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Flywheel Training For Elite Levels of Strength and Performance

May 17, 2020

Learn how to add pounds to your lifts, get more jacked, and stay injury free by utilizing flywheel training from an elite lifter who knows a thing or two about being strong. 

When talking Flywheel training / inertia training for strength and power athletes.  I am going to predominantly stick to overload methods for strength training, intense hypertrophy phases, and overload methods for getting faster. 

To start to understand what inertia training is you have to understand that the flywheel only resists to the point of the effort that you make. So if you go really hard the flywheel is going to resist equally as hard. If you go really easy. The flywheel is going to resist very easily. So it's basically the perfect spotter with every single rep adjusting with the intensity or power that you put into the flywheel. Not only does it change from person to person and situation to situation it changes from rep to rep. So as you get fatigued within the set you will output less power and it will resist slightly less to match that power.

I first got interested in flywheel training for that eccentric overload effect. I did some research and was looking to purchase my own until I saw that it was nearly $3,000 and wasn’t willing to spend that kind of money on what was just going to be an experiment at that point in time. However, I did end up finding a manual on how to build your own flywheel. And while I knew it wasn’t going to be the same quality, as DIY versions can give you about 15-20% overload versus upwards of a 30% for the real deal due to there being too much friction with the bearing system, I was actually very pleased with my results from this home brew version. I quickly found that muscles that don’t normally activate from standard barbell movements lit up when using the flywheel. I believe the reason is because the center line of pull of the actual tension from the resistance is pulling from the center of your body instead of pulling on the outside of your body, which automatically activates what I call internal torque musculature. 

For example, when rowing or deadlifting, auxiliary muscles such as your pecs will absolutely light up due to what I believe is from the shift in tension - stimulating more tissue and giving you more bang for your buck. You can now work the same movement patterns with just as much or more intensity as your barbell counterparts without some of the wear and tear. As strength athletes, we are always battling the fact that we want (read: need) to get stronger, but as you become more advanced the cost of doing more work begins to outweigh the benefit. On a personal note, this has been a tremendous benefit to flywheel training and has allowed me to continue to drive up my numbers while remaining injury free.

Using the Flywheel 101

The number one thing to remember to really reap the rewards of inertia training is the conscious effort of completely emptying the tank, 100% contractions on every single rep. That is the crucial part with this type of piece of equipment. If you're a lazy person or somebody who has a lack of the ability to contract as hard as possible, then you are going to shortchange yourself. Most people are going to associate this with weight on the bar or weight on the stack or the level of resistance. I feel like that is the wrong concept when it comes to flywheel or inertia training, because the level of resistance fluctuates, not just rep to rep like I described before, but in different segments of the rep. 

The resistance is going to change through the entire range of motion, depending on your individual leverages. For example, In a barbell back squat, once you get past your sticking point, the lift is more or less done and you're going to lock it out unless you lose balance. On the flywheel you are going to experience something completely different as you're coming out of the hole. You’re going to have to use maximal effort to keep it moving in the opposite direction and break the habit of coasting beyond your usual sticking point. The flywheel will force you to contract maximally and accelerate from start to finish. 

Once you have changed your mindset and learn to fight through every rep, the next question is what kind of inertia are you going to put on the flywheel? As I stated earlier, the inertia is not directly correlated with the amount of resistance, but rather the speed of the movement. With lower inertia, the rep will be very fast with rep speed slowing down as you increase the inertia on the flywheel. What level you use is dependent upon what your goal is and what type of athlete you are. If you’re a more velocity based athlete, you may choose to use a higher level of inertia to “fill the gaps” and vice versa if you’re a more force based athlete. As a competitive powerlifter, for example, you would want to use very high levels of inertia to teach your body to maximally contract for long periods of time and fight through each repetition that you do. Whereas a field sport athlete may want to incorporate periods of time using a lower level of inertia to teach your body to learn how to produce force quickly and accelerate all the way through a given range of motion. Even if you take two athletes with the same 1RM on a given lift, we know that the speed at which they execute that lift is going to be highly variable. The flywheel allows you to be very specific with the intent of your training, and thus the adaptation that you’ll acquire. 

Work Capacity Protocols Not For the Faint of Heart

Now we can get into the meat and potatoes in terms of various training protocols. Once you have selected the correct inertia level for the sport you’re preparing for or the phase of training that you’re in, you can begin to implement set and rep schemes to maximize the training effect. Although you can use the exact same protocols that you would use with a barbell, the flywheel offers some unique advantages - particularly when looking to develop work capacity using the big movement patterns. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite methods of self destruction by flywheel...

