I had an interview with Bill back in 2009 and his approach has always fascinated and impressed me. (Anthony is another fan and he had Bill speak at his 21convention last year). Anyway, since that interview i've remained in touch with Bill and he has shared with me some of his developing thinking. One of the things we corresponded about was prompted by the Max Pyramid Protocol that John Little developed and wrote about last year - that particular protocol is designed to maximally and safely stress the muscles....at their strongest points when the most fibres are engaged. A static contraction, or series of them, at the point of maximum moment arm is (are) used to deliver a deep inroad. I've played with it a bit and it is really useful.
I chatted to Bill about this and he explained that he was looking at other ways of challenging peak muscle torque while both not stressing the joints and actually working the postural muscles appropriately.....
He has now developed those ideas. I'll quote from Bill:
I've been using the Bodyblade, Bosu, Ball, and most recently the heavy rope in my studio in NJ for a few years now, both for myself and clients.
The instruction was all in my head and scraps here and there; never had a good reason to clean it up and make it presentable.
That guide is now available from Bill. Anyone interested in buying a copy of "Optimal Exercise Guide: The Bodyblade Plus": can get it, Paypal $20 US, $27 outside the US, including Priority Mail, to email@example.com.)
Recently I've been working with a martial arts instructor on the Gracie Combatives. He was having some knee and shoulder trouble, I showed him what to do, and it gave me the excuse to organize the material as a manual for studio clients: "Optimal Exercise Guide: The Bodyblade, Plus".
Bill has provided me with an exclusive extract from the Optimal Exercise Guide to whet your appetite:
How I Stumbled upon the Bodyblade®
I had successfully ignored the Bodyblade for several years. I was aware of it, usually spotted in the corner of a physical therapy practice; but whenever I asked about it, I only got vague responses. “It’s for functional training”, “It’s for the core”...but that was about it. Since I was comfortable with Nautilus-influenced strength training, I saw no need to pursue it further.
I had a similar response to vibration training; again, successfully ignoring the ads in the trade magazines and studies in the NSCA Journal. The price tag on the vibration machines didn’t help spur my interest.
At the same time, I had some observations about my own training. After 30-plus years, I knew that the amount of weight I could lift had pretty much topped out. On a given exercise, I could build up to a maximum amount of weight; but then, at the slightest increment above that weight, the form broke down and the amount of discomfort in the joints went up dramatically. I could give myself the illusion of progress, by accepting sloppier form or changing exercises, but that inevitably led to an injury or hitting the same dead end.
Unfortunately, I had a bit of a contradiction in play, in that I still liked to train hard. With weights, this seemed to lead to more joint aches, especially in the shoulders. A few years back, this and other musculoskeletal issues had led me to the biomechanics textbooks, eventually resulting in the Moment Arm Exercise manual and the series of You Tube videos. And, while I did refine the weight training exercises and techniques that I used on myself and clients based on that work, I still didn’t completely eliminate the nagging aches.
So, in mathematical terms:
Frustrating approach to training + more refined biomechanics + willful ignorance of alternatives= nagging aches. Not exactly the result I was looking for.
So one day I’m being the nice older brother and helping my sister with some hedge trimming (Hi Liz!). I use a portable, electric trimmer, with alternating saw blades, which must weigh about 5 pounds. I use it for about three or four hours in the morning, break for lunch, then fall asleep. For the entire afternoon. I was completely exhausted, my upper body quivering, completely spent, and wondering if I stumbled onto a new, debilitating disease.
Apparently not, but a 5-pound tool should not have taken this much out of me. Then it dawned on me: it was the vibration. As the blades alternated to cut, the unit shook. In order to control the trimmer, you had to steady yourself against the vibration of the unit. And rather than turn it on and off, I left it running the whole time; so not only did I have the steady the unit as it cut, I had to control it just holding it between cuts.
Where were those vibration studies again?
Excerpts from selected studies
As usual with studies: the more you read, the less certain the results.
Effects of Vibration Training on Muscle Strength: A Meta-Analysis. Pedro J. Marin and Matthew R. Rhea. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 4: 548-556, 2010.
“Vibration training or whole body vibration (WBV) constitutes a mechanical stimulus that enters the human body via hands when gripping a vibration dumbbell or bar, pulley system, via feet when standing on vibration platform, or applied directly to the muscle belly or the tendon of muscle by a vibration unit…The use of platforms represents the most common form of vibration exercise…Most treatment sessions consisted of short bouts (30-90 seconds) with ~60-second rest between sets…
“Different mechanisms have been suggested in the literature how vibration stimuli can have effect on the neuromuscular system such as stimulation of Ia afferents via spindle…little basic scientific research has examined vibration exercise effects on the function of different physiological properties…Of additionally paramount importance, contraindications have been reported, including erythema, itching of the legs, edema, and shin pain…
“…vibration exercise was shown to compare with traditional resistance training in terms of overall strength adaptations…this tool should be viewed as a potential mode of training in appropriate exercise settings.”
