Every so often, a new piece of equipment pops up that is hard to wrap your head around. There’s usually an initial reaction and some semi-reasonable assumptions you can make about how to use the tool and how it can fit into your program. Sometimes the results coincide with your assumptions, while other times the tool falls short. More favorably, sometimes it may even exceed your expectations.After experimenting with the XPT Trainer for the better part of a month, we found a couple of unexpected uses that make it even more valuable than originally thought, says @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
This is what happened with the XPT Trainer. After experimenting with it for the better part of a month, we found a couple of unexpected uses that make the tool even more valuable than we originally thought it would be.
What Is the XPT Trainer?
Picture a piece of equipment like the Smith machine without the restrictions and limitations to bar path. It has the ability to move up and down, left and right, and diagonally, all with the unique self-spotting safety feature of a Smith machine. It has a complex braking system that eliminates any freefall without direct user interaction. It removes some of the tricky quirks of a Smith machine, like rotating your wrist to unlock the bar, and it even removes the possibility of getting stuck under a weight (which a Smith machine only partially provides). Think of the flow of a barbell with the safety of a Smith machine, along with a number of other benefits that I’ll dive into below. That’s the XPT Trainer.
What Is the Intended Use for the XPT Trainer?
If you scroll through the videos or read Brady Poppinga’s article, “Revolutionizing the Jump Squat,” you’ll see a lot of content directing you toward explosive training. The XPT Trainer is clearly intended to help people move fast concentrically. You can throw this bar and jettison it away from the body without having to somehow stop its downward fall. The rack will simply catch and lock it into place once the momentum slows slightly.
The two main exercises are jump squats and bench throws, although it is suggested that cleans and other more complex movements are possible due to the amount of rotation the bar can achieve. So, for argument’s sake, let’s say the XPT Trainer’s unique design is most suited for concentric-only explosive movements.
Video 1. While foreign and strange, jumping with a bar using the XPT has research to back up the value. Athletes who are concentrically exploding with such a device can increase their output better than with a conventional set-up.
Why would that matter? Why would you want to possibly eliminate eccentric stress from a movement when adaptation to stress is what it’s all about? Often, the answer is we don’t. But when reducing impact or eccentric stress, whether for injury concerns or in-season management, the objective is to still find a way to load up your concentric.
We know that maintaining and, ideally, gaining strength and power during a season can mitigate poor performances and reduce late-season injuries that develop in weaker or deconditioned athletes. One way to maintain a significant amount of training stimulus without adding significant stress is to utilize more concentric work during the season. You could consider balancing out the eccentric work on heavy days with more concentric-biased exercises on conventional days if you program carefully.
Besides managing some eccentric stress and the obvious benefit of adding a degree of safety to a movement, there are other times where concentric-only explosive work could be your target, but it’s a difficult task to nail down. There are plenty of instances when an athlete is fast or explosive, but their rate of force development is the chink in the armor. There are plenty of ways to work on being explosive, including pulling from blocks, performing loaded and unloaded jump squats, and squatting from pins, but those all take a toll on the system.
Eliminating the need to decelerate the load could potentially allow the athlete to do many more repetitions without the accompanying soreness or fatigue. There are even some popular programs out there that focus solely on the concentric lifts for certain phases and blocks. I would imagine having a tool that could hone that quality would at least pique your interest a bit.
Video 2. Throwing a barbell requires an athlete to have sufficient power, otherwise it’s a waste of time. Due to the ballistic nature of bench press throws, adding an XPT is an intriguing option for advanced athletes.
What about for the upper body? Yes, of course you could do “explosive” push-ups (and I use that term loosely, because the majority of those videos aren’t all that explosive and look even less like push-ups) or MB throws for some upper body explosive work, but is the load appreciable enough? Will benching with chains or bands travel far enough down the speed-continuum to categorize it as explosive or speed? Maybe, maybe not, but even with bench press patterns, you will have to decelerate and control the bar at the top or risk potential catastrophe. With the unique braking system of the XPT, an athlete is capable of literally throwing the barbell ballistically without any need to catch or stop the bar. Unless you had two amazing and freakish partners with you, this would be nearly impossible to match without the rack.With the unique braking system of the XPT, an athlete is capable of literally throwing the barbell ballistically without any need to catch or stop the bar, says @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
While training eccentrically is all the rage these days, we still have to consider that concentric efforts are a big part of training and sports in general. The XPT Trainer will improve an athlete’s ability to focus on the forgotten art of explosive concentrics.
What Else Can You Do with the XPT Trainer?
