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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Resistance Training: Imagined Resistance

Let's take yesterday's method one step further. We began with a bicep curl holding a dumbbell in our right hand; then yesterday we replaced the dumbbell with our left hand and, consequently, our body strength.

Today we replace our left hand with our minds. We imagine we hold a dumbbell in our right hand - hell, forget the dumbbell; I'm feeling strong today. I've got the front bumper of a car, and I'm going to lift the entire front end off the ground!

As I start the curl, I imagine what the resistance must be like. And what happens? As my forearm slowly begins to curl upward, my whole arm starts to shake. I feel the muscles tightening, and I'm getting tired! What's happening?

It's simple, if you just think about it for a moment. The resistance to my right bicep is coming from my right tricep, the muscle on the backside of the same arm. Makes sense, right? So I'm not exercising as many muscles as with self resistance, but I'm working more than the dumbbell would. (And my tricep still feels kinda tired, even though I finished the curl a few minutes ago. Maybe I should have settled for a lighter vehicle, like a go-cart or something...)

I realize that some of you may think it sounds funny, but this technique has actually been used for hundreds of years as a part of martial arts training. Think of movies where you see a martial artist training, moving through various positions with their teeth gritted and their muscles shaking. That's a "heavy lifting" version of this technique, not advised unless you've used it for a while; however, the principle is the same. The good news is that you don't have to create a great deal of tension to get benefits from this method of training; any tension ups the muscular effort required, and it allows you to get a "resistance benefit" from movements that would be difficult to perform with actual weights.

A second benefit of this resistance method is how well it combines strength with flexibility training. You can lightly tense the muscles while stretching, and actually strengthen the muscles at the extremes of their motion. This is difficult to do with almost any other technique without injuring yourself.

Obviously, with this method we have to be a little careful about "crunching" our muscles too much. If you overdo it with this technique, the strained muscle may feel like it's cramping... for days. As long as you don't try to tense the muscles too much, you shouldn't have a problem... but you should be aware of the possibility.

Don't underestimate how much strength-training you can do with imagined resistance. It's particularly useful for muscles that can't be trained any other way, because of the angles at which you would have to apply other types of resistance.

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