When I started weight lifting in the late 1980s as a teen, there was hardly any information available beyond proto-bro bodybuilding magazines might provide. And as you might guess, those magazines were only out to sell more magazines and whatever products they were sponsoring. I mostly stuck to running and mountain biking. Strength training wouldn’t make it back into my regular passions until a decade later, when information was available on sites like Cyberpump and the work of folks like Dan Duchaine could be downloaded in a text file. I realized those bodybuilding magazines may work if you were genetically gifted and were willing to engage in illegal substances. For the rest of us — the reality was different.
When I started, kids were often preoccupied with big pecs or big biceps. It was the chicken-leg era, where whole-body strength wasn’t valued and guys did “bicep” curls by heaving their entire torso backwards. People performed exercises that focused on specific exercises for specific body parts. This kind of thinking leads directly to 1+ hour workouts, which most of us in our adult lives no longer have time for.
That’s trick #1: Choose exercises that stimulate multiple muscle sets at once and cut the number of exercises down to the minimum for full-body stimulation and growth.
At one end of the extreme, you really could get away with a single exercise and get stronger: the barbell squat. It’s an immensely taxing exercise, and, done correctly, will stress your entire body and stimulate growth and strength. But, it also requires perfect form, repetitive sets, and can cause lasting issues on your joints, especially if you don’t have the right body geometry. There’s a certain amount of mental fortitude required, too.
At 46, I now feel issues in my knees and neck that are the result of overzealous youth. Now, when I stress my joints, I want it to be in an activity that I’m enjoying. For me, that’s sand volleyball, surfing, and lots of hiking. I don’t want to waste my joint health in the gym swinging around weights.
A more accessible option is to ensure all your exercises are multi-joint, compound movements that you can perform safely and with regularity. If you’re going to a gym regularly, start with the Big Three: a chest, shoulder and tricep exercise; a back & bicep exercise; and a lower-body hip-hinge exercise. For my clients, that usually translates to chest press, row, and leg press. Just doing that will cut your workout time in half. Add in specific body parts (curls, for example) as a last exercise depending on priority. Track your progress and tweak as necessary; you will make progress.
Trick #2: Minimize the number of sets you do.
What we do at Prometheus is trick #2: cut your sets down to 1 per exercise.
This is where the ARX comes in. In a traditional set, you’re working up to a max effort for the last rep of the last of 3 or more sets, and you hope you’ve done enough to stimulate growth. ARX is a machine that uses computer-controlled motors to create the resistance you’re up against, and it varies both for eccentric and concentric phases, and even allow varied force during the motion of the exercise.
Eccentric and concentric are often called negatives and positives, respectively. A positive/concentric rep is one where the client is actively doing the exercise and contracting the muscles. For a chest press, it’s the push away from the body. For a row, it’s the pull into the body as the biceps and the muscles in the back contract.
A negative/eccentric rep involves resisting the weight going back to start. For a chest press, it’s resisting as the weight comes back to the chest. For a row, it’s resisting when the handles are at the body and your arms are extending as it resets to start.
It just so happens (and becomes very apparent with the ARX’s unique measuring capability) that people can endure far higher loads in the negative phase than the positive. Maybe you can bench press 175 pounds, which means you can lift 175 pounds from your chest all the way up. What traditional weight training doesn’t allow you to discover is that you would be able to put far more force into the resistance (negative phase) than 175 pounds as you slowly lower it down to your chest.
The ARX acommodates this. Clients put as much force into the positive that they can, and also again for the negative. This maximizes both phases of the exercise, which is a far more efficient way to work out. It’s like having a magic weight that’s 175 pounds in the positive phase, but switches to 250 as you resist during the negative phase!
In addition, this same feature allows the force to change every moment during the movement. In a chest press, clients are weaker when the handles are close to the chest and stronger with arms almost extended. ARX allows the client to put more force into the exercise where they are stronger! The effectiveness of each single repetition on the ARX is light years ahead of traditional weights!
Here’s what it looks like in action.
This is a comparison of a horizontal press from July 2019 compared with January 2020. Each of these sets is set up with a 10 second push (positive) and a 10 second return (negative). The first 20 seconds is a warmup rep … I find I don’t recruit all my muscle fibers optimally if I go all-out on the first rep without some warmup. The admittedly badly drawn black circles highlight my first two full concentric efforts. You’ll notice the peaks there are significantly less than the blue circle peaks (the force I’m applying during the negative). You also may note that the force completely varies through the entire 20-second rep as the interplay between muscles and the geometry of the exercise change.
The peaks for both positive and negative are where my arms are slightly bent, where both triceps and pecs are sharing the work. The force I can apply diminishes as my hands get closer to my chest. You can also see how the force decays with each rep. I’m lifting a magic weight that automatically changes according to my strength wherever I’m at in the exercise!
This is what makes the ARX so efficient. If you’re curious, both my concentric and eccentric maximums went up about 18% between the two dates. Not terrible progress.
This also enables trick #3: workout just once a week. To fully recover from this session, most people need 6-10 days. There are folks that can try multiple times a week, but that may mean they simply aren’t putting enough effort into a single session… and we can measure and work with that.
That leads us to a different discussion on efficiency over the long-term — ensuring the workout is working. All of our automatically-recorded metrics will tell us when progress is slowing, when to switch it up, and stop workouts that aren’t working. And ARX also is far safer, which means less time recovering from injuries. All of this adds up to unprecedented effectiveness.
In conclusion: With the right program, you can cut the time you spend strength training in a gym exercising and still make great progress. You can do this with free weights or machines at your regular gym, or you can come into Prometheus where the ARX allows us to go much further, maximizing every repetition you perform and giving you access to unprecedented data about your workouts.
If this style of health appeals to you, schedule a free 1 on 1 appointment to try out some of our tech.