Understanding ‘resistance profiles’ is a key component of comprehending program design. Program design is not just sets and reps, but also exercise selection.
Why do we choose and program specific exercises?
Is it good enough just to choose an exercise that trains a certain muscle?
What if we are choosing numerous exercises for the same muscle group?
Do we want to repeat the same movement and resistance, or would it be more optimal to partner in exercises that train a muscle differently from the previous exercise chosen?
When I create programs to build a “bikini body” or a glute program to help clients break through plateaus, it is not just hoping for the best with exercise selection. It’s a deep understanding of why that exercise is chosen – that is real program design!
What are resistance profiles?
Resistance profiles are in reference to the performance of an exercise, in particular, when the muscle will encounter the most tension during its range of motion. It’s the tension when we perform an exercise and move the bar or dumbbell from point A to point B, this is where an exercise is hardest.
Certain portions of the exercise will encounter more tension, while other portions of the rep will encounter far less resistance.
This is why I am sure by now, you have commonly heard me speak of an “exercise being hardest in the lengthened position” or the opposite, an “exercise being hardest in the shortened position”. This is referring to where the muscle will encounter its greatest tension.
Breaking down tempo
A muscle when we are training using weights will have an eccentric and concentric portion of the rep. These 2 things are half of your tempo essentials.
The eccentric portion is when the muscle is moving from a shortened (contracted position) to its lengthened position (stretched). An example of an eccentric can be seen with the squat. Standing up in the squat is the beginning position; the quads are shortened. As you descend into the squat – the lowering phase is eccentric. The quads are lengthening as you descend to the bottom of the squat. The bottom of the squat has the quad in its fully stretched position.
The concentric portion of the rep is when you will move from a stretched position and into the shortened position. The concentric portion of the squat will be when the quads begin driving up out of the bottom of the squat and back into the standing position where the quads are no longer lengthened.
Understanding the basis of eccentrics and concentric contraction is important as it then allows you to understand resistance profiles.
Some exercises will be hardest towards the bottom of the eccentric rep where the muscle is fully stretched or close to it, whilst other exercises will experience the greatest tension near the top or the fully contracted position from the concentric portion of the rep.
For lengthened think about how the bottom of a squat will be where tension will be greatest.
For shortened think about how the top of a hip thrust is where the glutes will encounter their highest tension/resistance.
Why do you need to understand resistance profiles?
Where a muscle encounters the greatest resistance, can impact what portion of the muscle fibres gets the most recruitment. This, in turn, can lead to what portion of the muscle has the greatest potential for hypertrophy.
Take the glute max for example. Everyone wants glutes these days, right?
The glute max has 2 divisions (in simple terms): An upper division and a lower division.
The lower division can be more biassed through exercises that train the glute max hardest when being lengthened. Think exercises like a squat, lunge and Romanian deadlifts. All will be more heavily biassed to that lower division of the glute max.
Whereas, the upper division of the glute max will be more biassed through exercises that encounter the greatest resistance when the glute is fully shortening, not stretching. Think hip thrusts, bridge, kickbacks and horizontal hip extensions. The tension will be greatest when the glute max is shortening which then can lead to the potential of greater regional hypertrophy of the upper division of the glute max.
Why does this matter?
If the aim is to build up balanced glutes or work on a weak portion of the glute max, knowing which exercise will do the best job is key. It’s not just about choosing exercises that will train the glute max hard, it’s about knowing which exercises can bias each division. This means you can program design with accuracy and to a goal. Not just randomly throw some exercises together and hope for the best.
Then from a different muscle perspective, take the quads. The quads 99% of the time will encounter a resistance profile which will be hardest when the quad is in a stretched position. Think squats, hack squats, split squats, etc.
However, a leg extension is one of the only quad exercises which will encounter the greatest resistance when the quads are contracting at the top of the movement.
This makes the leg extension a great compliment to your quad exercise selection as it can train the quads hard in that fully shortened position. Unlike the majority of other quad exercises which are hardest in the lengthened position.
High-quality program design, program design to build a bikini body workout, or to build a great glute workout program is much more than just putting some random exercises together. Quality program design, which we teach in our PROGRAM DESIGN course, comes from a deep understanding of why each exercise is programmed. Why the reps and sets are used in each workout. Everything in a program is carefully chosen to be used specifically for the client’s goals.
Understanding resistance profiles allows your program design, whether for a general population client or building pro bikini glutes for a competitor, to be even more targeted.
Next time you are creating a bikini workout or a general population program think, what is this exercise here for? What exactly is this working? How is this specific exercise supportive of my client’s goals?
Resistance profiles are just another tool to add to your ever-growing tools for the job of program design!