Saturday, June 28, 2014

Can Accommodating Resistance Be the Change You Need?

We are excited to announce the addition of Chris Marang, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, to our consulting staff.  Chris has been CrossFitting since 2011 and is actively coaching at CrossFit Fairport.  He is also currently studying under Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell on their highly effective training methods.

Chris has a passion for pushing the envelope with training and coaching others to achieve new breakthroughs.  Over the past few months we have met with Chris to learn more about a system of training he has implemented in his own personal training and at CrossFit Fairport that he describes as The New Era of Training - Accommodating Resistance.  We have been so impressed with the results this system has brought to those that have worked with Chris that we asked him to author an article describing the technique and effectiveness of accommodating resistance so that you can determine if this method might be just the thing to help you push past your barriers.  Read on.
New Era of Training
Chris Marang
Many of us have become fascinated with the love and misery that comes with any type of competitive atmosphere whether it is accredited sports, fitness or anything in-between.  Years ago it was said don’t work out if you’re into sports because you’ll get slower.  Now people are saying that that just isn’t true.  Well…it is and it isn’t true. It is true you will slow down if you do not train optimally, but if your training is set up correctly then it isn’t true.  You should become much more explosive and faster.  This is why we must use accommodating resistance (lightening method or bands from the ground) in our training.  Have you ever noticed how when you are squatting, pressing, deadlifting, benching or whatever you tend to back off as you get further into range of motion almost prepping for your next rep?  As we go up through range of motion we are increasing our leverages.  That’s why if you watch someone bench, the hardest part is off the chest and as it gets higher you’re leverages increase causing us to relax and back off a little.  So what is happening here is you have bar deceleration and it is impossible not to have this if we do not have accommodating resistance.  We do not want to train with bar deceleration because what is happening is you are teaching yourself to slow down.  In any type of sport that is not optimal!  If you were a pitcher you wouldn’t want be faster the first half of ROM and then slow down the second half.  You want the fastest point of range of motion to be right at your release.  The same for any type of kicker, soccer for example, would want to be fastest right at the point of impact.  Unfortunately, that is not what majority of athletes do.  With accommodating resistance you cannot slow down.  If you were to stay at the same rate of force you’d never be able to finish your lift because that resistance is getting harder as you get further into range of motion.  What is this teaching us?  It is teaching us physically and emotionally to accelerate faster and faster through every range of motion.
I coach a group of teenagers who do CrossFit® twice a week and have implemented accommodating resistance into their program, along with a few other methods I will introduce later, and here is an example of what this optimal training can do to an individual.  Keep in mind none of these kids play any athletics; they are just regular, but really not so regular teenagers.  I have two 13 year old boys deadlifting over 300 pounds, a 230 pound 13 year old who has only jumped a few times in training and he did a 30”+ box jump from a 12” seated position, another teenager who can jump well into the upper 40” range, a 14y.o. girl who recently stiff leg deadlifted 245 and hit a 16” increase on her highest box jump recorded.  Their squats have increased dramatically as well with many of them box squatting 275-295 pounds.  Now for the others I have recorded with success.  I took a former Crossfit Games Regional competitor from 265 deadlift to 305 in four weeks; at the beginning she could box squat 195 for 1 rep max.  Four weeks later she did 225 for 3 repetitions.  A few others who have averaged out with 50 pound gains for the deadlift and 40 pounds for the squat in a four week period. 
Training with accommodating resistance is absolutely essential.  I would guarantee I could put 20-30 pounds on your clean in one day by training with this.  How?  I would have you use bands as the accommodating resistance up to about 60-70% of your max and then we would take the resistance off and use real weight to a new record.  Training with this resistance overrides your central nervous system so that after a few weeks of this training your body will only know how to fire this way.  Imagine whenever you grabbed a barbell it felt like there were bands over it so you’re body accelerated faster and faster giving you maximal acceleration and force development for those heavy weights.  That is training optimally.  Training this way will make your body’s motor programming react that way consistently.  There are two ways we incorporate this training into programs and that is by using the max effort method and dynamic effort method.
The maximal effort method is the basic method for developing absolute strength.  It is a powerful and effective physiological irritant.  If you want to get strong you have to max out, and it is not just maxing out on the same lift over and over.  If I only had one squat max or one deadlift max well that’s only one lift I am getting strong in.  You should be constantly changing up how you’re maxing out.  I could tell you 50 different ways you could max out just your back squat in a minute, then add in front squat, now overhead squat, now zercher squat.  Variants such as different types of bands, combinations of bands, pulled off of blocks and so forth make this possible.  That’s at least 200 different maxes you’ve got just for squatting that you’ve established.  With that being said how are you not going to beat your regular back squat record when you’ve set 199 other squat records?  You just got strong in every possible weak area of your squat, all you know is how to PR after setting all those records so again how are you not going to beat that record?  It’s simple.

