Texans Fitness Corner

Welcome to Dan Riley's latest installment of Texans Fitness Corner. The response continues to be overwhelming. We will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to fitness@houstontexans.com.

*NOTE: Before engaging in any new physical activity, always consult your physician.*

My question is about rep cadences. Do you advocate any particular cadence, for example 2 seconds up, or, do you advocate explosive training?

-- Darin, Columbus

This is another one of those bombs that Carter Toole gives me. Carter is the Master of our website. He receives the questions for the Fitness Corner and passes them on to me. Every now and then he has that evil smile on his face when he hands me a question and says, "Here, have fun." This is one of those questions.

It would be easier for me to answer this question in person, with a video, or with a live demonstration. Unfortunately that's not possible right now (without players and equipment).

Is there an ideal speed to raise the weight? Who knows? I don't. Nor does anyone else. I'll try my best to explain how our Texans will train and why.

I remember the term "explosive power" becoming popularized in the early 1970's. Manufacturers of isokinetic exercise used the term to promote the benefits of their equipment. Cybex and Mini-Gym were the two major players. The "Leaper" was a popular isokinetic squatting device that could be found in many high schools.

The isokinetic manufacturers claimed "accommodating" resistance set their equipment apart from isotonic strength building equipment. The isokinetic device provided maximum resistance at every point during the raising phase of an exercise. The harder the lifter pushed the more resistance the isokinetic machine gave. The isokinetic device would accommodate any leverage advantage or disadvantage. It would also accommodate a corresponding decrease in resistance as the lifter fatigued each succeeding rep.

Isokinetic equipment provided a maximum amount of resistance at each point of every repetition during the raising phase of an exercise. The technology to vary the resistance was provided by friction devices or fluids of some kind.

Imagine removing the top from a can of oil filled with thick heavy grade oil. Drill some small holes in the lid and set the lid on top of the oil. Push down hard on the lid and it barely moves. The oil slowly oozes through the small holes as you try your hardest to push it down. No matter how hard you push on the lid, the oil offers that much resistance in return. I've oversimplified it Darin, but it may give you a picture of how isokinetic exercise could accommodate any resistance demand.

Isokinetic advocates claimed their equipment was superior to barbells, dumbbells, and machines. The weight of a barbell and dumbbell remains constant throughout the execution of an exercise.

While performing any exercise a lifter is stronger at some points and weaker at others (strength curve). For example, while performing the barbell squat, the lifter is weakest (leverage disadvantage) in the squatting position. The lifter grows stronger (leverage increases) as he straightens his legs.

With conventional equipment the amount of weight selected for any exercise will be determined by how much weight a lifter can raise at his weakest point.

Once beyond this point in an exercise, the lifter is capable of raising progressively heavier weights. For example, if a lifter can squat 300 pounds, he can raise 300 pounds at his weakest point (the squatting position). The leverage continues to improve dramatically as he straightens his legs. The lifter is capable of lifting much more than 300 pounds as he straightens his legs. To recruit the maximum number of muscle fibers at each point, the amount of resistance must increase to accommodate any increase in leverage.

With traditional free weight equipment and most machines, the weight remains constant throughout the execution of an exercise. The isokinetic advocate would claim this is a major limitation which leaves many muscle fibers unrecruited and undeveloped.

There are advantages and disadvantages to every piece of equipment used to develop strength. There is no perfect tool. Isokinetic equipment has its advantages and disadvantages.

Manufacturers of isokinetic equipment claimed you had to "train fast to be fast," and that isokinetic exercise allowed you to train explosively.

The raising speed of any isokinetic exercise was actually predetermined. In fact, the harder the athlete pushed, the more resistance the equipment provided. It eliminated the use of momentum while raising the weight. The isokinetic device dictated and actually controlled the raising speed.

During the early 1970's we all wanted our athletes to be explosive. The training mantra became "train fast to be fast." The problem was many of us didn't have isokinetic equipment that controlled the speed of exercise and eliminated momentum. We simply applied the isokinetic concept with isotonic equipment (barbells, dumbbells, and machines).

We told our athletes to raise the weight as fast as they could. This incorporated the use of some muscle and some momentum.

The brain is a very sophisticated and highly sensitive mechanism. It will only recruit as many muscle fibers as are needed to raise the weight. No more, no less. You can't fool it. Curl an 80-pound barbell and your brain will recruit 80 pounds worth of muscle fibers …… if you allow the targeted muscles to do all the work.

It's possible to curl the 80-pound barbell and recruit fewer than 80 pounds worth of muscle fibers. How? Use the hips and legs to help swing the bar upward. Some momentum will be used to raise the weight, decreasing the number of muscle fibers needed.

