Friday, February 20, 2015

Getting Your Chi Together From the Bottom Up

Usually when we squat, press, and row, an eccentric (lowering) phase immediately precedes the concentric (lifting) one without much of a pause in between.

In fact, if this transition from eccentric to concentric occurs quickly enough, the “stretch-shortening cycle” is evoked, whereby the muscles rapidly spring back from their lengthened position.

For example, Olympic weightlifters utilize the SSC by swiftly dipping down and driving up at the knees in order to loft the bar over their heads in a jerk:

We don’t always want to use the SCC, though. Sometimes we'd rather focus on improving our strict force production capability in the bottom position of a lift. In this case, we have a couple of options:
  • Pause reps: lower the weight, hold it in the bottom position for a specified period of time, and then lift. The pause can last anywhere from 1 to 5 seconds -- or even longer, depending on how sadistic you or your coach is. Pause reps put the muscles under continuous tension for long stretches of time.
  • Bottom-up reps: settle at the bottom of the lift, reset your position (i.e. get your chi together), and then lift. Lifting in this fashion improves our ability to generate tension from a “dead stop,” which has tremendous carryover to regular top-down lifting. It's also very safe, as the weight is typically supported by pins and thus cannot come crashing down on your head.

Anderson squats and pin bench presses are two of the most popular versions of the bottom-up technique, but it can also be applied to a variety of other exercises, including overhead presses, inverted rows, and pull-ups.

Shifting from a top-down to bottom-up approach can be especially advantageous for single-leg exercises, where balance in the bottom position is often the limiting factor. Just place a pad under the knee for split squats or a box in front of the feet for single-leg stiff-legged deadlifts.

Here are videos of bottom-up renditions of all the aforementioned lifts:

Anderson Squats

Pin Bench Press

Pin Overhead Press

Dead-stop Inverted Rows

Dead-Stop Pull-ups

Split Squats

Single-leg Stiff-legged Deadlifts

Due to the need to regenerate tension completely between reps, these puppies can be very challenging. Give a few of the above-shown variations a whirl, and let me know how much you love/hate 'em!

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