Although I believe that the uses I mentioned above are definitely worth exploring, it might not be enough to convince someone to invest in an XPT unit. Training concentrically, reducing some stress when jumping, and eliminating the eccentric force of a lift are all important benefits to consider, but what else could it provide? I’m going to dig into a few alternative uses for the rack that might just solve an issue or two for a number of facilities out there. This includes:
- Reducing fear and uncertainty in young or injured populations
- Overloading eccentric and isometric work – the opposite of the original use
- Pushing your volume and time under tension (TUT) work to new limits
- Training and testing logistics – sharing a rack can be tricky
- Testing protocols with less risk – self-spotting “max testing”
One area I will not spend too much time on is accentuated eccentric training because that deserves an entire article all by itself. We do have weight releasers and have found ways to go beyond 100% of concentric ability with flywheels and plyometrics, but TUT is a good way to transition to more aggressive methods. We’re aware of the science showing the differences in adaptations, but feel you need to progress athletes slowly, so they have the skills to do more contemporary methods later.
Reduce Fear to Break Through Plateaus
There are two populations that have the most difficulty learning and mastering lifts: the young and the injured. When I say young, I’m referring to training age. You could be 27 years old, but if you’ve never put a barbell on your back, you won’t be comfortable squatting on day one. There are components of fear and uncertainty for any movement, I’m sure, but loading up your back and squatting down is by far the scariest for new or young athletes. The same goes for injured clients, especially following major injuries and surgical procedures, as they often have to relearn movements and start from scratch with loading.
The XPT Trainer can eliminate a lot of the fear for these lifters. The self-spotting feature of the rack will allow anyone to get under the bar and at any point they can stop its descent dead in its tracks, and walk out from under it without a spotter or safety straps. For our ACL and lower body return to play athletes, we are able to start squatting or using lower body barbell patterns earlier than ever before because the Trainer eliminates the risk of going too low and not being able to get back up.
Video 3. Athletes who are injured and on a return-to-play program can benefit from using the XPT. Gaining confidence in the leg that is compromised is essential to the success of any rehabilitation program.
In addition to reducing the depth concerns, you can also get into place and set up prior to unlocking the bar, similar to a monolift. An athlete just getting back into loading patterns might have an issue walking a loaded bar in and out of the rack, but the XPT allows you to set your feet where you want, unlock it, and then carry out the set without ever having to move. The Smith machine can somewhat mimic this feature, but the bar path limitations during relearning or learning patterns just won’t fly with coaches.The XPT Trainer can eliminate a lot of the fear young and injured athletes have about loading up a barbell on their back and squatting down with it, says @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
Over the last month or so, we’ve taken a few of our “hybrid” athletes and introduced squat patterns using the bar. Hybrid is our gap between youths and high school kids. They’re not physically mature enough to train like a teen, and not young enough to appreciate playing games and crawling around like we might subject them to in our youth program.
We’ve used the XPT Trainer, in addition to reverse band setups, to reduce the load at the bottom and teach these hybrid athletes how to navigate this daunting task. It has been a big hit for these kids, who want to lift like the older kids. It has also been a weight lifted, pun intended, off our shoulders as coaches who want to keep them in a safe environment while letting them experiment.
Overloading the Bar While Reducing the Risk
If you’re an experienced powerlifter or long-time gym rat with all the bells and whistles, you probably don’t need this feature. But what about a lone wolf or someone who loves to go heavy but doesn’t always have a good spotter on hand? I personally lift alone far more often than not, and I enjoy lifting heavy whenever my body allows it. A lot of people in a similar situation will just reduce the load and play it smart, but we all know that results come from pushing those limits and boundaries. I’m not suggesting you fail twice a week and load up maximally each lift, but regularly working with challenging loads is often necessary for progress.
Video 4. Failure can sometimes happen in training, and while safety pins are effective, the XPT is great for solo training when in a pinch. Having the confidence to go hard without risk is an asset when pushing through plateaus.
This rack allows you to go heavy, and even supramaximal, without needing someone there to save you from dying. I’m sure we’ve all been there or seen it. Sometimes you misjudge a weight or you screw up your bar path, and nothing will get that bar off your chest. By simply letting go of the lever (safety mechanism that disengages the lock and allows free motion), the bar will lock, allowing you to climb out or even push up one side at a time and then climb out. A Smith machine would still require you to get the bar to at least the next racking point.The XPT Trainer allows you to go heavy, and even supramaximal, without needing someone there to save you from dying, says @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
Along with heavy eccentric work, you can also push your isometric work a little longer while under load. If you’ve ever done yielding isometric work, where you try to stop a supramaximal load from pushing you towards the earth, you know that the setup is tricky and the “bail out” process has to be perfect. With the XPT, you can hold or yield that weight for as long as you can and simply engage the locking mechanism and walk away. Similarly, you can do submaximal isometric work for longer periods of time at a certain joint angle, without having to finish lowering or raising the movement to the rack, because the bar stops right where it is.
