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The lower half: strength and fitness equipment designed to develop the body from the waist down.

According to the strength and fitness cognoscenti, the lower part of the body, particularly the legs, is the most overlooked and under-developed aspect in training.

This is especially relevant on the scholastic level, where kids are so infatuated with building their upper bodies that they neglect working on anything below the waist.

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"The look like an inverted pyramid on two toothpicks," said Darwin Takkinen, Chief Engineer for New York Barbell. "And you see it all the time. They call those kids 'bird legs' or 'bird calves.' They'll have a tremendous upper body and nothing down below. The reason for that is that working on the lower part of the body is hard work. You don't get the glory from it like you do when you show off your biceps and chest. But in reality, who walks around showing off their quads or glutes?"

Good question. However, building a strong base from the ground up is crucial. The legs and lower back provide an instrumental support system for any athlete. Not to mention the importance of developing and maintaining better posture.

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Takkinen offered that the reason for the lackadaisical approach boils down to one word--laziness.

"The individual isn't taking the proper attitude for what his goals are," he said. "In fact, in most cases they aren't setting their goals."

Takkinen added: "We find a lot of the strength and conditioning coaches have been too enamored by the different types of bodybuilding as opposed to building strength. And in building strength, you can be the strongest person in the world, but if you don't know how to use it, it doesn't do you any good."

New York Barbell manufactures a wealth of strength building equipment for the lower legs. The company's hip sled is the most versatile equipment for the lower legs, being that it can build the hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. Additionally, the user can also do calf raises on it. Another specialized piece of equipment is the tibia dorsi machine, used for building the front (tibia) portion of the calf.

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Two other vital apparatus recommended by Takkinen are the vertical leg presses and the leg curl/leg extension machines.

One of the most popular ways to build the lower body and legs is with the use of traditional free weights.

WerkSan Sports USA specializes in Olympic barbells, squat racks, and platforms. The barbells have been certified by the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) and are the official barbell of USA Weightlifting.

The plates are made of hard rubber and are coated with Kevlar to protect the lifting surface.

"The most important benefit of using our bars is the fact that they spin extremely well and stay straight," said Leo Totten, president of WerkSan Sports USA in Moorestown, NJ. "This is crucial for efficient performance, but also a very important safety factor."

While Totten has a vested interested in his company he also has a vested interest in athletes. He's the athletic director at Francis Scott Key H.S. in Union Bridge, MD, as well as the head coach of East Coast Gold Weightlifting Team, the largest team in the country.

As he noted, there's a difference between lifting with free weights as opposed to machines. With free weights the major groups of the body are emphasized throughout and are used in producing strength and power in the legs, hips, and back.

"Virtually all sports are performed with their feet in contact with the ground to produce force," Totten said. "Using free weights allows this to happen also. Emphasis on particular, large muscle group exercises, such as squats, power cleans, and power snatches are just a few of the wonderful exercises that our product is ideal for. You need the right equipment to perform to your max."

Speaking of the squat, the PowerLift Belt Squat was designed to alleviate spinal compression. It's great for rehabbing injured athletes or athletes that don't have good torso strength yet, but can still train the lower body and develop size and muscle mass.

The user wears a custom-designed weight belt that hooks into the machine at the hips, and all of the weight is distributed evenly down through the heels.

"Previously, anything else was attached at the center of the body and tended to pull your torso forward," said Mike Richardson, sales & marketing coordinator for PowerLift. "Our machine, by loading over the heels, makes it more like a traditional squat exercise."

Richardson explained that the genesis of the PowerLift Belt Squat was conceived by listening to the plethora of strength coaches that PowerLift works with in the industry, be it the professional, collegiate, or high school ranks. In essence, the majority felt that there was not a machine on the market that truly simulated the squat and alleviated the use of the bar in spinal compression.

"That's what they were asking for," Richardson said. "Another reason they like it is if you look at a Division I college football player, at the end of the season his hands are pretty beat up and they have a hard time grasping a bar. So this is a great alternative for them to still get a lower body workout."

FEELING UNSTABLE?

As the former strength & conditioning Coach at the U. of Tennessee for 15 years, Power Systems president Bruno Pauletto has his fingers on the pulse of the latest trends in the industry.

That said, Pauletto says the latest buzzword in training is "unstable surfaces."

"The big thing is the stability balls," said Pauletto. "The big, inflatable balls.

"Being unstable is much better than being rigid on a piece of equipment. It's all one manually movement. With stability balls, it's all planes--front, back, side-to-side, top to bottom. One of the biggest trends now is working all of the planes at one time."

Pauletto recommends the Resist-A-Ball, the original stability ball on the market. The balls come in various sizes and should be sized to the individual's height. The way to determine the proper size is predicated on sitting on a ball and having your thighs parallel to the ground and feet flat. For example: a 6-foot-1 person would usually use a 65-centimeter ball.

Says Pauletto: "You have to have your body in the proper alignment in order to do the exercises. It is critical to have the right ball size for a person's height."

According to Pauletto, unstable training in sports has been prevalent for about the last 5-8 years. Before that, it was a fixture in rehabilitating patients. It made its way into mainstream as a way of training, not only as a rehabilitation product.

Unfortunately, it hasn't had any impact on the high school market.

"They don't really have enough knowledge about it yet," Pauletto said. "That's what I am seeing when we do our clinics. The high school level hasn't really picked up on the concept."

Furthermore, unlike other training methods, exercises for stability balls are not standard. Pauletto thinks that's a big reason high school strength coaches have yet to grasp the concept.

"It's not like doing the squat, which everybody refers to," he said. "Some people call it one thing, some call it another things. But there are several books out there from Human Kinetics, videos from Healthy Choice, all related to stability balls and sports. So there is literature available. The coaches just need to get a hold of it and digest it. But not everyone is willing to do that."

A word to the wise when working the lower body.

"The one thing people must remember is if they are building their legs they should not forget their trunk," says Darwin Takkinen of New York Barbell. "I can't emphasize that enough. There are too many people that are doing the squats and bench presses and they forget about the center portion, or trunk, of the body. What ends up happening is you have two links of chain held together by a rubber band. That's how injuries occur."
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Author:Newell, Kevin
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:1331
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