Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Overloading the strength curve

Ok so let me start this post by just defining the strength curve. The strength curve is a graphical representation of how the body generates force through a specific range of motion. Different exercises will train the muscles through different parts of the strength curve (low, mid, upper). Now, to thoroughly hit all fibres and really get the best from an exercise you need to overload the strength curve. By tweaking an exercise that let's say normally trains the muscle through the low range of the strength curve, you can work the same muscle through the mid-upper range. Let me further demonstrate this with an example aimed at working the biceps thoroughly...

1A: ez bar preacher curl holding onto straps
6-8 reps
2121 tempo
Strength curve target: mid-upper range 

1B: ez bar preacher curl
12 reps
2010 tempo
Strength curve target: low range

By holding onto straps and moving the weight of the ez bar outside the centre of gravity you'll work the biceps through a different range of the strength curve. Now that's how you really push 1 exercise to its limit!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The tortoise and the hare

I'm sure you're all aware of the tortoise and the hare story. The slow tortoise smokes the hare that gets to tired before the finish. As a trainer I know full well how this story can transfer over into a clients success. The hare client tries to implement every healthy nutritional, lifestyle and exercise habit under the sun in week 1. This enthusiasm is great, but it normally leads to failure. The tortoise client develops small habits, working on getting each one nailed down before moving onto the next. This creates long term, sustainable success. Take a look at one of my clients bodyfat caliper test readings over the course of about 10 months. We worked on changing small habits week after week and progresive resistance exercise. Simple, but this dropped his bodyfat by 10%, decreased his fat mass by 10.3kg's  and increased his lean body mass. Now there's a few blips here and there (that's life), but the best part is he's now at a weight and shape he's happy with and he's just ticking over. Everything we've changed has developed into a habit that's set for life.

So are you a tortoise or a hare? Just remember....

Slow and steady progress trumps the 2 week success story every time! 

Friday, 12 September 2014

Upgrading your armoury

I'm a big believer in regularly changing your exercises to see continued progress. Using the same exercises for months in and out (even if you are changing other variables such as reps/weight/tempo etc.) will soon see you plateau. I know this because I was once that guy! Try these different arms exercises to inject some variety and results into your routine...

Seated low pulley cable concentration curl
A fantastic finisher to your biceps work, you'll get a massive burn! With the elbows in front of the body the short head of the biceps are recruited thoroughly. Make sure you make the most of every rep and squeeze the biceps hard at the top. 

Lying ez bar skull crusher with pulley cable attached 
The problem with the lying skull crusher on a flat bench is it mainly works the triceps through the bottom part of the strength curve. Attach a pulley cable to the bar and the triceps will be under constant tension through the whole of the strength curve. For even more fun, have your training partner remove the cable from the bar when you've finished your reps, so you're free to bust out some more (like a drop set).

Ez bar preacher curl holding onto straps
Like with the previous exercise, the ez bar preacher curl only works the biceps through the lower end of the strength curve. In other words as you curl the bar up towards your shoulders the tension tends to minimise in that top position. However if you place the weight outside the centre of gravity (like a kettlebell) and hold onto 2 straps, tension will be on the biceps through the whole range of the strength curve. This exercise tends to work best with a slower tempo like 3031.

Thick grip reverse barbell curl 
Thick grips will recruit more motor units than a standard bar. You'll work the forearms harder and improve your grip strength. Flip your grip and your biceps no longer get an effective line of pull. Therefore the brachialis come into play (the golf ball shaped muscle on the side of 
the arm between the bicep and tricep) a muscle of the arms that is often undertrained. 

Monday, 1 September 2014

How to do pull-ups (properly)

Ah the pull-up, the king of upper body exercises! Often performed incorrectly. With any exercise the smallest of tweaks can have a dramatic impact on your overall performance during the set. And remember if you can perform an exercise better (more reps, more weight etc.) it will have a greater training effect.

Legs crossed and knees bent behind you. This causes an overextension fault of the lumbar spine. From this position it makes it impossible to engage the glutes, create a neutral spine and therefor create stability in the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint will rise up towards the ears to try and create a stable environment and in turn the lats switch off (the muscle group you're probably trying to hit with this one)

Legs together, toes pointed just out in front of you. Glutes engaged and core pulled in tight. From this position the spine remains in neutral and there is greater stability within the shoulder joint. Don't be surprised if you can perform more reps from this position!

What you need to remember is with any compound exercise a small fault can cause you to dump torque and leak power, which will take away from the exercise. Think of it like this, your body is an electrical circuit. If the circuit is broken (in this example there is overextension of the lumbar spine) you'll lose power.