28 July, 2013

When Resistance Cables are Superior to Weights

As you well know, your muscles get stronger to demands of resistance imposed on them. Resistance and only resistance. It does not matter what provides the resistance. Whether it's a can of soup, a gallon of water, a resistance cable, a weight machine, or a free weight, a log, a barrel of concrete (shout out to Steve Justa) or even your own body weight, it's just another form of resistance.

So, what makes resistance cables so special? Truthfully nothing, you can build strength just the same with anything else in the list of resistance devices I mentioned earlier.  Just like there are things a wrench can do that a hammer can't, there are some things that make cables more desirable than other methods of resistance.  The smart coach or trainee learns the fundamentals and then can pick the particular tool that will meet the need at hand in the most efficient way.

Here are a few of the advantages of cables versus traditional weights or machines for strength training:

  1. Low Cost
  2. Cables don't take up much room.
  3. Cables can't smash your toe if you drop them
  4. Cables can provide resistance in any plane easily. Weights and most other devices usually only provide resistance in the plane of gravity unless you have pulley's or some other means to redirect the resistance plane.
  5. You can quickly adjust the resistance level by changing to a heavier cable or by shortening or lengthening your grip on a cable or even doubling it up
  6. Unique strength curve. The further you stretch a cable the more resistance a cable offers. Your muscles are stronger near full contraction than when fully extended. A resistance cable matches your strength curve better than free weights.
  7. Can easily be taken on a trip to provide a workout
There are more advantages, but these are the biggies. A good set up cables is less than one month at the most gyms. They can be stowed in a duffel bag or hung up when not in use.

Probably the best benefit is the ability to provide resistance in any plane. Whether you have cables that attach to something or have a set in which one end of the cable is in each hand, you are able to work virtually any muscle at any angle. This is nice for variety sake and specificity. If you train for sports such as wrestling or martial arts you can work standing or on the floor and mimic the sport motion with the cables.

Fred Crivello turned me on to cables years ago. Fred, an accomplished Jujutsu practitioner and coach uses cables to strengthen himself for Jujutsu and found them superior to weights for his needs.  At the time I was lifting weigts a lot and really had not used many other methods of strength training. I had developed some overuse injuries and was looking for a change from weights. [Growing older and wiser has it's benefits:) ] Today I have different types of cables and they are a big part of the strength component of my workout.

For the person training at home, or if who has a busy travel schedule and needs a way to get a decent workout on the road, cables could be the anwer. It beats lugging the Olympic barbell with you to use at the hotel.  I have read of people bring weights on a vacation with them, not athletes, but the bodybuilder type of folks that are in some cases addicted to working out.

    25 July, 2013

    Way of the Weightroom

    A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience. OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

    I'm going to depart a bit from the normal training information found here and get a little more philosophical and talk about a philosophy of strength training I've developed.  It came about as a result of the process I went through acquiring strength.  It has nothing to do with sets and reps, or how much weight you can handle, rather it has everything to do with how you handle yourself.

    Let's pretend its January and not July.  It will all make sense in a moment. 

    It's that time of year again when everyone + dog is making resolutions. "I'm gonna lose weight", "I'm going to get in shape", etc. Nothing wrong with those things. IF you are serious and follow through. January is a time when I will not step foot in a commercial gym except in "offest" of off hours. I'd rather train out on the freeway during rush hour. It's not as busy as the gym in January. And that's how it is for January and February.  When March rolls around you'd swear it was the rapture and only you and a few others are left here.  They gym is a ghost town compared to January.  In January it was good luck getting a piece of equipment, now it's good luck getting someone to spot you.

    When I was but a mere 9th grader it was the same situation when track season rolled around in the spring. Every year for 4 or 5 days the girls track coach would drag her team into the weight room, give them the requisite half hour of instructions and turn them loose. There were about two girls out of 30 that were serious. I'd give them the time of day and be helpful. The others I could not care less about.  (From a training standpoint, mind you, not a teenage boy standpoint.)

    Now you might think that's harsh, but that was how I was indoctrinated into the ways of the weight room. I started lifting in eighth grade. There were a couple others in my grade that started lifting then too. They didn't last though and I did, for a reason. The other occupants of the weight room were a few sophomore's and a couple juniors and seniors. They were much stronger than I was and in most situations would not have even associated with an eighth grader. But that is not the way of the weight room.

    The way of the weight room is to help anyone who comes seeking help. Seeking help is not you and your buddy stacking the lat pull machine and then hanging on it to see if you can make it move. That type of crap is mostly what my buddies did and what the girls track team did. Those things carry no weight in the weight room.

