Accommodating Resistance and it’s Best Uses
Written by TJ O’Brien
I’ve been talking a lot about accommodating resistance with my 7am Muscle class, and I want to break it down for you because it’s a really cool training tool that can earn you all the fun stuff you want, like pull-ups, dips, and handstand push-ups.
What is accommodating resistance?
You’ve done a pull-up – yes, even a banded pull-up or a ring row serves for this example. Imagine that you are deep into your set of pull-ups, it’s starting to get tough and you are slowing down despite your best effort. This is the good stuff – the last reps are the ones that count the most, right?!
Yes, AND, they are often the ones where we short-change ourselves on range of motion because we simply CANNOT get our chin over the bar even with our hardest effort.
If you were doing them with accommodating resistance, you would have no band, but instead you would have a box underneath the pull-up bar.
At the point where the pull-up became too tough for you to ascend any higher, you would use your feet to push off the box just enough to help you get full range of motion.
In this case, you are the one doing the accommodating – the resistance was too much to overcome, so you lessened it by using your feet for help.
How to Use Accommodating Resistance
This style of assistance is a VERY powerful tool and can be applied to almost all bodyweight movements. You know the ‘piked handstand push-up’ that we use as a progression for handstand push-ups?
Some of you feel as though you might smash your face into the floor if you lift your hips too high (which loads the arms and makes the movement harder). BUT, if we use the height of the hips to accommodate our later reps, we can get MORE quality reps per set.
Benefits of Accommodating Resistance
I think the biggest benefit of A.R. is that YOU understand how to make a movement harder or easier depending on where you are within the movement.
The end ranges (the top and bottom of pull-ups) are often the hardest. This means that at the bottom of a banded pull-up, you are getting the most help from the band. This can be a good thing, it will help you start the next rep, but it can also work against you if you don’t work to develop that range.
When you learn to use accommodating resistance…You are in control of how hard or easy you make the movement. If you err on the side of making things hard but doable, you will earn yourself each of these movements and learn a method that you can apply to whatever you want to get better at.
What exercises can you use accommodating resistance for?
For pull-ups, use your feet to provide only as much boost as you need to pull your chin over the bar. If you’re close to unassisted pull-ups, you may only have the very tips of your toes touching the ground when your arms are at full extension, meaning you will get little push off the ground before you have to pull the remainder of the way. As you fatigue, move to a lower bar – a benefit of having really cool ascending pull-up bars – so you can give yourself a little more boost.
For ring dips, set the rings low enough that you can reach full elbow extension with only the tips of your toes still on the ground. Place as much of your weight as possible into your hands by lifting your toes off the ground, or simply actively pulling them up to reduce the amount of load on your feet. Begin your descent and only add pressure through your toes as needed.
For HSPU, use the height of the hips to accommodate later reps if at any point in the set you feel that the resistance is too much. If this happens, lower your hips slightly to move through the sticking point. Over time, you can adapt and can eventually keep your hips high throughout the movement.
How do you apply accommodating resistance to an exercise?
Want to learn how to apply accommodating resistance to just about anything? Tell me what you’re working on and I’ll show you how you can get there quicker by applying this method.
Here’s a question I received yesterday, which I boil down to “how do I know what amount of help to use?” Here it is:
How do you know how much accommodating resistance to use?
“If that assistance would allow you to pump out several more reps, then do you go to failure again with resistance or is it better to just knock out that one last rep? I find myself in this position a lot on days where we have a high volume of strict pull-ups. At some point I need assistance to finish the reps but not sure how much assistance is too much.”
My answer was a big “it depends,” but there are some key takeaways about how to approach training with this. check it out here…
Using Bands for Accommodating Resistance
Bands Can Be Useful When Used Properly
I think that bands are useful for MetCons. You’re likely going to enter your set of pull-ups directly after another movement and will be in a fatigued state. This is a hard time to apply this method because it takes some thought and focus, which might take away from the intensity of a MetCon. We all know that you are stronger early in the workout and more fatigued as you perform more reps. Accordingly, you should use less assistance early, and more as the workout goes on.
But, for strength work like a set of pull-ups done in the Muscle class, I would recommend using this method to finish your set, whether you started them banded or not.
For example, you start a set of pull-ups with a blue band, but you can only complete 8 reps. You could move immediately from your last rep to accommodating resistance for the final 2 reps. Additionally, you could finish your last rep with a hold at the top, middle, or bottom of the pull-up (an isometric hold to finish) OR you could jump to the top and lower slowly for the last rep (these are called eccentric reps).
All of these methods are ways to extend the set. The key to muscle growth is time under tension (TUT), and extending the set gets us more of this. The lifter with the most time under tension that they can recover from will make the most gains.
This last part is important. There is no use in slapping on more pull-up eccentric reps if it’s going to leave you sore for 3 days and prevent you from producing more time under tension.
Likewise, the amount of resistance you use after your final unassisted pull-up will be up to you, but I would err on the side of more assistance and speed on these assisted reps, if you’ve already trained with high mechanical tension (the hardest reps of your sets), you could finish with lower tension, higher rep sets.
How to Use Accommodating Resistance in a Workout
Take a recent Muscle class for example. We had 60 pull-ups to do and they were arranged in the following rep scheme.
Every minute, on the minute, for 10 minutes (2 sets, start back at the top after station 5):
*Station 1 – 10 Strict Pull-Ups
*Station 2 – 8 Strict Pull-Ups
*Station 3 – 6 Strict Pull-Ups
*Station 4 – 4 Strict Pull-Ups
*Station 5 – 2 Strict Pull-Ups
You would do as much of this as possible without assistance, and then you could use a box to pick up where you need to. You may have even found that you could start the smaller sets without assistance, moving to A.R. in the middle of a set. (did you do this one?)
The bottom line: there are a million ways to go about extending a set, but the principles remain the same. For hypertrophy (muscle building), we want as much time under tension as we can recover from. Figuring out novel ways to add time under tension without overtaxing the trainee is the (rather fun and interesting) game that coaches and programmers play each day when we write your workouts.
Hope this helps, holler with questions if you’ve got ’em.