Power Training with Accommodating Resistance
Power Training with Accommodating Resistance
Serious techniques for advanced lifters to improve strength, size, and athletic performance.
Our strength in a given movement is never linear. You’re probably stronger locking out a squat than you are getting one at the bottom “out of the hole.” Similarly, for just about every exercise imaginable, you can lower more weight than you can actually lift up. This variability of strength is commonly called the force curve of a lift.
We’ve learned that matching an exercise’s load to its force curve offers unique benefits to getting bigger and stronger. Taking advantage of this combination is called accommodating resistance. Accommodating resistance is an advanced lifting technique that can improve your explosive strength and help you target specific muscles.
Types of Accommodating Resistance
Traditional barbell lifts and simple lever-based machines don’t come close to matching our natural strength curve. To get around this, iron gurus have created several tools and techniques:
Weight releasers—which overload the lowering portion of a lift—were probably the first and simplest form of accommodating resistance. I’d bet the first “weight releaser” was probably the partner-resisted bench press where a spotter pushes on the bar while you lower it. This adds to the load, making your effort harder. At the bottom of the lift, the spotter lets go allowing you press the weight back up normally.
The advent of mechanical weight releasers furthered this concept. Most weight releasers are long, telescoping metal rods with a hook on one end and a shelf or retaining mechanism on the other. The hook part attaches to your barbell, which lets the releasers hang freely while you lift. Since the releasers themselves aren’t heavy, you increase the load by stacking additional weight plates onto the shelf/retaining mechanism. After hanging a pair of releasers from the bar, perform the lowering part of the lift. As you near the bottom of the movement, the weight releasers touch the floor and fall away which instantly lightens your load. Because the releasers have to be reattached after each individual lift, they’re typically used for heavy singles.
Cams—or rotating wheels—are the favored method of transferring strength in many strength training machines. They’re especially popular in single-purpose devices, like the “biceps curl” and “leg extension” stations. Arthur Jones was responsible for popularizing cam-based machines with his line of Nautilus equipment. He also popularized the use of egg-shaped cams. By “stretching” and positioning cams to various degrees, they provide more or less resistance at different points in a lift, roughly mimicking our force curve. When it worked right, it produced great pumps and helped bodybuilders develop both peak contraction skills and a better overall sense of mind-muscle connection.
Powerlifters use chains to overload the top portions of presses, squats, and deadlifts. The chains (usually the hardware store-variety) are clipped to a barbell’s sleeve. As the bar is lowered, the chains begin resting on the floor, “deloading” the lift. Lifting the bar picks the chain up from the floor and adds load.
Elastic Bands and Metal Springs
Both are simple, old school forms of accommodating resistance that have experienced a rebirth. Bands and springs often replaced traditional weight plates or stacks in machines. When attached to a barbell or handle, they stretched under load and provided greater resistance as they were continually stretched. They were popular in home gym equipment like the Soloflex and Bowflex because using bands/springs was cheaper to make and easier to store. Bands and springs also showed up in “weightless” push-up harnesses, chest fly handles, and as accessories for aerobics classes.
These days, powerlifters attach heavy duty bands (which resemble giant versions of the rubber bands you’d buy in an office supply store) to their barbells to greatly overload the top portions of their main and accessory lifts, or to deload the bottom of a lift by using bands to suspend the bar.
The earliest powerlifting suits were heavy canvas shirts and singlets, and they were designed to protect joints and muscles at the bottom of a lift by stretching and then rebounding with a lowered weight. The adoption of increasingly stronger suits radically changed the force curve of powerlifts in geared users; for example, the suited bench press is actually harder near lockout, as opposed to near the chest in a non-geared (or “raw”) bencher.
Tips and Wrap-up
Using old school cam and band/spring machines can be a staple for all bodybuilder-minded lifters. On the other hand, adding forms of accommodating resistance to loaded barbells is an advanced technique for lifters with years of experience under the bar. Even if you’ve been lifting seriously from high school through college, you probably won’t be able to wring much out of accommodating resistance until you’re well into your twenties.
Accommodating resistance also makes a lift harder, so use the technique smartly. This is especially true with compound barbell lifts: respect them like you would max effort or Olympic lifts, and monitor your training volume. If you start strapping bands and chains to every lift in your training program you’ll wear yourself out and beat up your joints. Instead, pick and choose one or two exercises a week to provide a new stimulus or address a stalled lift or movement. A few months of thoughtful use can be the key to breaking strength and power plateaus.ShareThis
About the Author
Brandon Patterson is a writer and recreational lifter. His work focuses on research, training/adaptation theory, injury prevention and rehab, physique and strength improvement, and American football training, tactics, and strategy. You can follow Brandon on Twitter @BPSportScience for news and commentary on the evolving world of athletics; 1R readers are welcome to send questions, comments, and article requests. Gridiron fans can read his Second Level Football blog at secondlevelfootball.wordpress.com.
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