Barbell back squat vs smith machine squats
Many strength and muscle building experts will say, the barbell back squat is much more effective at building size and strength. They argue free weight squats are a more natural movement and require much more stabilization and balance, which increases its effectiveness. However, the Smith machine is much easier to learn, especially for beginners, which many argue is safer. I contend that it depends upon the person’s build. If one has long legs and a shorter torso, they will have a very difficult time performing a squat correctly in order to get optimum stimulation for strength or growth. In this case and in others, they would benefit greatly from performing smith machine squats. But what does science have to say? Which is better for gaining strength?
Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada compared the free weight squat to the Smith machine using electromyography (EMG). The purpose of their study was to determine which exercise was better at stimulating the prime movers and stabilizers of the legs (e.g., tibialis anterior, gastrocnemius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and biceps femoris) and trunk (e.g., lumbar erector spinae and rectus abdominus). Six healthy participants performed 1 set of 8 repetitions using a weight they could lift 8 times, i.e., 8 rep maximum.
Contrary to our hypotheses, muscles of the legs (specifically the vastus medialis and biceps femoris) displayed greater EMG activity during the free weight squat compared to the Smith machine squat, whereas there were no differences between exercises for EMG activity of trunk stabilizers.
Researchers conclude that the free weight squat may be superior to the Smith machine squat for training the major muscle groups of the legs and possibly would result in greater strength development and hypertrophy of these muscle groups with long-term training.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(9), 2588-2591.
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Squat and dead lift vs stability ball exercises for core activation
Unstable Surface Training (UST) has moved from being used almost exclusively in rehabilitation to becoming common place among personal trainers and strength coaches. One can’t go to a gym and not see somebody training on a Bosu ball, stability ball, wobble board or foam pad. It’s so popular entire books have been written on this type of training. But do not be fooled by its popularity.
UST is not popular because it works, but because of a tremendous media campaign. The fitness industry is always looking for something new. They know here’s huge money in marketing a piece of equipment and/or workout program.
Performing exercises on unstable equipment can be challenging no doubt, but research has not shown that the type of balance, and core stability developed through UST will transfer to any sports skill. Performing exercises on unstable equipment will make an individual proficient at performing resistance exercises on unstable surfaces but will not improve sports performance. Is UST training even necessary?
Researchers from Appalachian State University compared trunk muscle activity during stability ball and free weight exercises. The stability ball exercises utilized were the quadruped, pelvic thrust and ball back extensions. The free weight exercises were the squat (SQ) and deadlift (DL). During all exercises muscle activity was collected using electromyography (EMG).
During the study trunk muscle activity during SQ and DL’s was equal to or greater than which was produced during stability ball exercises. This was true even when 50% of the 1 rep max was used during SQ and DL. The role of UST is again shown to be in question.
(Journal of Strength Conditioning Research 22:95-101,2008)
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KISS for improving soccer performance
These days it?s becoming common practice to start sports earlier and earlier in a child?s life. Soccer is no exception. In the United States the popularity of soccer has exploded along with strength and conditioning camps focusing on sport specific programs. Unfortunately many coaches do not train their players correctly because they do not look at the metabolic demands of the sport.
Research on soccer players has shown, to the surprise of many, anaerobic as well as aerobic power are prerequisites to success. More-over, it?s been reported that 96% of the sprints in a soccer game are shorter than 30m, and 49% are shorter than 10m. It?s becomes obvious that strength and power are important aspects of a player?s development. As soccer becomes more competitive, becoming faster and stronger to get to the ball before your opponent by jumping or sprinting is becoming more important. As a strength coach the question is, how do we develop a player to their optimum ability?
A study by Chelly et al recently reported the effects of a back squat training program on leg power, jump performance, and field performance in junior soccer players. Twenty two male soccer players were divided into two groups a resistance training group (RTG) and a control group (CG). Both groups completed tests before the start of the program and after 2 months of strength training twice per week with heavy loads (80 ? 100% 1RM). The tests included a force velocity test to evaluate power, 3 jump tests, a 40m dash, and a 1 RM back half squat. (J Strength Cond Res 2009;23(8):2241-2249)
No significant changes were noted in leg or thigh muscle volume after the 2 month training period between the 2 groups. However, the RTG showed significant improvement over the CG in leg cycling power, jumping and sprinting. This is another example of the value in sticking to the basics. Too many coaches try to reinvent the wheel while training their athletes. There is no need or value in complicated, high volume strength training programs. KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid and train according to the athletes needs
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The most underated component of training programs, recovery
We all recover from exercise at different rates. Many people who recover quickly have reached a high level of success performing a high number of sets. Many who recover slowly have also been very successful performing low numbers of sets. Because everybody is unique in their ability to adapt and recover from different programs, the number of sets needs to be individualized.
A very important component of a training program that should be given consideration is training frequency. How often can, or more importantly, should I train per week? Optimum recovery time between training sessions is essential if one is going to continue to make progress. Training frequency, which is determined by ones recovery ability, is often a forgotten part of most training protocols.
Don’t be so concerned with how many training sessions you can handle per week. Be more concerned about the optimal amount. More is not always better. In fact, when somebody comes to me for advice because they’ve stopped making progress, usually I either reduce the workout volume or add days off. There is no reason to go to the gym if you’re not going to make progress.
Does it make sense to keep doing the same routine if gains are not being made? Isn’t the definition of “crazy”, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. If your current program is not working, change it. The number one complaint people have is they’re not making progress or their progress has come to a halt. In both cases, the answer is more recovery time. Understanding the fact our bodies have a finite amount of recovery ability should help explain this concept.
The following is Mike Mentzer’s explanation of overtraining and recovery. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.
In bodybuilding, the idea is to impose a training stress onto the body that will serve to induce the biochemical changes which result in muscular hypertrophy. Applying any more of the training stress (high-intensity) than is required by nature will result in the equivalent of over-dosing on a medicine; or, as we say typically in bodybuilding – overtraining.
A person exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays at the equator in summer would not have the slightest concern whether the intensity of the sunlight stress is high enough to disturb the physiology sufficiently to induce an adaptive response, i.e., the buildup of a suntan. His only concern, his overriding consideration, would be to properly regulate the volume (or duration) and frequency of exposure time so as not to overdose on the stress/stimulus; and, thereby, incur a sunburn or, in extreme cases, death. A person seeking to develop a suntan at the equator, or wherever the intensity of the sunlight is high has no concern that he will develop a suntan; but only if he doesn’t overexpose. (Note that bodybuilding science is largely based on the medical discipline of stress physiology. Also, that the end result of the healing of a sunburn is not a suntan, just as the end result of the healing of overtraining is not greater strength or added muscle.)
As the stresses grow progressively greater, they will eventually reach a critical point such that they constitute overtraining. The first symptom will be a slow down in progress; and if the individual continues with the same volume and frequency protocol, the stresses will continue to increase until there is a complete cessation of progress, typically referred to as a “sticking point.” One need not ever experience a slow down in progress, let alone a sticking point, if he bears in mind all the while that as the weights grow progressively greater so do the stresses; and he must do certain specific things to compensate for them.
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