Forms of Variable Resistance Training


D. Travis McMaster,1 John Cronin, PhD,1,2 and Michael McGuigan, PhD, CSCS1 Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia; and 2AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand


resistance, and variable resistance (VR). Constant external resistance is defined as an unchanging external load throughout the range of motion and is the most popular form of resistance training, because many believe it better simulates real-life activities and provides a more natural coordination of the musculature (32,48,56). Accommodating resistance equipment is designed to exert speed controlled or isokinetic resistance throughout the full range of motion, more recently termed semi-isokinetic resistance (60). Fluid-based resistance remains undefined, because it resembles both accommodating and VR. Hydraulic (liquid-controlled) and pneumatic (gas-controlled) equipment are 2 forms of fluid resistance. VR equipment is designed to change the external resistive load throughout an exercise’s range of motion; the different types of VR equipment include rubber-based resistance (RBR), chains, and cam and lever systems. To assist in understanding some of the concepts discussed in this article, a basic knowledge of human strength curves, kinematics, and kinetics and their importance in explaining the adaptive potential of an exercise, loading scheme, and resistance type are required because it is the mechanical stimuli that dictate the hormonal and metabolic responses. Kinematics describes the change in position of an object via variables such as position, displacement, time, velocity, and acceleration (28). Kinetics describes the forces and their effects on the motion or kinematics of an object (51). Each type of resistance can offer a unique set of kinematics and kinetics and

therefore differential musculoskeletal adaptation. Human strength curves are based on movements about single joints using 2-dimensional coordinate systems but also have been extended to include multi-joint movements with the use of 3-dimensional coordinate systems. Strength curves are classified into 3 categories: ascending, descending, and bell-shaped, which are determined by the force-angle (torque) relationship within the musculoskeletal system (Figure 1) (24,40,66,67). Multi-joint strength curves are calculated by summing the torques of all involved joints in the exercise movement, which provides an overall measure (estimate) of the maximum muscular capability in the system; for example, during the traditional squat, a sum of torques would be determined by adding the individual torques produced at ankle, knee, hip, and trunk, respectively. The percentage of force and torque produced at each joint may very depending on the mode of resistance, exercise movement, velocity of movement, and the amount of external resistance lifted; however, further investigation is required to determine the exact contribution of the involved musculature and joints (23). Strength curves have been developed by theoretical and experimental means. Theoretical strength curves predict the torque capabilities of the musculoskeletal system through cadaver dissection where the following physiological and biomechanical


esistance training, once used by a very small group of elite athletes and weight lifting enthusiasts, has grown immensely in popularity during the past 3 decades and is currently practiced by a large number of people within society. There are many modes of resistance training and a multitude of variables that can be manipulated to benefit the musculoskeletal system. In terms of the modes of resistance that can be used to induce musculoskeletal adaptation, 3 broad categories typically are used: constant external resistance, accommodating


biomechanics; rubber bands; steel chains; cams and levers; kinematics; kinetics

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the shape of strength curves are similar when comparing isometric to concentric or eccentric isokinetic testing for a specific joint range of motion (30). leg press. exercise movement examples include the bench press. and clinician. squat. and brachioradialis muscles must produce a force and create a torque that is greater than that created VR equipment is designed to alter the resistance placed on the musculoskeletal system throughout the range of motion. such as running. The majority of sport movements. dumbbell) leading to rotation about the elbow joint (66). Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. and power clean (10). and throwing. leg press. brachialis. Torque capabilities during multi-joint movements are influenced by a number of physiological and biomechanical factors. fiber lengths. VR TRAINING Strength curves approximate the torque (relationship between force generation and joint angle) production capabilities for specified exercise movements (37). This framework provides the direction for future discussion of VR training. and brachioradialis muscles) with proximal insertion points causing rotation about a single axis (1 degree of rotational freedom). pennation angle. strength and conditioning coach. the origin and insertion location points. Three major strength curves: force production versus joint angle. and the size. and type of motor units recruited (20. properties are measured: muscle crosssectional area. Strength can be defined as the maximal force and torque (rotational force) a musculoskeletal lever system can generate at a given velocity (18. creating torque about the elbow leading to an external endpoint force that is applied to an external resistive load (e. the arrangement of thin and thick filaments. Human strength curves of single joint movements (see Figure 1) are generally easy to categorize. such as flexion–extension. as movement is generated via a single muscle or group of muscles (i. and the location of origin and insertion points. Strength and Conditioning Journal | www. the biceps brachii.e. bench press.40). and eccentric contractions at varying speeds and loading conditions. Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. the musculoskeletal lever system gains a mechanical advantage and is able to bare larger external resistive forces. deadlift. number. brachialis.42).. and corresponding angles (36). such as 51 . Exercises with ascending strength curves include the squat. The dumbbell arm curl can be used to explain the relationship between internal forces acting within and external forces acting on the musculoskeletal system.35. During many multi-joint movements.39. occur in sequential order. Muscular force generation and torque production are dependent upon a number of physiological. When the segments of these multi-joint movements approach full extension. the accumulation of forces generated about each joint along the kinetic chain results in an assimilation of joint torques. Biomechanically. sarcomere lengths. and isokinetic dynamometers are used to calculate joint torque capability (23. in an attempt to match the various exercise strength curves (24). elevation–depression. Knowledge of the biomechanical relationships and the subsequent benefits and limitations of the different modes of resistance would seem of great practical benefit to the practitioner. ultrasound. the type(s) of coordinated muscle actions.36. biceps brachii. and shoulder press. or internal rotation– external rotation. deadlift.g.38). force plates. where movement is initiated by the larger proximal muscles and segments..21. and neural factors. brachialis and brachioradialis muscles generate an internal force that is transferred through their respective tendons. Multi-joint movements are complex and more difficult to categorize because movement occurs about multiple joints (multiple degrees of rotational freedom) in multiple planes and must be represented by 3-dimensional coordinate systems.nsca-lift. muscle length. and then transferred to smaller distal muscles and segments along the kinetic chain. During the dumbbell arm curl. In these exercises. contraction speed. including the architecture of the involved musculature and joints. Strength can be measured during isometric. kicking. the biceps the weight of the dumbbell to cause a concentric contraction and flexion at the elbow. in vivo force transducers. concentric. biomechanical. including muscle cross-sectional area. adduction–abduction.28). This phenomenon is known as the summation of forces and or the summation of speed principle (10. maximum Figure 1. theoretically these movements would be supplemented well by VR equipment that increases in a linear or curvilinear fashion (66). Experimental strength curves are easier to develop than theoretical strength curves because live human subjects and direct strength measuring devices. the radius of the internal and external moment arms.

