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Effect of Acute Complex Training on Upper-Body Force and Power in Collegiate Wrestlers

Jones, Margaret T.1,2; Oliver, Jonathan M.3; Delgado, John C.2; Merrigan, Justin J.1; Jagim, Andrew R.4; Robison, Charles E.1

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: April 2019 - Volume 33 - Issue 4 - p 902–909
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002508
Original Research

Jones, MT, Oliver, JM, Delgado, JC, Merrigan, JJ, Jagim, AR, and Robison, CE. Effect of acute complex training on upper-body force and power in collegiate wrestlers. J Strength Cond Res 33(4): 902–909, 2019—To determine if chain bench press (BP) exercise would enhance acute upper-body force and power, 13 collegiate male wrestlers (mean ± SD; 20.5 ± 1 years; 174.3 ± 4.2 cm; 76.5 ± 8.3 kg) with ≥1 year of strength training participated. Session 1 included body composition ([BodPod] 8.5 ± 2.6% body fat), 3 repetition maximum (RM) BP, and familiarization with the plyometric push-up (PPU) on a force plate. Athletes were matched for 3RM BP and randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups: Chain BP or Plate BP. One week after session 1, athletes performed the experimental protocol that consisted of: Baseline PPU, Chain/Plate BP set 1 (6 reps @ 60%), 30 seconds rest, PPU, 3 minutes rest, Chain/Plate BP set 2 (6 reps @60%), 30 seconds rest, and PPU. Independent samples t-tests analyzed physical characteristics (p ≤ 0.05). Standardized magnitude-based inferences were used to define outcomes. Aside from age (Plate BP 21.4 ± 0.8, Chain BP 19.9 ± 0.7 years), no physical differences were observed. Performance of Chain BP and Plate BP resulted in a likely (likelihoods of benefit/trivial/harm relative to the threshold for a smallest worthwhile benefit of 89 W: 0.5/9.2/90.3) and very likely (0.1/0.8/99.1) negative effect on peak power output in the PPU after set 1. Chain BP resulted in a likely positive effect on peak force in the PPU after set 1 (smallest worthwhile benefit 13 N: 82.8/16.9/0.3) and set 2 (94.7/5.2/0.1). Chain BP did not result in higher upper-body power over traditional plate loaded resistances.

1Health and Human Performance, George Mason University, Manassas, Virginia;

2Center for Sports Performance, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia;

3Texas Christian University, Kinesiology, Fort Worth, Texas; and

4Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin—La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin

Address correspondence to Dr. Margaret T. Jones,

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Wrestling is a sport that requires strength, power, and balance while executing a series of sport-specific whole body movements throughout a 7-minute match with limited interruption in play (37). In particular, upper-body strength (28) and power are integral to the wrestling movements of lifting, pulling, hand fighting, and wrist control, whereas the ability to develop force rapidly and repeatedly is critical to outmaneuver an opponent. Thus, a high demand is placed upon anaerobic glycolysis and phosphagen energy systems (21,28,33,37). Therefore, training methods designed to improve those characteristics are of interest to the wrestling practitioner.

Complex training is a training method based off the theory of postactivation potentiation, which is the process of enhancing muscular performance through selected muscle contractile activities (34). Complex training commonly involves performing a moderate to heavy resistance exercise as a conditioning contraction with an intracomplex rest period followed by a lighter-resistance ballistic activity and can elicit greater lower body power production in explosive movements (8,34). It is thought that complex training acts to enhance power production by increasing motor-unit recruitment and firing rates, particularly in type II fibers (34). The effect of complex training methods on the upper body is equivocal, likely due to the wide-ranging loads used in the conditioning contractions (i.e., 30–90% 1 repetition maximum [1RM]), differing intracomplex recovery times (i.e., 15 seconds to 24 minutes), and varying ballistic movements (i.e., bench throw, medicine ball throw, plyometric push-up) implemented in those studies. The ideal load for eliciting peak force or power using complex training has not been elucidated. As an example, prior research has shown no effect of heavy load bench press (BP) exercise (≥87% 1RM) on upper-body force (11,14) or power (11) production and improved peak power (5,20). Further, complex training studies with moderate load BP exercise (∼65% 1RM) have reported both greater upper-body power (2) and no effect (6).

