I wanted to wrap up this week by explaining in more detail exactly why Ramping Isometrics are a key part of getting stronger. Since releasing my Ramping Isometrics for MTB Training Program earlier this week I’ve had a lot of people asking why they need to use it and it all comes down to helping you get stronger in the fastest and safest way possible.
To understand the real value of this training technique you need to first define the word “strength”. The goal of strength training is, after all, to get stronger so it only makes sense to know what we’re really after.
Strength is usually defined as the ability to exert and/ or resist force. Something else to keep in mind is that implied in this definition is the fact that strength is contextual.
Being strong with running doesn’t equal being strong on a mountain bike – the movements are different and so you need to be able to exert and resist force in different movements for each of these sports.
What this means is that we want to improve our ability to create and resist force within the movements specific to our sport.
To do this we have to look at strength as having two parts.
The first is your ability to generate tension in a muscle. The more tension you can create the more force you can produce and resist with that muscle, which is the building block for strength.
The second is your ability to apply that tension to a movement. The more efficiently you can create movement with that tension the more force you can generate within that movement and the less energy you will use.
So what we need is the ability to create high levels of tension within a muscle and the ability to apply that tension to specific movements.
The mistake we’ve been making is seeing these as the same thing. But in fact they are two different things that can and should be trained separately.
When we try to use movement to generate higher levels of tension we run into problems. Injury risks and the physical toll start to become more of a reality as the risk-to-benefit ratio starts to get higher.
For example, if you wanted to get stronger with you Hip Hinge pattern you would usually use a variety of deadlifting movements. In order to advance the Tension side of things you would start to lift more weight and do more reps, increasing your load and volume in an attempt to get the muscles to produce more tension.
But this also exposes the body to more injury risk as the weak links in the system start to take on more stress. The joints also take on more load over time, leading to more wear and tear.
You also start to hamper the skills and efficiency gains from training. When you are using heavy loads and lots of volume you aren’t “learning” as much as “surviving”. Trying to survive heavy loads in the name of Strength is where a lot of bad movement habits are formed that come back to haunt us down the road.
With Ramping Isometrics you are able to separate Tension Training from Movement Training, which allows you to optimally work on both.
Now you can get into a position – usually the weakest part of a movement pattern – and then safely apply and ramp up the tension in the muscles used in that movement pattern. The intention to move against an immovable object fires the same muscles used to create that pattern…but without the movement itself.
You can also focus on perfect posture and breathing as you take your muscle tension levels higher and higher. I’ve found that the body will sacrifice breathing and posture to get through a movement so when you take the movement part out you have nothing left to focus on than.
This means you can safely ramp up the muscle tension as high as you can go and take it to failure. This allows you to work on the skill of creating tension in a much more effective way than trying to work on it using movement based exercises.
This takes care of the Tension side of the equation but you still have to work on the Movement side as well. And this is where your traditional movement based training and playing your sport come into play.
The best way to transfer your new tension skills to the specific demands of your sport are to play and practice your sport. In fact, Ramping Isometrics plus a heavy dose of practicing and playing your sport is a formula that would work surprisingly well for most people.
This is also where your movement based exercises would also come in. You can still do all your favorite exercises, the difference is that now you treat them as Movement Skill Training and don’t try to train Tension with them.
Research and experience show that you learn best when you are in the Goldilocks Zone, where you are being challenged but not overwhelmed. For most people this is in the 75-85% effort range, which is far below where most people spend their time in the gym.
To go back to the Deadlift example, here is how this would play out in the gym.
You would use Ramping Isometric Deadlifts and other Hip Hinge positions to train the Tension Creation side of things. You would pick 1-2 positions each workout and do 1 set to failure.
Then you would get in the gym once a week and do Deadlifts. However, since you are treating them as working on the skill of picking something up off the ground (which is how you should be looking at it) then you will build up to a few sets in the 80% effort range and go nowhere near failure.
This accomplishes two things. First, as your Ramping Isometric “strength” improves you’ll be able to generate more force in the Deadlift movement pattern.
Second, you’ll be improving the actual movement skills behind the Deadlift in a safe way because you aren’t pushing the limits, only focusing on the improving your technique.
The result is that you are lifting more weight – i.e. getting stronger – with less effort and risk for injury.
And if you’re an athlete, that’s the Holy Grail of sports specific training.
So once you see that Strength consists of two elements – Tension Creation and Movement Skill Efficiency – you can see how there might be a better way to go about developing it. Train each element separately and then bring them together when it counts, which is during your sport.
This is also why I developed the B.P.T.M. System for improving performance. It represents the hierarchy of skills you need to improve:
1 – Breathing (the ability to maintain efficient breathing patterns under stress)
2 – Position/ Posture (think Mobility and the ability to get into positions)
3 – Tension (the ability to create tension in those positions/ postures)
4 – Movement (the ability to create movement within this positions/ postures)
Without the previous elements supporting it then your Movements will be sub-optimal. For a lot of people the Tension level is lacking and that is the gap that Ramping Isometrics fill.
So now that you understand what strength really is you can see how Ramping Isometrics play such an important role in your overall development and results. By addressing Tension and Movement as two different skills you get the best of both worlds while avoiding common problems that plague a lot of us on the path to getting and staying strong.
And remember that you can take advantage of Ramping Isometrics with my new 12-week Ramping Isometrics for MTB Program. It is only $15 and will change how you view getting stronger for mountain biking. Click here to learn more and get your copy today.
Until next time…
James Wilson – MTB Strength Training Systems