accommodating for the musculoskeletal systems mechanical advantage. Cam and lever systems have a fixed resistive load. An ‘‘irregular-shaped cam’’ designed by Herz of Vienna in 1901. Kinematics and Kinetics of Cams and Levers. Whether this is actually the case and the practical relevance of VR training modes are not well understood. which forces the muscles to exert near maximal effort throughout the range of motion (59). which is known as a relative joint angle (shown in Figure 2). Ariel designed the ‘‘dynamic variable resistance’’ machine. therefore. the larger the radius. CAMS AND LEVERS mechanical advantage of the joints associated with a specific movement (64). which provides the focus of subsequent discussion. The length of the moment arm is proportional to the joint angle between 2 longitudinal segments during uniarticular movements. if the equipment is designed to match the different human strength curves. Mechanical advantage is a product of the force–joint angle relationship. and pullovers (37). powerlifting. as biomechanical and physiological differences between body segments and individuals are complex and not always accounted for. in 1972. supposedly leading to improvements in strength (37). The equation for torque is as follows: Torque ¼ ForceðNewtonsÞ3 Length of Movement Arm ðMetersÞ From this equation. bicep curls. rubber-based resistance (RBR). the inventor of Nautilus. elbow flexion and extension and knee flexion and extension). leg curls. the external resistance is varied by altering the length of the moment arm or radius and hence the changing radius of an ‘‘irregular shaped cam’’ (Figure 3). where maximum strength occurs around the mid-phase of the lift (24). chin-ups. allowed for increased resistance at points where strength was greatest and decreased the resistance at points where the strength was lowest. and chains. Jones designed his first prototype in 1948 and then released the first cam run Nautilus machine onto the market in 1970 (58). the greater the resistance and vice versa (30). rehabilitation.Forms of Variable Resistance Training strength and force production capability occur near the apex of the lift (24). Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. who in his equipment design used a shellshaped cam very similar to that of Herz. Moment arm versus relative elbow joint angle. In a descending strength curve.g. therefore. examples include bent-over and upright rows. 52 VOLUME 31 | NUMBER 1 | FEBRUARY 2009 . such as leg extensions. pull-ups. the system attempts to provide resistance changes to match the musculoskeletal systems ability to produce torque at various joint angles along the movement path (26. and lat pull-downs. These forms of resistance are used throughout the sport science. where the force exerted by the muscles will vary with the Figure 2. The reader needs to be cognizant of the fact that human strength curves are generalized to the samples studied. the machines resistive torque attempts to match human torque capabilities for uniarticular movements. Several years later. In theory. it can be observed that torque may be altered by either changing the amount of external or internal force acting on or within a body segment. The same can be said for lever systems.32). A cam system’s resistive torque increases in proportion to the radius of the cam. This design was adapted by Jones. Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. Therefore. where length changes in the effective lever increase or decrease the effective resistance throughout the exercise movement. Single joint exercise movements generally have bell-shaped strength curves (e. strength and conditioning. and weightlifting world. then the contracting muscles would maximize force production throughout the range of motion and maximal gains in strength would be achieved (22). Current forms of VR equipment include cams and levers. maximum strength is produced at the start of the lift. In other words. or by changing the length of these respective moment arms. Three notable Lever and cam systems are designed to change the external moment arm (the length or radius) of the corresponding lever or cam to approximate the body’s changing moment arm (leverage and mechanical advantage) during the lift.. which used an external lever arm to match the musculoskeletal changing lever system for numerous of exercise movements (2). The length of the moment arm shortens and lengthens in proportion to the decreasing and increasing joint angles. The moment arm is the perpendicular distance from the fulcrum (axis of rotation) to the point of force application (external load or tendon attachment). Cam and lever systems create a varying torque that opposes and corresponds to the torque production ability of the different musculoskeletal lever systems (38).