20 Reps or Death

One my favorite methods to drive up work capacity very quickly in the off season is to do sets of 20 reps. When doing 20 rep sets with a barbell, a limiting factor becomes the smaller stabilizer muscles getting fatigued before the prime movers - which inhibits you from working as hard as you possibly can and getting the right stimulus. With the flywheel, however, you now understand how every rep is done with maximal effort and is purely muscular. When attempting 20 rep sets you might get to the 12th rep of a set and feel like you can’t possibly complete another rep, but the truth is that you can always keep contracting. So whether you use a lot of inertia, or a little, you can get a massive training stimulus because the flywheel will reduce it’s resistance as you fatigue - creating the ultimate drop set. When doing this style of training, I prefer a full body split done 3 days per week utilizing a deadlift, squat, split squat, bent over row, push up, and bicep curl in each session. I’ll start at 1 set of 20 for the first 2 weeks, then add a second set for week 3, and finally 3rd set for week 4 where I might stay for additional 2-3 weeks. This is a very demanding session, so if needed you could split these up into 2 separate sessions and train 4 days per week instead (doing each session twice). 

Timed Work:Rest Brutality

In my opinion, timed work to rest sets done on the flywheel are the most brutal training method due to the nature of the force curve that it offers. To get the most out of this training style for your specific sport needs I would select an inertia that is in the middle range. If you have the ability to fine tune the inertia, I would try to get two birds with one stone by slightly tuning it down for athletes that want more speed adaptations (faster sport movements) or move the inertia up slightly for athletes that want more strength adaptations (slow sport movements). That way you are not only working on your work capacity and your ability to stay in glycolysis, but you're also at the same time training the movement closer to the speed that you're actually going to want to perform at in your sport. Typically I will start at sets of 45 seconds with a 1:1 work to rest ratio and work up to as much as 70 seconds. I run this in similar fashion as the  20 rep sets, performing full body training sessions, but starting at 2 sets and building up to as many as 4 sets over the course of 4 to 6 weeks. 

Peaking Protocols For Advanced Lifters

Two of my favorite training protocols in a peaking cycle are eccentric overloads performed early in a peaking cycle and post activation potentiation used in the later parts in a peaking cycle closer to an event. There are two primary ways that I like to overload the eccentric phase, which would be used typically early in a pre meet training block. 

One is called Delayed Eccentric Action - where you don’t resist until the very end of the eccentric phase and abruptly brake and resist as hard as you can to go into the concentric. You can also use this to address sticking points and apply the brake & resist at those points.

The other is an Overloaded Concentric Action, where you would only use the primary muscles that you’re trying to work during the eccentric phase, but then use assistance in order to complete the concentric. The best example would be when performing a squat, you would resist the eccentric using only your lower body and then use your arms on a rack or other stable object in front of you to assist you back up. This method is particularly demanding and causes a substantial amount of muscle damage, so I personally only use it in the first 4 to 5 weeks of a 16 week training cycle. 

As a meet draws near, I like to use the post activation potentiation protocol for the final 4 weeks of a training cycle. The flywheel device allows for much higher levels of muscle activation and forces to be produced during training, making it the perfect tool for post activation potentiation. When doing this, I would set the inertia level on the flywheel so that my rep speed would be approximately twice as fast as my 1 rep max on the lift I was about to perform. I would begin by warming up with singles on my main lift (bench, squat, or deadlift) and then once at a working weight, I would perform a heavy single of a lift, rest approximately 40 seconds, and then follow up with a triple of the flywheel variation. This would be done for 6-8 sets further out from a meet, getting down to 3-4 sets in the final week of the training phase.Rest periods following the speedy flywheel triple would be 3-6 minutes depending on how many weeks I am out from a meet, coinciding with heavier percentage lifts. 

Don't Leave Your Gains On the Table

For the sake of brevity and not turning this into an entire book, I’m only giving a handful examples of how to use flywheel training and some of the benefits it has provided me. As with all training, I encourage you to experiment, tinker, and find what works best for you. While flywheel training is certainly not new, it can be a novel way to increase your training stimulus, save you from getting beat up, and be another tool in the toolbox on your way to becoming the best athlete you can be.

About the Author

David has been strength training for over 10 years and  has been coaching people to become stronger and more muscular since 2017. He specializes in adapting training, nutrition, and supplementation specific to each individual. David has been married for 10 years to his wife Elise, and 3 little boys (Rowen, Emmett, and and Lito) and works full time in the oil and gas industry as instrumentation and automation technician.

2016 APF RAW Nationals, 82.5KG National Champion, Best Lifter

2016 WPC World Championships, World Champion, APF National record Squat,Deadlift,Total

2017 IPL Fitcon World Cup,  82.5KG winner, Best lifter, Deadlift World Record 711

2017 IPL World Championships, 82.5KG 2nd palce, Deadlift World Record 723

2018 IPL Fitcon World Cup 82.5KG winner RAW and Classic raw, Best lifter RAW and Classic Raw, Grand prize best raw lifter.

2018 Utah State championship 90KG RAW and Classic raw, Best lifter RAW and Classic Raw, Grand prize best raw lifter. 

2018 Strength X 82.5KG RAW and Classic raw, Best lifter RAW and Classic Raw, Grand prize best raw lifter.

2019  IPL Fitcon Powerlifting Cup 90KG winner Classic raw, Best lifter Classic Raw, Grand prize best raw lifter. 

Competition Best lifts 660 Squat RAW, 699 Classic Raw, 418 Bench, 766 Deadlift

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