Q: Front Squats vs Back squats? I heard that front squats are superior because they put more load on the quadriceps and less load on the spine and also allow more frequent posterior chain training
I love front squats myself but asking someone to do them can be a different story altogether. Back squats are hard enough but front squats are just a different animal. No matter how good you get at them they AlWAYS suck. If you got a team full of guys who are used to back squatting and you start them front squatting then I can just about guarantee you that within a month they wil be begging to go back to back squats!
Front squats do offer the advantages you mentioned above as well as a couple of others including:
1. Increased ROM- It seems to be easier for most individuals to hit full depth with a front squat.
2. Increased flexibility- They provide a good flexibility training tool themselves.
However, they also require a lot of skill and grit and the whole body motor unit activation won't be as intense as a back squat! The only way to really do front squats correctly is to hold the bar in your hands and most people won't be capable of this.
I consider the front squat mainly a late intermediate training method. When a person has trained a couple of years and built up a respectable back squat it then might be time to switch to more of a front squat dominant routine. Otherwise they'll wuss out cause the front squats are much more difficult. Not saying that everybody can't throw some front squats in occassionally, but most people will need to be watched over and yelled at or they won't do them at all much less properly. So my approach is push the squat and other basic compound movements like the deadlift up there and then try to get the front squat 80% of the back squat and then get the power snatch to at least 65% of the front squat.
So a 200 pounder better be squatting and deadlifting 350 lbs before I even worry about anything else. From there we'll get that front squat up to a minimum of 280. We'll also get the hang power snatch to 180. The power snatch isn't necessary or anything and I in fact have preached against the overuse of olympic lifts but I've yet to meet a person who didn't think it was fun once they learned it. There's something about throwing a weight overhead that is very appealing!
Q: It seems there is a dearth of information on leg training for
marathoners, probably because they and triathletes are so
weights-averse. Do you train your legs for a marathon just like for sprinting?
A: A marathonner would train the legs for the same reasons a sprinter but not with the same volumes. The stronger your legs are the easier to push or pull any % of your max becomes. So if you squat 150 lbs then moving your own bodyweight requires a lot of your potential strength. If you squat 300 lbs and stay around the same size then moving your bodyweight around becomes a lot easier.
Strength gives you more power which gives you more speed and the faster your top speed then the easier it becomes to run any percentage below your maximum. For example, if you take one guy who runs a 10 second 100 meters and another guy who runs a 15 second 100 meters who do you think has the "potential" to run a faster 1/4 mile?
In much the same way if you can run a 4:00 mile (which most runners simply do not have the strength for and does requires a lot of speed) then running 26 consecutive 6 minute miles will be a piece of cake.
In other words, when you're in the weight room the goal is strength not endurance. You don't need the volume of weight room work as a sprinter but when you're in there you want to stay away from the high repetition sets and build strength. There's no need to do 50 rep sets with 50 lbs because your legs get plenty of endurance training from running so there's no need to try and duplicate that in the weight room. Keep it simple. When in the weight room your goal is to either build strength or maintain strength.
Q: I've been reading a lot about the value of fast eccentrics. I realize the concept is to accelerate the eccentric so as to absorb more force and power before reactively exploding back up correct? Is this due to the fact that the quick transition time from a fast eccentric in to an explosive concentric favors type IIb muscle fibers? I have a basic understanding of this but if someone could explain it to me a little more I would really appreciate it. Basically why slow eccentrics are bad and why fast/accelerated/overspeed eccentrics are good.
Also what type of movements are done with fast eccentrics?
A: It's not that a fast eccentric is good or a slow eccentric is bad or anything like that. They both serve purposes.
Its better to think of what's needed. Every down and up movement will have an isometric contraction at the switch from down to up. Accelerating an eccentric (or free falling) etc. allows you to intensify the force of that explosive isometric contraction and also creates a forced eccentric stretching of the muscle-tendon apparatus. This is the basis that formed "shock" loading or plyometrics.
