By Carl Valle
The Exer-Genie is older than most of the coaches reading this article, but don’t dismiss its age as a weakness. If you’re in sports performance—medical or training—the system has timeless advantages as well as new developments thanks to current technology. I was asked a year ago to review the Exer-Genie and only mentioned it in a post on sled training mistakes, but the device deserves its own article.
You may have used the system, are familiar with the device, or have no clue what it is. It doesn’t matter. This article covers its value without trying to force any styles of training and rehabilitation that the Exer-Genie can’t deliver well. I present only the cream and nothing else.
The History of the Exer-Genie
A short read on the history of the Exer-Genie is like watching the movie Forrest Gump; it seemed to be everywhere and used by everyone in the past. The Exer-Genie belongs in the pantheon of exercise ropes, as it has more value to me than skipping it or battling with it.
Today, international coaches still use the system, and it’s picking up momentum as MuscleLab is gaining adoption in the US. The training device resembles a thick baton with a nylon cord running through it, and twisting it increases and decreases the resistance. You can use it for an array of needs such as resisted movements and sprinting on land or in water. Although the Exer-Genie made a lot of ground in resisted sprinting, its original purpose was to help astronauts while training in space. Like the flywheel equipment that Per Tesch refined decades ago, the Exer-Genie has its roots in aerospace.
Soon after its use by NASA, the system quickly became popular in the 1960s with sports training, mainly as a way to do total body workouts. Teams from the MLB, NHL, NFL, and other sports gravitated to the system to get stronger and faster. After years of athlete adoption, the US Navy started using the system due to its portability and simplicity. Simply put, the system has graced itself for years with some of the best athletes and military professionals and became extremely popular with track and field in the 1980s and 1990s.
I remember the device from the late 1990s, using it as a high school athlete. It was similar in design to its original invention decades ago, but now the equipment is all metal save the nylon cord. I found it was a nice portable solution for coaches needing adjustable resistance but wasn’t terribly exciting. I loved it for drills and when traveling. Today the system may be the next best thing, even at 57 years of age.
Boosting the Old Exer-Genie with New Technology
Technology-driven training is here to stay, and one of the reasons the Exer-Genie is making a comeback is the interest in biofeedback. Originally, I thought the system would gain ground because of the quantification of load cells and timing gates, but the truth is the resistance estimates are printed on the device. Instead, its comeback is based on the migration from barbell speed to body and ball speed as velocity based training (VBT) converges with modern training methods.
Attaching the Exer-Genie system to an athlete’s center of mass and working different planes is not new. What’s new is reviewing the catalog of exercises with current technology. Most of the studies I read are from the 1960s and 1970s, and they show a lot of good science on the system.
Today the Exer-Genie is at a crossroads. Various sleds, cable systems, resistance bands, and even bodyweight training with suspension trainers are all the rage. Technology—from simple to very high tech— is forcing the company to make a choice.
Instead of reinventing and digitizing the system, I recommend leaving the product alone and simply adding the right technology. By including a load cell or adding sensors to an athlete’s body, the equipment becomes something that’s easy to get excited about even though it’s not very high tech. Don’t worry, good training tools and environments don’t need to be fancy or complicated, they just need to do their job and accomplish what they’re intended for.
Resisted Speed Training on Land, Water, and Ice
One of the most commonly used training methods with the Exer-Genie is resisted sprinting, mainly with land-based sports. Over the years, the device has made its way into the pool and on the ice, but for the majority of sports, running on grass is a staple for training and competition.
The Exer-Genie was huge in the 1990s and years after, but with the popularity of new equipment, such as the Raptor and Run Rocket, the Exer-Genie lost some of its popularity. Sleds, chains, mechanical systems such as the dynaSpeed and 1080 Sprint, and even bungee cords have also made their way into resisted sprinting. We even see parachutes and pulling tires still. The resisted sprinting space is crowded.
Video 1. Resisted sprints on ice are not easy since conventional sleds aren’t practical. Using an Exer-Genie as a resistance load is practical and perfect for the sport.
Most of the Exer-Genie’s benefits come from its variable resistance options for sprinting and similar exercises. I’m a fan of the system because groundskeepers don’t get angry when we use it on grass, and its portability is great when fields are a long walk away and heavy resistance isn’t convenient. And while I’m not a big fan of heavy resistance in most situations, those who are will find that setting the device to heavy resistance is literally a “twist of the wrist.”The use of a resistance device with instrumentation motivates and educates athletes, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Coaches have used the system for years, so why rehash what most can conclude on their own? Simply, the use of a resistance device with instrumentation motivates and educates athletes. Also, the ability to attach the resistance will change the vector slightly, which makes a difference an athlete can believe in. Sure it’s nice to get power readings or even velocity measures, but you’re paying for the user experience of having a good resisted harness. I love numbers but prefer results that come from more than measurements and information.
