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Strength is the basis of life. To a large degree, how long and how well you live is based on how strong you are. Strength is primarily a neurological phenomenon and the single greatest tool for optimizing neuromuscular activation and performance is the barbell.

 

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The Center of the Foot: The Foundation of Strength

 

A some point billions of years ago the force we know of as gravity developed out of the cosmos, and perhaps some millennia ago people figured out that the easiest to carrying things was with a straight pole across one’s back. About 150 years ago the presence of gravity, the efficiency of straight rod, and the rise of physical culture all converged in someone mind which led to the invention of the barbell, and man’s quest for strength has never been the same since.

To develop a maximal or explosive neuromuscular firing pattern, we must be balanced. The Olympic barbell is the only object in existence which can have its force increased infinitely without its shape being changed (the shape of part the human interacts with during a lift). This cannot be said of any other training device or physical object.

If we use a heavy stone for training, we can only increase the weight so much, until the size and shape of it becomes too large and cumbersome to balance. You might be able to produce the force needed to overcome the same KG as the stone, but as the shape of the thing puts you off balance, so not as many muscle units can work; hence, not as many neurons are fired. You can’t even move the rock, so at this point it becomes useless for training.

On the other hand the physics of the barbell is truly a beautiful thing. In order for two physical objects to balance on each other their individual centers of mass must be perfectly aligned with each other against gravity. The bar part of the barbell allows us to keep the mass of all those KG (or pounds) on both ends over the point where we balance our mass: the center of our foot. With a bar it doesn’t matter whether you’re lifting 20 KG (45#) or 300KG (666#), you are always gripping the same thing with the same shape, a 28 millimetre (1.1 in). This explains why the two barbell sports, Weightlifting and Powerlifting became the sports of truly maximum Power and Force respectively.

 

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Dumbbells: Neurologically Dumb

 

The barbell unites the body bilaterally into one total force-producing unit which also contributes to optimal balance. Dumbbells and other unilateral training tools are useful for some objectives in training, but the lack of balance in using them makes the neuromuscular activation suboptimal and hence less strength is developed.

The unilateral isolation dumbbell exercises limits the amount of momentum that can be developed in comparison with barbell versions. This limitation of momentum is what makes dumbbells effective for swelling the belly of muscles, but it makes them poor tools for training high power and high force. Dumbbells actually got their name because most exercises with them are neurologically “dumb.”

Machines: Good for Company Profits, Bad for Training

 

Exercise Machines are really useless for strength because their movements are not three-dimensional, so it is impossible for their training effect to yield a useable strength gain. Any strength developed in 1 or 2 dimensions simply cannot transfer into strength in 3 dimensional movements. Our world is 3D and there is nowhere this is more apparent than the ring, the cage, the ice, the field, or the court.

3 Dimensional Training for 3 Dimensional Tasks

 

Barbell exercises in which you can lock-out all the working joints under the barbells gravitational force are the only real means of strength training. Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Cleans & Jerks, and Snatches are the most effective means of developing voluntary neuromuscular activation and progressively training it. These lifts allow a full compound movement with complete extension and lock-out of all the working muscles against the barbell’s perfect interface, which allows for maximum neural output.

By altering the intensity (% maximum) used on the barbell exercises, we can precisely train different types of strength (maximum, explosive, starting, etc.) which is key for training the specific force time curve for your specific athletic task.

These powerful full-body neuromuscular adaptations can be effectively transmuted into sport specific strength through sport practice and work with a good sport skill coach.

 

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Conclusion

 

These days commercial gyms are filled with all sorts of contraptions and gizmos which titillate the mind of the unfocused trainee, but for real strength and power initiates the tools will never change: the platform, the rack, the plates, and most importantly the bar. Merchants of exercise machines will tell you all sorts of pseudo-science to sell you on the newest fad equipment, but gravity isn’t changing and 3 dimensions really are 3-D. For our physicality to be complex our training equipment must be simple.