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Training 101: Types of Resistance Training

February 4, 2007 9:47 PM | Education | Exercise | Comments (0)

Knowing more about the types of resistance training available will help you to make educated decisions on the equipment you use for   yourself and your clients.
Constant Resistance Devices:

“Constant resistance” means that the resistance does not change during the course of the exercise.  This applies to free weights and machines with round pulleys.  The pros and cons of constant resistance devices are generally the same for all populations.  


The limiting factors are as follows:

  1. These devices do not correct for changes in leverage that occur during a movement.  For example, a squat is harder to perform at the bottom of the movement than at the top, therefore at the top, one does not work as hard.
  2. These devices do not correct for reduced force output due to fatigue.

On paper, this is a disadvantage for anyone trying to get in better condition, since these factors make the exercise less effective during the easier ranges of movement.   In reality, constant resistance training is the most natural, since the changes in leverage imitate the body’s natural way of working.  Exercise that mimics the body’s characteristics will yield the best results in the long run.  Furthermore, free weights are an option for those choosing constant resistance devices.  They more effective than machines in developing stabilizer muscles and achieving greater overall strength, which is a huge plus for anyone, especially sports trainees and bodybuilders.
Variable Resistance Devices: 

These devices were designed to make the amount of weight increase or decrease during an exercise movement.  The intention was to benefit all populations by incorporating the overload principle which states that you can maximize the level of stress on your muscles by making them work as hard as possible throughout the full range of motion of any given exercise.  With these machines, the resistance is increased during the usually easier ranges of motion, making the muscles work harder than usual, stimulating growth.  This idea works well for anyone. 

These devices have their place, as they provide a different stimulus, or change up a workout, or help to overcome a plateau.  There are, however, a few drawbacks.  First of all, this type of movement is not natural and causes confusion in the brain, which may slow gains in strength and size.  Also, the movement pattern is directed for you.  This removes the stress from the stabilizer muscles, not allowing them the chance to grow.  Although designed with good intentions, it is impossible to precisely match the variance in musculoskeletal leverage since people come in all shapes and sizes. 

Accommodating Resistance Devices:

These devices maintain resistance by controlling the speed of your exercise movement.  Tension and time work together to produce muscle gains.  Accommodating resistance devices slow you down and increase the amount of time adaptive overload is applied in each exercise.  An advantage for new trainees is that these machines eliminate ballistic movement, thereby protecting them from pulled muscles or overextended joints stemming from uncontrolled movements. It is debatable whether it is an advantage for sports trainees and bodybuilders, however. 

Some people, now matter how long they have been training, still do not control their movements very well and this may be an advantage for them.  However, a power lifter needs to train with ballistic movements on a regular basis, so this type of device would be a major disadvantage if it was the only option.  There are scientists that also agree that ballistic movement is the way the body is supposed to work, therefore the brain is hard pressed to accept the unnaturalness of controlled speed.

Static Resistance Devices:

This comes from the idea of static contraction, or isometric exercise.  To accomplish this, one would push or pull on an immovable apparatus.  The advantage is that it makes you stronger.  The disadvantage is that you only get stronger in that position.  You would have to push and pull at every angle throughout the range of movement to become stronger in those positions as well.  This has some use in sports training, but this type of exercises is not recommended for those with heart problems or high blood pressure. 


I would not recommend it for new trainees either, until they improved their level of fitness.  Functional isometrics is an adaptation I like better, as it is a great way overcome “sticking points” in exercises.  Bodybuilders, and general workout buffs are often trying to increase their lifting capability in bench presses, military presses, and squats, so functional isometrics would be a good change to incorporate into their workout program.

Copyright © 2009 by A.M. Birmingham, ISSA CFT


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