Understanding the nature of resistance is fundamental to mastering it.
Training with free weights is mastering one dimension of resistance: gravity. Of course, there are other unique aspects to exploiting resistance with free weights, including different kinds of shifting weight and momentum.
Mastering anchored resistance starts with learning how to exploit many dimensions of resistance. The fundamentally unique thing about anchored resistance is the anchor point establishes a vector of resistance that can be changed. This means having more vectors of resistance to work with for progressing variety and training specific needs.
While gravity is always in play in some regard with anchored tools, there is always going to be a vector of resistance that starts with the anchor point.
In the big picture, mastering training with anchored tools means mastering the three connections that are the “consistent external variables” in the conceptual equation known as the Summation of Forces (SOF). These three external connections are consistently present variables in the equation that is the SOF. These three external connections are the anchor point, the connection to the anchored resistance and the connection to the ground. This is the Anchor Point Training Paradigm.
There are a wide range of training tools that are anchored. The Anchor Point Training Paradigm can be applied to all of them (the definition of a paradigm). Tools like cable machines, landmines, battle ropes, sleds, suspension straps and resistance bands all can be understood through the Anchor Point Training Paradigm lens.
It sounds simple, and in many regards, it is. The art and devil of things, as always, is in the details.
Before we go any further, a couple of notes on safety. The most dangerous thing that can happen with any anchored resistance tool is if the anchor fails. Checking your connection to and the stability of the anchor itself are fundamental safety steps in this practice.
One special note I always make when writing about this is how dangerous, even fatal, anchoring to mobile soccer goals can be. These mobile goals can tip over when used as anchors and have killed dozens of people and injured many more seriously over the years.
That said, training with anchored resistance can be a safe and massively versatile approach.
Consider the potential of different anchor points in regard to creating the type of variety that can stimulate more motor units through a similar ROM using a cable machine or anchored bands. Simply changing the anchor point for the same amount of vectored resistance can offer a distinctly different adaptation demand.
Consider how a standing chest press with a cable machine or an anchored band using a high anchor vs a low anchor changes the nature of the work. Not only are the chest and shoulders activated differently, but the core and the legs are also going to be dealing with distinctly different forces. These differences mean that related motor units through a similar ROM will be recruited differently at different anchor positions. If the total work is the same, is it reasonable to say that three sets from 3 different anchors, creating three different vectors of resistance, is going to stimulate more motor units? Is this useful variety? I think for most intentions, the answer is yes.
This is NOT to say going deeper in any ROM by doing the same work over three sets from the same anchor point would not stimulate more motor units in the same ROM. (clearly it would). However, the 80/20 rule (in this case diminishing returns) indicates that adding related variety by tweaking the vector of resistance in each set could be a more effective use of time if overall adaptation effect is the intention.
The other advantage to be gained is training resisted movement in more dimensions is going to provide conditioning in more ROMs. This more global activation is arguably more transferable to the functional demands of life and sports than training resistance in more limited ROMs.
Sometimes when training for a specific need, a change to the anchor point can make an important difference. In some cases, a trainer may have limited anchoring options. It’s useful to appreciate how different anchor points can accommodate or limit certain types of work.
A good example is resisted pulling with a belt, this type of work really needs a waist high anchor. However, if only a high or low anchor is available, a harness connection will work fine for straight ahead resisted pulling.
The key thing to appreciate is that different anchors offer different forces to work with.
There is an interesting approach to anchoring cables and bands that involves 2 anchor points. The Kinesis cable machine by TechnoGym was the first tool I saw that works this way. Bands and some cable machines can be configured to offer this type of resistance. The key feature of this anchoring set up is that there are more dimensions of resistance available at the connection. A subtle aspect of this type of anchoring is that the handle is fixed in a vertical orientation, which is limiting in some regards. However, this overhand/underhand anchoring of the resistance means that this anchoring set up also offers a unique resistance for rotating grip. One application for this anchoring set up is creating a useful resistance for prevention and rehab of tennis elbow.
When it comes to training with suspension, the nature of the anchor point is a fundamental feature of many different tools. A suspension strap that is a single point vs. two points will change the SOF to some degree. Dual anchored suspension tools, like Rings or the Jungle Gym for example, offer users the ability to get up in-between the handles. This type of anchoring also offers slightly different lines of resistance. Some will say the dual anchor set up is more ergonomic. My sense is that they are both useful and a little different when used similarly.
Where the suspension tool is anchored also determines how the tool can be used. Whether it is anchored vertically on either pole or to a wall or overhead effects how the tool can be used. Overhead anchoring of suspension will offer more options and more resistance possibilities.
Another aspect of the suspension anchor point is whether the anchor point is fixed or reciprocating, and whether this reciprocation is limited like the TRX or unlimited like the Cross Core. Unlimited reciprocation has more versatility and challenge than the limited reciprocation but is also more dangerous. If users over commit to one handle with a fully reciprocating tool, they are going to go down, fast. The key thing limited reciprocation of instability at the anchor point offers is the user is forced to be bilateral without the danger and versatility of full reciprocation.
Instability with suspension is similar to free weight training with a barbell - both demand symmetry. Independently anchored straps that don’t reciprocate provide the ability to transfer weight from hand to hand. This ability to train arms, chest, and back unilaterally (similar to dumbbells) offers a wider range of movement-based training ideas but does not offer the same instability challenge that demands symmetry.
It’s useful to appreciate this nuance as stable anchors will certainly accommodate a faster learning curve for beginners and offer more possibilities for movement-based progression. In comparison, an unstable anchor point will offer fewer of these possibilities, but the added intensity of stabilization.
They’re all good, and even though they are quite similar at first glance, the anchoring of these tools means they are quite different.
One of the best things about learning the finer points of training with anchored resistance is it’s an approach can accommodate training tools like bands and straps anywhere a solid anchor can be found, whether in the gym, field side, at home, in the park or the backyard.
If you’re interested to know more about the Anchor Point Training paradigm, as a member of PT on the Net, you can click the link here (https://www.ptonthenet.com/member-discounts) to a page we’ve created for PTontheNet you can get 20% off the Anchor Point Training Overview a 5 CEU course approved by NASM, AFAA, ACE, ACSM and CANFITPRO.