in terms of matching the external resistance and the muscular force capabilities of the elbow flexors at varying joint angles (see Figure 4) (59). Strength and Conditioning Journal | www. Ability of muscle to produce force and create torque is greatest in the first quarter of the lift and progressively decreases throughout the last three-quarters of the lift as the mechanical advantage diminishes throughout the lift. Hay and Andrews (34) studied the biomechanical effects of the Universal arm curl machine versus barbell arm curls and found that the machine provided a VR more consistent with the working muscles capacity to exert force throughout the range of motion than the barbell curl. Given that mass remains constant.Figure 3. which is a desirable training goal for many athletic movements. Regardless of this inherent limitation. Universal. and elbow flexion. theoretically causing the working muscles to exert maximum force throughout the complete range of motion. Ability of muscle to produce force and create torque is highest during the middle portions of the lift and lowest in the first and last quarter of the lift. cam shapes with varying moment arms have been designed by Nautilus. it is difficult to construct a machine that accommodates everyone’s unique anthropometry. therefore. knee flexion. as the working muscles should be producing near maximal force/torque values over a longer period of time than constant external resistance modes. cam and lever systems have grown in popularity and are currently used in many fitness and rehabilitation centers worldwide. elbow extension. The cams changing radius is designed to minimize the negative effects of momentum by matching external resistance to the internal force and torque generating capabilities (mechanical advantage) of the musculature. to match the machines resistive torque to human torque capabilities for specific exercises (Table 1). an example of which can be observed in Figure 5. angular impulse should be greater when cambased machines are used. and other manufacturers. They found that the 4 machines accommodated the subjects fairly well by creating machine resistive torque curves similar to human torque curves. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. Johnson et al. The benefits and Table 1 Human strength curves for various cam based exercise movements (adapted from Fleck and Kraemer [24]) Strength curve Ascending Descending Bell-shaped Exercise example Deadlift Chest press Squats Seated row Lat pull-downs Elbow flexion and extension Knee flexion and extension Mechanical definition Ability of muscle to produce force and create torque is lowest at the start of lift and increases throughout the ascent phase due to an increase in mechanical advantage. Changing radius of a pullover cam machine.nsca-lift. It must be noted that as a result of individual variations of size and 53 . They found that the barbell curl was inferior to the Universal arm curl machine. Angular impulse is proportional to the amount of applied torque produced over time. (37) compared human torque capabilities and machine resistive torque by using 4 Eagle cam-based resistance machines that included knee extension. the net result of an increase in angular impulse should be an increase in average angular velocity.

Forms of Variable Resistance Training Figure 4... which can be beneficial when correcting muscle imbalances. Both forms of exercise should be used in rehabilitation and training programs to provide varying training stimuli. Some of the aforementioned benefits also are considered limiting factors in the development of certain kinematic and kinetic variables. Force-angle curves are affected by mechanical variables. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. which are discussed in the following section. however. and velocity of movement (26). Cam and lever resistance may also be beneficial as a supplement to weightbearing exercises in programs for osteoporotic and osteoarthritic populations. such as patellofemoral pain syndrome (25. traditional squats) produce greater compressive forces and single joint movements (i.. anterior cruciate ligament reconstructions) and certain pathologies. Cam and lever equipment is suitable for beginner and weak resistance trainers because it follows a fixed movement path and requires less skill.29).. the most notable benefit to using cams is their ability to create a resistance system that matches the musculature’s ability to generate force and produce torque throughout the entire range of an exercise. in terms of kinematic and kinetic profiles.65)... Patellofemoral pain syndrome (patellar malalignment) is thought to be caused by a strength imbalance between the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis.e. Machine resistive torque (MRT) versus human torque capability (HTC) for knee flexion (adapted from Johnson et al.e.45). In general. knee extension and flexion) have the capability to isolate specific muscle groups (e. Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. torque changes through the various angles are based on sample averages (26.29. leg extensions) produce greater shearing forces on the involved joints (e. [36]). instead. Furthermore. One major limitation is that the movement pattern of cam and lever equipment cannot be manipulated by the lifter to suit his/her mechanical and physiological needs. knee) and surrounding musculature (43). During equipment design. and is less likely to cause injury compared with other modes of resistance because it is easier to maintain control of the load (26. A problem arises in the fact that the equipment is designed for the average person and may not accommodate people that have extreme differences in anthropometry. such as limb length. rotation about a single joint axis) and multi-joint (i. the quadriceps and hamstrings). 54 VOLUME 31 | NUMBER 1 | FEBRUARY 2009 . Attempts have been made to match the machines resistive torque curves to the 3 types of human strength curves. the use of such cams is common in the rehabilitation setting where single joint (i.. rotation about 2 or more joint axes) exercise movements are used in combination for the rehabilitation of injuries (e.g. as it may provide a safe-controlled form of resistance that would help improve bone density and limit deterioration according to the stress–strain relationship between load and bone density (19. For example.g. point of tendon attachment.e. Practical Applications of Cams and Levers. It allows for unilateral and bilateral training options and no spotter is required. Harman (31) found that Nautilus Figure 5..e.51. multi-joint movements (i. the efficacy of such an approach is debatable (11).32. Comparison of 3 force-angle curves for elbow flexion (adapted from Smith [58]). decreased intermuscular coordination. limitations of their use are now discussed. As mentioned previously.g. which can be remedied by using single-joint movements in combination with multi-joint movements to increase vastus medialis strength (16).g. the lifter is required to adapt to the equipment. Single joint movements (e. Limitations of Cams and Levers.33).

