Diet and Nutrition

Implementing Chaos Training for Performance and Muscle Gains

Would you agree that most sports are chaotic in nature?

Would you go so far as to say many events in life are chaotic and unpredictable?

On another note, would you like to look like you can cause chaos because of your muscular build?

The answer to all of the above is probably “yes”, except if you want to stay skinny, weak and slow!

I can talk about chaos because I’ve experienced it on both sides of the hardwood, on the basketball court playing throughout college and the pros, and now as a strength and conditioning coach training athletes (remember, if you have a body, then you’re an athlete!) to utilize strength, power, speed, agility, and conditioning in chaotic situations.

So what is this “chaos theory” and how does it relate to physical training?

When I saw athletes starting to put on slabs of muscle with the chaos training methods, I started implementing them with people who were solely interested in muscle/hypertrophy gains. I’ve never been one to turn down two for the price of one, and if I can get both muscle and performance from the same training method? I like it…put it in the bag!

As Edward Lorenz suggested back in the 1960s, chaos theory is at work when a small random change is introduced into a system, under certain conditions, and causes a ripple effect that can overwhelm and change the long-term behavior of the system.

The chaos philosophy as it applies to our physical training concept is:  “A reactive means by which potential cumulative improvements in strength, reactivity, kinetic coordination and cognitive response can be attained and produced by non-linear, random stimuli in a progressive training environment…” (Smith, 2007)

Huh? That sounds complicated. Simply put, we will add implements or modify exercises to make them nonlinear and unpredictable (because the stimulus can be random), but we will put them into a progressive program so that we can measure our results.

Think about it…in most gyms or weight rooms, the majority of strength training methods by which most lifters, athletes, and coaches develop strength and speed are limited to stationary movement patterns that are linear (and most of all, predictable in nature). Think of the squat, deadlift, bench press, clean and jerk, and many other traditional exercises that have a set pattern.

All of these are not only great exercises but are essential to any strength training program as they are the main means of developing maximal force and power. My point is that the additions of specific exercises that address adaptations required to execute random movements will complement the foundational strength strategies that most everyone already uses.

It’s important to realize that chaos training is a supplemental system that creates adaptations but is not used for maximal effort expression because of the level of instability in the exercises. Therefore, we will not use chaos training exercises for the heaviest lifts!

The Old Skool Hulk knew how to cause Chaos – he just couldn’t find a decent barber shop

Applications for chaos training

Applications for chaos training are very widely dispersed and can be added to many different aspects of training to yield a variety of benefits:

Mental heightened visual abilities, more intuitive movements, ability to anticipate situations, improved cognitive abilities, etc.
Reactive Force Production improved rapid reactions, ability to absorb forces regardless of movement and duration, decreased time required to re-establish stance for next movement, etc.
Coordination of Movement efficient and fast motor unit recruitment, efficient kinetic coordination, etc.
Strength Adaptations build-up of foundational strength derived from regular linear movements, improved ability to return to athletic position after chaotic action, better reactive strength potential in greater variety of movements, etc

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Chaos training exercises are not hard to create, and they can be categorized by difficulty and functionality. Depending on what tools you have available, you will have a range of possibilities with which to implement chaos methods. Even if you go to a commercial gym, there are many exercises and variables that you can add to your training.

Let’s look at some of the categories and how some regular exercises can be modified into chaos exercises (variations are endless):

Unilateral training one-hand clean & press, one-hand/one-leg clean and press, etc
Bipolar training two separate movements on each side of the body, e.g., farmer’s walk/ press combo
Instability sand training, barefoot training, etc.
Tempo modifying rep speeds, rest periods
Athlete modifications kneeling KB snatch, sandbag shouldering, even sport specific movements such as shooting a basketball, etc.
Loaded movements endless variations, e.g., overhead KB walks with sled drag, sandbag/farmer’s walk combo, etc.
Adding random forces to the body or using a tool while executing movements in most cases, we want to randomly counter the plane of motion in which the movement is being performed, e.g., band-resisted tire flips, agility ladder drills, jumps, hops, runs, etc.
Cognitive training stimulus before/during skill or strength training exercise, e.g., calling out color cones with agility work, answering math equations during clean and presses, etc.
Odd object training sandbags, kettlebells, kegs, slosh pipes, stones, etc.
Shock exercises kettlebell catch and toss, sandbag multidirectional catches/throws, etc.

