Weight releases (AKA eccentric hooks) are the ultimate training tool for destroying strength plateaus and packing on slabs of functional muscle mass. They allow you to perform supra-maximal eccentric training and overload the lowering phase of an exercise!
- Part 1: The Benefits Of Weight Releasers (psychological / neurological / physiological)
- Part 2: Multiple Eccentric Singles
- Part 3: Eccentric Cluster Sets
- Part 4: The 1+2 Method
- Part 5: The 3 To 1 Method
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to use weight releasers to build muscle mass and strength.
Weight releasers are large metal hooks that help you overload the eccentric or lowering phase of various exercises including bench presses and squats.
During the lowering phase of an exercise they make the barbell heavier. However, once you reach the bottom of the exercise they fall off and hit the ground. This makes the exercise much heavier on the way down and much lighter on the way up.
Two of the most effective exercises for using weight releasers include the squat and the bench press.
Here is a video of someone using weight releasers on the squat:
And here is a video of someone using weight releasers on the bench press:
Weight releasers are so effective because they let you overload the eccentric or lowering phase of an exercise. This is known as “accentuated eccentric training” or “supra-maximal eccentric training.”
In part 1 of this comprehensive guide I will cover the scientific reasons why weight releasers are so effective. Then in parts 2-5 of this guide I will teach you 4 of the most effective ways to design a workout featuring weight releasers.
Some of these methods include cluster sets and contrast sets. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this cutting edge information!
Note: if you have any trouble reading the training routines covered here then this article is for you.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: The Benefits Of Weight Releasers
The primary reason weight releasers work so well is they allow you to overload the eccentric range of your repetitions. Here are just a few of the reasons why they work so well:
- They Help You Recruit The “Survival Fibers”
- They Promote A Shift Towards A More Fast-Twitch Profile
- They Place More Tension On Your Muscle Fibers
- They Increase Both Eccentric And Concentric Strength Levels
- They Increase Your Confidence With Heavy Weights
Let’s take a closer look at each of these benefits:
Weight Releaser Benefit #1: They Help You Recruit The “Survival Fibers!”
Most trainees know that there are three main types of muscle fibers:
- Type I muscle fibers (slow-twitch)
- Type IIA muscle fibers (fast-twitch)
- Type IIX muscle fibers (very fast-twitch)
This is a useful model but it does not show the whole picture. In reality there are as many as 27 different types of muscle fibers! Each of these 27 different types of muscle fibers have their own unique properties. They all fall somewhere on the following scale:
Slow Twitch <————————————–> Fast Twitch
Most trainees have some extremely fast-twitch muscle fibers that are difficult to recruit with more normal training methods. The world-class strength coach called these “survival fibers” because they are only called upon in near life or death situations.
Fortunately there are training tools such as eccentric hooks that you can use to teach your body to recruit these fast-twitch muscle fibers. Let’s use the bench press as an example.
When you are lowering the weight down your brain gets the message that you are about to be crushed by an unbelievably heavy weight. Your body is going to call upon literally every muscle fiber available to prevent the weight from crushing your chest! This includes the hard to recruit survival fibers.
If you use weight releasers on a semi-regular basis then your body will learn to recruit these survival fibers during more normal sets as well. Over the long run this will help you build size and strength at a much faster rate.
Weight Releaser Benefit #2: They Promote A Shift Towards A More Fast-Twitch Profile!
There are two main types of muscle fibers:
- Fast twitch muscle fibers
- Slow twitch muscle fibers
The scientific literature has repeatedly shown that the fast-twitch muscle fibers are the ones with the greatest potential for growth.
It would be great if there were a way to take your slow-twitch muscle fibers and somehow turn them into fast-twitch muscle fibers. Unfortunately the scientific literature has repeatedly shown that this is not possible.
If you were born with a large percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers and a smaller percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers then that is what you are stuck with.
However science has shown that you can make your slow-twitch muscle fibers *behave* more like fast-twitch muscle fibers. In other words you can influence your slow twitch fibers to have properties and characteristics more like fast-twitch fibers.
As far as we know there is only one training method that can do this: supra-maximal eccentric training. When you lower weights down under control that are greater than your 1-rep max you actually make your muscle fibers act more like fast-twitch fibers.
There are many ways to perform supra-maximal eccentric training but using weight releasers or eccentric hooks is one of the easiest and most effective ways.
Weight Releaser Benefit #3: They Place More Tension On Your Muscle Fibers!