As can be observed from Figure 7. elbow flexion. RBR has been primarily used by practitioners and clinicians to help patients regain strength after injury (53). development of neuromuscular coordination is hindered. ballistic and explosive movements. ranging from 1. yield and tensile strengths (4). Strength and Conditioning Journal | www. Today there are a number of manufacturers that make a variety of bands with different tensile properties. The nonlinear curves observed can be best fitted with second order polynomials. therefore. RUBBER-BASED RESISTANCE Figure 6.nsca-lift. such as stiffness (stress–strain). RBR can be set up to increase or decrease the resistive load during the ascent phase of a lift and decrease or increase the resistive load during the descent phase. all of these products are viscoelastic. deformation increases in direct proportion to the amount of tension placed on the RBR product. Tension ¼ kðstiffnessÞ3 dðdeformationÞ During the elastic region. The equipment can also be set up to help athletes overcome the initial sticking point in the bench press and the squat.e. today. RBR can be attached to the bar and/or athlete to offer a degree of unloading. RBR products were initially designed for rehabilitating and restoring muscle and joint functions. For a detailed discussion of viscoelasticity please refer to any good biomechanical text.61). therefore. exhibiting nonlinear or viscous properties in combination with linear elastic properties. The various rubber band tensions and elongation percentages (changes in deformation) are depicted in Figure 8 (53). The way in which tension of RBR is delivered is dependent on the setup of the apparatus (64). Other limitations include capital outlay for equipment cost and thereafter equipment maintenance (29). This can be observed in the diagram below comparing the tension and deformation of various sized rubber bands (Figure 7). and this linear relationship can exist for deformations of up to 300% depending on the composition of the product ( 55 . Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. density. Various elastic resistance products.75 Newtons in tension at twice the bands resting length (53. The aesthetic differences between the various RBR products can be observed in Figure 6 (53). since it does not fully describe the exact type of resistance that tubing. and the pullover. Bands.. Strength and conditioning coaches have also adopted and adapted RBR training in an attempt to improve athletic performance. Deformation-tension curves of RBR are closely related to the ascending strength curve. That is.. bungies. knee-flexion. knee-extension. Nautilus cams are theoretically designed to match the human strength curves as the joint segment moves through a controlled path (32). The term RBR is used throughout this article because the term elastic resistance can be misleading. RBR should theoretically supplement ascending strength curve exercises. and bungies are polymer-based products with varying composition depending on the type of polymer (i. which are key characteristics in almost all sports. this form of resistance may not be beneficial as a form of sportspecific training (29). This form of resistance has also become popular in fitness centers and frequently prescribed by gym staff and personal trainers. because design flaws were visible. The composition of these products affects the physical and mechanical properties. and bands provide. there is a relatively linear-elastic region that can be explained using Hooke’s law if the resistive forces need to be quantified.machine resistive torque did not correspond to human torque curves for the following 5 exercises: the chest fly.5 to 10. Furthermore. RBR tension can also be increased by shortening the resting length or by increasing the number of bands (7). The Hygenic Corporation was the first major producer and distributor of RBR training products and currently has 7 Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. i. and the antagonist and synergist muscles are less active (26).e. As a result. cam shapes require much modification to match machine resistive torque patterns with human torque capabilities. because of the fixed movement path of the exercise equipment. rather than simple linear functions (64). therefore. tubing. thermoplastics or elastomers) used during production. That is the tension provided by the RBR is equal to the stiffness constant (k) multiplied by the deformation (d): resistance levels on the market.28). are difficult to perform on such equipment and. they also are used for improving conditioning and balance and building strength in all individuals (61).

RBR is proportional to the amount of deformation multiplied by the stiffness constant during the elastic region of the deformation–tension curve. Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. dead-lift.5 6 11. and seated leg extension. For this to occur. standing bicep curls. as a result. the bands are attached to the top of a power rack.17. (64) reported increases in peak force (16%) and peak power (24%) were Figure 8. Rubber bands allow for variable resisted movement in a multiple of planes. and the pectoralis major (16. or a combination (oblique) of planes while maintaining consistent resistive properties in all planes.24. Strength improvements occurred in 3 major muscle groups. seated chest press. 56 VOLUME 31 | NUMBER 1 | FEBRUARY 2009 . This area is one in which the added band tension has the potential to increase muscle stimulation.. Seven 1-set exercises were performed at each session.2%). such as the sagittal. and seated chest press. unlike gravity dependent modes. the quadriceps (27. The 7 exercises included seated lat. motor unit recruitment. The program consisted of 2 training sessions per week. where the mechanical advantage is least. During the ascent phase of an ascending strength curve lift. and firing rates and in turn prevent a decrease in muscular force production throughout the last quarter of the lift (17). such as the bench press and squat are at maximal lengths. seated single leg press. The curvilinear deformation–tension properties of RBR allow for increased acceleration in the initial.7 6 10.66). Most gravity-dependent modes of training (e. A study by Damush and Damush (15) found that older adult women increased strength during an 8-week RBR training program. the added tension towards the end of the positive concentric phase may trigger an increase in muscular force generation and peak power production (64). velocity of the exercise movement increases. free weights and chains) offer the greatest amount of resistance with movements in the vertical (frontal and sagittal) plane only. pulldown.3%). such as the squat. standing tricep press. When bands are added to free weight exercises. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. A comparison between the direction of external resistance of RBR and free weights is shown in Figure 9. where the subjects 3 repetition maximums were measured on the seated lat pull down. and bench press. however. seated leg extension.6%). to provide assistance when the active muscles in movements. less-resisted positive phase of a lift.g. the latissimus dorsi (19. each exercise was performed until a level of 4 was reached on the Borg Perceived Exertion Scale.7 6 17. further research is needed to determine whether one mode is superior to the other (53). The use of RBR in training has been shown to increase strength in recreational athletes by 10–30% over 6to 12-week training periods. Deformation versus tension curves for 5 different types of RBR. therefore.Forms of Variable Resistance Training Figure 7. respectively. seated single toe press. Kinematics and Kinetics of RBR. frontal. Wallace et al. similar gains also have been reported with most other modes of resistance when used properly. the musculoskeletal system gains a mechanical advantage and force production decreases (6. transverse. Tension of rubber bands at different percentages of elongation (adapted from Page and Ellenbecker [52]).

