Lately I came across a new interesting study* which compared weight training to resistance training where participants contracted as hard as they could through the full range of motion without using any load. This is one of the training principles of Focused Muscular Tension based exercises, see http://dhyana-fitness.at/wordpress/focused-muscular-tension-exercises/. One of the authors was kind enough to send me the article via Research Gate.
13 untrained participants (untrained= no structured upper body training program within the last six months) took part in the study. Thereof, five were male and eight were female. Participants had a BMI < 30 and were all non-smokers. The study design comprises two training conditions. One condition is called NO LOAD. In this condition participants use voluntary maximal contractions through the full range of motion of the biceps for 4 sets, 20 reps each and 30 sec rest between sets. In the condition called HIGH LOAD, participants biceps curled 70% of their 1RM (1RM = the maximum weight that can be handled for 1 repetition) for 4 sets, 8-12 reps each, with 90 sec rests between sets. Each condition is applied to one particular arm of the participants. For example, if NO LOAD on the left arm, then HIGH LOAD on the right arm throughout the training intervention – and vice versa. The training took place 3 times a week, for six weeks. Measured where among others size, 1RM and Muscle endurance.
Muscle size (thickness), which was measured with B-mode ultrasonography, did increase in both groups with no significant difference**, however NO LOAD has a higher variability. The authors argue that his could be due to the participant’s individual ability to voluntary maximally contract the muscles.
Regarding maximal strength and endurance HIGH LOAD performed better. Although in the NO LOAD condition, participants had executed more reps than in the HIGH LOAD condition, HIGH LOAD training performed better in the endurance test. However, the authors are aware that the strength adaptions are specific. In this case, the arm which was assigned to the NO LOAD condition was not used to training with a dumbbell – which the test was carried out with. Maximal strength was measured using a dynamo-meter, here HIGH LOAD also performed better. The authors note that a problem seems to be, that most participants only achieve maximal contractions at the end of the movement. Nevertheless, NO LOAD did increase strength.
What can we take from the study?
On one hand, the sample of 13 participants is relatively small, so it is still too early to make any generalizations. Furthermore, it is unclear to what degree an increase in size would occur in trained individuals. One the other hand, we (or at least myself) can still take a few useful pointers for our own training:
- When using the agonist/antagonist principle (visualized resistance), it is important to concentrate on achieving maximal contraction throughout the movement
- The Attila/Sandow protocol of rhythmic contraction of the agonist muscles is suited for increasing size, but may be suboptimal (= not the best method) for increasing strength
- When choosing FMT as your preferred training protocol, it may be a good idea to vary and use periodization protocols, e.g. use isometrics for a weeks to focus on increasing your maximal strength.
* Counts, B. R., Buckner, S. L., Dankel, S. J., Jessee, M. B., Mattocks, K. T., Mouser, J. G., … Loenneke, J. P. (2016). The acute and chronic effects of ‘NO LOAD’ resistance training. Physiology & Behavior, 164, 345–352. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.06.024
**(This is not entirely correct. For one measurement point, posterior upper arm thickness decreased in the HIGH LOAD condition!)