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Book Review

Strength Training to Improve Athletic Performance

August 9, 2005 - By Mike Muha

RepMotions: The Science of Enhancing Progressive-Resistance Training
By Douglas Garfield
2004, Motioneering, Inc.

Doug Garfield's last two books, "The New Steady Ski for Nordic Athletes" and "Armit, Power for Poling" introduced the concept of "progressive resistance training" and presented cross country ski-specific exercises that used progressive resistance training to increase balance, stability and strength. His latest book, "RepMotions" broadens the audience by reintroducing progressive resistance training as a practical resource for general athletes and medical and exercise professionals involved in training their patients and clients.

Unlike the last two books, RepMotions dives deep into the research and empirical findings to describe the science behind progressive resistance training. Extensive references are provided for readers who want to go back to original research that helped inform the development of RepMotions.

Since I'm employ Doug's teachings in my own training, I'll both review the book and provide some background on my own experiences with RepMotions.

RepMotions in a Nutshell

From a practical standpoint, RepMotions says:

  • Stop and starting a moving resistance (weight) increases the physiological intensity of the overload. As you decelerate a weight, your muscle must generate additional power to overcome the weights inertia. After the weight is stopped, it also takes additional force to get the weight moving again. Stop and starting accelerations are called "E2C impulses" in RepMotions jargon: Going from an eccentric braking contraction to a concentric acceleration.
  • By stop and starting the moving at multiple joint angles, you increase muscle tension at more joint angles, which increases the effective load. That is, the more times you stop and start the weight at different joint angles, the more stress you put on your muscles, which when rest occurs increases strength adaptation.

OK, an example: traditionally, when you do a bicep curl, you stand with your elbows next to your waist and your hands holding the weights up near your chest, palms facing your chest. You lower the weight down to your knees, stop, then raise the weight back up to your chest. You do one "E2C impulse" - when the dropping weight is stopped by the knees, then accelerated back to the chest. This is called a "full motion progression" - the joint goes through a full range of motion between E2C impulses.

In the RepMotions world, Garfield says you'll get more benefit is you do more than one E2C impulse during that repetition. Besides full motion progression, there are five other progressions:

Click to enlarge diagram

Sample diagram from RepMotions showing a 4-pass Progressive Motion (there are four E2C motions)

  • Progressive motion: You lower the weight down 25% of your joint angle, reverse, and pull the weight back up to the chest position. Then the lower the weight to 50% of you joint angle, then reverse. Then you lower the weight 75% of the joint angle before reversing. Finally, you lower the weight to 100% of the joint angle (the equivalent to a full motion progression). You get four E2C impulses.
  • Step Motion: same as Progressive motion, but when you stop the weight, you raise it back up an inch or two (instead of all the way up to the starting position) before lowering the weight to the next position. So, lower the weight to 25% of the joint angle, raise it an inch, lower to the 50% joint angle, raise it an inch, lower to the 75% joint angle, and so forth.
  • Pulse Motion: same as Step Motion, but instead of raising it an inch, you raise and lower it 2-3 inches several times before you lower it to the next joint angle. Garfield uses the phrase "oscillating the weight up and down in a tight range of motion of 2-3 inches". I like the term "oscillating" - It implies that the motion is controlled and deliberate, not jerky.
  • Stop motion: same as Step Motion, but you simply stop the motion at each joint angle, then lower the weight the the next joint angle.
  • Hybrid Motion: This is simply putting together combinations of full, progressive, step, pulse, and stop motions into a sequence.

Example of a 3-pass progressive motion doing seated dips - there are three E2C motions

1. Starting position

2. First E2C at about one-third of my range of motion.

3. Back to the starting position

4. Second E2C at about two-thirds of my range of motion.

5. Back to the starting position

6. Third E2C at the end of my range of motion.

7. Back to the starting position. Repeat from the top as many times as you can before your muscles fail.

Excluding Stop Motion, the progressions above are in order of increasing intensity. (Think about it: the Step and Pulse motions decrease the time between E2C impulses and the greatest intensity occurs at the impulse).

The book provides plenty of figures and diagrams showing what to do, along with clear explanations.

Some Practical Experience

I use RepMotions in combination with traditional full progressions when I strength train (usually weights but sometimes elastic cords - Armit - or my rollerboard). Here are some of the things I've discovered:

  • You can't lift as much weight doing step and pulse motions - the frequent E2C impulses will simply bring you to your knees! Lighten up!
  • Getting a high intensity strength session using lighter weights is very advantageous with free weight bars when you're still working on your balance (e.g., keeping the weights from jiggling all over the place) or when you're fearful of injuring your back from lifting too much weight.
  • When I've had a minor joint injury - the lighter weights used for RepMotions don't  stress the joint as much, but my muscles still get the intensity.
  • If you hit a plateau doing full motion reps, RepMotions is the "doing something different" that has got me past the plateau to the next level.
  • When you're having a bad day in the gym and simply can't push the big weights using Full Motion reps, you'll get a great session in with RepMotions.
  • I use RepMotions to simply to keep from going nuts in the gym doing the same thing over and over.
  • It keeps the other guys wondering...

Sometimes I do full motion reps one trip the to gym, then RepMotions the next trip, but more often I just mix it up depending how I'm feeling at each weight station. I may do the first two sets with RepMotions, then finish off with some full motion reps. Or vice versa...

Final notes

I've only covered some of the areas in RepMotions that are most practical for the athlete. There is a great deal of academic-style research in the book, plus specific information for exercise professionals and trainers, plus a chapter devoted entirely to teaching RepMotions. Hey, he even gives you the formulas to compute how much extra intensity there is during the E2C impulse!

Bottom Line

You can use RepMotions with whatever strength training equipment you already have. RepMotions works well with free weights, weight machines, body-weight exercises, elastic cords, and pneumatic resistance machines.

RepMotions does not replace your equipment, complements plyometrics, and give you an important variation in how you do strength training.


[You can order RepMotions - Doug's other products "Armit: Power for Poling" and  "The New Steady Ski for Nordic Athletes" - here.]

Full disclosure: Doug Garfield sponsors Team and the monthly awards given to skiers who submit trail reports to this web site. We like Doug - but we use his stuff, too!

Strength, Balance, & Core training for the Nordic Skier

Read a review of RepMotions: The science of enhancing progressive-resistance training
Read review of Armit: Power for Poling
Read a review of The New Steady Ski

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