercise but on an Oly pull with straps you can save some of that stress.

      If you need direct grip/forearm work do some on the side. I love farmers walks for that along with a variety of sledgehammer and wrist roller work.

      • Alex March 20, 2012 at 2:26 am #

        I understand, will surelly try that approach and see how it goes..

        Thx 4 the help !!

  8. Grant March 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Thanks for the reminders Jay,

    I’ve also found that shaking out tension after each set also helps with CNS recovery.

    By the way… What grip distance did you get on the angle bars? 500mm, 550mm or 600mm?

    Thanks heaps

  9. Kyle March 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Your timing of these articles are so on point it’s down-right SCARY!!!! Seriously. I was fried, today, after putting DL’s back in my routine. I bring up your site about 6 times a day hoping something new is posted and this is what I get, today of all days. haha. And only 5 hours after this all happened to me.

  10. Dave March 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Thanks Jason for the fat gripz idea. I might wanna try it. Seems reliable.

  11. shawn March 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    thanks for the info. i have always trained to fatigue.. and is it wise to train each body part twice a week. i go 85%-90% max at first of week and toward end of week 60%-70%, i train 6 days a week. is that to much just curious??

  12. adam March 19, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    Used to think CNS could be overtrained/overreached very easily. Then I came upon John Broz’s training methods, with maxing out every day on certain lifts such as squats, cleans, snatches. Broz has a unique perspective along the minds like Timothy Noakes, which proves the body can be pushed to the limits because of its adaptability. A very hot topic, Im starting to believe CNS overtraining is non existent and rather a persons CNS is undertrained,and is a term that should be the focus of being researched in the future! Let me know what you think J!

    • adam March 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

      Just saw someones post citing Ivan A. Broz noted on his website that powerlifters have similar training methods. After all, intensity is the most influential factor that can be altered in a program and by constantly pushing the body to extremes, would cause adaptation logic would say right?

  13. Cameron Abley March 19, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    Hey Jason. Really enjoyed the information on this page. Lately I have been suffering from sore tight hands,sore forearms and elbow joints. It’s affecting my training which I don’t like. Following these recommendations from this page, will it help get rid of these symptoms? I just want to train more smartly to look after my body as well as getting the results I want.

  14. Raymond March 20, 2012 at 4:04 am #

    CNS – I heard a lot about “not frying it” but I don’t think I train hard enough to get there.
    But your ideas on not burning it out are good.
    Failure is interesting though, my body seems to respond better when I do ‘positively fail’ but admittedly I don’t fail o every set or exercise

  15. Cody March 21, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    In my opinion you over-think a lot of your theories to get an article out. Fuck all this, go hard in the gym, eat good, and rest well. Over-thinking all this will only get you to the point of doubting everything you do in the gym. Which, in the end, will be far more detrimental to your progress.

  16. Carl March 22, 2012 at 2:09 am #


    If increasing bodyweight numbers (chins, dips, push ups) is the goal do you advocate wave loading proximity to failure (eg 1 rep short one day, 2-4 short another etc) and can the same movement patterns be trained day after day in the short term without frying the CNS or joint degradation? Also, in the cases of these exercises is frequency or overall volume per session the most important factor in your opinion?

    I seem to have plateaued in these moves and different tactics (grease the groove, sets taken to failure occasionally to push the envelope) don’t appear to be helping.

    Also, any plans for a bodyweight only product?

    Great work on the Renegade Diet by the way. It’s a fantastic and thought provoking read.

  17. Venger Satanis March 22, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    Numbers 2 and 3 are utterly false. You should be lifting at least 85% of your one rep maximum every working set, and going to failure as often as possible!

    So, if this is the case (which it is), then how does your CNS recover? More rest days. Try taking 3 days off after every hardcore workout. It allows those aren’t blessed with freaky genetics to progress without over-training.


  18. Danny March 22, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    Why is the deadlift considered more taxing on the CNS than the squat? Is this due to the grip factor? What other factors can there be? Because in my experience I find the squat much more difficult and taxing than the deadlift

  19. Gasper March 22, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    I think one very important way to minimize CNS stress is also avoiding pre workout boosters with stimulants (caffeine, synephrine..), especially if you are feeling tired already.

  20. David - The Natural Health Service March 23, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    I know if I go to failure too often I get burned out and lose strength. Same goes for slow grinding reps. Pushing to the point where you could not do another rep (but not actually failing mid rep) seems to work though, but not all the time. Level of effort needs to be cycled.

  21. William March 23, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    I have been getting more and more into the “leave a rep in the tank” method and have been feeling great after workouts! For years I would always try to blast out as many reps as I could with the last rep or two being assisted or drug out…thanks for the tips and will continue to use all of these!

  22. Daniel B March 25, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    Nice post, I especially think that quality sleep is number one on this list! Without sleep muscle cant grow and repair, without that quality sleep your fitness and everything go to crap. If you are sleeping well then your body can burn off fat better, improve muscle gains and you will have better workouts. If you aren’t sleeping then the fatigue sets in from your muscles not being fully recovered. Among many other factors, this is probably where I would focus the most.

  23. Steve T May 24, 2012 at 3:35 am #

    How do you trigger adaption if you don’t push your limits through training to failure or close to it?

  24. Joe September 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Just like to add a little to this discussion. Highly explosive movements tend to use more motor units and therefore fatigue the cns. For example, the full clean (highly explosive) uses 85% of motor units where as the back squat (high force) uses 65% at maximal intensities. The problem comes with the fact that the capacity of the muscles is higher than the cns capacity. You can train 5-6 days per week, you just need to be familiar with which exercises tax the cns and plan sessions accordingly.

  25. Lmkwalkdog September 29, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    OK here is my work out. Train to failure on every set, not perceived failure but I’m on my lips failure. This was working well till I hit week 2 and now week three. Week two I felt tired and didn’t want to eat. It took two days to recover and now a week later I have crashed again, not wanting to eat and feeling exhausted. Could this be do to failure sets. Or dose an extremely low fat diet play a role. 6 meals a day 1 cup brown rice or yam, and 6.5 oz of protean. Any thoughts?


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