For building muscle, strength and power, not all reps are created equal. Typical three-and-out sets, with the same weight you lifted since your gym membership began, will get you only so far.
The human body naturally adapts to the stimulus placed upon it. Therefore, to get bigger, faster and stronger you must throw it a curve ball! This is where variable resistance comes into play.
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In most exercises, the stimulus is a predetermined weight that is pulled down by the force of gravity. The load remains the same throughout the entire repetition, and the muscles engaged don’t need to adapt during the movement. This type of resistance is the foundation of strength and power training, but imagine the results if you could increase the resistance throughout the rep.
Welcome to the hard-nosed beatdown known as Variable Linear Resistance. Simply put, it is a load placed on the body that changes throughout the full range of motion.
Picture a conventional Bench Press. The chosen weight (let’s say 135 pounds) is exactly the same at the first push as it is at lockout. Now imagine 135 pounds at the initial push amplified to 175 pounds at the top. This is the idea behind variable resistance training.
There are two main ways to achieve this dynamic load. The first is through the use of chains fastened to the bar using carabineers, specially designed collars, or quick links. The second is through the use of bands stretched around the bar and attached to a fixed object like the rack or a heavy dumbbell. Using chains increases the weight as each link is raised off the floor, adding weight to the overall load. Bands impart greater resistance as they stretch and build tension.
The benefits behind this type of training are numerous and extend across various types of sports.
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The first and probably most pronounced benefit is the increase in power output. The increased intensity of each exercise near the lockout phase requires a buildup of speed and force through the rep. Unlike the standard resistance of gravity only, you won’t feel any let-off near the lockout phase where momentum and muscle force are typically highest.
The second benefit is increased muscle stabilization. Standard reps are smooth and stable. In contrast, variable resistance feels like exercising during an earthquake. The inconsistent elasticity of bands and the tendency of chains to swing cause the body to recruit many muscles to stabilize the weight. For example, during the Bench Press the abs and obliques are called upon to keep the torso rigid so that the chest can maximize its power output.
A third benefit is increased eccentric load. The eccentric phase of a rep is the lowering portion, when the muscle lengthens while controlling a resistance—e.g., lowering the bar during the Bench Press. Variable resistance creates the highest load at the top of the movement just before the eccentric phase begins. This increased tension requires the body to fight harder to prevent the bar from crashing down like a stone.
These benefits add up to tremendous results. The increases in power, stabilization and eccentric activation lead to greater muscle damage, and as a result, bigger, stronger and more powerful muscles when they rebuild!
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The applications for this style of training are equal to its benefits. Variable linear resistance can help a powerlifter build strength near the final lockout in the Bench, Squat or Deadlift. Athletes such as football players build the necessary power to make explosive tackles, hard cuts and strong blocks. Bodybuilders can challenge themselves with a new stimulus that increases overall cellular damage, resulting in larger muscle mass.
Variable linear resistance now dominates strength and power training. It subjects the body to a stimulus unlike anything else. This type of lifting builds raw strength and explosive power for elite-level athletes. Countless standard sets won’t get it done. Add variable linear resistance to your arsenal and take your game to the next level.