Our primary objective with our strength program is to prevent injury. Which muscle fibers are most important to an athlete in preventing an injury? All of them!

We now teach our players to raise the weight at a speed that forces the muscles to perform all of the work. Don't do anything that detracts from recruiting the maximum number of muscle fibers. There can be no sudden movements that cause a rapid change of speed or the use of momentum. No bouncing, jerking, or shifting body position. If you do, the message sent to the brain is recruit fewer muscle fibers.

For example, while performing the leg extension you must pause (stop) momentarily when the legs are fully extended. If there is any bounce in this position you have raised the weight too fast. Or it is too heavy, and the only way you can lift the weight is to incorporate some momentum.

Another example is the leg curl. While performing the leg curl pause (stop), in the legs' flexed position. Any bounce (momentum) indicates that the muscle performs little or no work through that range. The muscle will not be fully developed through any range where momentum contributes to the action. This might be a contributing factor in some hamstring injuries. The hamstrings develop significant strength at some points and little to none at others.

I struggled with the explosive training concept for many years. While at Penn State I attended an undergraduate and graduate course in Motor Learning. When discussing explosiveness and proper training speed, the professor stated, "It is the intent to raise a weight fast that is the key to developing explosive power, not that the weight itself is lifted fast."

Observe the raising speed of a power lifter attempting to bench press a heavy weight. When tested many power lifters exhibit a high degree of explosive power. One of the most famous was Paul Anderson. He weighed 300 pounds yet could vertical jump 36 inches.

During competition the power lifter pauses momentarily (as the rules demand) with the bar touching his chest and then tries his hardest to "explode," and raise the weight as fast as he can. The bar however, moves in a smooth and controlled manner. This occurs because the weight is heavy enough, and the form required strict enough, to eliminate momentum.

The power lifter in competition illustrates that if the weight is heavy enough, and the form strict enough, it's impossible to move the weight really fast. The power lifter could move the bar faster if the weight was decreased, or the rules on form were not as strict. For example, visit most gyms and observe lifters bouncing the bar off their chest in an attempt to use momentum to help lift the weight.

Use a heavy weight and eliminate momentum and the speed of exercise becomes more regulated. We can't recreate the thousands of different movement patterns used to play the game or the many different speeds at which these movement patterns are performed. Motor learning experts are quite specific about the theory of specificity.

We can't recreate these speeds in the weight room. Add more weight to any exercise and the speed of the exercise changes. The sequence and volume of muscle fibers recruited also change (size principle). Video or high-speed film can be used to accurately measure this.

Find a volunteer capable of bench-pressing 350 pounds. Ask your volunteer to perform several sets of one repetition of the bench press exercise. Rest as much as necessary between attempts to guarantee complete recovery. Allow days if necessary.

The first attempt will be performed with a 100-pound barbell. Instruct the lifter to lower the bar to his chest and pause. At your command ask the lifter to raise the weight as fast as possible. Use videotape or high-speed film to measure the exact speed of the barbell from the chest to the arms extended position.

The 100-pound barbell will be lifted very fast by the volunteer, but this weight is too light to generate strength gains from a lifter capable of bench-pressing 350 pounds.

Give the lifter adequate recovery time and add 25 pounds to the bar. The bar now weighs 125 pounds. Using the same protocol outlined above, time how long it takes to raise the weight. Add another 25 pounds (barbell now weighs 150 pounds) and again time the speed of the barbell.

Continue this process (adding 25 pounds) until the lifter eventually performs the bench press with 350 pounds. The speed of the exercise will be affected each time you add weight. You'll record 14 different speeds. Which one is best?

Add only ten pounds to each set instead of 25 pounds and you'll have many more speeds to choose from.

On the field we ask our players to perform the various skills that they use to play the game at game speed. This will incorporate hundreds of different speeds of movement and thousands of different skill patterns. Some of these patterns are planned and some are spontaneous. It's impossible to recreate any of this in the weight room.

If you decide to perform 10 reps of an exercise, realize the weight is too light for the first few reps. When a set of ten reps is performed, the weight is too light on the first rep to exert an all out effort. With each succeeding rep, more fibers are gradually brought into play. The muscles fatigue and progressively grow weaker. If you are using the proper training weight you should "try" to explode on the last few reps. At this point the weight will feel just like the max rep of the power lifter.

We will ask our players to raise the weight as fast as they want or can, allowing only the muscles to perform all of the work. I suggest you do the same.

Best of luck with your training. Go Texans.

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