Not only should the load of the conditioning contraction be sufficient enough to enhance acute muscular performance without causing fatigue (14,30,34), but the speed of the lifting movement should also provide an adequate stimulus for subsequent ballistic activity (2,6). Previous research has demonstrated increased lifting velocity when performing the BP with weighted chains (3). Performing weightlifting exercises with weighted chains on the barbell, which is considered a form of accommodating resistance, permits the weightlifter to maintain movement velocity throughout the complete range of motion by providing decreased total resistance at the weakest point of leverage for the muscle joint or “sticking point” within the exercise (1,3,26). As the lifter proceeds from the “sticking point” through the concentric portion of the exercise, the resistance is increased because of the unfurling of the chains from the floor, which requires a longer period of acceleration to account for the accommodating resistance (3,12,26). Results from research using methods of accommodating resistance have reported a faster lifting velocity (3) and greater power output (1).

Given wrestlers need to enhance upper-body strength and power, the purported benefits of complex training on power output, the requirements of adequate neuromuscular enhancement to elicit said effects, and the potential for accommodating resistance to enhance movement velocity, a study examining these 4 training modalities within a cohort of collegiate wrestlers is warranted. No prior study has examined complex training in which accommodating resistance, in the form of weighted chains, has been used. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine if an acute bout of upper-body complex training with weighted chains would enhance upper-body force, power, and time to peak force and power during a plyometric push-up in resistance-trained collegiate wrestlers.

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Experimental Approach to the Problem

To examine the effect of upper-body accommodating resistance in the form of chain BP on subsequent plyometric push-up performance, this study employed a between subjects design. Throughout baseline and experimental testing, subjects were under the direct supervision of a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA-CSCS). Baseline testing consisted of body composition assessment and determination of 3RM BP testing followed by familiarization with performing plyometric push-ups on a force platform. After baseline testing, subjects were matched according to strength and randomly assigned to 1 of 2 conditions: plate (PLATE) bench or chain (CHAIN) bench. One week later, subjects returned to the laboratory for experimental testing consisting of a supervised warm-up, the performance of 3 plyometric push-ups on a force platform, and 2 subsequent sets of either PLATE or CHAIN BP according to group assignment, immediately followed by 3 plyometric push-ups on a force platform. Data collection took place in-season during a 3-week training cycle absent of competition.

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Thirteen (n = 13) National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-I male wrestlers {(mean ± SD: 20.50 ± 1.0 years [range 19–22 years], 174.30 ± 4.20 cm, 76.50 ± 8.30 kg)} familiar with accommodating resistance in the form of chains, the BP exercise, and plyometric push-ups volunteered to participate in this study. All subjects were experienced lifters with ≥1 year of formal collegiate strength and conditioning training experience at the same university. The athletes that participated in this study represented 7 (125, 141, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184) of the 10 NCAA collegiate wrestling weight (lb) classes (133, 197, 285 were not represented).

All subjects were medically cleared for intercollegiate athletic participation, had the risks and benefits explained to them beforehand, signed an institutionally approved consent form to participate, and completed a medical history form. The George Mason University Institutional Review Board approved all procedures. Exclusion criteria consisted of severe musculoskeletal injuries of the upper body that required surgery within 1 year before the start of the study. Baseline demographics are presented in Table 1 with their corresponding effect size magnitude (9,13).

Table 1

Table 1

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Session 1: Baseline Testing and Familiarization

Session 1 consisted of body composition assessment, 3RM BP testing, and familiarization with the experimental session protocol for the plyometric push-up (PPU) on the force platform. One week separated sessions 1 and 2.

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Body Composition

Subjects were instructed to drink only water and not to eat or exercise for the preceding 2 hours. Upon arrival to the laboratory, height and body mass were recorded to the nearest 0.01 cm and 0.02 kg, respectively, using a stadiometer and digital scale (Bod Pod; Cosmed, Chicago, IL, USA) calibrated according to manufacturer guidelines with subjects bare foot. Body composition was then assessed using air displacement plethysmography (Bod Pod; Cosmed) calibrated according to manufacturer guidelines. Lycra and swim caps were worn during testing and all jewelry was removed prior in accordance with standard operating procedures to reduce air displacement. A trained technician performed Bod Pod testing. Previous studies indicate air displacement plethysmography to be an accurate and reliable means to assess changes in body composition (25). Body mass and body volume were then used to estimate body fat percentage (% Fat) based upon the Brozek equation (7).

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Estimated Maximum Upper-Body Strength

After body composition determination, upper-body strength was assessed on the Olympic/“free bar” BP with a 3RM test using previously described procedures (19). Briefly, subjects completed a 15-minute dynamic whole body warm-up followed by supervised (NSCA-CSCS) warm-up sets for the BP test. A timed rest of 3 minutes was taken before each maximal effort set. Weight was increased based upon the performance of the previous attempt, and the subject continued to perform sets of 3 repetitions until failure or until it was determined that he could no longer perform the BP safely with proper form. After 2 failures, testing was stopped, and the best lift was recorded. If fewer than 3 repetitions were completed with proper form, that number was used to estimate 1RM. Once the 3RM was established, a 1RM was calculated from the prediction equation of Mayhew et al. (24). After the establishment of each subject's estimated 1RM, 60% estimated 1RM was calculated for use in subsequent testing.

