In the best-selling book, Weight Lifting Is a Waste of Time, Dr. John Jaquish explains why, according to the latest research, lifting weights is less efficient than variable resistance training. But what is variable resistance training? In this Variable Resistance for Dummies Guide, we describe variable resistance in layman’s terms that anyone can easily understand.
Static Resistance vs Variable Resistance
Everyone knows that to build muscle you have to work that muscle against the force of resistance. When it comes to strength training, there are two primary forms of resistance, static and variable.
Traditional weight lifting relies on static resistance. When you bench press, for example, the weight you’re pressing is the same at the bottom of the lift, with the barbell against your chest, as it is at the top of the lift, with your arms extended. Put differently, the resistance offered is static ### it stays the same ### in your weakest and strongest position.
Variable resistance, also known as variable resistance training (VRT), refers to resistance that changes as you progress through a lift. For example, a bench press with a band and the resistance will be lighter at the bottom of the lift because the band has not yet stretched. As you press the band away from you, it stretches, offering greater resistance. So, as you move towards your strongest impact-ready position, the resistance you’re pressing against increases.
Why Variable Resistance Training is More Efficient
The dynamic force provided by variable resistance mimics the body’s natural strength curve. At the bottom of each lift, joints are bent (and compromised) and the body is in its weakest position. As any lift progresses, the body enters what’s called the impact-ready position. This power posture is where we are strongest.
Variable resistance lets us train our maximum strength in the impact-ready position by offering us less resistance at the start of each lift, so we can get the weight off the ground. But unlike static weight-lifting, VR offers us more resistance as we progress through each lift. With VRT we can take advantage of our innate strength curve and increase strength toward the end of each lift.
When it comes to building muscle, it’s easy to see which type of resistance is more efficient. With static resistance, we’re limited by the amount we can lift in our weakest position. With variable resistance, we’re able to train our strengths.
Types of Variable Resistance Training
So if variable resistance is the best way to build muscle, how do you train with VR?
Cable machines, chains, and latex bands can all offer variable resistance. But some methods of VR training are better than others. Machines and chains offer resistance that varies linearly. Latex resistance bands, on the other hand, deliver resistance that increases exponentially.
Cam and lever machines, such as the Hammer Strength machines at your local gym, technically offer variable resistance. But the leverage is fixed and the variance is so small, it hardly differs from static resistance.
Powerlifting chains, aka weight-lifting, can also create variable resistance. This low-variation resistance is dependent on (and limited by) gravity. Thus, chains can only be used for vertical movements.
Heavy Latex Resistance Bands
Elastic resistance provides the most variation in force between weak and strong positions when compared to typical chain arrangements. But if you’ve ever done a workout with a rubber tube or physical therapy band, you know that the resistance offered is minimal.
For most people, building muscle requires the use of heavy latex resistance bands. Only heavy, closed-loop bands provide enough resistance to trigger the three important muscle-building principles mentioned below.
The Three Principles of Variable Resistance
Variable resistance works to build muscle faster than weight lifting ever could, if and only if the three principles below are met.
Variance is key if we’re to optimize strength in our most powerful position. Heavy latex resistance bands offer the greatest variance between not-stretched and stretched bands. In other words, they offer more opportunities for increased resistance as you enter your strongest position.
Static weights provide inconsistent muscle activation and send mixed signals to the central nervous system. This is especially true if you rest at the bottom or lock out at the top of a lift. A heavy latex band lets you maintain constant tension throughout each set, cueing a steadier, stronger, muscle-building response.
Variable resistance with the heaviest bands allows you to reach complete fatigue, which is needed for muscle growth. When you can no longer complete the full range of motion, keep going. Continue in the mid-range and then in the weakest range until you just cannot move the band an inch.
Why X3 Bar is Best for Variable Resistance Training
The lightest resistance bands don’t offer much variance in resistance between their slack and stretched-out states. These bands go limp at the bottom of a lift, making it hard to keep constant tension. And it’s just not feasible to reach total and complete fatigue with a light, skinny band.
But choose the heaviest, strongest bands and it becomes increasingly difficult to train with bands alone. Closed loop bands are the strangest, leaving no connection point for a handle. Heavy bands are also thicker and harder to grip with your hands or anchor with your feet.
The X3 Bar
The X3 Bar offers a safe, comfortable grip that’s familiar to any weight-lifter. Not only does it reduce the risk of wrist injury jury, but improves body positioning for more efficient lifts. Connecting to the bands with a bar lets the tension go to the muscles (where it’s wanted), and not to the wrist joints.
The X3 Ground Plate
The X3 Ground Plate means there’s no need to step on the bands, nor worry about them slipping or snapping back. And just like the bar does, the plate makes each lift more efficient. When you’re not limited by how strong of a band you can stand on, you can focus on the lift, not your ankle joints.
Additional Benefits of Variable Resistance
Using free weights overload joints and underloads muscles. This creates conditions that increase the risk of injury. variable resistance training with bands protects the joints when they’re most compromised. The X3 bar and ground plate only further reduce risk.
Training with machines keeps the body traveling along a fixed path, requiring little to no recruitment of stabilization muscles. Rubber-based resistance training, on the other hand, recruits more muscle fibers (including the core) for a more effective workout, in multiple planes of movement.
Recruiting stabilization muscles benefits the body in another way, it has a special effect on the hormones that promote muscle growth. Optimizing your hormone production maximizes your gains.
Strength training is not just for bodybuilders. Everyone can benefit from building more muscle and getting stronger. Those with lean muscle mass are protected from muscle loss that naturally occurs as we get older. More muscle mass also boosts metabolism, protects against disease, improves bone health, and increases energy levels.
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