Staying on top of the latest research in health, fitness and strength and conditioning can be confusing - there's so much of it, and so much of it is conflicting. But I've looked at the research that came out in February and picked out five gems you can use in your training straight away.
1. Should You Use A Weight Vest For Sprinting?
Sprinting is a key component to most team sports so knocking that split second off a 100m sprint time is a key goal for many athletes. Lately, the trend for using weight vests for sprinting (and every other exercise) has skyrocketed. A recent study conducted on improving sprint speed concluded that using a weighted vest during training for added resistance v.s. good old fashioned sprinting produced no noticeable difference in sprint times.
Rather than focusing on adding weight up-top, it would make sense to build stronger and more explosive quads, glutes and hamstrings (prime sprint movers). This would significantly increase sprint times. After all, Force = Mass x Acceleration. Save your money and put in a little more sweat in the gym building immense legs.
2. Increase Performance Using External Cues
Coaching cues are essential for performance and output during training. The two main cues we focus on are external (outside the body) & internal (focusing on the body).
Recent research has indicated a slight advantage in using external cues for increased force output and athletic performance. Even though the advantage is minor, external cues were shown to be better for both force output and performance, therefore we can only conclude that so far, external cues are the title holder! However, both of these were only performed on two exercises so how this would carry over into other exercises is yet to be confirmed.
It would be interesting to try different internal and external cues because not all cues are created equal - some have far better carryover for performance and output than others. Essentially, it all depends how you perform the movement - I could give the best cues in the world but if you're unable to connect with them, they're useless!
3. Which Grip Should You Choose For Pullups?
With so many choices in the pull-up library, it can be hard to know which one is the best for strengthening and growing the back. A recent study completed on muscle activation during four pull-up variations showed that the only major 'pulling' muscle that demonstrated much difference between variations was the middle trapezius (the meaty bit you put the bar on when you squat) and this was only between a neutral and pronated grip, the latter being superior. Essentially, all other muscles displayed no significant difference between variations in this study.
As I learnt from my visit to world famous Bodybuilder - Ben Pakulski's - Mi40 Gym in Florida, understanding that how you think about performing the movement (where you place your focus) goes a long way to determining the outcome of muscle activation. Following on from above, I believe this is why we always get such a variance across numerous studies when looking at EMG results, and no definitive answer. Different cues for the variations would provide different EMG outcomes. I'm not saying that EMG studies are useless by any means, but rather that they should be used as a piece of the puzzle to expand your thought process rather than define it.
4. Increase Reps & Total Workout Volume During Your Rest
Adopting a quick 30-40s antagonistic muscle static stretch during your rest periods may prove to be beneficial to increasing reps performed and subsequent total workout volume. After all, volume is one of the greatest precursors of hypertrophy - this is something you should pay serious attention to! Additionally, during the study, muscle activation was higher during the static stretching workouts compared to the non-stretching and PNF workouts. Win-Win!
The long-term effects of static stretching between sets is still yet to be confirmed.
Luckily, static stretching proved to be better than PNF stretching - somehow partner assisted PNF stretching between sets seems a little difficult to replicate workout-to-workout.
So, instead of scrolling Instagram and Facebook during your rest period, make use of your time and get stretching.
5. Lower The Bar Quicker for Increased Explosiveness
Training with shorter eccentric contractions (when a muscle lengthens under load) seems to provide increased power output as it relates to vertical jump height. Thirty men were divided into three groups that tested varying lengths of eccentric contraction - 2s, 4s & 6s. The group that performed 2s eccentric contractions managed to increase their vertical jump the most - 3cm compared to 1 cm in the other two groups over four weeks of training.
Interestingly, the group that performed the 2s eccentric movements increased their squat 1RM the least - 11kg as opposed to 17kg & 14kg in the 4s & 6s groups respectively.
It would be great to get some further up-to date research on eccentric contraction lengths as it pertains to strength increases across a variety of movements, to see whether 4s is optimal with 6s being too long.
Currently, it looks like shorter eccentrics are better for increased power and explosiveness, possibly taking advantage of the muscle's natural stretch reflex.
Choosing your tempo will vary considerably between individuals as this will be largely determined by your goals, in this case, power v.s. strength.
Hopefully you can incorporate at least one of these points into your training going forward! Make sure you check back next month for a review of the latest research.