It may be speculated that RBR allowed the lower-extremity muscles of the subjects to produce greater peak force at the position where the mechanical advantage of the segment lever system was greatest (near full extension) due to the curvilinear tensile properties of RBR and ascending strength curve properties of the squat. which are all important factors in postinjury rehabilitation (52).org 57 . gait.Figure 9. Many baseball pitchers use RBR training after reconstructive surgery of torn rotator cuffs initially to increase strength of the internal and external rotators and to the increase range of motion about the glenohumeral joint (47. Improvements in peak velocity. RBR training may be used to benefit many different components of the musculoskeletal system. In summary. It is inferred that RBR training can be used effectively in exercises with ascending strength curves because of the Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. Rotator cuff rehabilitation programs use rubber bands for this very reason. (14) compared the kinematics. and the greatest forces will be required at maximal displacement or end range of movement. so that the inherent shortcomings of either resistance type compensate for one another (7. osteoarthritic. kinetics. They found that when loads were equated that there was greater EMG activity of the vastus lateralis during the eccentric contraction of the rubber bungie supine squat. therefore. balance.55). Practical Applications of RBR. gait. force. Rehabilitation programs that use RBR training include stroke patients. Exercises performed in the transverse plane would benefit from RBR because the resistance supplied by the rubber bands is collinear to the movement.54.nsca-lift. and elderly patients have demonstrated improvements in strength. hammer throw. greater during the back squat when rubber bands were used in combination with free weights compared with the use of free weights only.52. That is. and function. (44) also found that rubber bands were a valid and reliable means to assess upper extremity strength in older adults. as RBR products allow for greater accelerations to be produced in the initial phases of a movement compared to a constant external resisted movement with an equivalent load. However. all disciplines of football. leading to improved quality of life and the prevention of falls (13. These variables (peak force and peak power) were recorded at a frequency of 500 Hz using a Quattro Jump force plate and assessed with Quattro software. and greater peak velocities were found for both ballistic squats (14). free weights provide greatest mechanical overload at the beginning or inner range of the concentric phase and the bands provide overload at the end or outer range of the concentric phase for ascending strength curve movements. as internal and external rotations about the shoulder are performed in the transverse plane.41. and mobility (53). contracture patients. Another study by Cronin et al. high jump and long jump). greater accelerations occur earlier in the eccentric phase. Through supplemented RBR training programs. including increases in muscle mass. Manor et al. RBR is prescribed and used in many rehabilitation programs because it is a portable and a relatively inexpensive low-impact. the force required to elicit movement will increase proportionally with the displacement and changing deformation–tension of the RBR. the addition of RBR to a constant external resisted movement alters the biomechanical profiles. as well explosive track and field events (sprinting. decreased body fat. and improved balance. all movements were performed with a supine squat machine. It has been suggested that the benefits of RBR are most apparent when combined with free weights. It also promotes neuromuscular coordination and stabilization.63). shot putt. which should result in increased eccentric forces and potentially greater SSC enhancement. elderly populations. momentum-controlled resistance used for multiplanar training unaffected by gravitational forces. osteoarthritic patients. and other pathological groups. the combination of both resistance modes may compliment each other throughout the entire concentric and eccentric phases for most multi-joint movements. such as rugby. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. ice hockey. stroke. and EMG of ballistic squats with and without rubber bungies and a nonballistic squat.50. Thereafter. The opposite is true of the eccentric phase in terms of the mechanical overload. (a) Rubber based resistance (collinear to the movement) versus (b) free weight resistance (perpendicular to the movement). Strength and Conditioning Journal | www. and power in the lower extremities may be beneficial to athletes participating in contact sports. power and endurance.64).

Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. Bungie plyometric training. For catchers.68 6 3. Anderson et al. once the ball is caught. resistance in the tubing is low. standing shoulder press and push press (57).47 6 5. (1) compared a free weight training group to a combined training group (freeweight plus RBR) with similar baseline measurements.42 % kg) and 2 times greater for the bench press (6. efficacy of these programs (6. It must be noted that adding RBR to sport-specific movements may change the natural coordination of the movement and result in performance decrement if used as the main source of resistance training. with a total load of 60% or 80– 85% of the athletes 1-repetition maximum (1RM) to improve peak power and peak force outputs. ballistic ability. 6. The lack of research and scientific evidence to support the practical benefits of RBR is a major limitation to the efficacy of RBR training. tubing may promote the development of speed and strength. average and peak power.22). It may be that the use of RBR is limited to a specific group of ascending strength curve exercises and may not be suitable for exercises with bellshaped and descending strength curves because it could be detrimental to the development of strength and other kinematic and kinetic variables. for the back squat and possibly other ascending strength curve exercises (49. such as the squat. For the various tennis strokes. gluteals.84 6 4. including the various tennis strokes and catcher-specific movements in baseball. but there is no empirical evidence related to the Figure 10. allowing for an increase in limb velocity and. (64).34 6 2. therefore.57. They found that supplemented RBR training improvements during the back squat and bench press were significantly greater than that of the free weight-only training group.41% kg vs. which may pose a problem for movements with significant displacements. If resistance is too low initially. Initially. dumbbells can be supplemented with rubber bands and tubing to provide an increase in resistance (7). hip. it is important to ascend quickly into the throwing position. as the athlete moves through the range of motion. where the rubber begins to break down and eventually fail. resistance progressively increases. hamstrings. such as the inability to quantify resistive load and prescribe specific loading patterns. and enhanced sport performance. (1) and Wallace et al. respectively. which increases the acceleration and subsequent medio-lateral ground reaction forces to the athlete when they step inwards (14).64). RBR also can be used to magnify the stretch load and enhance the eccentric phase during plyometric training (see Figure 10). It should also be noted that RBR products have stretch maximums known as yield and fracture points.7). and peak force.67% kg vs. Some clinicians think that the limitations of RBR training outweigh the benefits. vertical jump. the athlete begins the movement with the RBR on stretch. In this exercise. Limitations of RBR. as found in studies by Anderson et al. RBR is also applied to other sport-specific training programs. an important combination in developing a superior tennis stroke. This is done by exploding out of the squat position while simultaneously rotating the hips and feet into the correct throwing stance. and torso musculature (22).Forms of Variable Resistance Training similarities between the deformation– tension relationship of RBR and the force-joint angle relationship of an ascending strength curve. 58 VOLUME 31 | NUMBER 1 | FEBRUARY 2009 . due to the viscoelastic properties of rubber. but investigations have yet to fully demonstrate these adaptations. These increases may translate into improvements in maximum strength. the use of RBR in combination with sport-specific free weight and body weight movements may prove to be the most beneficial form of training.67% kg) with the supplemented RBR training (1). providing overload to the involved musculature (6. The back squat and bench press supplemented with RBR may be helpful in training athletes who could benefit from increased strength. A harness and RBR bands are attached to the athlete and as the athlete explodes out of the squat position resistance is increased. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. it is recommended that RBR comprises 20–35% the total resistance and free weights comprise the remaining 65– 80%. When combining bands with free weights. 3. 1RM performance was 3 times greater for the back squat (16. training the athlete to generate greater speed and power through the quadriceps.

one resistance type increases in a linear (chains) and the other in a curvilinear (RBR) fashion (Figure 11).51). (12) observed that time of applied 59 .nsca-lift. this is dependent upon the equipment set-up and goal of the movement. For example. Chains should be a minimum of 2½ meters in length. whereas chain resistance is dependent on vertical displacement and gravitational force.46. movements should be performed in the vertical plane for maximal chain resistance and optimal training benefits. (64) found that peak power during the back squat decreased by 13% using RBR at a substituted 35% of the total load when compared with RBR at 20%. Figure 11. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. although an unconventional training technique. as some powerlifting and weightlifting movements have a large range of bar displacements depending on the exercise-lift and height of the athlete-lifter. Resistive curves of. The weight of the chain is calculated by multiplying the mass (kg) of the chain links leaving the floor by gravity (~9. Wallace et al. little scientific evidence exists to support these claims. RBR is dependent on the stress–strain or deformation–tension relationship. as the bar moves upward. which is a combination of iron and carbon. Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. have become popular among some high-level power and weightlifters (12. CHAINS Chain and RBR properties are similar in that resistance increases throughout the range of motion. The additional chain length is needed because it is important to keep a portion of the chain in contact with the floor at all times to prevent injury and limit excessive oscillation and sway (9). because of contradicting deformation–tension relationship of RBR and the force–joint angle relationship of the musculoskeletal lever system. because the contracting muscle(s) would be improperly overloaded (22. acceleration.However. as chain weight increases and decreases in proportion to the number of links that leave the floor. Given these findings. Members of the powerlifting community also have used chains in their training because it is believed that this is an effective resistance mode for developing speed. Coker et al. In a research study on chains. (9) developed charts matching chain link diameter and length to mass that could prove to be of practical benefit. Future research should be conducted on measuring the kinematic and kinetic variables during varying intensities of RBR training for exercises with ascending strength curves. adding chains to the ends of a barbell has a similar net effect as RBR in the vertical direction. The long-term efficacy of RBR training on force and power output needs to be investigated and compared with other modes of resistance training. Chain structure. charts converting or equating the deformation– tension relationships of RBR bands to mass in pounds and kilograms should be readily available to assist clinicians and practitioners in prescribing specific loading intensities (62). (a) rubber-based resistance (5 different bands). and (b) chain resistance (5 different chain widths). Kinematics and Kinetics Chains. and the recruitment and activity of stabilizing and synergist muscles are increased via chain training. initial acceleration.57). length. and as the bar is lowered the resistance decreases (9). Berning et al. RBR may be inadequate for certain resistance training exercises. Strength and Conditioning Journal | www. The 2 forms differ in terms of their physical and mechanical properties. However. Also.28. rubber bands are composed of hydrocarbon polymers and chains are composed of steel. and diameter are determinants of chain weight and must be known to prescribe specific loading intensities. An example is displayed below in table form based on chain sets (two chains of equal diameter and length) (Table 2) (9). Mechanically. however. and future research is required to validate such contentions (57). density. and absolute strength. resistance progressively increases because the chains are lifted off the ground. Another study on the back squat by Ebben and Jensen (17) found no significant differences for integrated electromyography and mean ground reaction forces when using RBR at a substituted 10% of the total load compared to traditional constant external resistance squats.81 m/s2). Chains can be added to free weights to vary the loading pattern (external resistance) and training stimulus. it may be that supplemented RBR training is beneficial to a very narrow range of constant resistance loads on the loading spectrum. Because of the gravitational dependent properties of chains. Chains.

6 0.8 4. However. as this changes the kinetics of a strength exercise into a power exercise allowing for greater acceleration throughout the range of motion (5).2 71. as there is an initial increase in movement velocity and latter increase in muscular force requirement. In terms of power development.. length and diameter Length (cm) cm in cm in cm in cm in cm in Diameter 10 kg 0. this makes sense.4 Inches ¼ 3/8 ½ Mass (kg) G 7/8 1 The multi-joint movements in powerlifting (e. Whether this is actually true is yet to be determined and the reader needs to be cognizant of this limitation when reading the literature in this area. At the base of the lift.g. acceleration.1 16. due to the reduction and change in position of the sticking point for ascending strength curve movements.0 40 lbs 5. if an athlete has a maximum bench press of 100 kg. Varying the resistance throughout the lift alters the kinetic (e.8 30.3 0.6 3.4 42.4 14. With ascending strength curve exercises.8 47. as supplementing free-weights with chains will result in a greater maximum load compared with free-weight only training. the involved joints have reached full extension and the external load is applying a compressive force (65).0 7.4 0. All of these practical benefits may potentially lead to a stronger more explosive Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. due to the change (rise) in position of the sticking point.3 30.2 50 kg 1. should allow for enhanced acceleration during the initial phase of the lifts. adding chains to powerlifting movements and assistance lifts (e. and power) and kinematic (e.. possibly leading to increases in maximal strength (17.g.0 16.0 32. velocity.8 5. resulting in a total apex load greater than the athletes 1RM (105 kg).3 12.5 8.5 61..7 19. and progressively increase throughout the range of motion to match the musculoskeletal system’s increased ability to produce force and create torque (9).6 61.2 24. work.6 95.g.1 21.4 200 kg 5.8 1.1 8. the chains’ external resistance and human torque capabilities are low. the musculoskeletal system gains a mechanical advantage as the working muscles extend the involved joint segments.12.. caused by the progressively increasing external resistive load of the chains.6 150 kg 3. and the jerk phase in the clean and jerk) in weightlifting with ascending strength curves.g. It has been suggested that chains improve strength and power. and acceleration) variables. force.6 28.0 10. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. The use of chains alone and in combination with free weight training is becoming more frequently used by strength and conditioning practitioners as a method of training. deadlift. stabilization and enhanced neurological adaptation (9.g.8 4 lbs 0.3 1. 60 VOLUME 31 | NUMBER 1 | FEBRUARY 2009 . As for optimal gains in power.2 25.57).5 3..9 3. with 80–85% of the percentage load coming from free weight resistance and 15–20% from chains.57).0 20 lbs 2. extend the duration of the acceleration phase and subsequently increase velocity during the positive (concentric) phase of the lift (e. One practitioner has suggested that optimal strength gains are achieved using 1RM loads of 80–100% composed of a chain resistance of 10–15% of the total load with the remaining 85–90% of the load comprised of free weight resistance (5.0 21. 90 kg) and attach additional chain resistance (e.2 2. time.7 7. first pull in the clean and the snatch.8 14. It has been proposed that using chains with powerlifting and various assistant weightlifting movements may promote the development of power. One practitioner suggested using a lighter free weight load (e.. and squat) and specific phases (assistance lifts) of weightlifting (e.8 28.4 9.0 59 lbs 8. motor control.4 14.6 11. bench press.0 79 lbs 11.0 Mm 6. Practical Applications of Chains. Athletes could possibly increase absolute strength.27).Forms of Variable Resistance Training Table 2 Chain mass.e.1 22. Theoretically. For example.g. clean and jerk) have ascending strength curves and are performed primarily in the vertical planes (sagittal and frontal).3 32.2 56. muscular force production may be increased towards the end range of the lift.g.8 6. it should be remembered that most of the aforementioned claims are anecdotal.7 1.5 12. snatch..27).0 123. as the musculoskeletal system must adapt to the increasing external load of the chains (24.4 46.3 92.. 15 kg) to the bar. as illustrated in Figure 12. bench press).7 7. During these multi-joint movements the musculoskeletal system’s ability to handle greater external forces (loads) increases as the involved joints extend and reach a position of single joint configuration i. another practitioner suggested that a lighter total resistance between 60 to 90 % of the athletes 1RM be used.4 23.8 100 kg 2. he/she should be able to bench press a total load greater than that of his of her maximum.1 15.4 2.1 4.g.0 43. On the basis of the overload principle.