Ok. Now, basically what happens when you accelerate an eccentric and then quickly reverse it is, at the reversal point, your muscle fibers create an isometric contraction by locking up against that negative force and resistance. They lock up to resist mechanical deformation. If they didn't then you would be unable to absorb the force and would either collapse or get injured. This "locking up" is largely involuntary because of the forced stretching.
Now, because of the velocity component, the level of maximal tension during that isometric, although extemely brief, will also be extremely high.
So, if you start from the top of a squat and slowly lower and control 400 lbs down to the bottom and then reverse direction under control it produces less momentary tension at the reversal point then if you start from the top with the same weight and drop quickly down into the bottom and then try to stop it. (providing you are strong enough to stop it) However, in this 2nd variation the heightened level of tension will be extremely brief. It's also very important that you are strong enough to stabilize the working load in the first place. If you are not then injury WILL result.
It's that extremely high yet brief level of tension in the muscles and tendons at the isometric "stop" that mainly does the positive things with accelerated eccentrics, quick drop and explode reps, depth jumps, drop jumps, etc. The intramuscular force will be extremely high. Therefore, the body adapts to develop extremely high levels of tension very quickly. These changes are mediated through both neural (faster and more muscle motor unit recruitment) and mechanical (changes in muscle type) factors. The result is a fairly quick increase in strength, power, and reactive strength. (Yes I did say strength).
So, accelerated loaded eccentrics and highly intense plyos could be considered forced intensification methods. Forced intensification is just what it sounds like. It is an intentional high intensity means of stimulating largely involuntary processes that allow you to "express" what you already have better. So you get strong and powerful training one way and then you "intensify" that strength and power with these methods. Fortunately, these highly intense training methods give quick gains yet, unfortunately, these gains stagnate just as quickly. They also don't really work well unless there's something there to intensify.
Ok, now with this knowledge a lot of people may ask, "well if the fast eccentrics or plyometrics create greater tension levels then why not just do fast eccentics all the time??"
When we consider controlled eccentrics or down and up reps, the importance of these is "voluntary" muscular control or strength as well as hypertrophy. It's worth noting that it is the slower controlled eccentric contractions that damage myofibrils and stimulate muscle growth. These methods also create fairly high tension levels and prolong that duration of that tension with regards to both the individual muscle fibers and neural output.
Voluntary muscular strength seems to require a certain length of time that a muscle is under tension and controlled reps do this better then fast reps. The prolonged duration of neural output is also important to increase the body's capacity to recruit muscle fibers. Obviously hypertrophy is best stimulated by slower reps or else olympia bodybuilders wold be using depth jumps to build up muscular legs! So, the importance of slower speed eccentrics or down and up reps is an increase in maximum voluntary strength and hypertrophy.
So it's not a matter of saying which is better. It's a matter of saying which is more appropriate at a given time.
Any singular training method tends to be less effective over time especially when the task requires a mix of strength qualities like maximal strength, reactive strength, explosive strength etc. Controlled eccentrics and regular down and up movements are less of a high intensity training method and thus can be used for longer periods of time without stagnation. They also stimulate muscle mass gains. Therefore, they can be effective for longer durations. A typical prescription might be that you would used forced intensification methods for 50-60% of the duration and volume that you would use other traditional methods. So use them when you need a quick increase in explosive ability but not all the time.
So if you did an 8 week hypertrophy and maximum strength focused phase your "shock" phase might be 4-5 weeks.
A complete peaking cycle might look something like this.
GPP- 3-4 weeks
concentrated strength loading - 7-12 weeks (unload every 4th week)
GPP- 2-3 weeks (hit everything but take it easy)
shock loading (forced intensification) 4-6 weeks
You could have 2-3 of those cycles per year.
As for the methods have a look at my article "Becoming a Fast Twitch Machine." As for individuality, yes you can also incorporate that with the above scheme. The rough aproach might be "general" but the specific parameters would be individualized.