Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Training Terminology: Microloading

More training terms.

Microloading is when you increase the weight of a barbell, dumbbell, cable stack, etc. by less than 5 pounds (Imperial measurements) or 2.5 kg (metric measurements). The same concept is also called using fractional plates and fractional loading.

Why microloading? The smallest Olympic plates are either 2.5 pounds or 1.25 kg, depending on which standard they use. Dumbbells typically go up by 5 pound or 2.5kg increments once you hit around 10 pounds, cable stacks typically go up by 5 or 10 pounds per plate, etc. This makes for nice, round numbers when lifting, but it also means that if 75 pounds is easy for 10 reps but 80 pounds is too hard for 10 reps, you're forced to change up more than the weight in order to progress. Unless, of course, you micro-load, and increase the weight from 75 to 76, or 77.5, or some other small jump below the standard 5-pound jump.

The idea behind microloading is that it allows you to more precisely fine-tune the weight improvements. You can increase your weights by a fractional amount, too small to reduce the number of reps you can do, but large enough to result in your body compensating by getting stronger. You can also adjust for situations where the next jump in weight is just too much - a jump from a 20-pound dumbbell to a 25-pound dumbbell is a 25% jump in resistance, which can be prohibitive in a small-muscle assistance exercise.

How do I do it? Microloading can be simple-but-expensive, or tricky-but-cheap.

Simple-but-expensive: Buy some fractional plates online, or some Platemate magnets to attach to your dumbbells or weight stacks. You can bring these with you to a commercial gym; just etch your name into them (a Stuart McRobert tip) and don't forget them after you finish an exercise!
Online makers of fractional plates include Piedmont Design Associates and Iron Woody.

Tricky-but-cheap: Just find something to attach to the bar on each side, or to a dumbbell, that has the weight that you need. Easy sources include extra collars (screw-on or lever-tightened collars are heavy; spring collars are the lightest) and strong and heavy magnets. Spin-lock dumbbells can have extra spin-locks spun on at lighter weights but this breaks down as a system when you get too many plates - you run out of room for the extra collar. Weigh all of your magnets and collars and add them as you need to fractionally increase the barbell or plate-loading dumbbell weight.

Slightly more involved DIY fractional loading can be done as well. One option is loops of heavy chain - get some chain links, lock them into a 2" wide loop (for O-bars) or 1" wide loop (for standard bars) and slip them on the bar. Another is to find large, heavy washers of the appropriate size. Buy a few washers and glue them together into 1/4 lb, 1/2 lbs, and 1 pound "plates" and you're good to go.

I've even tried loops of old fishing weights on a piece of mono fishing line for DIY weights, but they tended to slip around and break. But in a pinch, they did well enough.

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