Thursday, September 23, 2021

Power Forearms, Part One - Health for Life (1984)


Power Forearms! has something for everyone. It offers the bodybuilder massive, ripped forearms. It offers the martial artist nearly impenetrable blocks and explosive strikes. It offers any athlete a more powerful grip and greatly enhanced wrist stability. 

And it delivers all this in just 10 minutes a day, twice a week!

At some point you've probably been told something like this: "Since you use your forearms every time you grab, twist, or pull something, they have really high endurance, so the only way to weight-train them is to do really high numbers of reps. Anything less just won't make them grow."  

Luckily, that's not true! 

Power Forearms! integrates the latest research in biomechanics and exercise physiology with the practical experience of bodybuilders and martial artists. It is based on over three years' study aimed at finding a way around the supposedly unavoidable: long, basically ineffective forearm workouts. 

The program's efficiency is the result of optimization at every level: exercise selection, performance, sequence, and timing. We have chosen exercises, not only on the basis of their individual biomechanical soundness (ability to isolate the target muscles while avoiding potentially injurious stress on associated joints), but also on their merits as "team" members. Certain exercises work together to produce results greater than just the sum of the results of the individual exercises. This is called Synergism, and is the basis for all Health for Life courses.

The four elements mentioned above - selection, performance, sequence, and timing - contribute to the synergy of the program. At its highest level, a synergistic program is so effective it seems almost magical. Our Legendary Abs and Syner Abs programs have allowed thousands of athletes to replace the old standard daily 45-minute Roman Chair workout with a 6-minute. four-times-per-week routine. Power Forearms! works the same magic for forearm training. 

This course contains . . . 

1) The Theory: why Power Forearms! works.

2) The Program: 

 - Detailed descriptions of the exercises. (It's the details, even more than the exercises, that make the difference!)

 - The Routines

 - The Schedule -- how much, how often. 


For most athletes - especially bodybuilders and martial artists - the forearms are the seat of strength. You can be incredibly "strong," but if you don't have THE GRIP to hang onto that bar, javelin, or nunchaku, or the forearm SOLIDITY to deliver the power behind that right cross, the strength is all for nothing. 

To develop these forearm characteristics - grip and solidity - you must work for balanced strength around the associated forearm joints. Before we can talk about that, though, we must briefly touch on forearm motions.

There are basically six, grouped in pairs: wrist flexion and extension, wrist abduction and adduction, and forearm supination and pronation. In addition, we need to consider one pair of finger motions: finger flexion and extension.

Don't worry too much about the names. The important point is that each of these motions is the result of several individual forearm muscles working together in groups. Muscle groups work against one another in pairs to provide stability much like the guywires on opposite sides of a tent pole.  See below: 

Click to View Larger 

There is, it turns out, one oddball that messes up this symmetry: the BRACHIORADIALIS. It has no muscle group working against it in the forearm. the brachioradialis acts with two upper arm muscles, the biceps and brachialis, to bend the elbow. Their opposing muscle group, the triceps, is in the upper arm. 

Any comprehensive forearm program should aim to develop all the major forearm muscles. Achieving BALANCED DEVELOPMENT requires devoting EQUAL EFFORT to the opposing muscle groups. Only with such a balanced approach will you achieve FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH - and massive, ripped forearms, as well! As an additional benefit, balanced forearm development will greatly reduce the risk of injuring your wrists during athletic pursuits.


The Fatigue/Tension Principle

Researchers have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what makes muscles grow. They've understood pieces of the puzzle for some time - the idea of overloading, for example. We all know forcing muscles to lift more than we think possible is essential to growth.

We also know timing is important. Resting too long between sets seems to limit growth. So does not resting long enough between workouts. In fact, doing reps too slowly within a set kills results, too.

These two principles - overload and timing - have produced the well known prescription for muscle growth/strength increase: 3 to 5 sets of 6-8 reps performed at a moderate pace, no more than three times a week. Although, the prescription is not particularly elaborate, it seems to work. 

Now we introduce a new wrinkle: Recent research has shown that overload and timing are not independent of each other. It's not really a question of finding the BEST TIMING (". . . rest no more than 45 seconds between sets . . .") and then determining the OPTIMAL OVERLOAD (". . . you have to lift at least 80% of your max to gain . . ."). Rather, it's a question of the BEST COMBINATION OF TIMING PLUS OVERLOAD, with each affecting the other. 

Also, think of the speed with which you perform your reps and the time you rest between sets as creating a particular muscular FATIGUE LEVEL. The faster you work, and the less time between sets, the higher the level of fatigue.

Rep Speed, Short Rests between sets -----> Fatigue Level

In combination, these two act to create a new concept: the FATIGUE/TENSION LEVEL. This is a way of expressing how fatigue and tension relate to one another. We can say . . . 

Ideal Balance of Fatigue and Tension -----> Maximum Growth

Increase the fatigue level (faster reps, less time between sets), and it takes less tension (less weight) to achieve the same Fatigue/Tension level. Decrease fatigue (slower reps, more time between sets), and it takes more tension (more weight) to achieve the same Fatigue/Tension level. 

Now for the interesting part. It turns out that muscle growth depends not only on overloading, not only on timing, but on SURPASSING A PARTICULAR FATIGUE/TENSION level called the FATIGUE/TENSION THRESHOLD. Unless your exercise scheme (overload plus timing) bumps you over this threshold, no growth! 

This has some interesting implications when we begin to structure an optimal workout. For one thing, it means OVERALL workout speed is important, not just length of rest between sets, or speed of reps within sets. 


