Strength vs Activation Exercise
- When does something change from an activation exercise to a strength exercise?
- Why do we do activation work with bodyweight only?
- If we add a 10 lb plate is that strength work then?
- What is the point of an activation exercise?
If it is to activate more tissue (muscle), we know the Henneman Size Principle (1) dictates that the heavier the load, the more muscle is activated.
Higher recruitment = stronger muscle contraction
Before the pubmed ninjas go crazy on me, I agree that rate coding can and an effect too, but will table that one for now.
More weight = more recruitment
If we agree on that, then why would you not add more weight to the exercise?
If you are always doing endless reps of a bodyweight glute bridge (a common activation exericse), what stimulus is there for your body to get stronger?
Um, there is none unless you are adding more body fat to your midsection. You are getting worse at that point.
You can increase overload primarily by
1) Volume: the amount of work done (sets x reps)
2) Density: the amount of work done in a set period of time (volume / time)
3) Weight or % 1 rep max: how much weight you are using
As my buddy Frankie says
“Adaptation has no off switch”
The stimulus provided by an exercise is very very key! Work to increase volume, density and weight to trigger positive adaptation
If an exercise makes you move better (better gait, increased range of motion before tension, etc), then it is good for your body and highly “corrective” at the same time. You can stop doing all that crazy “corrective exercise” too
If hip thrusts (as shown in the video above) improve your movement and you can use them with more load, I would argue they are superior for your goals (better looking butt, more hip power, bigger deadlift,etc)
4 Steps to End All Activation Work
1) Measure active range of motion (as shown in the Grip and Rip DVD)
2) Perform an exercise to target the area you want to work
3) Measure active range of motion again. If better, continue to add load until you reach your rep range
4) Stop sets at the first sign of altered breathing or increased tension
If you are looking for more glute activation, hip thrusts and perhaps kettlebell swings may be a good place to start
If you are looking for more upper back work to fix up your posture, test some inverted rows or pull ups.
Here is a trick. If you are looking to bring up your glutes, I say blast them every day. I would test a hip thrust every day and if it tests well, go for it. Maybe you add this as a finisher to your training sessions even 3-4 times a week. If you want to make a faster change, you need to test it more often for greater frequency. I think you will be amazing how often you can do an exercise. I’ve done some exercises for many days in a row and still made progress. Others have done much more than I have as I tend to follow a bit more of a windy path. I think Adam at one point tested good for the kettlebell clean and jerk for months at a time.
Another tip. Start VERY light.
When I started doing the Contreras Hip Thrusts, I just used bodyweight. Then the next session I used a bar, then 95 lbs, then 135, etc. Remember progressive overload? This was a brand new exercise for me, so why try to blast my body into oblivion on rep 1? In a perfect world, we would provide just enough stimulus to trigger adaptation and then no more. While science has not shown exactly how much is needed yet, from my own experience and talking to others, it appears to only be about 5-10% MORE.
Constant, consistent progress is key. As above–a bit more volume, a bit more density, a bit more weight. Most ONLY focus on weight and that is a mistake. They will plateau very fast.
More load = more muscle recruitment
More frequency = more stimulus for adaptation
Test your movement to ensure you are getting better
If you move better after the exercise, why not do that more often with more weight as compared to endless amount of bodyweight “activation” drills?
Plus, this is waaaaay more fun. Screw the pink dumbbells.
What do you think? I want to hear your thoughts on this one for sure!
Mike T Nelson
The Crazy Professors Birthday Webinar Sale end tonight, Tuesday Aug 24, 2010 at midnight CST! They go back into the vault then until who know when, so check out all the details below now!
Henneman, E., Somjen, G. & Carpenter, D. O. (1965). Functional significance of cell size in spinal motoneurons. J. Neurophysiol. 28, 560-580.
Bret Contreras and his wonderful blog all about the hip thrust and glutes at http://bretcontreras.wordpress.com/
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