Thursday, July 27, 2017

A New Wrinkle on Power Rack Training - John McKean (1981)

From this Issue (February, 1981)

More Articles by John McKean:

The Author, John McKean

Interview with John:

Deadlift, Dumbbell, Right Arm, 266.5 lbs:

Thanks BIG for sharing your knowledge and experience, John! 

Back to the Rack: 
A New Wrinkle on Power Rack Training
by John McKean (1981) 

Over the past few years several authors have expounded the virtues of limited movement power rack training: ISOMETRONIC, as Peary Rader calls it . . . and for good reason . . . it works!

Rader Isometronic Course:

Some daring and innovative men, particularly in the early '60s, found they could make great increases in their competitive lifts with work on the rack when their "normal" routines had ceased to produce progress. However, despite its apparent value and the good sense behind its theory, I've witness very few power men actually employ PROPER limited movement training.

Oh sure, some guys do half and quarter squats and a few take the bar off high pins, lower themselves to certain positions and come up. But unless the bar is started from a dead stop and moved to an isometric position four or five inches above, the fantastic gains of the power rack pioneers are not achieved.

Why do so few trainees use the rack incorrectly? Well, for one thing it's damn tough and very little weight can be used at first, especially from the bottom positions. Movements are short and awkward, no 'pump' is created, nor is there the burst of acceleration most lifters enjoy in a standard range exercise.

A very big factor against short-range lifting, though, and the point of this article, is the finish of the movement - that cruel and unusual punishment known as isometrics.

Most weight men are turned off by isometrics. This form of exercise is particularly treacherous when performed with a briefly moved HEAVY barbell - the original isometronic concept. If too little weight is used for the initial lift . . . the bar clangs loudly against the top pin creating vigorous reverberations throughout the unfortunate lifter's body. When a correct weight (heavy enough to prevent speed or acceleration) is employed, it's extremely difficult to concentrate on pushing more forcefully into the cold steel of the upper pins.

I know, I know, you're supposed to pretend you are bending or breaking those upper pins - but in your heart you know it's futile. You are, in effect, banging your head against a brick wall. Most such attempted isometrics become merely supports and much of the desired effect (and desired gains) are lost.

I've developed a simple and very effective solution to the 'dead end' upper pin problem. Since its application I've eliminated the boredom and frustration of a sheer isometric, yet receive all its benefits. My mental attitude and progress have skyrocketed.

Simply stated, I place a cylindrical piece of Styrofoam or rubber of about 3.5 inches in diameter and 6 to 8 inches in length around each top pin. I cut mine from old boat bumpers. They're cheap and the center hole fits perfectly around a 5/8 inch rack pin. When the barbell hits these there is still a bit of movement possible as they yield and compress. THE LIFT NEVER REALLY REACHES A DEAD END, and incentive is there to keep pushing (6 seconds or more) to seek the deepest possible penetration into the pads. It's a lot more comfortable to put forth a truly maximum effort at the top due to the gentle give, and the body is 'tricked' into greater and greater exertion! Eventually, of course, the body reaches ITS limit of push, but it's practically impossible to ever completely squash those pads (especially with a sufficiently heavy barbell).

To implement this bumper rack training into, let's say a squat program, I use three positions:

 - at parallel
 - 3 inches above parallel
 - 3 inches below parallel.

I go for one maximum exertion at each position - after a regular, though limited squat session - or at times devote a workout solely to the rack, using a brief but adequate warmup to get to the top weight. I train twice weekly.

I must emphasize the necessity of only using ONE ALL OUT attempt at each position. If you can do more than a single set at each position you aren't putting forth enough physical and/or mental effort, or the weight is too light.

I use as much weight as I can so I can just get up from each of the three imposed bottom positions to the top bumper pads. I add five pounds to each position every workout. After a few weeks of this progression, when the weight starts getting up there, it's amazing how little push you can apply into the bumpers, but it's always a challenge to try to crush them!

After the six-second push at the top, if I'm not completely burned out, I like to lower the bar to one inch above the bottom pins, hold for six seconds, then try for another push back up into the pads. Believe me, this is such intense work that you'll have no need for further reps or sets. When done with concentration, four max efforts are performed in this compound movement (two starts from the bottom, two finishes at the top).

Start easy on this program and gradually build up to heavier and heavier weights. Eventually you'll have days when the five pound increase will prove just a trifle too much and you won't quite be able to make it up the four inches to the bumpers. Don't let this get you down! In fact, feel good about it- you've truly worked a max rep. In this case simply hold at the stuck position for six seconds or so, trying like crazy the whole time to touch the pads. I've found when this has happened to me that not only could I still add five more pounds the following workout, but also would have gained the strength to reach the top with the increased load!

As an indication of how well this routine has worked for me, before its inception I had a top competition squat of 450 at 148. Within months I set four state records, did an official 530, and made PL USA's top ten in that lift!

Now, I achieved the gains honestly (without drugs), am not a 'natural' or fast gainer (though I do tend to specialize on the squat), and do not have good leverage for the movement (other than being short and having a plump rump!). I'm sure a lot of guys who are better blessed physically could make greater and more rapid gains than I - if they give this new rack wrinkle a try.

I've found sticking points are no longer a problem, proper body position for maximum force is learned, and the all-important drive from bottom is increased tremendously.

Want an honest to goodness shortcut to power? All it takes is a rack, a couple of bumper pads, and enough grit and conviction to give it a try!

To summarize the performance:

1) Hard initial lift from dead stop in the bottom position.
2) Maximum push into the top bumper for 6 seconds.
3) Slowly lower to 1 inch above the bottom pins.
4) Hold at 1 inch above the bottom pins for 6 seconds.
5) Push back to top and into bumper pins.

One  max set at parallel, one at 3 inches above parallel, one at 3 inches below parallel. 

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