Most coaches would say that machines and higher-rep ranges have no place in building explosive athletes. Of course athletes don’t just require power; depending on their situation they need precise combinations of power, strength, strength endurance, power endurance, and hypertrophy. In this guest blog Mike Whitman shows us three types of overloading protocols he uses with athletes for certain purposes. These protocols can be used with bodyweight and free weight exercises as well, but Mike offers an explanation as to why he likes to use machines from time to time especially with these types of special protocols.

Muscular Overloads

By Mike Whitman

Over the past 12 weeks I’ve been interning at the Gordon Institute for Sport Performance under head strength coach, and owner of SMARTER Team Training, Rob Taylor.  My experience was comprised mostly of highly competitive athletes. We all know that athletes need to be fast and powerful, but that doesn’t mean explosive lifts are the only way to get there; as the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat.   One of the ways we ‘skin our cats’ is by using a multitude of overloading protocols.  The overloading stimuli are designed to completely fatigue the muscular system.

Now, before I get into the overloads I want to answer any questions that may arise before we start.  None of these overloads use explosive reps; in fact they emphasize the opposite: slow controlled reps with higher time under tension. Research, such as Neuromuscular Responses to Three Days of Velocity-Specific Isokinetic Training by Coburn et al., suggests that slower reps lead to larger strength gains.  When working with athletes the most important thing to do is keep them healthy; so, when we take them to complete muscular fatigue we need to put them in the most stable and controlled position possible.  This means we are more likely to do muscular overloads on a Rogers Athletic Pendulum Power Squat Pro, Hip Press or a Three Way Row so instability does not become an injury concern.  When working with young athletes we avoid heavy spinal loading.  For example, if we were looking at a high school linebacker, what is the point of loading his spine?  Every tackle he makes loads his spine, so what is the point in heavily loading his spine when he isn’t playing football?  Does the inherent risk of injury from sport need to be prevalent in the athletic development program too, or is there a safer more effective way to train? Since our primary goal is to keep everyone we train, athlete or not, healthy, we take some extra precautions that you may not see in other areas of the strength realm, such as preferring a Hip Press to fatigue over a barbell back squat to fatigue.  Lastly, you will notice some of these overloads have a higher rep scheme than some of your typical strength workouts.  This is not by accident.  Since the goal is to take the athlete to total failure it is virtually impossible to do so without a decent number of repetitions and load. So without further discussion here are a few of the overloads we use: 747s, progressions, and 1 ½s.

747s: Perform 7 repetitions of a weight that is challenging (you could probably only perform about 8 or 9 reps), rest 30 seconds, then perform 4 reps of a higher weight (usually 15 pounds heavier for the upper body, and 25 for the lower) rest 30 seconds and then perform 7 reps with the original weight.  If performed properly the last few reps of the last set should be very challenging. These are a great way to get an athlete to really gut out the last few reps, and test their mental toughness.  Try this protocol on seated rows!  For more information on this protocol, watch this:

Progressions: This protocol involves increasing reps and weight for every set.  Start with a base weight and perform one rep, rest ten seconds and add ten pounds.  Then, perform two reps, rest ten seconds and add ten more weight.  Continue this trend until you reach six reps.  By the time you are done you will have performed 21 total reps, with only 50 seconds of rest.  This is a great protocol for bench press!  For more information on this protocol, watch this:

1 ½s : This is a range of motion based technique that is simple and effective; lower the weight to the fully contracted position, pause, lift the weight half of the range of motion, lower the weight back down to the fully contracted position, pause, perform a full repetition and repeat the entire sequence.  This is a great technique especially if an athlete struggles to move weight without the aid of momentum.  This protocol is a great fit for pull-ups!  For more information on this protocol, watch this:

Remember before trying these, they’re called overloading protocols for a reason; we usually perform these once a week, MAYBE; don’t do these every day.  If you take a whole bottle of aspirin it will be the last headache you’ll ever have, so just like medication prescribe these with caution.  Give some a try for yourself and see what you think.

Mike Whitman interned at Gordon Institute for Sport Performance and currently works at FX Studios and the Under Armour Combine Training Center in Baltimore.  You can contact him at Mwhitman@FXStudios.com.

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