Time Under Tension Needs Time
Whether you’re looking for hypertrophy, muscle endurance, or some type of oxidative effect, or you’re focusing on a tendinopathy, time under tension is an effective and simple way of getting the appropriate adaptation. I’m sure the percentage of weight used and the actual time of work and rest can all be debated, but one point that seems hard to argue is that effort is a must. Pushing or holding these patterns for your end range limit is what will yield the outcome you’re looking for. The XPT Trainer can allow you to dig further into these efforts because of the braking mechanism I mentioned earlier.
Video 5. Going above maximal concentric abilities requires a very precise prescription and the right equipment. We have used heavy eccentrics with athletes and the XPT is a viable option.
Rather than racking your weight on the last, or seemingly last, repetition of a long set, you can begin the next rep without having to complete the task. You may gain a few more seconds of work on the eccentric and partial concentric motion of a failed rep, which might make that subtle difference over time. Of course, safe failure in push-up, chin-up, or bodyweight patterns is smart enough to incorporate into your training, but when you load a pattern, even with submaximal loads, allowing failure is not something I’d recommend regularly. With the XPT, however, you can do just that.
A Logistical Solution to Big Groups
One of the trickiest things in a weight room is matching similar athletes to share a rack. If they’re of similar strength, great, but what about when a 6’8” athlete lifts similar loads as a 5’11” athlete? You can’t exactly expect the shorter athlete to unrack a bar an inch above their head, and the taller athlete would also suffer from having to unrack a bar at such depth. With the XPT Trainer, you can rack the bar at any height mid-lift or even using some teamwork after a set. You could argue that you could even have one person squatting and one person benching, but that would require a couple more moving parts.With the XPT Trainer, you can rack the bar at any height mid-lift or even using some teamwork after a set, allowing athletes of different heights to share the rack, explains @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
Interchangeable rack heights are magnified when it comes to testing. Whether you’re using VBT to test sub max loads, 1RM squat testing, or eccentric overload testing, you can do so with a large group relatively easily because of the interchangeable starting and finishing positions that the braking system provides.
Test Your Limits Safely
Max testing is always a point of contention in the industry and I won’t waste much time talking about it. In addition to streamlining the set-up process for multiple athletes (as I described above), you will always have the added bonus of a self-spotting mechanism that makes testing heavy weights marginally safer. We know that almost everyone has a propensity for handling greater eccentric loads than they can concentrically lift. With that being understood, it’s often hard to judge whether an athlete should add load to the bar or hang ’em up for the day with their last completed set. This is where the braking mechanism comes in, once again, enabling you to push a set one step farther, knowing the bail out is there and each athlete can bail out at different heights without having to change rack setups.
Taking testing to the next degree, this rack is convenientlyset up for VBT. Testing traditional lifts for speed/velocity is an acceptable, and often favorable, replacement for coaches around the world as of late. Of course, this is still “max testing,” but max effort, not max load.
When using the XPT rack and finishing with ballistic methods, the athlete is encouraged to push maximally all the way through the lift and end as maximally as they started, says @ExceedSPF. Click To Tweet
We know the rack is designed to throw or jump without the absorption required from normal bar work. In traditional barbell bench, squat, or squat jumps, a seasoned athlete learns how to decelerate a bar near the top of the movement in order to avoid an issue. This reduces the average bar speed and, quite possibly, the peak bar speed as well.
When using the XPT rack and finishing with ballistic methods, the athlete is encouraged to push maximally all the way through the lift and end as maximally as they started. In addition to the execution of the lift, the braking system also provides a better place to use tools like the GymAware or force plates, as the bar will never get to the ground. Olympic lifts, jumps, and squats on a platform or open rack will always have the added stress of someone dropping a few hundred pounds on your expensive equipment. This rack eliminates that risk completely, making it a valuable testing “station,” so to speak.
Can the XPT Trainer Work for You?
Whether you are interested in a max effort/velocity testing station, a learn-to-train tool for your physical therapy practice, or a self-spotting rack to ease your mind and allow large groups to train in a smaller setting, the XPT Trainer has the potential to fit your needs. It has a lot of the benefits of a Smith machine with the added freedom that closely mimics a free weight movement. As with most pieces of technology, there is a necessary learning and familiarization process to become proficient with its subtleties, but it has a few features that make the process worth exploring.
While we’re just getting started with the equipment, we have found it to be an invaluable tool for a number of our clients, in ways we didn’t expect when we put it together. At the very least, the XPT Trainer has reminded me to think critically and explore when dealing with new information or equipment.