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Depending on your goals, you can manipulate and combine these suggestions to create exercises that will benefit you and your training. These exercises can be placed in almost any part of your program: warm ups, strength circuits, supplemental and accessory strength training, rehab, GPP, etc.

However, there is also another aspect of chaos training that we haven’t addressed yet, and that is the concept of randomizing the training routines. This is different from the previous concept of adding supplemental exercises that are chaotic into a structured program. Using the concept of randomization, we will randomly switch up the workouts, exercises, tempos, loads and reps schemes, and other variables.

Even though the training is random, it does include a limited measure of standardization so that we can track progress and have a method of measurement. If your lifts are going up, if you are getting in more reps or getting more work done in a certain amount of time, then you will build muscle and bring up your performance levels. Even within chaos there must be a measure of progress.

I know what the next question will be: How can we incorporate these concepts into a current training program whether our goal is performance training or putting on some serious slabs of muscle?

It’s important to realize that there is no one way to use this method of training. You can implement chaos training into any method or program, whether your goal is sports performance or muscle building. Whichever method or approach you take, there is a place for the chaos exercises or methodology.

CONCEPT 1 – Adding nonlinear, random stimuli supplemental exercises

To reiterate, fixed exercises with linear movements are still going to be the bread-and-butter of your maximum effort, limit strength, and strength speed training. Heavy box squats, front squats, trap bar deadlifts, bench press, etc., all require a high level of stabilization, not to mention high loads and intensities. This is the primary reason for choosing chaos exercises as supplemental to the existing program.

In the chart below are examples of how you can replace regular linear exercises with chaos exercises. Sometimes the chaos exercises may fall into multiple categories (for example, many chaos exercises have a huge demand on the core, so the exercise may be a hip dominant one as well as a horizontal pull, etc.).

Movement Pattern
Traditional Linear Exercises Replace with Chaos Exercises (some examples)
Quad Dominant Forward DB Lunge, Front Squat, Step-Up, etc. Band Squats, Partner Bodyweight Lunges, Sandbag Lunges, Chain OH Lunges, Odd Object Front Squats (sandbag, KB, offset DBs, etc.), etc.
Hip Dominant Glute Ham Raise, Back Extensions, Deadlift variations, etc. Offset Dumbbell Swings, Fulcrum Deadlifts, Cradle Human Lifts, Sandbag Good Mornings, Band Deadlifts, etc.
Vertical Pull Chin/Pull Ups, Lat Pulldowns, etc. Chaos Pull/Chin Up variation, Rope Pull Ups, etc….
Vertical Push Military press variations, Pike Push Ups, Arnold Press, etc. Fulcrum Military Press, Band Press variations, Crazy Bells Military Press, etc.
Horizontal Pull 1 Arm DB Row, Bent-over Row, Cable Rows, etc. Fulcrum Rows, Chaos Band Bent-over Row, Rope Bodyweight Rows, Chaos Bodyweight Rows, etc.
Horizontal Push Bench Press, DB Bench, Push Ups, etc. Ripper Push Ups, Crazy Bell Bench Press (you can use plates),
Core Planks, Bridges, Med Ball Slams, Back Extensions, etc. Elevated Core Rows, Back Extension + Row, Core GHR Presses, Rocky Rippers, etc.

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Just to be clear, in the above chart, you would exchange one of the traditional exercises with a chaos exercise in the same movement pattern. You aren’t looking to exchange ALL of the exercises in your program with chaos exercises, but rather just 1-3.

If you’re a more visual person, here’s an example of this exchange in an upper body day training session where we replace a number of traditional exercises with chaos training exercises.

