"In the world of sport, speed is king."
—Fred Hatfield, a.k.a. "Dr. Squat," champion powerlifter
Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT) is well-known in the strength world to minimize inhibitory mechanisms, build explosive power and even help foster aggressiveness. Get ready to see your athletes performing faster and more aggressively after you apply this weight room technique.
What is Compensatory Acceleration Training?
Sitting in a hardcore gym in Dallas, I first learned of compensatory acceleration training directly from its mastermind, Fred Hatfield, who is an accomplished powerlifter; he was the first person to squat 1,000 pounds successfully in competition.
Put simply, CAT is the lifter applying maximal force into the bar for the entirety of the lift.
Think of a Squat. You descend into the hole in a controlled fashion, then explode up with all you've got. The hardest part is coming out of the hole. You're giving it your all, straining. The rest of the lift is relatively easy.
If you think about it, you can half-squat much more weight than you can squat with full range of motion. Most people go wrong right there. Once they successfully make it out of the hole, they take it easy and coast to the finish of the lift.
With CAT, you never coast. You hit the gas and apply as much force as possible until the top of the lift. You are compensating for favorable leverage by continuing to apply as much force as possible to maximize your training adaptation.
In preparation for his world record Squat of 1,014 pounds, Dr. Squat rarely trained over 800 pounds. With CAT, he was able to apply over 1,000 pounds of force into the bar while training with a sub-maximal load.
Let that sink in.
Force = Mass x Acceleration
The more you are able to accelerate the bar, the more force you can put into a movement.
Is CAT safe?
Hatfield has said, "Slamming a weight to the end point in the range of motion certainly would cause injury. The 'learning curve' involved in slowing the movement down just before lockout is very small. Anyone can learn how to do it on the first try. It should never be a problem."
The lifter applying CAT should have experience with the movement and a well-developed strength base. CAT is not appropriate for people who are new to strength training. It is imperative that the lifter not lose tension and proper technique just for the sake of going faster. The lifter must also control the eccentric movement (going down) and keep good position before exploding on the concentric movement (going up).
Neither is CAT appropriate for light warm-up reps. It is optimal to use CAT in 50 to 80% of lifter's 1RM range.
To my knowledge, there is no science behind this statement, but it seems like common sense that training explosively (with proper technique) would be less damaging to the body.
Picture a 500-pound Deadlift. An explosive lifter can lift it in 3-5 seconds, compared to a grinding, slow lifter, who could take upwards of 10-15 seconds. It makes perfect sense that the 500-pound load on your body for 3-5 seconds would be less damaging than struggling with it 10-15 seconds. Again, this is just a theory.
What are the benefits of Compensatory Acceleration Training?
- Trains the fast-twitch muscle fibers (the bigger, explosive fibers)
- Helps combat and minimize inhibitory mechanisms
- Trains the central nervous system for maximal power output
- Teaches aggression
- Increases an athlete's overall explosiveness
- Workout efficiency. No more wasted training reps.
- Increases your maxes
- More time under maximal tension
A side note: Aggression—everyone needs some
In sports, aggression in the right amounts can be a great thing, and the difference between a win or a loss. Obviously, if you foul out of a basketball game in the first quarter, you need to back off a little. However, if it's a loose ball or battling for a tough game-winning rebound, it's better to be on the aggressive side. In football, aggression is a vital part of the game. Every great tackle has some degree of aggression behind it. A running back looking to bust through a small hole in the line and break a tackle or two has to have some oomph behind his carry. A volleyball team looking to make the playoffs needs to set up and spike the ball hard into their opponent's territory. It needs to be a strong, powerful spike.
That same kind of feeling can be applied to training with a barbell, CAT-style. You can blast a Bench Press up with all your might. You can also explode a Squat up with a feeling similar to exploding up to dunk a basketball.
Practice how you play. Train slow to be slow. Train explosive to be—well, I think you get the point.
I like this CAT Idea. How do I apply it to my program?
If you are ready to get the most bang for your buck, build show-stopping power and foster a little aggressiveness along the way, follow these six keys to CAT:
- Start by using CAT on Squat, Bench and Deadlift only.
- Stay in the 50-80% of your 1RM for the highest power output.
- Always keep proper technique. Do not compromise form for the sake of speed.
- More sets with fewer reps is best: 8x3 or 6x2, etc.
- Make sure to always explode the bar on the concentric.
- Add CAT for 4-6 weeks in your training program.
Cues for CAT acceleration phase:
- Explode the bar!
- Accelerate the bar!
- Send it into orbit!
- Blast it!
- Drive it harder!
- Finish that lift!
Utilizing Post-Activation Potentiation for even more explosive lifts
Post Activation Potentiation (PAP) is a fancy term for lifting something really heavy, then grabbing something lighter to lift more explosively.
"When you perform a 3- to 5-rep max followed by a light, explosive set, to your nervous system it's like lifting a 1/2 can of water when you think it's full."
—Yuri Verkhoshansky, Russian Sport Scientist
You can apply this to CAT and have incredibly explosive reps. Work up to a heavy 5, then lighten it up to perform your CAT sets.
Sample Bench Workout
- Bench Press - work up to 5RM
- CAT Bench Press, 8x3 with 50-80% of 1RM (adjust weight as needed to keep reps explosive)
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