Accommodating Resistance - Phil Carr
Accommodating resistance is a great tool for experienced lifters to take their training to the next level, when used in conjunction with standard training protocols. What is "accommodating resistance"? Accommodating resistance (referred to as AR from here on) is a way to make a lift equally as difficult throughout its full range of motion. In a squat, for example, coming out of the hole is typically the most difficult part of the movement, while the lockout is the easiest. So, when you lift with bands or chains as AR, this de-loads the bottom portion of the squat, making the hardest part easier, and then overloads the top end of the movement making that easiest part more difficult. If we imagined this on a graph, theoretically, the relative intensity across the range of motion should be more linear. If you have ever trained on a cable machine with an egg-shaped cam, instead of round, you have technically used AR in your training. Now, I specify "experienced lifters", as I do not believe novice lifters should use AR in their training. I've had several new athletes tell me "my sticking point is "here" so I should train "this" or "I struggle with my lockout so"...NO! You can argue this if you would like but I'm going to tell you the same thing I tell all my new athletes, "If you haven't been training properly for at least a year, you do not have a sticking point. You have a weak bench". Often, it's a fault in technique, not strength. The “one year” is not a magical turning point from beginner to intermediate, but it's a pretty good rule of thumb to start with. Don't forget, each power lift is at first a skill that must be learned and mastered. Failing a lift half way up doesn’t guarantee that that point is your problem spot. You could have messed up on the descent, mis-grooved or lost position, thus failing do to a technical flaw. Fix your lift dynamics before you start adding variables. Also no one cares how much you can quarter squat or bro-bench, so do it right. For intermediate and advanced lifters, the various methods and uses of AR make it valuable and oftentimes fun to use. Band assisted, band resisted, and chains are going to be the most typical forms of AR used in powerlifting training. These 3 types of AR have different benefits and training effects and can be used in separate training cycles or concurrently depending on desired effect.
Band assisted, aka "reverse band", lifts are personally my least preferred, due largely to their overuse and miss use for ego lifts in the gym, but they can serve a valid purpose. Overacceleration training (I think that is the term in the runner's world) is basically downhill sprinting. It allows the body to reach supermax speeds due to the downward slope and pull of gravity. When doing this, a slight downgrade is desired, somewhere around 5-7%. This is to help maintain gait and avoid excessive impact on the joints. With barbell training the same principles should apply. In over-acceleration training, you want enough help on the bar to assist with acceleration, but not so much that it changes the dynamics of the movement. Generally, the overall load should be well below 80% 1RM and reps 1-3. Remember, this is SPEED training. When adding reverse bands to a lift, your goal should be to have slack (no tension) in the band at the top of the lift. The bands will aid in acceleration from the bottom while the full weight of the bar should be on the body at the lockout. This is where ego lifters will put well over their max on the bar, load up heavy band and at lockout are still holding less than their max because the bands are still holding the weight. As a coach, I feel that the use of band assistance for supermax training is more of an ego-feed than a practical application, but for over-acceleration and speed work at submaximal weights, it is the best option.
Band resisted, or simply "banded", lifts are the inverse of the above and have the potential to be the most difficult depending on how they are used. Similar to uphill running, a slight incline can be great for speed training and a high incline will be more difficult and strength focused. Banded lifts still make the top of the lift harder, but by adding resistance there instead of taking away weight at the bottom. The real killer with this type of training is that it causes a constant deceleration. In a typical lift, your goal is to accelerate to the top, and as you apply force over time, momentum is generated. This can carry you through sticking points and cover up weaknesses. With a banded lift, that acceleration is almost neutralized. Now you must generate more force through the whole of the movement. Imagine pulling a sled on wheels. Once its moving, it is easier to keep moving. Now flatten the tires or take the wheels off (or drag it uphill); no more momentum. Banded lifts are similar. The setup here can have tension at the bottom of the lift but be sure to account for it when deciding on your bar weight. A handheld suitcase scale or hanging game scale is great for measuring band tension. (I picked one up pretty cheap from Tractor Supply Co that goes up to 400 lbs.) For practical use, banded lifts can (and most suitably should) be used for acceleration training. While they can be used for supermax training as well, I will only discuss their use for acceleration training here. Again, ensure that the total resistance is below ~80%, as we want max bar speed. The ratio of weight to bands can vary greatly. Some elite lifters still only add a set amount of band tension regardless of bar weight. I like percentages and would probably start with an 80:20 ratio of weight to band load at 65%, just to get a feel for it and keep Prilepin happy. Check the band resistance at the bottom and the top so you know what you are moving. With both band assisted and band resisted acceleration focused exercises, it is vital that you position the band and yourself in such a way that the pull of resistance is directly in line with the bar path. With the bands being fixed, any deviation may pull you out of position (using bands with a purposeful forward pull is a different case and will be covered in a later article).
Chains look cool and make that badass sound that gets heads to turn in the gym, so that might be partially why they're my favorite type of AR. Sadly they are the least common in commercial gyms, likely due to availability. I still haven't found a good set for my own gym. Chains, similar to banded lifts, load heavier as you raise the bar. The big difference is that they are weight, not resistance, so they are more susceptible to momentum. While they can be used for acceleration training, they do not serve this purpose as well as bands, due in part to swing and bounce at high speeds. I believe that their primary use should be for overload/supermax training, or for possible deload training (when used at lower weights) Personally, I enjoy supermax training when squatting with chains, and like to shoot for a top end of 60%1RM in bar weight and 60%1RM in added chains. This gives a 120% load at the top but a manageable weight at the bottom. Setup should have a lead chain that hangs about to your hip and then the weight chains hanging from that. The lead chain and weight chains should be attached in such a way that about 3 links of the first weight chain are on the ground at lockout, and the bulk of the chain rests on the floor at the bottom of the lift. The links on the ground help to limit swing and add stability at the top of the lift. The full deload at the bottom helps you build into the concentric portion of the lift. As long as the chain length is set correctly, chains can actually be easier to use than bands. Since the chains are only attached to the bar and hang straight down, they do not typically pull you off center like heavy bands can, but swing will always be present on the walkout so be sure to stabilize each lift. When using chains for deadlifts, it is important that they not be in the way of the plates hitting the floor. This can cause the weights to be deflected away from you causing loss of position, or, even worse, towards you, smashing the bar into your shins.
While each of these accommodating resistance variations has multiple applications, the ones I have described herein are the ones which I personally feel are most optimal and take full advantage of their unique dynamics. While I encourage non-beginner level athletes who have not tried these methods to consider them for their own training, I do not wish to discourage anyone from continuing to use a method that has worked for them. There are just as many strength coaches out there as there are ways to perform a lift, so feel free to research these methods more on your own or tell me your training preference or personal experience in the comments. If you integrate any these methods into your training, be sure to let me know how they work for you.
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