Upper Body Traditional Program Upper Body Chaos Training Program
1). Bench Press – 4 x 6 1). Bench Press – 4 x 6
2A). DB Alt. Incline Bench – 3 x 8 2A). DB Alt. Incline Bench – 3 x 8
2B). Lat Pulldowns – 3 x 8 2B). Chaos Pull Ups – 3 x 8
3A). DB Military Press – 3 x 12 3A). Fulcrum Press – 3 x 12/each
3B). 1 Arm Rows – 3 x 12/each side 3B). 1 Arm Rows – 3 x 12/each
4). Plank Hold – 3 x 30 sec. 4). Chaos Bridge + Row – 3 x 10/each

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Remember, regardless of your goals, you can implement chaos exercises into any program, whether your goal is building muscle or improving performance. To make continuous progress, you should still cycle your training:

  • Change chaos exercises every 2-4 weeks
  • Return to traditional training every 4-8 weeks (this is a good way to see your progress in a traditional training program)

Use chaos training as a tool, or should I say, a secret weapon and switch between traditional training and chaos training. In this way, you can make constant progress and bust through plateaus to build thick, dense, and hard muscle that gives you the show as well as the go.

CONCEPT 2 –  Randomization of training routines

Rather than including chaos exercises in an established program, this method alters the stimulus from workout to workout in a random pattern.

In altering the program frequently, there is always the question of how to track the data that will determine whether there is progress in the training. To address this concern, we need a benchmark for comparison that can be used to determine the cost or benefit of current and future protocols.

This means that there needs to be something consistent at some point in the workout that acts as a marker of progress. I feel that the most logical point in the training session to include marker exercises is at the beginning (after dynamic warm ups and warm up sets for the exercise).

An example would be to always start the training session with bench press on one day and start with front squats on another day. The rest of the training session can be completely random from there on, but those would be your markers. You can change the marker exercises to whatever you would like to track for a given period of time.

This type of training methodology operates on the principle that a person will adapt to the program by developing better performance as well as larger/stronger muscles, but does not want to adapt to the set and rep schemes, tempos, etc. of the exercise that act to stimulate gains.

The table below lists different variables that can be manipulated within a program along with some examples of how to change each one of the variables.

Training Variables Examples
Sets 2, 5, 10,… etc
Reps 1, 2, 3,… 50 +, forced reps, drop sets etc.
Tempo Slow negatives, explosive, pause, etc.
Load 1 RM, 8 RM, 25 RM, etc.
ROM (range of motion) Partials, beyond range of motion, ½ reps, lockouts, etc.
Rest Intervals 10 sec, 30 sec, 60 sec., rest pause (15 sec), etc.
Exercises Olympic lifts, power lifts, bodybuilding, strongman, kettlebells, etc.
Isometrics Against pins, heavier weight, static holds, etc.
Accommodating Resistance Bands, chains, etc.

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The possibilities really are endless and your imagination is the only limit to implementing these methods in your training.

As in the previous concept, I would advise that you change back to a traditional training program every 4 – 8 weeks.

My goal here is not to give you a program, but rather to give you ideas for how you can implement a chaos training aspect into your own program. Just remember that you need to have a marker for your progress built into the training session so that you can track whether to change things up or not.

Wrap Up

The truth is that we all get too attached to programs and do not challenge ourselves enough through training, which is one of the reasons that we do not see the progress that we strive for.

Implementing chaos training methods will not only challenge you, but it will also give you a concept that you can constantly implement with endless variations that you can use to build new stacks of dense functional muscle.

Written by Luka Hocevar

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Build More Muscle and Improve Performance with Chaos Training discussion thread

About Luka Hocevar

Luka Hocevar is a highly sought after strength and conditioning specialist and RKC Instructor based out of Seattle, WA where he trains athletes from high school, college, and professional ranks, not to mention regular people that want to perform like athletes.

Luka is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS – FZS) and a certified fitness trainer (ISSA – CFT). He is also a Russian kettlebell instructor (RKC) with close to a decade of experience with kettlebell training.

Luka is owner of Hocevar Performance and the The Body Project gym based in Slovenia Europe where he also played four years of professional basketball.

You can find his thoughts, tips and training methods at Hocevar Performance and you can email him at luka@hocevarperformance.com

References:

Smith, James. Chaos Training, The Diesel Crew, LLC. 2006.