Video 2. For resisted running, I prefer a waist harness, which offers a few perks that make it great for multi-directional athletes. Athletes can accelerate with resistance or just run in multiple directions and patterns easily.
The Exer-Genie is mostly popular because its waist harness is large enough to switch mid-run, meaning the athlete can backpedal as well as shuffle side to side. The resisted sprints are obvious and straightforward. Many sport coaches get excited over the ability to move in multiple directions and use locomotive strategies. I’ve only dabbled with resisted sprinting and some drills. Other coaches have taken it further and use the Exer-Genie for movement skills. For those getting started, just doing some resisted locomotives helps speed development, and having a system in your bag is great.
Assisted Stretching or Manual Resistance
The Exer-Genie’s motion is mainly concentric, meaning the resistance pulls a cable line of various lengths with friction ranging from very light to nearly impossible to move. The system’s double handle provides very light resistance that’s good for early stage rehabilitation as well as more demanding exercises if needed.Exer-Genie is a perfect solution for the mortal sized therapist who stretches many large bodies, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
I prefer to use it as a self-stretching tool and as a way to help heavy athletes stretch with more torque without leaving a therapist exhausted. Stretching out offensive and defensive linemen is a workout, and the system creates a perfect solution for the mortal sized therapist who needs to stretch many large bodies. At the end of the day, facilitating basic stretches using the device with a partner is extremely valuable.
Video 3. Using the Exer-Genie as a hamstring stretching device is like doing solo PNF and having a partner. Stretching is not going to turn a tight athlete into a yogi, but it will restore range of motion.
I find the product is great for solo or partnered resistance, even though it’s hard to say when manual stretching turns into manual resistance. For example, while the Nordic Hamstring exercise is popular for early hamstring tears, I prefer high repetition work when athletes have an injury. What may be beneficial for reducing injuries can be inappropriate for injury rehabilitation.
Also, skilled therapists who still use manual therapy to assess small motion and other deficits can continue to do what they’re good at while getting objective information from a load cell. The combination of manual therapy with the device, similar to a dynamometer with cable resistance, is fantastic.
Coaches who were old enough to watch Jean Claude Van Damme in the late 1980s and 1990s will remember the movie Kickboxer and the extreme training he did. I don’t recommend getting coconuts dropped from trees to teach bracing the core or getting attacked by hot pokers. What I found intriguing was the stretch machine, a little overzealous of course, but very useful if applied carefully.
As I said, there’s a fine line between aggressive stretching and strength training. Manual resistance can be done with the Exer-Genie, but only with exercises that are enhanced or replaced by the system. I’m a huge fan of coaches who share when not to use something just as much as those who invent new exercises or develop better ways to perform old ones.
Conservative Neck Training
While neck training is growing in popularity, it has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream and done well. I’ve seen some great research on these interventions, but the practical side needs work on both quantification and self-care with home based programs or solo work in the gym. I’ve seen three exercises that make a difference when part of a program. Obviously there’s more to the equation than these, but I never like forcing an exercise just because it can be done. It always must be the best option.
For neck training, I like progressing from lower forms of isometrics to conventional repetitions and finally more aggressive types of contractions, such as ballistic and eccentric overload. Some smart people break the rules and can get away with different progression styles, but I’d rather be conservative and on time with the training than have to start over because I was too aggressive and rushed the process.
Remember that the Exer-Genie is adjustable to loads that most necks can’t move, and it’s safe to say heavy resistance is a poor man’s isometric exercise. If a threshold exists that represents a milestone, the Exer-Genie can motivate an athlete to get the cord moving to break out of physical and mental inertia.
Solo training at home is popular with athletes at all levels since therapy sessions are often a scheduling nightmare, so if an athlete is compliant and dedicated to getting better, the Exer-Genie is great for these home clients.The Exer-Genie is great for home training therapy for athletes who are compliant and dedicated, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
I don’t have much experience with neck training while performing exercises that challenge the cervical spine during total body movements. Do I think a time exists for this type of training? I do, but only with a lot of coaching, not light supervision. It doesn’t matter what the equipment can do; adding a human body to the equation always muddies the waters, especially when performing something new or rehabbing an area that’s at risk.
Again, I don’t do much with the Exer-Genie for the neck, as I’d rather do a few things right than having a laundry list of movements that may overdose an athlete. Even if an athlete learns exercises quickly, it’s hard to see progress or polish when running a tough a battery of different movements. Logistically, it’s also difficult to stop and explain something new when time is of the essence. I prefer getting work done and then adding variety indiscriminately.
Lastly, anyone attempting to do any neck rehabilitation should seek professional medical support before using any device, including the Exer-Genie.
