Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rehab Strength with FOCUSED Eccentrics (and Fat Gripz)

Lower loads and higher reps can rebuild strength. Doing those loads with (a) focus on quality eccentrics (b) tempo and (c) a simple grip element like Fat Gripz seems to help accelerate recovery.

I should say also that i've had fat gripz in my bag for awhile. Simple Strength Monk of the North Rannoch Donald first brought them to my attention,  and lots of folks testify to their awesomeness, so i've been waiting till i could find a b2d angle for 'em for those of us who mayn't be using the Big Bars all the time. And i think i have. Here's what i've found.

(Just skip this section if you want to get to the How To, below) Some of you may be aware i tweaked my shoulder awhile ago which rather put my usual shoulder activities, like single or double kettlebell work, out of action. Quel Drag. Even pull ups were not such the Happy Place.  Finally, though, my shoulder's been feeling ready to explore some load. So i've been coming back into Pavel's Return of the Kettlebell - a lovely protocol for double kettlebell work.

Of course i'm having to swallow that the place i'm starting from is further behind where i was at just over a year ago now, when i'd finished up 6 months of RTK with the RKC II certification in San Jose. Happy times.

Gently Gently
One of the things i enjoyed doing the first time through RTK was based on a combination of suggestions from coach Roland Fisher and Chad Waterbury's Huge in a Hurry. It's the idea of tempo to stimulate hypertrophy. To reiterate Roland's version of the hypertrophy protocol:
  1. go for loads that allow 20 reps per set
  2. keep the tempo the same
  3. drop the load each set as necessary to keep the tempo
  4. keep going till down to about nil load.
Men's Health Huge in a Hurry: Get Bigger, Stronger, and Leaner in Record Time with the New Science of Strength Training (Men's Health (Rodale))I've written abit the value of tempo beyond hypertrophy before, too: tempo stimulates different muscle patterns. Lighter let's one go faster, too. Speed is important even for big lifts. To know speed we must practice speed. Etc etc.

Lower Loads with  Higher Volume not only give speed, but build strength. I've written about this going light to get heavy (inspired by Asha Wagner's conquering the Beast Challenge); dan john talks about this approach, and preaches it as part of Pavel's even easier strength (40 days of low load AND low volume, done every day).

The When
Right now, as said, i'm working on Pavel's RTK protocol which means being pretty humble with my strength work limitations on bringing back my left shoulder.  So the low load work i'm describing is as an arm + light shoulder finisher. I have *not* done the following as a stand alone routine.

A little more Background
Originally when i ran this finisher post RTK, i'd just grab a couple of powerblocks, and do sets of biceps curls, overhead triceps curls, and shoulder raises. The ritual was just to keep up a crisp tempo, dropping the load about five pounds each set to keep the tempo. I wasn't too focused on anything other than getting the weight up quickly, and keeping the tempo; quitting the set if the tempo dropped before i got to the goal number.

And then, Something happened: well two things happened. First
on the overhead triceps curls, i was finding that my usual load for the left side, just couldn't happen at speed with good form. Bummer. How go that much lighter and still get work? Second: i found my eccentric. Somehow - and this may sound like "duh" to many of you - i started contracting on the eccentric. And found "the money" - at least for me.

Focused Eccentrics
What i mean is, that, while keeping the tempo of the speed up especially for the curl in, rather than just rushing the arms down (overspeed the eccentric, as it were), i focused on keeping on a contraction while going into what feels like more of a forced eccentric. And my GOSH that's WORK. oh wow. IT's even work *without* load - it's like turning isometrics into movement.

Now, "focused eccentrics" may be just basic to some of you, but i have to say, i haven't come across work that has said focus on holding the contraction in the eccentic. I have heard about "lower slowly"  - you know, rip the bar up fast, but slow it down coming down.

I've done all that. Lots of us have played with that. But that slow lowering - for me anyway - has never resulted in the same effect or feeling as visualizing the muscle and focusing on *it* staying contracted and feeling that contraction throughout the lowering of the weigth - and certainly not when doing this at any kind of speed/tempo.  In other words, rather than thinking "keep the bar going down for a three count" it's "feel the biceps contract at the top and keep that feeling while prying the joint open - fast - but keep the muscle ON for the whole movement"  For me the mental focus has had a really intereting effect.

And just to put the icing on the cake: adding fat gripz to the lighter load means working the grip - working the extensors in the arm, the brachioradialis, it's wild - really, you can get fried with just some focus. Here's how...

