Old School Training & How To Make It Harder

On the spectrum of adopting new technologies, products, or ideas, there are innovators and what they call “laggards”. For purposes of this blog, I prefer to call them “Old Schoolers”. I don’t like the term laggard because it implies that they are dragging their feet – when in fact doing things the traditional way can still be pretty dang beneficial. A simple example of this is running – we’ve created technology so that you are able to run indoors, without ever leaving your house… but running outside is still a great option that can give you the exact same results (or more if we include the benefits of Vitamin D).

If you scroll through Instagram or YouTube you’re likely to see photos and videos of new exercises guaranteed to get you results (insert skeptical eyebrow raise here). We’ve introduced stability balls, BOSU balls, bands, chains, straps, pause reps, boxes, and a ton of different bar variations to the fitness world over the last few decades. Each of these items can be used to take your training to the next level as an athlete. They can also simply introduce a new way of performing a movement, which we know can produce results for beginners and experienced individuals. However, you shouldn’t automatically take someone’s post about a new way to use the hamstring machine for triceps as an advancement for the exercise community.

Traditional aka “old school” weightlifting uses barbells and dumbbells to perform the ‘Big Three’ movements: Squat, Bench, & Deadlift. These three lifts are used in powerlifting, but are also staples in any bodybuilder’s training regimen. The deadlift and squat are two of the most effective compound movements used in training due to the amount of muscles being utilized and the amount of calories burned while performing them. Don’t forget that each of these movements has multiple variations including grip and foot placement – add in varying amounts of sets and reps at different weights, and you can exhaust your muscles without ever leaving the platform. To the horror (and delight) of some weightlifters, there are even more ways to adapt these exercises to create maximum muscle breakdown for strength and size.

Pause Reps | One of the easiest ways to change an exercise… but it is not easy! The principle is simple; say you are doing squats – at the bottom of the squat, right before you contract your muscles to begin the ascent…. you pause. For what may seem like an eternity, a couple of seconds paused at the bottom stops any momentum or “cheating” you may use otherwise. Pausing during your reps makes you rely solely on the strength of your muscles – no tricks or bouncing – so it is a very effective way to build more strength. {*} One other thing they can help with – your ego. You typically have to lower your weight in order to execute a pause rep, so stay humble.

Bands | Bands have several applications – like cables, they create a constant tension throughout a movement. If you have ever watched someone use dumbbells for bent over rows or bicep curls, you probably noticed that they can swing or jerk the weight up using momentum, meaning that the tension on the muscle is actually decreased. The tension can also decrease during movements like bicep curls with dumbbells, where the weight at the top of a curl is actually moving downward towards your shoulder, therefore going with gravity rather than against it. Bands by their nature, become more difficult/ “heavier” the farther you stretch them, and they can be stretched in any direction.* You can use bands on their own for curls, raises, flys, rows, etc. the list goes on and on. You can also attach bands to the bars during squats, deadlifts, and bench to increase resistance as well as changing the direction of resistance.

Chains | Chains work under the ‘accommodating resistance” concept.. meaning that the load on the bar accommodates the varying strengths of your body throughout the entire range of motion rather than at a certain point.** AKA the resistance changes throughout the exercise. Chains are most commonly used on deadlifts, squats, and bench; for good reason. These lifts fall under the ascending strength curve – they are easiest at the top, and hardest at the bottom range of motion. By adding looped chains, the extra weight you have added to the bar will slightly decrease at the bottom of the lift (because the chains are now lying on the floor instead of being held up by you) and then increase at the top half (as you lift the chains off of the floor, you are literally adding more weight as you push up).

BFR Straps | Blood Flow Restriction, or occlusion straps, were originally used to treat the elderly and post operative populations. The concept is to restrict venous blood flow to either your upper extremities or lower (DON’T ever do both at once) using wraps that are wrapped to a perceived tightness of 7 out of 10 ***. Once wrapped, you will perform an exercise with a low load, about 20 – 30% of your 1 rep max. The most widely used method is to do a first set of 30 reps, rest for 30 seconds, then complete 3 more sets of 15 with 30 seconds rest in between ****. If you are unable to complete 15 reps on the first set, or are using swinging or momentum, your weight is too high. The reason this style of training was initially created was to help patients rehab or try to increase their muscle mass and strength, while protecting their weakened joints. BFR training is quickly becoming one of the most popular trends in the gym owing to the positive results seen by these special populations. However, it is important to note that several of the studies conducted on BFR training measured outcomes that suggest that BFR training with low relative loads may lead to similar or slightly inferior results than conventional resistance training using high relative loads. *** If you have never tried BFR, I do recommend it to introduce variety into your training, but do not depend on it solely. It’s also a great way to experience a muscle pump!

I could go on and on explaining all of the ways that we have adapted exercises, but I think it’s important to note that for many individuals, you don’t need to introduce these tactics right away. If you are just beginning to resistance train or you are coming back from a long hiatus, stick to the basic principles. Studies have shown that in the first 8-20 weeks of resistance training, many of the “gains” you experience are neural adaptations; meaning that your body is discovering the most effective way to produce a movement or force and becomes better at recruiting and activating the muscles correctly. ***** This does not mean that you aren’t building muscle during these weeks, it just means that those jumps in the weight you are adding to the bar are likely due to your nervous system’s learning curve. There is no need to throw in chains, bands, straps (unless you are recovering from an injury or surgery), or blocks.. just lift some freakin’ weights!



* https://bodylastics.com/elastic-resistance-vs-free-weights-by-jim-stoppani-phd/
** https://www.elitefts.com/education/training/benefits-of-lifting-chains/
*** https://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/blood-flow-restriction-training-bfr/
**** https://www.onnit.com/academy/is-it-legit-occlusion-training-for-muscle-growth/
***** https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3057313?ordinalpos=6&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
{*} https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/get-stronger-and-stay-honest-with-pause-reps

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