    The older kids saw I was serious about what I was doing and took me under their wing. They were mostly good influences from a methodology standpoint. Most of them were training to become better athlete's or simply bigger and stronger. They weren't of the bodybuilder mindset and steroids weren't even a consideration.

    The respect I earned in the weight room did not just live in the weight room, I was able to walk up to the same sophomore, junior and senior kids and talk to them anytime. I got some quizzical looks from my classmates and so did the older kids from their peers. Those looks went away when one of them would say, "he lifts with us". That was the magical key. Weightlifting was the common thread that cut through age and grade barriers and put us all on the same level.

    I held and still do, everyone that has come after me to the same test. Show me you're the least bit serious, even if you don't know what the hell you are doing, and I will help you. I've tutored many who have came after me to the ways of the weight room. If you've spent anytime lifting with me or others I've lifted with, you will respect anyone who wants to learn and is putting in an effort. Social strata, financial status, your name, etc. don't matter.

    It's simple, if you live up to the way of the weight room you will be taught and benefit from it and hopefully one day instill the way in someone else.

    24 July, 2013

    Breaking Through A Rep-Barrier

    "To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men." -Abraham Lincoln

    Enough already with the defense of our position. Lets talk about what we can do to develop better athletes with a safe, productive, and efficient program. [By the way, we received an e-mail concerning our use of "efficiency": "efficiency- (I'm assuming you mean the best way to train.)" Actually, by efficiency we mean time spent in the weight room. We would not claim a "best way to train."]

    To meet all three of our criteria of safe, productive, and efficient we prescribe a set/rep routine dependent on the athlete's training level. Assuming an athlete has moderate proficiency with the exercise movements we would prescribe a warm-up set on the first lift of an exercise routine before performing 1 set to failure within a pre-determined rep range.

    We will use the bench press as an example. [We have recently received several concerns that we are being hypocritical in our use of the bench press and our pontifications on safety. We are open to this topic and plan on addressing it further in the future. As of now, many schools use the bench press, so for the sake of this example we will use it too.]

    After a proper warm-up, which could be a variety of activities that initiate a sweat on the athlete, the athlete should load the bar with enough weight to properly work the muscles for a warm-up set. This does not have to be a lot of weight, nor done to a certain number of reps. We feel that 50-60% of their working set is appropriate to no more than 5 reps. Remember, we do not want to exhaust the muscles in the warm-up.

    The working set of the exercise should be done with enough weight in which the typical athlete will fail between 6-10 reps. This rep range may be different for various athletes. We feel it is the coach's job to help the athlete find the optimal range. This takes time, weeks possibly, and can only be done if the coach is monitoring the athlete's work-out cards.

    Spotting should be emphasized by the coaching staff. Many times kids do not understand the importance of this element, especially when pushing the exercise to failure. A spotter should allow the athlete to physically become unable to push the bar another inch. Obviously, there are some safety techniques the spotter can use without compromising the integrity of the lift.

    The athlete will then record how much weight was lifted on the working set and how many reps they did. Until they reach the top of the rep range they will keep the same amount of weight on their working set. Once the athlete reaches the top of the rep range they put more weight on the bar and start the process over again. This model allows the athlete and the coach to see strength gains without the aid of projected or assumed strength levels. What you see is what you get... The proof is in the pudding... Add your cliche here...

    Should the athlete stall on their progress, meaning stop continuing to go up in reps over a period of time there are various things a coach can prescribe from intensifying techniques to more rest.

    We believe that the 1 working set to failure is safe in the fact that we do not overload the muscle with a weight that would require low rep range (1-3 reps). We believe that the 1 working set to failure is productive in the fact that motor units, or muscle fiber, that is recruited is comparable and can even exceed that of multiple set protocols (Starkey). Finally, we believe that the 1 working set to failure is efficient in the fact that the time spent in the weight room is obviously considerably less than that of a multiple set routine.

    Again, we stress that there is not one best way to train athletes. We simply desire other coaches who may seek out various training strategies to understand that the traditional training methods of multiple sets, 1 rep maxes, and olympic training is not the only or most efficient way to train an athlete for athletic competition, outside of Olympic Lifting events.
    Starkey, D. B., Welsch, M. A., Pollock, M. L., Graves, J. E., Brechue, W. F., & Ishida, Y. (1994). Equivalent improvement in strength following high intensity, low and high volume training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 26(5), Supplement abstract 651.