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Plyometric Push-up

After 3RM testing, all subjects regardless of familiarity with the PPU were required to perform the exercise until demonstrating proficiency as determined by research personnel. In accordance with previously described procedures (17), subjects were instructed to begin the PPU with hands placed in the middle of the force platform shoulder width apart with the elbows at full extension and feet together. Each subject's hand placement was measured and recorded. A level box of the same height as the force platform supported the subject's feet and was placed at an appropriate distance to ensure that hands were directly under the shoulders. The subjects were weighed while remaining stationary in the starting push-up position on the force platform, and body mass was calculated from body mass (kg). After the “go” command, subjects lowered their upper body to the force platform bending at the elbows (tucking toward the ribs) while keeping the back and hips inline until reaching 90° elbow flexion. The subjects were then instructed to apply maximal force through the hands and extend explosively as possible, which resulted in hands leaving the force platform surface. At least 3 repetitions were performed in accordance with the experimental protocol.

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Session 2: Experimental Protocol

One week after session 1: baseline testing and familiarization, subjects returned to the laboratory for session 2: experimental protocol. After a standardized, supervised, 15-minute dynamic warm-up identical to that performed before the 3RM testing, subjects completed 3 PPU tests on the force platform, which served as baseline for subsequent comparison, followed by a 3-minute rest. Subjects then performed a set of 6 reps with either standard PLATE BP or CHAIN BP with a load corresponding to 60% estimated 1RM. In accordance with previously published methods, during each rep subjects were instructed to press the bar from the bottom position (chest) to the starting position (full elbow extension) as explosively as possible (16,18). Upon completion of the sixth rep, subjects racked the bar and completed 3 PPUs on the force platform. Approximately 30 seconds transpired between completion of the BP exercise and initiation of the PPU. After completion of the PPU exercise, subjects received a 3-minute rest period before completing a second set of 6 reps at 60% estimated 1RM immediately followed by 3 PPUs. To account for 60% 1RM in those subjects performing the CHAIN BP, an appropriate number of training chains (range: 4.5–9.1 kg each) and support chains (range: 0.9–1.8 kg each) were equally distributed across each end of the 20.4 kg barbell to represent a total load of 60% estimated 1RM. For example, a CHAIN BP load of 65.8 kg would require 22.7 kg in chains to be distributed on either end of the barbell. All chains were 1.5 m in length.

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Force, Power, Time-to-Peak Force, and Time-to-Peak Power

All PPUs were performed on a calibrated force platform (AccuPower; AMTI, Watertown, MA, USA) interfaced with AccuPower 2.0 software (AccuPower; AMTI). During each PPU repetition, ground reaction force and center of mass velocity data were collected via the force plate and were sampled at a rate of 500 Hz via an analog-to-digital converter (Sewell Direct, Provo, UT, USA). Signals were filtered through a zero lag low pass Butterworth filter with a cutoff frequency of 20 Hz. Power was calculated from the resultant force signal and the resultant center of mass (CoM) velocity. AccuPower determines CoM velocity from the impulse–momentum relationship FΔt/M = ΔV, where: F = net force, Δt = change in time, M = body mass, and ΔV = change in velocity. The change in CoM velocity for a given time interval is equal to the net force multiplied by the length of the time interval divided by the body mass.

Force–time and CoM velocity–time data files were exported into Microsoft Excel (Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA, USA). Graphs were created from the raw data to determine time-to-peak force and time-to-peak power. Both time-to-peak force and time-to-peak power were determined during the concentric portion of the PPU, this included the time from the initiation of the upward phase of the motion until the subject broke contact with the force platform at the top of the PPU movement. The same trained researcher performed all data analysis and entry.