Vibration Training: Could It Enhance the Strength, Power, or Speed of Athletes? Ian M. Wilcock, Chris Whatman, Nigel Harris, and Justin WL Keogh. J Strength Cond Res 23: 593-603, 2009.
“It is well known that an acute effect of mechanical vibration on muscles is that it can elicit a muscular reflex called the tonic vibration reflex…in theory, vibration causes the afferent neurons from the muscle spindles to become more sensitive to muscle stretch, which increases the activation of alpha motor neurons…may lead to increased motor unit recruitment, increased firing frequency, and/or improved synchronization, allowing a quicker and more forceful muscular contraction when the muscle is rapidly stretched…
“There has been considerable research into the effects of long-term exposure to vibration in the workplace from an occupational health and safety perspective. Long-term exposure has been shown to be detrimental, with the effects of WBV and handheld vibration causing vascular, peripheral, and central neurological, bone, joint, and muscle disorders…it seems that WBV training can be undertaken safely, although it is prudent to note the detrimental effects reported in the workplace because overexposure may see athletes reporting similar problems in the future…may need to be monitored for possible adverse effects of vibration training when their overall training volume and/or intensity is high…
“Overall, there does not seem to be any detrimental effect on performance with the controlled use of vibration training in athletes. There is some evidence that chronic vibration training by athletes may provide small benefit to maximal strength and power…The practicality of vibration training also should be taken into account in terms of time, cost, and reduction of other training for what we have observed to be a small benefit.”
Acute Enhancement of Lower-extremity Dynamic Strength and Flexibility with Whole- Body Vibration. Patrick L. Jacobs and Patricia Burns. J Strength Cond Res 23, 51-61, 2009.“Whole-body vibration (WBV)…is characterized by oscillating motions delivered to the entire body that are hypothesized to elicit muscular activity via activation of stretch reflexes…
“…the enhancement of power by WBV may have been induced by increased synchronization of the motor units, improved coordination of the synergist muscles, and/or antagonist inhibition…
“Whole-body vibration seems to serve as a simple, effective, and time-efficient method of preparatory activity as compared with the warm-up strategies commonly recommended by leading fitness organizations…WBV has shown…immediate benefits in muscular performance, suggesting that this approach could effectively prepare an athlete from a resting state to a competitive state of readiness for either athletic training or competition.”
The Effect of Acute Applications of Whole-Body Vibration of the iTonic Platform on Subsequent Lower-Body Power Output During the Back Squat. Matthew R. Rhea and Joseph G. Kenn. J Strength Cond Res 23, 58-61, 2009.
“Complex training…the performance of a resistance exercise followed quickly by a plyometric exercise has been concluded to be as effective, if not more so, than strength and plyometric training done separately for the development of power…One issue that may arise in the conventional use…is muscular fatigue…To take full advantage of any benefit, muscular fatigue would need to be avoided…The use of WBV may be useful in elevating neurological performance without resulting in significant amounts of muscular fatigue…it seems that WBV has a significant effect on the neuromuscular system, such that the rate of force development is immediately enhanced…the vibration stimulus seems to influence the nervous system, increasing muscle tissue activation and synchronization.”
Effects of Mechanical Vibration Applied in the Opposite Direction of Muscle Shortening on Maximal Isometric Strength. Hosanna R Silva, Bruno P Couto, and Lexzek A Szmuchrowski. J Strength Cond Res 22, 1031-1036, 2008.
“Among the adaptive responses of the muscle, the neural responses play an important role in the strength gains resulting (from strength training)…Training may cause a decrease in impulses that inhibit the neuromuscular system, permitting improvements in muscle strength…Most studies about human responses to mechanical vibrations discuss whole-body vibrations and vibrations applied perpendicularly to the tendon or muscle…
“Considering…that in eccentric activities, reflex mechanisms influence the production of strength, we hypothesized that vibration exposure in the opposite direction of muscle shortening may produce short eccentric effects that could add up to maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), increasing muscle strength by improvement of neural adaptation…one group performed conventional isometric strength training and another group isometric strength training with the addition of mechanical vibrations applied in the opposite direction of muscle shortening…
“Despite the fact that we observed a significant increase in strength, in absolute terms, in both groups, group 2 (training plus mechanical vibrations) reached a significantly greater index of maximal isometric strength increase…which allows us to conclude that training with vibrations added resulted in higher neural adaptation than conventional isometric training…the improvement of strength obtained after training with vibrations was probably caused by optimization of involuntary mechanisms of muscle action through sudden and consecutive periods of eccentric action.”
