ARX for The 21st-Century Athlete, Part IV: Safety Is No Accident
In this series we have discussed how a stronger athlete is a faster athlete (Part I), the best way to develop explosive power (Part II), and the best way to optimize fast-twitch muscle fibers (Part III).
ARX allows for a faster, more explosive athlete with a higher proportion of fast-twitch muscle fiber compared to that same athlete using gravity-based tools like weights for this purpose.
But the fact that our Adaptive Resistance™ is more effective for delivering the training stimulus is just one part of the puzzle.
The primary goal of an athlete’s strength and conditioning program is to avoid injuring the trainees while also improving their resistance to injury long-term.
So let’s dive into safety and injury prevention!
Even One Injury is Too Many
There are two injury scenarios that an athlete must avoid. The first is an injury suffered during training, and the second is an injury suffered during competition.
To begin with, if you are exercising for the purpose of increasing your health, an injury is unacceptable because injury is the exact opposite of health.
If you are training for the purpose of improving your athletic performance, an injury is unacceptable because injuries directly diminish your athletic performance.
Even worse for strength & conditioning professionals, an injury can cost the players and the team millions of dollars. Injuries are extremely expensive in terms of missed games, lower placements in the standings, and the downstream effects on all levels of the organization when a star player goes down.
This seems so basic as to not require mentioning, but even today many people—some of whom are very well-paid—think of injuries during training or exercise as “a necessary evil” or “just something you have to work around.” But this is not true.
It is entirely possible—and highly desirable—to maximize your athletic capacity through resistance exercise without suffering injury in the short term while increasing your resistance to injury in the long-term.
So What Causes An Injury, Anyway?
An injury occurs when the body encounters a force that exceeds that body part’s capacity to absorb force. Typically this happens during a momentary peak in force, such as an impact, landing, rapid deceleration, or rapid acceleration. Such a peak results in tears, strains, ruptures, pulls, and worse.
Seems simple enough, right? That’s what I thought, too. It reminded me of the old joke:
“Doc, it hurts when I do this.”
“Well uh…don’t do that.”
If it’s so simple to avoid injury, why are million-dollar athletes still suffering injuries during training and non-contact injuries during competition?
One would guess that the first order of business to avoid injuries during training is to avoid excessive peak forces. If you recall high school physics class, Force = Mass x Acceleration. So it would seem like the quickest way to reduce the injury rate would be to minimize acceleration and excessive speed.
But what do we see instead? Plyometrics, olympic weightlifting (even when the athlete is not a competitive weight lifter), explosive training outside of sport-specific skill training, and a million variations of programs and protocols almost guaranteed to expose an athlete’s most at-risk joints to the very types of peak forces that must be avoided.
When you’re using weights, you’re sort of stuck here. You need high levels of mechanical loading so that there’s a potent strength adaptation (which we’ve seen increases explosiveness and power). But the weights you’re using can only be so heavy, otherwise you can only lift them once.
Also, when you increase the weight being used (the “M” in F = MA), you increase the risk of injury as well. So in the interest of safety and accumulating sufficient volume, you have to reduce the weight you’re using, but that reduction diminishes the strength improvement you’re getting.
So to increase the force demand on the athlete, you have to move faster and more explosively during training (the “A” in F = MA). But as we’ve seen, this increase in speed increases the odds that the athlete will encounter excessive peak forces.
Rock and a hard place.
Going heavier and faster increases the effectiveness of the training, but increases the risk of injury in the process.
Going lighter and slower reduces the risk of injury, but decreases the effectiveness of the training in the process.
Questioning the Premises
And instead of acknowledging this limitation of the tools being used, strength & conditioning coaches reason backwards from their conclusions to convince their athletes—and themselves—that the unavoidably high levels of dangerous acceleration is a feature, not a bug!
“Explosive training primes the nervous system to be explosive during competition.”
In essence, the situation has gone from the appropriate take of “The way we’re doing it has serious limitations, but it’s the best option we have because we’re limited by the tools we have available to us,” all the way to, “This approach does not have any limitation in terms of unnecessary injury risk, and it’s actually the best possible way to train these athletes since that’s the way we’re doing it.”
We know that becoming stronger and increasing fast-twitch fiber expression makes for a more explosive and powerful athlete. Can we do either of these while moving at a speed that will not produce excessive peak forces?
When you’re using weights it’s tough. Mechanical tension stimulates strength increase, and in order to move slowly the athlete will be forced to reduce the weight being used.
Mechanical tension is also required to place the necessary force demand on the muscle fibers to cause their differentiation into fast-twitch phenotypes.
So we’re stuck with low levels of weight in the interest of safety, which means our improvements in strength and in fast-twitch fiber expression will be limited.
Adaptive Resistance™ to The Rescue
ARX completely solves this problem. A given muscle or group of muscles can be made to produce their maximum-possible magnitude of force—in both the concentric and eccentric phases—using ARX’s matched Adaptive Resistance™.
There is no muscular capacity left unused during a maximal effort on an ARX machine.
This means that mechanical loading is maximized. And as we learned, that means that the strength stimulus and fast-twitch fiber expression is maximized. And all at a slow, controlled speed of motion that would normally make such mechanical loading impossible.
So ARX gives the athlete greater levels of mechanical tension than are possible with weights, at safer speeds than are possible with meaningful levels of weight-loaded resistance.
In the short term, the ARX training completely avoids the excessive peak forces that could cause injury because the resistance responds to the user in real time. This means that even though F still = MA, and ARX maximizes the “M” in that equation (there are still “peaks”), they can never become excessive because the forces produced by the user can never be mismatched to the forces applied to the user by the machine in response.
So you drastically reduce the risk of injuries during training.
In the long term, this mechanical loading enhances the athlete’s bone density and ligament/tendon thickness. The maximal eccentric contractions also provoke a greater capacity for that muscle to absorb force over time. So you get fewer injuries during competition.
Drastic reduction in training injuries. Drastic reduction in competition injuries. While being more effective in the process.
But We’re Not Done Yet
We’ve established that ARX’s adaptive resistance is more effective than weight lifting for developing an athlete’s explosive power.
We’ve just shown that ARX reduces training injury risk and increases in-competition resistance to injury in the process.
But these are not the only advantages of using ARX for athletic strength and conditioning. Join us soon for Part V, where we explore another overlooked element of an athlete’s training: time commitment.
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