Want to be able to increase your max pull-ups or lower your 2km ergometer time? Abide by the Hebb Rule. Hebbian theory is a concept of biological neuroscience that explains how adaptions in the brain occur as part of the learning process. The Hebb Rule states that “The persistence or repetition of a reverberatory activity tends to induce lasting cellular changes that add to its stability . . . When an axon of a cell A is near enough to excite a cell B and repeatedly or persistently takes part in firing it, some growth process or metabolic change takes place in one or both cells such that A’s efficiency, as one of the cells firing B, is increased”.
I’ll admit that the vast majority of the science involved in the Hebb Rule is far beyond my understanding, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all enjoy how this facet of neuroscience can be applied to physical training. If looking to improve your performance in a specific activity, the Hebb Rule would compel you to train for that activity in a specific way. If you wanted to improve the number of push-ups you could continuously do without stopping you might assume that the best way to train for this would be to simply knock out as many push-ups as you can every now and then and hope for the best. In all probability this would probably work ok. Over time your max push-ups will probably go up. If you start at 20 before failing, maybe next week you’ll do 21 or 22 and if you’re persistent you might go up gradually, but some weeks you might plateau and others you might go backwards. Using the same starting point of 20, training with Hebb Rule you might try 10 sets of 10 push-ups over the course of a day, every day. No set will ever be quite as taxing as any set to failure, but for a specific activity like push-ups your body will adapt to the very specific patterning of that movement.
This technique can be applied to any specific movement. If you are planning on improving your 2km ergometer time, then know what your 500m spilt is and spend some time at that split. Try doing a little bit before and after your normal training sessions – even if its only 250m at a time. Become acquainted with what that movement feels like and let your body’s neural pathways adapt. Regardless of your “fitness”, not spending any time at race pace prior to your test day will only set you up for a bit of shock when you eventually do test. Sometimes it’s a worthwhile activity to prepare for a test or complete a set of chin-ups to failure for benchmarking purposes, but it’s not the way to best prepare. The science of Hebb Rule might be complicated, but you can apply it very simply as part of your training. Pick the activity and perform it often, but not to exhaustion. If it’s a race, know the race pace and spend some time at that speed – regularly, but not to exhaustion.