I’ve started listening to the stone cold Steve Austin podcast which is excellent by the way Stone Cold is probably the only person I reckon who is actually as cool as they come across on screen. During the podcasts, stone colds talks a lot about wrestling (naturally) and he talks about the ins and outs of the business. One of the topics he goes over quite a lot is the gimmick that a wrestler is turning at the minute. For Stone cold, this could have been his WHAT? Stage.
Strength training isn’t without gimmicks you better believe that to be true! Some of them go viral and take over the sport for decades at a time others go on to be multi-million pound industry while some struggle to make any traction in the world at all and die a death.
It’s not to say that bells and whistles don’t have their place in strength training far from it they can really add value to a sound and well-structured programme. However, it can be detrimental to a newbie’s programme or even to some sports-based programmes where coaches let the fact that they are dealing with elite level athletes skew their thinking towards 1%ers.
1 – Accommodating resistance
Louie made chains and bands sexy, T-nation took care of the rest. There is no question that chains and bands are useful tools in the strength training arsenal but they are far from essential to a programme. Strength training is about training they body to be able to overcome external resistance. To this end what we need to produce a world class or effective strength training programme is external resistance… i.e. weights.
There is a lot of low population research to suggest that band tension can lead to a lot of favourable acute changes in the kinematics of lifts (greater overload through the whole range, better force production profiles and a better PAP effect especially for maximal strength) be that as it may the inexact nature of accommodating resistance techniques makes them obtuse to programme for.
You can also guarantee that most strength coaches or S&C coaches who utilise them don’t really understand how to integrate them properly into their training cycles. Where bands and chains are really useful is imitating the strength curve of an equipped lift as in the force needed to be applied is least at the bottom and increases quickly over the ROM of the lift. Hence one of the reasons it’s has worked hugely well for the Westside barbell club as they almost all train and compete in equipment.
For Raw lifter or sports athletes, there are definitely uses for accommodating resistance but I wouldn’t say they were close to being bread and butter for a programme.
2 – Exercise Rotation
Got to vary your programme to confuse the muscles and to stop plateaus… in well thought out and targeted cases. A lot of lifters cycle the ever loving shit out of their exercises adding in different bars, boxes, heights, chains you name it they have it involved at some stage. This kind of lifting is probably very useful when you are training under the influence of steroids since it will allow you to put in a maximal voluntary effort in the same plane of movement but allow you lessen the overall stress due to the variance of the movement. When you’re tripping the test fantastic you’re going to get stronger, people might spin you a line about how it’s not going to do all the work for you (which is true you still need to go to the gym and lift) but it takes a lot of the guess work out of it. Apply a stress and you are pretty much guaranteed the result.
Where the variance can help is reducing the chance of getting an overload injury since it allows the lifter to do biomechanically similar tasks and stress the body under maximal load without having to use their joints and muscles the exact same way week in week out. For a natural lifter your strength gain is MUCH more gradual as such you’re not going to get the same amount of stress doing the same movement week in week out. Alongside this you’re not going to get stronger every week so can afford to spend more time doing the same exercises and honing your technique. For me a lot of enhanced lifter’s results are way below where it could be because their technique is ropey from not spending time honing it.
3 – Velocity Based Training
Muscle lab, tendo unit and gym aware started it a good few years ago introducing the speed of movement as a variable in strength training. Since wearable technology and software has improved in quantity and quality more VBT based gizmos have started to appear such as the PUSH bands, beast sensor and form collar. Whilst it is a very useful metric and something I would recommend athletes use for their strength training it is very easy for the coach to apply the same form of feedback visually.
That set looked slow take some weight off it and move it faster. That doesn’t cost 1400 GBP or require a software subscription to implement. There are quite a few S&C coaches trying to carve themselves out as authorities in the space and fair play to them for niching down and finding somewhere where they can become an expert. However, there isn’t anything that VBT can really give us (outside of the objective feedback) that a well-written percentage based programme backed up with some RPE feedback can’t really achieve on its own.
I do think that with better software and hardware VBT will kick off more and become a staple of training but at the minute it is very much in the nice to have bracket of training.
4 – Speciality bars.
Some of the speciality bars can offer a sports programme fantastic options for injured players, for instance, we use the safety squat bar, trap bar and football bar in our gym every day with different players who have different issues. They can allow people with injuries or long term issues to work hard and not get hurt which is awesome. However for powerlifters or general healthy trainers the variation… not really that necessary.
I’ve never really used speciality bars in my own training as a powerlifter I am by no means the greatest powerlifter of all time but I have achieved some reasonable lifts as a natural 290 kg squat (640lbs), 222 kg bench press (490 lbs) and 310 kg deadlift (682 lbs). For me consistency on the implement that we compete with as a powerlifter namely a barbell and plates has been far the greatest payback I have gotten from training. I have noticed little to no carry over from items such as dumbbells, bodyweight or kettlebells in my own training.
For me when it comes to strength as a powerlifter or weightlifter you really only need a barbell. As an athlete or to a lesser extent as a strongman, some variance in your training isn’t a bad thing as strength training is just a means to an end, for a strongman more time spent on events and mastering implements might be time better spent than lifting a barbell.
At the end of the day if all comes down to specificity and some speciality bars as mentioned for athletes or injured lifters are life savers but for a healthy competitive lifter most of the time for my money they are an expensive distraction.
5 – Dumbbells and Machines
Every commercial gym has them and pretty much every serious strength facility has them and whilst they are essential for bodybuilding really for strength training they are at best important assistance but not a cornerstone of a strength training programme. In terms of powerlifting or weightlifting, they are slightly useful distractions it is perfectly reasonable to expect to be able to get as pretty close to as far as you can with only a competition standard bar and plates.
They are very useful for building muscle and not having to worry about taking away from recovery, especially for the upper back and shoulders. However, if you have access to a pull-up bar and barbell chances are you can get the majority of assistance exercise you require done for all of the major muscle groups through a mixture of barbell and bodyweight exercises.