Summarizing the Studies
- Too much vibration (industrial and occupational levels) can cause problems.
- Limited amounts of vibration, 30-90 seconds in the exercise context, might cause problems, but seems to be generally safe.
- Vibration seems to offer at least similar benefits to conventional training, and maybe slightly better.
- The benefits that come from vibration training are on the “neuro-“ side of “neuromuscular”.
- The repeated, rapid switching between eccentric and concentric contraction, as the muscle tries to dampen the vibration, seems to be the unique aspect of this kind of training.
For me, this wasn’t convincing enough to buy a several thousand dollar platform; but I was willing to take the general ideas and apply them to far less expensive tools like the Bodyblade ®, Bosu ®, and ball.
How I Applied the Information
Getting back to me, remember, my interest has been in more joint-friendly ways to train hard. One of the benefits of vibration training not mentioned above is increased circulation to the joint. As the vibration runs along the bone to the joints, the deep muscles that stabilize that joint contract to dampen the vibration and hold the joint together. I wrote earlier that they contract “and relax”; actually, no. They contract eccentrically, then concentrically, as opposed to contracting statically. Conceptually, just like a biceps pumps as you raise and lower a curl, the circulation would increase in the deep muscles. My thought was, do a vibration-type exercise (VTE) to increase the circulation to the joints, prior to the weight training exercise. Another thought was since deep muscles have different functions based on limb position, more than one exercise was necessary.
Learning curves being what they are, I started with doing the vibration-types separate from the weight routine. Once I got the hang of the moves, I decided to try mimicking the weight training exercise, based on the idea that the best warm-up is a specific warm-up. Using some of the ideas from the studies, I held back a bit on the pre-exercise, before going into the work set. I was surprised to see how easy the work set became, but the studies do suggest why. I found double benefit: the joint aches seemed to go away from the pre-exercise, and I was able to add weight to the work set.
This, however, came back to haunt me, as I started to add so much weight, my joints started to hurt again! So, another adjustment: hold back on the work set, then add another set with the VTE for the maximum muscle effort.
Why should this work? Well, the discomfort during the work set with weights wasn’t in the first few reps; it was near the end, approaching “failure”. “Failing” with the weight meant stalling, so the muscle effort was applied against the joint, not to moving the weight; and usually accompanied by other muscles trying to substitute for the exhausted prime mover. By putting the weight down, and resuming the same movement with the ‘blade, the joint stress was relieved, and since the weight of the ‘blade is negligible, the substitution stopped. And since the ‘blade matches the effort of the prime mover (by flexing more or less based on your effort), it has the same effect as a partner-assist or weight reduction. To use a dated term, it becomes “isokinetic”: it moves at a set speed and matches your effort. Unlike isokinetic machines, however, there is no impact with the ‘blade.
And In Conclusion
I can’t honestly claim that this training has dramatically enhanced my physique or made me a better athlete. I suspect diet and practice would be better options.
I can say, however, that this type of training allows me train as regularly and as hard as I want, with a lot less joint stress. I get the sensation of high effort, which registers as “a good workout” for the superficial muscles. I protect the joints by theoretically increasing circulation to the joint and minimizing the mechanical disadvantage. And if there is a benefit to the “neuro-“ side, in terms of coordination, quickness, or reflexes, more better for me.
Exercise is only so useful if being obsessed with “progression” leads to injury or makes you dread training.
For me, “progress” in terms of amount of weight lifted is an obsolete standard. As we age, “normal” is to decline; so, if the weights I handle stay the same, I’m ahead of normal. The only way to maintain is to train regularly, and the way to train regularly is to avoid injury.
In the early stages of training, weight and reps are perfectly valid standards. But once you are strong enough and big enough, you have to weigh the possible marginal benefits of increasing weight and reps vs. the additional discomfort and strain. For me, I find it a lot more useful to “progress” in terms of control of muscular actions, and the Bodyblade®, Bosu®, and ball are ways of addressing this.
Get the new Guide
Once again, the guide is now available from Bill. Anyone interested in buying a copy of "Optimal Exercise Guide: The Bodyblade Plus": can get it, Paypal $20 US, $27 outside the US, including Priority Mail, to firstname.lastname@example.org.)