Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thoughts on the Power Rack - Anthony Ditillo

Anthony Ditillo
at 290 lbs.

Greenstein & Grimek


Frank Masiello
with the Cyr Bell



Thoughts on the Power Rack
by Anthony Ditillo


There is no doubt in my mind that proper use of the power rack can literally revamp your previous expectancy as to the amount of muscular bulk your particular body type and frame can adequately carry. Since he majority of my readers are primarily concerned with the acquisition of additional body size and power, I feel an explanation as to the proper application of power rack training is indeed, in order. I am sure that the intelligent application of the soon to be discussed training methods will more than suffice in giving the would-be power seeker sufficient information with which to formulate his training routine to his own best advantage.

Power rack training will give you incredible gains in size and strength IF you know how to properly formulate your rep and set schedules. It is just as important to know HOW MUCH to train as it is to know HOW OFTEN and with what rep and set system. To be surer, it is not enough to just “work out in the rack” for a few times per week. Rack work incorporates much more thought and discretion in training than this; this being one more reason for the lengthy explanation I have in store for you. Rest assured: if you have the patience to put up with this partial history of how power rack work came into popularity, you will fid much more valuable information to design your future routines around.

It was around the middle sixties when isometric contraction became a household word on the lips of weight trainees around the United States and Eastern Europe, in general. We were told that this training with little or no movement and incredibly heavy weights for limited measured movements, or even with an empty bar, by itself, would improve our muscular bodyweight and strength with only a few short, intense, isometric workouts per week. The barbell company which touted this training regime and methodology also made quite a few pieces of equipment and varied training manuals and books on the subject. Along with all this promotional distribution there also went the training routines of one or two champion lifters who supposedly made all their present training progress though the utilization of the isometric training method and the isometric training equipment. Many of us fell for this fairy tale and many isometric training racks were sold. It was later discovered, however, that the great training successes of these men was, in part, due to the availability and use of anabolic steroids. This naturally led to the loss of training popularity of the isometric system and with it, the use of power rack training. Walk into your average gym or YMCA today, and in the corner of the room you will probably find one dusty, unused power rack.

I feel this is truly a SHAME. There is much value in power rack training! Whether or not the men who were first presented as products of solely isometric (no movement) or isometronic training had used drugs or not; their training routines in the power rack will both add to your development and strength if followed faithfully for any reasonable length of time. Where the weight training field went wrong was in feeling that just because these men used anabolics, their training routines and their training methods were inconsequential in their overall success. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

A few years ago, there appeared in Iron Man Lifting News an article which changed the training world and the field of isometric training. This article was written by Terry Todd and Dr. Craig Whitehead and in it they outlined their particular method of power rack work, and they entitled their method “The Theory of Maximum Fatigue.” Supposedly, this training style allowed the trainee to stimulate deepest fibers of the involved muscle groups and it was this INTENSE inner fiber stimulation which made this training method so effective and result producing. What they would do was incorporate BOTH the isometric and isometronic types of training and the results they were able to produce were amazing. BOTH men claimed increases in muscular bulk and additional body power, and Terry Todd went on to win national powerlifting championships through the utilizing of this method of training.

When using the isometronic training theory, we would be performing heavy partial movements, from various positions in a power rack. If we were using the bench press as an exercise, we would use a position from just off the chest to around four or five inches above. Here we would place a second set of holding pins, so that we would be forced to work within the limited range of motion. By having the bar on the uprights of the rack, cheating of any sort is alleviated. This means that whatever muscles we are trying to work will be stimulated all the more, since they would be forced to contract as forcefully as possible, due to the inability of any cheating while in the rack. Taking a few sets with light weight for a warmup, we would then jump to a working weight (within this limited range) and perform 3 or 4 repetitions from the bottom pins to the top pins, with a pause at the top of each repetition. On rep number 4, when reaching the top pins, we would PUSH against these pins with all force possible for 6 to 8 seconds and THEN we would lower the bar to the bottoms set of pins and finally, ATTEMPT REP NUMBER FIVE. This is what is known as isometronic and the Theory of Maximum Fatigue. You cannot imagine just how stimulating and strenuous such training can be until you have experienced this kind of work on your own. The average movement used with this training methodology would consist of three positions of the full movement, broken into equal lengths. The same sets and repetitions would be used for each of the three sections of the lift and the same isometric hold and additional attempt at another repetition would also be included. You could also include additional work in your “weak zone” at whatever point of the lift you would be your weakest, leverage and strength-wise. To be sure, with enough work in this weak zone, ANY sticking point will retreat.

