Written by: Kevin Cann
We have all heard that we should move the weights with intent, but what does this mean and why do we want to do this? Powerlifting is a sport where we lift the most weight for a single repetition in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. We need to develop the qualities necessary to do this at our highest levels.
When we are lifting, we want to apply maximal force to the submaximal weights the same way that we would with a max effort weight. The difference between the 2 will be with the velocity of the barbell. We want the load to slow the speed, not for us to do that intentionally.
When we lift maximal weights, we are moving as fast as we can against a large load. Fred Hatfield had said that no one can lift heavy weights slow, and he is 100% correct. The weight slows you down, not you. Strength is measured in time. You only have so much time to complete a lift. At some point the weight becomes heavy enough to where you run out of time. In order to hit that next bigger weight you either need to get stronger or faster.
You can develop the quality to strain longer to give yourself more time. This is where bands and chains come in. The peak contraction principle states that we will hit peak forces where we have the least leverage and as leverages improve deceleration will occur. Bands and chains remove this improved leverage and force the lifter to maintain high levels of force throughout the force posture curve.
Bands and chains also overload the eccentric action which gives the nervous system information. This information is that the nervous system must have a strong enough concentric contraction to overcome the greater eccentric contraction. Bands have kinetic energy where the kinetic energy for chains is lost on the ground. This creates even a greater response from our tendons, where the stretch shortening cycle is located. This is how we take advantage of our elastic capabilities and build them.
If we only train straight weight, we are only building the muscle itself and not the connective tissue. This means that we are not taking advantage of building our explosive capabilities. At some point you will need to be both strong and fast. In fact, explosive strength and maximal strength work simultaneously together during the lifts.
According to Verkoshansky, the brain most likely treats eccentric and concentric muscle contraction differently. When there is a large eccentric load followed by a concentric contraction there is a transition known as the overcoming phase. When we have large loads with and eccentric contraction followed by a concentric contraction the major role is played by explosive strength expressed in the overcoming phase.
We need maximal effort under heavy loads to build the inter and intramuscular coordination necessary to move big loads. However, we need to move lighter loads with maximal effort to build the neurological responses necessary to get more motor units firing more quickly and more efficiently. Bands and chains are an important concept here.
When we move submaximal weights with maximal effort, we get a strong peak force that also comes with a strong drop off. If we give submaximal effort, we will have a smaller force sustained over a longer period. The latter can have its purpose in training, but we want to focus on force production. How will you apply 102% force by practicing applying 70% force to a barbell? You won’t.
Each repetition we perform will lead to a drop in force production. This is where we need to pay attention for the selection of set and rep schemes. For myself, the 3rd repetition slows so I perform doubles in the squat and only singles in the deadlift.
I was doing 5x5s, but the body will conserve energy lowering the force output on earlier repetition while fatiguing on later repetitions, so I was not getting many quality reps. Even just doing 6-8 singles in the pull has led to an increase in quality reps and a huge increase in my deadlift from August.
We need to find submaximal weights that we an apply maximal force to. If it is too light it will just throw us out of position. If it is too heavy it will slow us down. We need weights that we can move fast with maximal intent. This is a range and not. Given percentage point. This range is between 70% and 80% of 1RM. We can manipulate bar weight and band tension to get to these percentages to train different strength qualities. Bar weight between 40% and 60% will build explosive strength and bar weight between 50% and 80% will build speed strength.
This alone will not increase maximal strength. This needs to be combined with the max effort method to build that coordination as well as with key exercises to build up weaker areas. We bring up these weaknesses with key exercises and then develop their coordination with the rest of the system in more complex motor tasks.
All strength qualities must be trained to truly develop one’s highest level of potential. They are all important and all play a role in our ability to display the highest levels of strength that we can.