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.

5 Comments

  • Ken Vick says:

    Bret, I might not always agree with you, but you have always applied critical thinking. This was disappointing. There are many ways to skin a cat, but some of them are much less effective and poorly reasoned.

    I think there can be places for higher reps and machines in training explosive athletes, but the logic here was flawed. I hadn’t seen many people expounding the misguided HIT philosophy in a while.

    • Bret says:

      Ken, please know that this is a guest post and I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions. I’m willing to allow a post in which I’m not in full agreement for the sake of conversation. I commend you for speaking up here. I completely agree with you that there are many ways to skin a cat, but some are much more effective than others (or as I’ve heard…many roads lead to Rome, but some get you there much quicker than others).

      I agree that machines can be used for producing explosive athletes and I appreciate my lever squat machine and reverse hyper. If I could outfit a “dream-facility” I’d investigate other machines that I’ve never used but look promising, such as the back attack by Sorinex.

      Personally I don’t utilize the “muscular overload” protocols used by Rob Taylor. I have used situations such as “run the rack” techinques which are essentially strip sets, but these involve decreasing the weight as the set ensues, not increasing weight. I’ve used 1.5 reps myself but not with athletes, though I’m not opposed to it and think it could be quite valuable from time to time.

      I also like certain things about HIT training such as performing just one set (or two, which really isn’t HIT) of an exercise. I use this from time to time especially with single leg exercises (which can induce much soreness if done to failure) or various core exercises when I’m seeking variety but don’t want to go overboard on the volume.

      Most of the time I like heavy strength training via compound free weight movements with lower to medium rep ranges for athletes. I like higher rep ranges with accessory lifts, and for strength-endurance purposes I see value in many different protocols.

      I was intrigued by Mike’s article because it was unique and I hadn’t seen some of the protocols (747 or the progression involving 21 reps), nor had I heard the justification.

      I confess to not knowing what’s optimal for all athletes in all situations as sometimes we coaches have all sorts of theories concerning training for explosiveness purposes, and then you have a coach that abandons the rules and still gets good results. We could speculate as to the various types of neurological and strutural adaptations that these protocols would lead to, but in visiting facilities I’ve seen so many coaches in the past couple of years employ “wimpy” methods and never push their athletes so I’m impressed if a coach simply pushes his athletes with sufficient intensity.

      Thoughts?

      • Hello Ken and Bret.

        I too think Mr. Whitman did a fine job with this blog post. I compliment him for writing what he has seen work for himself and the athletes he has had the opportunity to work with. I am also impressed that he was not swayed by other’s opinions and the idea that they know what people want to read, need to read or should be exposed to.

        I appreciate the last sentence in your response Bret. And I promise you that my athletes get plenty of intensity within their reps, sets and training sessions. I have used these and MANY other protocols that I learned directly from a legend of the strength game, Mark Asanovich, in different aspects of my programming. Since I don’t work within a “3 sets of 10 at 85%” training world, these protocols add variety to our training. These protocols should not be used in excess, but can lift the intensity of a training session while still remaining in our strength training rules. The repetition is the most important factor when strength training. It is great to remind the athlete that we are strength training not demonstrating strength while in the weight room. I would enjoy showing you, your staff and your followers more overload protocols that I have used throughout the years. They don’t include Olympic lifts, but will include barbells, dumbbells, machines, manual resistance, body weight, odd object training and many other modalities that may just surprise you. Feel free to contact me at any time for further discussions on this and other strength and conditioning topics. I look forward to an open dialogue from the trenches.

        I hope all is well. Have a great day!
        Coach Taylor

  • Jerry Yono says:

    Mr.Contreras
    I think the book “New bodybuilding for old-school results”(link at the bottom) may interest you. Dr.Ellington Darden is one of the men who worked with Arthur Jones very Closely. Also I went to a strength and conditioning conference by some of the men who worked with Arthur Jones very closely. Kim Wood, strength coach for the Cincinnati Bengals for 30 years, said this book is basically how he would train athletes( now I just want to say thatit is possible that I am wrong, but I am pretty sure thats what he said. I just didn’t want to misrepresent Mr.Wood) Also Mr.Ellington Darden has a website with tons of cool forums. And another resource to HIT is Coach Steve Maxwell. Personally i really enjoy this type of training; specifically in the realm of metabolic conditioning. Hope this could be of interest to you sir.
    http://www.oldtimestrongman.com/products/new-bodybuilding-old-school-results-ellington-darden

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