For the trainee who trains alone, the power rack can become an indispensable piece of equipment, due to the versatility and the safety such a training rack offers the individual. With the use of a power rack, there is no need for spotters since you can’t get pinned by the weight no matter how heavy it may become. Also, performing just about all your movements from a dead stop at the bottom will develop additional size and power, as well as the ability to lift a heavy weight in quite strict style. This will also increase your muscular impressiveness and you will develop great explosiveness from the bottom position in the three power lifts, should you ever care to enter competition.

When utilizing the power rack method of training it is necessary to know just what our goals are within the scope of our routine so that we know just what to expect in the way of results. We can train for sheer power using this rack work or we can also in certain situations train for BOTH size and strength increases; but whichever road we decide to travel, it will be most important to understand just where it is exactly we are heading and just how to get there.

For developing sheer strength, maximum weights and many sets of 2 or 3 repetitions are in order. In fact, should our nervous systems be able to take the brunt of heavy partial single repetition training, then I would heartily recommend heavy singles done for many sets of partials from various positions in the rack.

I would advise you to work the lift desired from all three positions – low, medium, and high – with the most work being done in your particular weakest position. As far as how often to work any particular lift, or lifts, when training on the rack for increases in strength this is essentially an individual matter, since we all have various levels of physical tolerance to stress. However, for the majority of trainees, I would recommend one day working of the particular lift in question. By working I mean between 8 and 12 sets of between 4 and 6 repetitions, working up from a light warmup weight and going to the maximum possible for the repetition scheme. On another day of the week, you can work the lift in the power rack from three various positions. You might decide to work 3 days per week, with one position of the power rack done on each training day, with the conventional method of exercise performance done additionally, on the light training day of the week. In either case, be sure to rest adequately between each set and perform each repetition of each set strictly for best results in both size and power.

When training for increased lifting proficiency on the power rack it is essential to understand that regular performance of the complete lifting movements in question is necessary in order to be able to fully utilize the strength potential power rack training will bring you.

To train SOLELY on partial movements in the rack without the additional training with conventional lifting and performance is a mistake that many trainees make, after a short time of training using the power rack with any great regularity. What usually happens is that the trainee develops a great deal of additional size and strength from this rack training, so much so that he begins to favor this style of exercise above all other methods and hence, he begins to train ONLY on the power rack without performing the movements in the conventional, complete manner. This would not be so bad, should he have no intention of competing in these complete lifts, of should he be basically a train-at-home lifter. But for the would-be competitor, additional work in the normally accepted manner on the pertinent lifts is necessary.

For the man who is interested in gaining rapidly in bulk and power over a wide range of heavy bodybuilding movements, the power rack has, indeed, many advantages. While a strict adherence to heavy partial movements and the maximum fatigue theory is not absolutely necessary, the power rack can be utilized in a more popularly conceived way. For one thing, you could begin every exercise in the rack having the bar resting on a set of pins which should put you in the BOTTOM position of such exercises, and from there you could perform each repetition strictly, from these supporting pins. After performing all possible repetitions during any particular set, you can work PAST failure though continuing on with as many partial reps as possible until the bar cannot be moved from the bottom supporting pins AT ALL. If this is not training intensity, what is?

If you were to utilize this form of bodybuilding in the power rack, you would NOT be able to handle too great a workload, due to the severity of the heavy partial movements done at the end of each set of full repetitions, and the theory of momentary failure which you would be using on each and every exercise. Also, your training routines would incorporate a greater variety of lifting movements, which would fully stimulate the muscle segments throughout the entire body.

When utilizing the power rack for body weight and bodybuilding gains, the workout schedule can be more elastic and pliable for the trainee. More so than when sheer strength is the main goal or consideration. This is because muscular recuperation does not play as important a role in muscular growth as it does in the acquisition of great strength. What I mean is, with these higher sets of higher reps and with the inclusion of partial at the end of each set, the weight would not be as heavy as when only singles, doubles and triples are done when training for power. With these heavier exertions the tendons and joints and deepest muscle fibers become overly stimulated and hence the need for additional rest for complete recuperation. But with the bodybuilder and the size-seeker this need is not as great due to the lighter weights involved and the more “intensity within the volume” situation of this type of workout. In short, you can take longer and more voluminous workouts with the power rack when training for size gains than when training for sheer strength. This must be taken into consideration when planning your routines.

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