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Statistical Analyses

Normality of data was assessed by the Kolmogorov–Smirnov test of normality, which determined all primary outcome measures of interest to be normally distributed. Estimates and uncertainty (90% confidence interval [CI]) on the subsequent performance of the PPU, specifically the peak power, peak force, time to peak power, and time to peak force immediately after plate or chain BP were derived from a repeated measures analysis of variance with 3 factors: treatment (2 levels), set (3 levels), and repetition (3 levels). The resultant model was then used to make probabilistic magnitude-based inferences about the true (large-sample) values of outcomes by qualifying the likelihood that the true effect represents a “substantial” change. This was performed on all primary outcome measures. The smallest substantial threshold was estimated as the standardized (9) change of 0.2 times the average between subjects SD for the 3 repetitions performed at baseline. The likelihood of a substantial increase or decrease in any one of the primary performance outcome variables was calculated from the 2-tailed Student's t distribution and classified according to Hopkins (13) as follows: <0.5%, almost certainly not; 1–5% very unlikely; 5–25%, unlikely; 25–75%, possible; 75–95%, likely; 95–99.5%, very likely; >99.5%, almost certain. When the majority of the CI lies between the threshold for substantially positive and negative effects, the likelihood of the effect being “trivial” (negligible) was qualified.

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Performance of both the CHAIN BP and PLATE BP exercise resulted in a likely (likelihoods of benefit/trivial/harm relative to the threshold for a smallest worthwhile benefit of 89 W: 0.5/9.2/90.3) and very likely (0.1/0.8/99.1) negative effect on peak power output in the subsequent plyometric push-ups after the first set. The reduction in peak power (W) observed after the second set was less than the first set, which resulted in an unclear effect in both CHAIN BP and PLATE BP: 20.0/41.8/38.2 and 20.4/38.6/41.0, respectively (Figure 1A). In addition to producing lower peak power, the time to achieve said power was also lower after the performance of both the PLATE BP and CHAIN BP resulting in a likely negative effect after set 1; 1.0/17.8/81.2 and 0.9/23.0/76.1 for plate and chain bench, respectively (Figure 1B). All other effects were unclear.

Figure 1

Figure 1

In contrast to that which was observed in peak power, performing the BP with accommodating resistance in the form of chains resulted in a likely positive effect on subsequent peak force (N) during the plyometric push-up after set 1 (smallest worthwhile benefit 13 N: 82.8/16.9/0.3) and set 2 (94.7/5.2/0.1) (Figure 1C). The effect after standard PLATE BP was unclear after set 1 (49.0/49.3/1.7), but likely positive after set 2 (82.0/17.5/0.5). However, the time to achieve peak force after the performance of PLATE BP was very likely negative in set 1 (0.2/2.5/97.2), but only likely negative after CHAIN BP (0.5/10.8/88.7) (Figure 1D). The effect on set 2 was unclear for both groups.

Because of differences at baseline as evidenced by large effect size magnitude in performance outcome measures, the percent change from baseline was examined between groups to determine any difference in effect on subsequent performance after the different conditions. As presented in Table 2, no clear effects were presented when evaluated as mean difference between the 2 conditions.

Table 2

Table 2

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Previous literature has demonstrated the importance of absolute strength and power in wrestling (21,27,37). However, this is the first study to examine whether or not an acute bout of upper-body complex training with weighted chains during bench pressing would enhance upper-body force and power production in a plyometric push-up in resistance-trained collegiate wrestlers. It was hypothesized that measures of peak force, peak power, and time to achieve force and power would improve after the use of the CHAIN BP exercise. The overall findings supported a positive effect from the use of accommodating resistance, in the form of CHAIN BP, on peak force during the PPU. The effect of CHAIN BP on peak power, time to peak power, or time to peak force was negative after set 1 and trivial after set 2.

Previous upper body complex training research reporting positive results involved resistance-trained, professional athletes and used high-load resistance exercise (>80% 1RM) as the conditioning contraction followed by a longer intracomplex recovery period (∼8 minutes) before the ballistic activity (20,35). When the complex training protocol varies from the aforementioned, results are mixed (6,11,14,23), yet the varying demands placed upon force and power across sport warrants the study of different conditioning contraction loads, intracomplex rest periods, and subsequent ballistic activity. Long rest is neither common nor practical in training settings for wrestlers because of the power and strength endurance focus of the sport. Therefore, the metabolic and physiological demands, which are unique to wrestling, prompted the interest in investigating the potentiation response at a lighter conditioning contraction load (1 × 6 @ 60% 1RM) and shorter intracomplex rest period (30 seconds) than is typically selected. Further, the PPU was chosen as the ballistic activity within the complex training protocol because wrestlers must explosively gain and maintain position during a match through manipulation of their bodyweight and/or their competitor's bodyweight, which are comparable in a weight class sport. Such movements during the final seconds of a close match are necessary for success, where an enhanced ability to perform under conditions of fatigue is required (21). Lactate levels can range from 12 to 20 mmol during a match, presenting the need for an increased ability of buffering systems (21,28,33). Therefore, shorter rest periods during resistance training programming are warranted in order for necessary adaptations to occur.

