Manual Labour – The Art of Partner Resistance
Resistance training is an undeniably broad and confusing term, encompassing a number of definitions and interpretations. For many, resistance training evokes the image of muscle-bound behemoths heaving alien-looking weights around for a couple of hours, with minimum coordination and maximum shrieking. This branch of resistance training – namely weight training – when done correctly, certainly has its benefits, but does not begin and end there; resistance training is a far more inclusive method of physical and mental development than the aforementioned scenario would suggest. If we agree on the premise that resistance training is any type of training where the body must move in a particular orientation against a force which opposes this movement, then there are numerous implementations which can be used to achieve this:
Free weights (e.g. barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, powerbags, etc.)
Weight machines (e.g. cam and cable machines)
Wind resistance (e.g. parachute or bag sprints)
Resistance bands or tubing
For this article, I would like to elaborate on the benefits and effectiveness of Manual Resistance as a form of resistance training. The reasoning behind me wanting to unearth such an invaluable tool to you is twofold; firstly, of all the methods listed above, manual resistance is the least-practiced and generally least-understood discipline; and secondly, no equipment is necessary for many of the techniques utilised – a skilled and experienced spotting partner is all that is usually needed. Imagine a machine so powerful and sophisticated that it can determine how much effort a person is giving to create movement against a resistance, and also adjusts its resistance amount when it feels the fatigue building within that person. This machine does indeed exist, and it is commonly known as a training partner!
What Is It?
Manual Resistance Training is an incredibly powerful way of making huge improvements, whatever your fitness goal is; whether you are just looking to tone up, or a powerlifter looking for that extra edge; Manual Resistance Training is malleable enough to tailor to your own needs. The next logical question one may ask is “how?” – by adjusting the resistance enough to hit your targeted repetition range. An individual lying underneath a 100kg loaded barbell and reaching momentary muscle failure (MMF) has reached failure, plain and simple; whereas the highly-skilled professional adding Manual Resistance will be able to manipulate their given resistance to allow the trainer to achieve an advanced overload phase (AOP) – pushing the muscle beyond its all-or-nothing system and reaching new heights of increased growth, tone, range of movement, and endurance.
Let me use an example of a Seated Machine Shoulder Press to clarify why this is the case: I sit in the seat and I load it with 45kg, hoping to get out approximately 12 repetitions before my muscles fatigue enough that I can’t make another successful repetition with correct form. On the phase of lifting the weight (the positive phase), my muscles are going through a concentric contraction (a shortening in length), and on lowering the weight (the negative phase) they are going through an eccentric contraction (the muscle fibres lengthen). Novices often erroneously believe that muscles are only working during the lifting phase of a given exercise. In this exercise, let us take the heads of the deltoids as an example, as they’re the primary muscle group; they are also contracting during the lowering phase; with approximately 40% extra strength they will offer during the lifting phase. The dilemma with this is that while you may have plenty in the tank for continued eccentric contraction of your deltoids, the concentric contraction (i.e. the lifting/positive phase) will almost certainly burn out first; prohibiting you from pushing the muscles to a desired level of fatigue and effort.
The Manual Resistance Specialist can apply the following techniques to illustrate the benefits of being able to push through both phases of a Seated Shoulder Press:
1.) The athlete sits on a mat or elevated 6 inch step with a straight back, both soles of the feet on the floor and knees bent at approximately 90°
2.) The athlete then flexes elbows to 180° at the side of the body, with palms facing forward and hands clenched into a fist with straight, rigid wrists
3.) The Trainer stands behind the athlete and places his hands over their fists, aware that he must place equal amounts of resistance on both sides
4.) The athlete then begins to extend the elbows to push the hands up above the head, with 100% effort while the Trainer presses down on the fists in a manner which allows a controlled 3-4 second positive phase lift until the full range of motion is complete.
5.) The Trainer keeps applying the same resistance for a 1-2 second isometric hold at the top of the movement.
6.) The Trainer then increases their resistance application by approximately 40% for a 3-4 second negative phase of the movement. Again, the athlete must resist this increased-load negative rep with 100% effort.
7.) The Trainer then eases the resistance by approximately 40% to repeat from stage 4, for the desired repetition range.
What you will find is that with an experienced Trainer, the muscles will be taken through a greater level of work on both phases of the exercise movement, allowing increased gains and a comprehensive feeling of muscular effort.
Pros and Cons
As with any form of training, it does have its drawbacks and limitations. If training this way in a quid pro quo manner, I would only recommend using this technique if you are training with someone of similar strength level to yourself; it would be extremely difficult for a 60kg novice to offer enough resistance for a 115kg bodybuilder! Also, as you are applying estimated resistance, it is not possible to log any weights in a notebook. Finally, the training is only as good as its spotter; always practice this technique with somebody well-versed in the knowledge and application of Manual Resistance. However, Manual Resistance Training is both cheap and efficient; it is rare that any equipment is necessary, and it can be done at any time, in any place. It can also be used in conjunction with other forms of resistance training for a panoptic, multi-angled approach to self-improvement.
Thank you for reading. If you would like more information about the different exercises available using Manual Resistance, or wish to be taken through a session, please contact me.