Equally important is our dynamic effort days or speed days.  The dynamic effort method is simply using sub maximal weights with maximal speed.  Accommodating resistance such as bands, chains or a mixture of both is used on this day.  Your speed squats and speed deadlifts will take no longer than 20 minutes combined to complete on this day, and that’s including rest.  The major focus of this day is physics.  Force equals mass times acceleration.  We have optimal force development by having the bar move .8-1.0 meters per second.  Training percentages on this day are 50 to 60 percent of our maximal lift done in sets of 1s, 2s or 3s.  This system will build a faster rate of force development than any other; reduce bar deceleration, and perfect form.
In cooperation with Chris, Hammerhead Strength Equipment has developed a unique patent pending Adjustable Tension Platform system which allows attachment of many different variations of resistance band tension.  With our system not only can we vary the type of resistance band used, but we can also vary the placement of the bands to change resistance levels.  Until now, expensive and heavy lifting platforms with band pegs needed to be purchased to incorporate resistance training into bar movements.  These expensive and bulky platforms needed to be heavy to overcome the force that the bands pull would pull against them.  Our Adjustable Tension Platform system is a series of two floor rails which are bolted to the floor just like our Affiliate Rigs.  Our low cost, lightweight rails come complete with two heavy duty band attachment stations on each rail.  Our band attachments are easily adjustable up and down the length of the floor rails and our unique band attachment is stronger and safer than band pegs.

See our Adjustable Tension Platform here.

In the next few days we will be releasing more information on just how to incorporate accommodating resistance into your current routine.  Chris will tell you exactly what to do and even if you are involved in a current strength routine, it doesn't involve a major change to your current program.  There are two main types of training days Chris will be discussing in the next blog posts - Maximal Effort Days and Dynamic Effort Days.

See our other blog posts on this topic:

The Max Effort Method

The Dynamic Effort Method

Ref: “Managing the Training of Weightlifters.” N.P. Laputin V.G. Oleshko

Saturday, June 21, 2014

How to Incorporate Resistance Bands in Your Training

Resistance Bands are a common fitness tool found in almost every gym and quite probably in most of our homes.  In spite of the great prevalence and accessibility of this effective, lightweight and inexpensive tool, most people use bands in a limited way and only get a fraction of the benefits that they can offer.

Hammerhead Strength Equipment is excited to announce the addition of Adam Cristantello** to our team.  Adam is a well respected and well known local trainer and we are looking forward to sharing Adam's knowledge and experience with you on a variety of training topics to better equip you with knowledge and understanding of training principles that will help you reach your fitness goals.  Our upcoming blog/video series authored by Adam, will teach you the basics of Elastic Training (aka “Band training), and how to incorporate resistance bands in your training to get stronger, prevent injury, and achieve a variety of goals.

Characteristics of Elastic (Band) Training

In order to best apply resistance bands to your training we first have to start with a basic understanding of Elastic Training. Thankfully if you have ever used a rubber band you should have a pretty good grasp of how elastic training works. The greater stretch on the band, the greater the resistive force. While this is relatively simple to understand, just strapping bands to a bar and pumping out a quick set will only lead to limited success. Just like any other training tool, there are both benefits and limitations that need to be considered to optimize training adaptations.

Based on our understanding of how resistance bands work; as you move through the initial part of an exercise there is relatively little resistance, while the end range is exponentially more difficult. This makes it critical to have the correct band tension for you and the exercise. For example, the thinnest bands will go from 5 pounds of resistance to 35 pounds. This large jump in tension can make something that goes from ridiculously easy with perfect form to a train wreck that makes me cringe.

Part of the problem is that having the greatest resistance at the end of the motion works in opposition to muscle force/contraction properties. According to the Length-Tension Relationship, a muscle is able to create the most force when there are the most cross-bridge formations of actin and myosin.

These proteins connect to each other and pull the ends of the muscle fiber together (i.e., a concentric contraction). However, at the fully lengthened and fully shortened positions of a muscle contraction, there are fewer of these connections formed. Less connections means less pulling power and less force. This is not a big deal when the band is “loosest” at the beginning of a movement. It can be problematic at the end when the band has the most tension, and the muscle cannot produce as much force. This means that you may not be getting enough resistance/assistance in one weak area of the muscle or movement, and too much at the other. Ultimately this is the major limitation with band training, especially in the muscle isolation movements used for weak point training and injury prevention.