Just as has been reported for the lower body (4,5,10,15,36), the effect of complex training has been shown to vary with the individual's training status (2,14,35), exercise intensity (2,22,23), exercise volume (11,22), and length of intracomplex rest period between the strength exercise and the ballistic activity (20,23). Further, it has been suggested that the interplay between a subject's individual characteristics and the complex training protocol design may have an important effect upon the extent of strength and power potentiation elicited (4,31). In complex training, after a heavy resistance stimulus, both fatigue and potentiation coexist (29); therefore, it is recommended that loads from the middle of the force–velocity spectrum be implemented (30) rather than those requiring either maximal strength (1RM) or maximal velocity (no added external load).

The protocol for the conditioning contraction in the current study was based upon prior research with strength-trained rugby-league athletes in which a significant increase in power output was reported in bench throws after plate BP resistive exercise (1 × 6 @ 65% 1RM) (2). The rugby athletes' load of 65% 1RM (∼90 kg) was 1.6 times the load used for the BP throws (∼56 kg) or a 34 kg difference (2). However, in the current study, the loads for the conditioning contraction and ballistic movement were of a more similar nature. The load of 60% 1RM BP was ∼65 kg in the both PLATE and CHAIN conditions. However, the load remained constant in the PLATE condition and varied across the range of motion in the CHAIN condition because of the accommodating resistance of the chains. The load of the PPU was approximately 75% of the athlete's body mass (57 kg) (32). In the PLATE condition, the difference between loads was approximately 8 kg. The small difference between the strength and ballistic exercise loads may be the reason for not augmenting potentiation rather than the lighter load chosen for the strength exercise. This would support previous theories that potentiation does not require a maximally heavy resistance, but instead the resistances need to be in enough contrast with each other to produce some effect (2,3).

Most published research has included the bench throw or medicine ball throw as the ballistic activity that follows the conditioning contraction; therefore, the selection of the PPU in the current study was uncommon. In a prior study, no improvement in average or peak force was reported in resistance-trained recreational weightlifters that performed the BP exercise (1 × 5 @ 5RM, ∼76 kg) followed by the bodyweight PPU after a 3-minute intracomplex rest (14). To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to report an increase in peak force during the PPU after a BP with chains. This may be due to the lighter loads used during the strength exercise, which would lessen the likelihood of fatigue before performing the PPU. In consideration of prior literature, which stressed the importance of maximal muscular force in wrestlers (27), the increased peak force could be beneficial for improving their performance. This could benefit the wrestlers since often times they are in match situations that require maximal muscular force rather than explosiveness (37).

Performing the BP exercise with weighted chains alters the resistance associated with the movement by decreasing the load at the point of weakest leverage for the muscle joint (12,18), thereby permitting velocity to be maintained or increased by the lifter throughout the range of motion (3). Results from research using methods of accommodating resistance have shown the force–velocity profile to be altered thereby reporting a faster lifting velocity (3) and greater power output (1). Because the chain permits the lifting of more weight at the top than the bottom of the lift, there may be a greater production of velocity and/or power compared with traditional BP exercise (3,26). In fact, it has been suggested that the stretch shortening cycle will fire faster with the reduced load during the bottom range (3). The load in the eccentric phase of the BP is lessened with chains (12), which would mean less eccentric volume when compared to the PLATE group. This may in turn mean there would be less fatigue resulting from the lesser eccentric loading in the CHAIN group, which is known to cause more muscular fatigue. This may be a possible explanation why the CHAIN group showed higher peak force in the PPU.

We acknowledge some study limitations that may have affected the outcome. Although the cohort consisted of resistance trained, collegiate wrestlers, who were familiar with the PPU and chain BP exercises, the sample size was small, and the sport coaches limited their athletes' participation to one familiarization session and one experimental protocol. Second, although the data collection took place in-season during a 3-week training cycle absent of competition, it is possible that some of the wrestlers may not have fully recovered from their rigorous training and competition schedule. Finally, the subjects in the current study were following training regimens and involved in regular activities with definite neuromuscular demands unique to the sport of wrestling. Thus, results may vary in untrained individuals or in athletes from other sports.

In conclusion, peak force appears to be less affected by fatigue than peak power during a complex training protocol for the upper body. The optimal recovery period that will minimize the fatigue elicited from the conditioning contraction yet enhances strength and power potentiation for the subsequent ballistic exercise requires further study.

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Practical Applications

Complex training with use of chains as accommodating resistance may be beneficial for eliciting a greater peak force than standard resistances during the BP when followed by plyometric push-ups. This may be a training option for a transition phase into greater strength levels in a wrestler's resistance training program.

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bench press; chain resistance; plyometric push-up; time-to-peak force; time-to-peak power

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