My Favorite Training Tool
Some people are exercise junkies: they love to try new exercises all the time, sometimes inventing variations themselves. They are constantly looking for novelty and a different training stimulus by changing the movements they are doing.
Personally, I’m a minimalist when it comes to exercise selection. I stick mostly to the big basics. While I will throw in the occasional unconventional movement like a Zercher squat from time to time, the focus of my sessions (especially when working with athletes) is:
- Back squat
- Front squat
- Bench press
- Military press
- Power clean
- Power snatch
However, I do still need a lot of variation when it comes to training. I personally rely mostly on loading schemes, methods and means as ways include variation in training.
Loading schemes are the ways you organize sets and reps. For example, wave loading (6/4/2 waves, 5/3/1 waves, 3/2/1 waves), clusters, 5/4/3/2/1, etc. are loading schemes.
Methods refer to how you perform a repetition. For example, slow eccentrics, including isometric pauses, yielding isometrics, overcoming isometrics, tempo contrast, heavy partials, etc. are methods.
Means are mostly the various tools you use in training. Chains, bands, specialty bars, electrostimulation, etc. are all training means.
All of these can be used to induce variation and stimulate a specific training effect in training.
One of the most effective training tools I use a weight releasers also called strength hooks. I’ve been using this tool since 2002 and wrote about them in my 2006 book “Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods”.
I find that no other tool can increase strength on a lift as rapidly as weight releasers, especially in intermediate level athletes.
What are weight releasers? They are an apparatus on which you can add extra weight and hang it from the barbell. When you lower the weight down and it touches the floor, they will be released from the bar, decreasing the weight you have to lift back up.
They thus allow you to perform the eccentric portion of a lift with a lot more weight than the concentric portion.
Here’s what it looks like. In this video, Patrice St-Louis Pivin (former international track cyclist and now training for bobsleigh) is using the releasers to do the eccentric portion of the front squat with 510lbs and the concentric with 385lbs.
Releasers are effective at increasing strength for several reasons:
- Psychological: They get you used to handling supramaximal weights. In contrast, a 90-100% load will feel lighter which will give you more confidence and you will stay tighter during your set.
- Neurological: They can inhibit the Golgi Tendon Organs (GTOs) over time. The GTOs are protective mechanisms in your tendons and when they sense that you are producing too much force for your own good, they will inhibit force production.
But this mechanism is conservative and as a result, most people can only use 30-50% of their muscle strength potential. Controlling a supramax load, even if it is only during an eccentric, can desensitize your GTOs by “convincing” them that this supramax load is not dangerous to your structural integrity. This can lead to rapid strength gains.
- Physiological: Right off the bat you recruit more fast-twitch fibres during the eccentric portion of a lift and less slow and intermediate fibres, so the FT fibres do most of the work, receiving a lot more stimulation. By overloading the eccentric with an extra 20% or so, you can stimulate them even more.
This will lead to a higher muscle fibre firing rate, which increases strength dramatically. After a few weeks, that increase in firing rate will be transferable to concentric actions too and your lifting strength will increase.
Here are the methods I use with weight releasers. Each has its own application:
A) Heavy bar weight/Moderate releasers weight: This is for overall strength. The goal is to use a “combined eccentric weight” of 110-120% of your maximum concentric strength (some athletes will be able to go up to 130% in training).
The barbell weight will be around 80-85% and there will be an additional 25-40% in releaser weight. In the squat video above, Pat is using around 85% of his max front squat on the bar and the total weight is 117%.
In this bench video, he is using around 85% on the bar (310lbs) and 124% total weight (which is 4% too heavy in my opinion because of the slight loss of control in the last ¼). When using this method, we normally do 1 slow eccentric rep (5 sec) with the releasers and 1-3 concentric reps.
B) Moderate bar weight/Moderate releasers weight: I like this method as a muscle-building method emphasizing fast-twitch fibre development. We could call this “athletic bodybuilding”. The barbell weight is around 70% of the lift’s maximum and we use an extra 20-30% in releaser weight. So, the combined eccentric load will be 90-100%. We do the sets in a cluster format, or with the assistance of two partners. For example:
Rep 1: Lower in 5 seconds/lift normally
Either rack the bar and reset releasers or have two partners set the releasers while you are holding the bar
Rep 2: Lower in 5 seconds/lift normally
Rep 3: Lower in 5 seconds/lift normally
I like to use 5 reps per set while using this method.
C) Lightbar weight/Heavy releasers weight: This is for power development. We will use a 60% load on the bar and as much as an extra 60% in releasers weight. Contrary to the first two methods, we don’t use a slow eccentric. In fact, we want to use a fast eccentric (while still being in control).
The extra weight will allow us to have more kinetic energy accumulation, leading to a greater stretch reflex and more power being produced during the ensuing concentric. I also call this the overshoot method… the supramax eccentric increases the recruitment of the fast-twitch fibres, the fast eccentric increases kinetic energy, both of which will lead to a more powerful concentric in the advanced athlete.
We normally do the first rep with the releasers and then 2-3 explosive reps.
I’ve had athletes increase their strength by as much as 40lbs on a lift in one month of training. I myself increased my squat by 40lbs in 3 weeks while using releasers. It is a superbly effective method, BUT it should only be used by athletes who have good technical efficiency on their lifts and a decent experience of heavy lifting.
Releasers used to be quite hard to find, but now ROGUE FITNESS has them: