It’s Like Cheating, but the Opposite

Posted: April 17, 2010 in Training

For hypertrophy purposes, you’re better off finding ways to make a given exercise harder, as opposed to finding the easiest possible way to get the load from point A to point B. Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting…different story. Body comp training, if you’re making an exercise easier you’re making it less effective.

As a qualifier, I’m not talking about making exercises so difficult and weird that it looks like something you picked up at Clown College (not Devry, the other one). Last time I went into a 24 Hour Fitness (an excruciating rarity), I spent the first 10 minutes trying to find my way out of the Kids Club day care and get into the gym…then I realized that I was in the gym, and all the toys and balls laying around were being used by grown ass men and women. Madness.

What I am referring to, is taking an exercise and making a slight adjustment that forces you to initially make a 10-20% reduction in load. Note the emphasis on slight and initially, which is different than huge and forever.

When done properly, this load reduction will result in more muscle growth instead of less. A large, chronic reduction in load will encourage less growth. However, if you plan on usurping the inflatable lawn castle wrestling throne at your nephew’s annual birthday party…you may want to incorporate some one leg/one arm bosu ball overhead presses and curls. As long as the kids don’t weigh over 20-30lbs you’ll be all set.

A prime application of this method is the Kneeling Tricep Pressdown. During a typical standing pressdown, it’s a slightly easier position to cheat from than when your spouse is in a coma. Most people stop about halfway through the eccentric phase (90 degrees of elbow flexion) then try to lean into and climb over the bar as if they were trying to force an unwilling partner into fellatio. This turns the whole movement into an ineffective exercise for the sternal head of the pecs, and it’s an embarrassment to us all.

This movement is performed just like a standing tricep pressdown, just done on the knees and with a full range of motion. Some stations are poorly designed so that from a standing position you can’t even achieve full ROM when you’re trying too, this eliminates that potential problem as well. When breaking the 90 degree plane in the eccentric phase, decelerate the weight until your forearm is completely impeded by your bicep, take a slight pause, and press the weight down. Do not allow the elbow to drift forward of the torso at any point. Avoid any sort of rebound at the top of the movement to optimize both elbow health and efficacy of the exercise.

Performing this movement from a kneeling position eliminates cheating, incorporates a far greater static activation of the torso/midsection musculature for stabilization (unlike a standing pressdown which can end up activating the abdominals dynamically for leverage/cheating), and forces the triceps to work quite a bit harder.

The other alternative is to perform the exercise lying back at about 60 degrees on an incline bench (i.e. Incline Pressdowns), facing away from the weight stack. This will eliminate lean-cheating, but also requires less postural control during the movement. It’s a great way to do it, and better than standing, but performing it on the knees provides a whole new dimension to the movement.

There’s hundreds of ways to invoke this method, this is just one example. I’ll add some more exercises periodically…but keep the principal in mind…make it harder, not easier, and come up with your own variations.

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