The How To: Focused Eccentrics and Fat Gripz
Remember, i'm doing the following AFTER i've done a whole workout of double kettlebell presses, squats and deadlifts. So my grip's been working and so have my arms. And i just want to get a little bit more.
humble 5lb dumbbell made Mean Machine with
Fat Gripz sleeve and Focused Eccentric
  • I start with a weight where i can do 20 reps at a pretty good clip and maintain that tempo throughout the set.
  • I squeeze the contraction of the agonist muscle at the top
  • NEW BIT: hold that contraction while pulling down the load - so pulling against myself is what it feels like. Mentally, i'm focusing on feeling that muscle contraction through the whole eccentric. So let's just call these "focused eccentrics."
  • Drop the load whenever i can't complete the 20 at that pace. For me that's just about each set i'm dropping five pounds. 
  • Fat GRIPZ. When i'm down to five pounds - where i have a pair of five pound db's, i have the fat gripz on these (pictured) - makes 'em look a little more serious, eh? Here's the fun part: just try keeping that contraction in the eccentric with the fat gripz on the five (or whatever load you'd like for your light 'bell(s). 
Extensors for free: why that's a good idea. Oh wow, i tried to make a cup of tea for myself after this and trying to pick up the tea kettle was an intriguing challenge. Like said, the fat gripz work the extensors practically without trying. This extensor work is great: generally speaking in kb work or barbell work, we work focusing on a neutral wrist, closed fist. This kind of grip privileges the flexors of the hand/wrist. The antagonists of the wrist - the extensors (the top of the forearm) don't tend to get as much work.

Extensor Muscles in the forearm. Get your Fat Gripz on.

The fat gripz ensure that *while gripping* which is a flexor movement, we can't close our hands in such a small grip, so with the fingers open a bit more, we're actually drawing on the extensors, the antagonist muscles to the flexors (same as triceps are antagonists to biceps).

This wider grip work offers, one might be tempted to say, a more balanced approach to grip work since it hits agonist/antagonist at the same time (if not exactly to the same degree - it's still a work out), and that's a Good Thing - especially is one does a lot of typing/knowledge work stuff during the day, too.

DO Try this at Home
If y'all want to try this experiment for yourself,
  • grab a pair of dumbells that lets you do 20 reps - and just about only 20 perfect reps - at a nice tempo.
  • At the top of the rep (in the curl), do what strength coaches have recommended for ages: give a squeeze - just don't let go of the squeeze as you extend your arm: keep the squeeze on during the eccentric contraction of the muscle (while the arm is extending). 
Just see how that feels after doing even one set: do you feel the muscle any more keenly from that concentration? Does it feel like real work towards the end of the set?

And as said, if you like this movement, and want to make it even sweeter, git yourself some Fat Gripz, and take your whole arm/shoulder to the next level.

Summary: Enhanced Muscle Activation/Strength from FOCUSED Extension - with Fat Gripz can be achieved with tempo, low loads and some volume. That focused eccentric CONRTACTION into extension is the money. Add the fat gripz, seems pretty golden. Visualize the muscle holding the contration while extending.

Pump Bonus? Ok i confess: i also measured my arms before and after doing a few of these sets. For those folks who like the Pump (overviewed here), i was not displeased with the effect. If fact i was kinda surprised on the difference between (a) first focused eccentric vs just tempo and (b) focused eccentric + fat gripz vs focused eccentric alone. In other words: bigger with focused eccentric; even bigger with fat gripz + focused eccentric.
Why FG's? I'm also happy to recommend Fat Gripz because in my experience of the company, they really care about customer satisfaction. As in, they will work to make sure you are satisfied with service and product. For folks in the UK, nice thingtoo? they have distributors here, so no outrageous markup on shipping. 

Please let me know if you give either the focused eccentric or focused eccentric + fat gripz a try and what you find.



xochilnocturna said...

In the Enter the Kettlebell video, isn't that concentration one of the cues? "Pull the bell down"?

The tempo bit seems like a way to game the system if you were doing a Gym Movement based protocol

dr. m.c. said...

Yes for sure:
Pull down the bell
Pull yourself into the hole
Push the ground away from you
And as noted in the article
Lower the bar down slowly
Are all familiar cues
They may work for many folks
They may work for you
That's great
What is suggested here is that for some of us, maybe focusing more particularly on the muscle action in the move may have a more sharpened effect
It certainly has for me - connected in a way that "pulling" per se hadn't
Folks' mileage may vary.
That's cool. We're complex; multiple paths
thanks for dropping by

Roland Fisher said...

I love it when such connections are made. It makes this pursuit a pleasurable one.

A lot of bodybuilders have used this focused eccentric to great effect. Thanks for the reminder, and thanks for the shout out!


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