You see, for any particular muscle group your fatigue level is DYNAMIC, or constantly changing. Before you do a set, your fatigue level is low; during the set, it rises; as soon as you finish, it begins to drop again as your muscles recover from the effort. If you rest long enough, your fatigue level eventually will drop to the level from which it began.


muscle A series of sets, with long rests in between, has a fatigue curve that looks like this: 

Notice that as a result of letting your fatigue level drop so low in between sets, there is no CUMULATIVE FATIGUE EFFECT over several sets; you don't get more tired during the second set than during the first, nor more tired during the third set than during the first.

Even when you figure in the Tension factor, the basic shape of this curve looks the same. In other words, we can treat this as a picture of the Fatigue/Tension level.

Now, a few paragraphs back, we said there is a particular Fatigue/Tension THRESHOLD you must surpass for muscle growth to occur. The graph below, which illustrates the Fatigue/Tension Threshold, shows why long rest impair progress. The long rests prevent successive sets from having any cumulative effect on your fatigue - thus you never cross the threshold.   

As you shorten your rest time between sets, though, your fatigue level doesn't have time to drop as far, and you achieve a stair-step Fatigue/Tension curve that looks something like this: 

achieve Now we show a cumulative effect! And during the third set we finally surpass the Fatigue/Tension Threshold. Presto -- growth! 

This is why shorter rests between sets facilitate increases in size and strength. The same principle applies to rests between different exercises for the same bodypart. After doing three or four sets of some exercise, the muscle(s) affected will show some cumulative fatigue level, assuming your are working fast and hard enough. If you rest too long before beginning the next exercise for that same muscle, your fatigue level will drop enough to prevent a cumulative fatigue effect across the different exercises. 

"So what?" you may say. "Assuming I've crossed the F/T Threshold during the first set, does it really matter if my fatigue level drops before the next exercise?" 

Yes! Crossing the F/T Threshold is just the beginning of the growth process. It is crossing the Threshold, and STAYING ABOVE IT, that assures greater development in less time. 

This brings us full circle to our earlier point -- overall workout speed and continuity is important, not just the length of rests between sets or the rep rate. When combining exercises for a particular bodypart, even if you don't surpass the F/T Threshold during your first exercise, you may during your second or third!  


Now let's turn to the question of tension within the Fatigue/Tension concept. 

The tension generated within a muscle during exercise depends mostly on these things: 

 - the LOAD (amount of weight) you are lifting,

 - the LEVERAGE associated with the exercise movement,

 - and the MENTAL FOCUS - oomph! - you put into your effort.

For simplicity's sake, let's assume you are going to put an all-out effort into every rep you do. This will make mental focus a constant.


As for load, the relationship here is simple: Higher load (more weight), more tension . . . up to a point. As you do sets with a weight approaching the maximum you can lift, the tension within the muscle levels off.

Intuition and experience suggest heavier weights are required for building strength and bulk. Basically, that's true. But as we've mentioned, it's not just the weight that makes the difference.

Studies have been done in which a group of athletes/bodybuilders did 3 to 5 sets of various exercises with about 80% of the maximum weight they could lift. Each set consisted of one all out rep followed by five minutes rest, then another rep and another fest, and so on until each test subject had performed 10 reps total. The athletes followed the regime three times per week for several months. Then everyone was tested for strength and bulk gains. The results? Practically no gains! Only a small percentage showed any signs of improvement. 

The failure of  this approach can easily be explained in terms of the Fatigue/Tension Principle: Even with high tension, the low fatigue from long rests resulted in a Fatigue/Tension level below the Threshold.* 

*Note: It is possible to generate a tension level sufficient to compensate for the low fatigue from long rests. This requires using 95-100% of the maximum weight you can lift. Power lifters use this sort of workout. We do not recommend this for two reasons: (1) it puts potentially injurious stress on joints and ligaments, (2) it is not the most effective training program for the combined goals of strength, bulk, and definition.  

This is not to say a high load isn't effective or necessary for inducing growth. Quite the contrary. Using near-maximal poundages has a pronounced effect on the Fatigue/Tension curve. Assuming you structure your workout to take advantage of the Fatigue element - fast pace, short rests - using heavier weights raises the entire curve. It also makes the curve peak at a higher level, because heavier weights increase fatigue as well as tension. 

Here are the curves for the same exercise done at the same pace, first with lighter weights, then with heavier: 


Notice how much steeper the second curve is, and how much sooner it crosses the Fatigue/Tension threshold. 


We mentioned that three things affect the tension generated within a muscle during exercise: load, leverage, and mental focus.

Leverage is the most recent of these to be incorporated into workout routines. The last few years have seen the introduction of the "Eccentric Cam" into sophisticated weight training equipment - Nautilus machines, for instance. The Eccentric Cam is an acknowledgement that muscles do not have equal leverage throughout their range of motion. For example, when doing a bicep curl you have better leverage, and thus more strength, when you are about halfway through the curl than when you are at the bottom of the motion and your arm is fully extended. 

As such, it takes more weight to generate the same tension within the muscle when your arm is bent than when it is extended. So a weight heavy enough to provide maximal resistance when your arm is bent is going to be much too heavy when your arm is extended. 

In fact, each muscle has its own unique leverage curve. A good exercise pits a muscle against resistance that varies in relation to the muscle's leverage. This is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. Basically, it just means that for you to perceive the resistance as constant, the resistance must vary to match your strength at all points throughout the range of motion.

Through an application of biomechanical principles, it's possible to design exercises that do not involve expensive equipment, but do provide the benefits of variable resistance. This leads to a higher Fatigue/Tension level, and faster growth! 

THE BOTTOM LINE: an effective forearm routine must be structured to maximize the Fatigue/Tension level. It will involve heavy poundages and a pace and organization that ensures a stair-step fatigue effect. Also, it will include exercises adjusted to provide resistance closely matched to each forearm muscle group's leverage. 

Continued in Part Two . . . 

Enjoy Your Lifting!  

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