Some of you might be throwing up a BS card (like a dramatic European soccer official) because you are not always weakest in the end position of a movement. For instance, the strongest position of the squat is normally found at the top half (finishing hip and knee extension). In large compound movements, many active muscles groups, combined with different anatomical positions (better mechanical advantages), result in strong and weak points. This difference in force distributions throughout the movement explains why you can quarter squat more than a full squat. Another reason is the movement of the bar creates inertia to make the lift easier.

In the squat scenario, the elastic property of the bands is actually an advantage as it creates accommodating resistance and reduces bar inertia. Simply put, the bands add difficulty by increasing resistance to the strongest positions of the movement. This forces muscles to increase force output throughout the movement. Bands also force the nervous system, and often overlooked muscles, to work more to stabilize. These factors combine to increase the total work throughout the movement, resulting in more strength and power from greater neuromuscular muscle activation. Keep in mind this is a simple summary of the concept of accommodating resistance to get the point across. Like I said earlier, don’t just slap bands on something and hope for the best. It may work initially, but it is less than optimal and potentially dangerous. Just like anything else, to get the most out of a tool you need to understand the what, why, and how of its use. Hence these two concepts, the Length-Tension relationship and Accommodating Resistance, are important to understand to get the most out of band training. In case your eyes glazed over, just keep in mind these few points to optimize your bad-assery through band training.
  1. Isolation Movements, and movements that are weaker close to the end of the lift, will be more difficult to precisely match band tension (i.e. too much at the end, not enough at the beginning). Examples: Pull Ups, Curls, Band Pulls, etc.
  2. In movements that you are stronger at the end of the lift, use bands to accommodate resistance. Examples: Deadlift, Bench Press, Squat, etc.

Why You Should Use Resistance Bands for Training

It’s great that you know the concepts of how to use bands, but why should you use them in training? While I won’t deny the power the iron and some appropriate machines bring to the table, there are some really good reasons to use resbands. First of all they are one of the biggest bang for the buck pieces of equipment to have in your gym bag. They are stupid inexpensive compared to free weights and machines, let you do pretty much any exercise, or add challenge to many others. That means they are good no matter your training style or goal. CrossFit®, Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Endurance sports, Injury Prevention/Rehabilitation, back flips into hot lava*…yes all of them.  

If you noticed, I said this is a great piece of equipment to put IN your gym bag. While bands are great in the gym setting, not all of us want or can be in the gym all the time. Sometimes fitness means succeeding outside the gym, right? Right! Throw them in your suitcase and now you have a traveling gym to keep fit on the road. Going to Vegas? Now you can hit the town with a pre-night out pump! Stuck with the in-laws? Get some feel-good endorphins with a band workout to keep you from punching someone you are not supposed to…which most likely is everyone. While these are just some funny examples, hopefully you get the idea.

Four Reasons to Put Resistance Bands in Your Gym Bag
  1. Inexpensive: this might be the biggest bang for buck piece of exercise equipment you can own
  2. Multiple Exercises: No matter your training style, there is something that you can do with bands that will help you get results
  3. Portable: Easily fits in your luggage to keep you fit even while travelling
  4. Multiple Purposes: Strength/power building, injury prevention, speed, bodybuilding, and more!
Overall, resistance band training has a lot to add to your training at a very low cost. There are some limitations, but these can be minimized with a bit of experience and common sense. Now that the What and Why of band training have been established, we can start to focus on the practical application. The upcoming posts in the series will address how to incorporate bands in your training to: build strength, increase speed, prevent injury, and make your fitness portable.

*PS Don’t actually do a back flip into hot lava…I am pretty sure my insurance won’t cover me!

- Adam Cristantello

Browse our Resistance Band Selection Here - They Ship Free to the Continental US!

** “Tello” is a Strength Coach who is detail oriented, constantly challenges himself, and strives for excellence in all he does. He has over 11 years of Strength and Conditioning experience which include: Weightlifting, Olympic Weight Lifting, Non-competitive Body-Building, Yoga, Swimming, Rock Climbing, Running, Soccer, Parkour, Hockey, Gymnastics and Nutritional Coaching.  His comprehensive fitness approach is a more traditional strength and conditioning model, based on the goals/needs of the client. This model incorporates elements of strength training, kinesthetic analysis, psychology, injury prevention, and CrossFit methodology. Tello can help all athletes, from the beginner to elite, achieve their fitness goals.
Bachelors Degree in Sports Medicine from SUNY Brockport
Served Honorably as a Non Commissioned officer in the US Army (5 years total service)
USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach
CrossFit Level 1 Certified
CrossFit Olympic Lifting Certification
CrossFit Kettlebell Certification
2009 CrossFit Games Northeast Qualifier competitor

  • Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008. Print.
  • Picture 2: Length Tension
  • Picture 3: Soccer Official