Two studies. Because chain load varies with position and.. Strength and Conditioning Journal | www. because chain weight increases in a positive Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. rugby. but these claims are not scientifically supported and may merely be a result of performing free weight resistance ( 61 . dictates how much weight the lifter will be moving throughout the range of motion (9). athlete and could possibly be applied to sport specific training programs. peak power.Figure 12. The oscillating chains provide a predictable. which may have been due to the a low chain load (5% of the total load) used. Limitations of Chains. which would be otherwise unavailable (57). as a result of the applied force.. These measures need to be validated and published in a standardized chart. In terms of the strength curves.and time-dependent variables should be considered in future research (e. (8). the benefits of training with chains are not well documented and current claims lack scientific support. time. The following measures should be included.nsca-lift.g. American football. There is limited information on the relationship between chain diameter and length to weight ratios (9). only a limited number of kinematic and kinetic variables were measured in these studies. the chance of calculation error would increase as the number of factors considered increases. One distinct limitation in chain training is the lack of scientific research performed in this area. The deadlift supplemented with chains. time to peak force and peak power. position of peak force. Athletes who must overcome large external resistances (e. In addition. some of the contentions must be viewed with caution. All of these factors must be taken into consideration when calculating the exact load of the corresponding chain. none of which truly reflected the technique of the lifters. and mixed martial arts) may benefit from strength and power training programs supplemented with chains. as well as the selected exercise. and height of the lifter. but varying movement path. illustrating a collinear movement with respect to gravity.g. The length. increased activation and recruitment of stabilizing and synergist muscles. most claims are anecdotal and until conclusive evidence is presented. In this process. chain diameter to weight ratios and chain length to weight ratios ranging from 1 to 250 centimeters in length as the ranges in displacements (range of motion) vary largely from exercise to exercise. therefore. Chains may be a useful supplement to free-weight resistance in that they add a variable training stimulus to a training program. the proposed benefits remain hypothetical. (12) and the other by Berning et al. as none currently exist. position. Practitioners claim that the oscillating chains may promote improved motor control. and density of the chain. segment length. However. diameter. one by Coker et al. and maximum velocity). giving sports scientists another reason to be skeptical of chain training.12). The average external chain load and length to weight ratios over the entire range of motion should be measured and calculated to allow practitioners to prescribe specific and precise loading patterns for the desired lift and individual. and enhanced neurological adaptation. It may be speculated that chains offer a changing external resistance proportional to the mechanical advantage gained by the musculoskeletal lever system as the joints extend and flex throughout positive-concentric and negative-eccentric phases. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. found that lifting with chains versus lifting without chains did not cause any changes in the kinematic and kinetic variables of the lifter during the snatch. wrestling. therefore.

therefore. Various reputed practitioners have claimed improvements in the kinematic and kinetic variables of the lifter.’’ Following along with this line of logic when implementing resistance training programs. A fixed movement path may also hinder development of intramuscular and intermuscular coordination. elderly. Even with these limitations. descending and bellshaped strength curves purportedly enabling greater specificity in terms of overloading the working muscles. provides further constraints to RBR training. The systems resistive torque is designed to match human torque capabilities. Another inherent limitation is that chain weight to displacement ratios have not been properly quantified over a large displacement range. RBR is viscoelastic and its tension is determined by its stiffness properties.g. and osteoarthritis) and sport specific training (e. Chain resistance increases linearly with displacement and can be represented by a basic linear function (first order polynomial). sagittal. RBR used in combination with free weight resistance has been beneficial in improving various kinematic and kinetic variables over a narrow range of loading intensities. such as the squat. cam and lever systems can still be utilized effectively in resistance training programs. rotator cuff rehabilitation. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited. The gap between scientific data and anecdotal claims is a clear indication that future research is required if chains are to become a valid mode of training for enhancing power. and oblique). but again there is much debate over the validity and effectiveness of cam and lever systems as a mode of resistance training. RBR may be used in a multiple of planes (e. diameter and length of the chain. patellofemoral pain. transverse. but a lack of scientific evidence has led many to be skeptical of chain training. Cam and lever systems are designed to accommodate exercises with ascending.g. rather than a first order-linear function polynomial. Travis McMaster is a Master of Sports Science student specializing in biomechanics at Edith Cowan University. The lack of scientific support for RBR training and the limited research quantifying its viscoelastic properties (deformation-tension relationship). dead-lift. it can gradually and progressively increase strength in weak atrophied muscles. chain training may be limited to ascending strength curve exercises. as chain resistance is gravity dependent and determined by the density. as well as the sport and athlete specific training goals (2. John Cronin is an Associate Professor at Edith Cowan University. RBR provides a low-load resistance for initial rehabilitation. racket sports). strength and athletic performance (12). bench press and shoulder press.g. sprint. 62 VOLUME 31 | NUMBER 1 | FEBRUARY 2009 .Forms of Variable Resistance Training linear fashion. hence the need for future research. where single jointdesigned machines allow clients to isolate a specific group of muscles.. Cams and levers also are used widely in the rehabilitation setting to correct muscle imbalances and certain pathologies. CONCLUSION After reviewing the different forms of VR training. frontal. and limitations has been acquired.3). as the resistance is collinear to and directly opposes most exercise movements. and when used in conjunction with constant external resistance. For optimal benefits. as well as increased activation of stabilizing muscles and enhanced neurological adaptations. we hope that a better understanding and appreciation of the kinematics and kinetics. as rubber is not purely elastic. A major limitation to cam and lever systems is that the movement must travel a fixed path and may not accommodate for the biomechanical and physiological variations of the individual. contractures. but there is contradictory evidence in the literature. stroke. chain resistance would appear best suited for training exercises with ascending strength curves. Limitations to chain training also include the lack of standardization in regards to the type and quality of steel used for resistance training. Ariel (3) once said that ‘‘the equipment should adapt to the user rather than the user adapt to the equipment. exercises with descending and bell-shaped strength curves may not be properly overloaded with chains. For this reason. in order to bridge the gap between the practitioner and scientist. Limitations arise. Michael McGuigan is a Senior Lecturer at Edith Cowan University and a strength and conditioning specialist. where its curvilinear deformationtension relationship is better fitted by a second order polynomial. as RBR has viscoelastic properties where tension increases in a curvilinear fashion and may not compensate exercises with descending and bell-shaped strength curves. Copyright © N ational S trength and Conditioning A ssociation. increasing resistance at points where strength is greatest and decreasing the resistance at points where the strength is lowest. the kinematic and kinetic profiles associated with the various modes of resistance should be considered and prescribed appropriately to match the varying human strength curves and mechanical advantage of the different musculoskeletal lever systems. Future biomechanical research is required in the area of VR training modes. RBR is used widely in the rehabilitation setting for many pathologies (e. Western Australia. practical applications.

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