What Is Manual Resistance Training (and Why Should You Do It)?

What if you could build strength, muscle endurance, and increase concentric, eccentric, and isometric contraction abilities, WITHOUT weights? While movements like squats, deadlifts, presses, and pull-ups will never go out of style, we can use non-weighted resistance training  methods, such as manual resistance training to maximize our muscle growth and performance.

In this article, we will discuss manual resistance training, why it is beneficial for strength, power, and fitness athletes, and how you can add this protocol into finishers, accessory blocks, or corrective segments.

Note, that the movement above is still considered manual resistance as the lifter is using the EZ bar for a handle, with additional loading being placed onto the muscles via the training partner. This movement can also be done without a bar, in which the lifter places their hands clasped together.

What Is Manual Resistance Training?

Manual resistance is a type of external resistance which requires a partner or a trainer to provide and control the amount of applied resistance throughout the entire range of movement (1). This form of resistance training does no require the usage of external loading such as barbells, dumbbells, or bands, making it a good option for large groups or in settings with limited equipment. In addition, manual resistance can help lifters increase eccentric and concentric muscle contractions strength, hypertrophy, and combat muscular fatigue.

5 Benefits of Manual Resistance Training

Below are five (5) benefits of manual resistance training techniques that coaches and athletes can use as a supplemental form of resistance training to increase strength, muscle endurance, and build better fitness.

Improved Strength and Muscle Endurance

Traditional resistance training modalities have been known to increase muscle strength, hypertrophy, and force output, however research also suggests that manual resistance can also increase those attributes to a similar extent. Manual resistance training has been shown to provide similar effectiveness for increasing strength and muscle endurance to that of traditional resistance training exercises, which can be then used by trainers and coaches who may not have access to high amounts of equipment (1).

No Equipment Needed

Manual resistance requires little to no equipment (other than a partner), and maybe a towel (to help keep sweaty arms and hands from slipping). The ability to train muscular strength, endurance, and corrective health without the need of external equipment like barbells, dumbbells, and bands makes manual resistance training an alternative method for trainers and coaches in larger team settings or in situations where equipment is limited.

Good for Rehabilitation/Preventative Programs

Manual resistance exercises are often seen in physical therapy situations and/or during preventive exercises in sports training. The ability to work with a coach/trainer in a highly personalized and adjustable manner (due to the coach/trainer being able to manipulate loading throughout the range of motion) can help to increase concentric and eccentric strength capacities of a weak or injured muscles and provide coaches/trainers/athletes necessary feedback on the abilities of a muscle.

Can Train to Temporary Fatigue

Manual resistance exercises can be taken (often, in one set) to maximal temporary failure, which can help to induce muscle hypertrophy and development in most athletes. By performing manual resistance training exercise correctly, you can stress concentric, eccentric, and isometric exercises to the fullest, further enhancing overall strength and control throughout the range of motion and muscle capacities.

Train Both Eccentric and Concentric Contractions

Briefly discussed above, manual resistance exercise can be done to increase concentric, eccentric, and even isometric abilities of a muscle. To do so, a trainer/coach/partner should apply continuous pressure throughout all ranges of a motion to strengthen the the contraction (concentric and eccentric) phases of the muscle.

How to Program Manual Resistance Exercises

Below you will find general guidelines on how to program manual resistance training exercises into a standard fitness, strength, and/or athletic routine. It is important to note that the below guidelines are NOT intended to be used in a rehabilitation setting and/or for physical therapy protocol. If this is you intended purpose, please seek out a qualified (licensed) physical therapist.

Sets and Reps

Manual resistance exercises do not need to be trained in high amount of volume (sets and reps), due to the ability to elicit high amounts of muscle fatigue in a very short amount of time. It is recommended that you perform one (1) set to fatigue with moderate resistance to allow an athlete to fail in between 15-20 repetitions. Applying heavy resistance may impact an athlete’s ability to maintain proper form, awareness and focus on the muscle contractions (eccentric and concentric), and may not allow for enough time under tension to stimulate muscle hypertrophy (shoot for at least 30 seconds or more).

Resistance (Loading)

As discussed above, the resistance added should be kept in the beginning of a moderate amount, one that allows an athlete to maintain proper form, technique, and tension on the muscle at all times (during the eccentric and concentric portions).

Rest Periods

Rest periods intra-set (during) should be limited to as little as possible, as the manual resistance protocol allows the coach/trainer/partner to apply less resistance as a lifter fatigues. In doing so, fatigue markers can accumulate, signalling muscle development.

Note: If you are to perform more than one set (which is not recommended for beginners, however one to two sets can be done per exercise per workout), we recommend resting 60-90 seconds between sets (or as long as it takes to switch partners to allow them to perform their set).

Featured Image: @eric_anderson_fit on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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