Return-to-Play and Sport Rehabilitation
I’m a huge fan of concentric-based training, and we have many options ranging from pool workouts to highly advanced solutions like the Proteus. With the Exer-Genie, while eccentrics are important, there comes a time when we need to ward off much of the strain to expose an athlete to pain-free movement. Soreness is normal, though often discomfort reaches a point where it’s not productive to keep overloading the system. Managing the balance and sequence of contractions means knowing when to throttle up with eccentrics and when to be conservative and patient with concentric-driven training.
Video 4. Conservative care means challenging without taking a big step back regarding rehab. I’ve followed the Skaggs method of remodeling torn muscle groups and know that volume works when intensity is not available.
High repetition concentric or eccentric training is often seen as a way to provide blood flow, yet the model of stimulating a muscle with lactate as a healing or anabolic process is still murky. Training can stimulate remodeling, but the frequency of load and rest is not perfectly charted. It’s a safe bet, therefore, to follow the classic progression steps of volume and intensity.Moving & overloading vectors in small increments for rehab is the highlight of the Exer-Genie, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Similar to water training, the basic low impact and lower speed resistance exercises and continuous tension with the right exercises are great. Getting an athlete on their feet and moving and overloading different vectors in small increments is the highlight of the Exer-Genie.
Eccentric training can’t be replaced, but isometric and concentric training during the rehabilitation phase are valuable, especially during the early stages of R2P (return-to-play). Mentioned earlier and technically speaking, stretching a muscle is a very low-grade form of eccentric training but is not a viable option due to poor strength gains. It’s unlikely that any training is purely one type of contraction, so focusing on either extreme will cover the middle ground without even trying.
Conditioning and Teaching Movement
Coaches looking for a great workout can use Exer-Genie in a circuit, similar to its original use in the mid-1960s. The device is not only good for conditioning but also teaching when used correctly, with or without a coach.
Video 5. With the right set-up, athletes can use the Exer-Genie for resisted sprinting. Outdoor sprinting on the grass is the ideal setting, along with types of turf that don’t have issues with friction and snagging.
With speed and power athletes, roughly 5% of my conditioning is cord driven, usually during the general prep phase when we’re on grass or near a scenic area to reduce burnout later. Portability is essential with conditioning, such as bringing a cart of equipment, but not an option on public fields. And it’s an excellent teaching device as it allows a coach to be a puppeteer with the cord, a very clever way to teach without talking. Remember, verbal language is new compared to our senses, and instant feedback is very powerful.The right combination of loading and athletic tasks can become #TeachableMoments, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Coordination under load is a popular concept, and the right combination of loading and athletic tasks can become teachable moments. Feedback doesn’t have to be in the form of a cue. It can be more subtle, such as a small amount of resistance or change in speed, specifically slowing down. Teaching with load often encourages an athlete to learn about posture and other areas outside of the actual motor skill, which helps them learn indirectly.
Also, small changes to the challenge that are similar enough to be relevant but unique enough to be stimulatory work great when athletes hit learning ceilings or plateaus. Sometimes novel change works, but not enough information here exists to have a clear path to success with motor skill changes.
Video 6. While the wall drill is insanely popular, why not combine the theoretical teaching benefits with more realistic feedback? The Exer-Genie has countless options with instructional opportunities for athletes.
Training with the Exer-Genie is very useful for group training when you can link a handful of systems to a goal post or fencing system. A word of advice, don’t attach it to a chain link fence unless it’s the post, as the wear and tear will cause visible damage.
You can get a lot of work done with the system if you plan a good circuit. I’ve used it for 30-second tempo runs in hotel rooms during snow storms or when there’s a crunch for space. You can make marching and other drills into conditioning solutions for those who require a different type of stimulus; I split the conditioning into moving and pulling activities. Adding the Exer-Genie to partner training is fun and a welcome change. It’s really about using your imagination and finding what you like.
Going Beyond the Workouts
Don’t overthink things or be afraid to go low tech at times. Using the latest technology isn’t always the right technology since results come from the interaction of a body and forces over time. The right amount of data is just enough to help your decision making but not so much that it slows the process. When in doubt, train and test later. Ideally, you do both simultaneously, but often a compromise exists when designing training equipment.
The Exer-Genie is used for purposes besides what I discussed here, but those training methods are outside my expertise. I made a case for the system based on what I know is valuable, and anything beyond that would be speculation.
The device does need to have a periodic waxing for more consistent readings and to prevent sticking, and having a spooling system saves time. In fact, go buy a spool online; you’ll thank me.
I’m confident you can use the device in countless creative ways. I care about the advantages that work great for what I do in my circumstance, not what the equipment can do. Take a look at the website and check out the videos on Instagram to see if something catches your eye that’s effective and useful. I’ve used the system on an off for years, and now I have a clear purpose in mind and know exactly what to expect from it. The resurgence of the Exer-Genie is palpable, and I recommend you get one to solve specific training and rehabilitation challenges that are common in sport.