You may not know this but your nervous system operates differently during concentric and eccentric contractions. During eccentric contractions your body actually recruits 50% fewer muscle fibers.
This is actually a good thing because the muscle fibers that are actually recruited have to contract harder than normal to slowly lower the weight.
In fact research has shown that your muscle fibers are exposed to 1.3 times more mechanical tension during eccentric muscular contractions as they are during concentric muscular contractions. And this is with normal weights!
When you use weight releasers to lower supra-maximal weights the mechanical tension on your muscle fibers goes through the roof! I
n other words the quality of the strength training stimulus is way higher when you use eccentric hooks than it is when you perform more traditional reps. This has profound implications on your long-term ability to build size and strength.
Weight Releaser Benefit #4: They Increase Both Eccentric And Concentric Strength Levels!
Most strength and physique athletes care more about how much weight they can lift than how much weight they can lower down under control.
It may seem kind of silly to use a training method that overloads the lowering phase of an exercise if that isn’t what you’re trying to get better at. Fortunately both the scientific literature and real-world experience has shown that accentuated eccentric training increases both your eccentric strength AND your concentric strength!
In many cases heavy eccentric reps improve your concentric strength more than heavy concentric reps!
The first proof of this can be found way back in the 1940s when Bog Peoples became one of the fist men to deadlift over 700 pounds. To make this even more impressive Bob only weighed about 180 pounds at the time!
Bob’s secret weapon for building a world-class deadlift was actually eccentric-only deadlifts. He would use a tractor to lift the weight up to lockout and then he would lower it down to the ground under control.
Of course it’s virtually impossible to perform eccentric deadlifts with weight releasers. However, the point still stands: lowering supra-maximal weights with weight releasers boosts not only your eccentric strength but your concentric strength as well.
Weight Releaser Benefit #5: They Increase Your Confidence With Heavy Weights!
This last benefit is very important for powerlifters and other strength athletes. One of the most difficult aspects of performing a 1-rep max is getting used to the feeling of a really heavy weight in your hands or on your back.
Weight releasers are one of the best tools you can use for overcoming this fear and increasing your confidence with near-maximal weights.
Weight releases actually allow you to safely lower a weight that is greater than your 1-rep max. This means when you do max out the weight is going to feel relatively light in your hands and on the way down during the lift. This confidence boost can mean the difference between smoking a 1-rep max and getting crushed in the bottom position.
If you are looking for a more thorough analysis of the science of eccentric training then I highly recommend the following article:
In that article I take a deep look at the scientific literature as it relates to accentuated eccentric training protocols. I also include plenty of sample training routines so that you can start applying what you learn in the gym.
Part 2: Multiple Eccentric Singles
Now we’re getting to the good stuff: I’m going to teach you 4 of the most effective weight releaser training programs of all time! Weight releasers are a very strange training tool.
It is difficult to perform multiple repetitions in a row with them because they fall off the barbell after just 1 rep! For that reason most of these routines feature relatively lower reps.
The first and most obvious way to structure a weight releaser workout is to perform multiple sets of single repetitions. I recommend you perform around 6-8 sets of singles and rest 3-5 minutes in between each set. Yes, this is a lot of sets.
You do NOT want each set to be an all-out effort! Instead you want to use a weight that is challenging but let’s you complete all 6-8 sets without too much difficulty.
Here is a sample squat routine you may want to try. Check it out:
Back Squat Weight Releasers Workout
- A1: Back squat with weight releasers (medium stance / heels flat)**, 6-8 x 1, 10/0/X/0, 240 seconds rest
- B1: Lying leg curl (feet plantar flexed / neutral), 4 x 5-7, 3/0/X/0, 75 seconds rest
- B2: Triple jumper’s step up (holding DBs), 4 x 5-7, 2/0/1/0, 75 seconds rest
- C1: 45 degree back extension (band tension), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
**Use 80% of your 1-rep max on the barbell and an additional 5-20% of your 1-rep max on each weight releaser. The total weight on the eccentric range should be 90-120% of your 1-rep max while the total weight on the concentric range should be 80% of your 1-rep max.
If you have never used weight releasers before then I STRONGLY recommend you start out at the lower end of the training percentages listed.
In other words you would load the barbell with about 80% of your 1-rep max. Then you would load each weight releaser with another 5% of your 1-rep max. This includes the weight of the weight releaser AND any extra weight that you add to it.
The total weight on the eccentric range with the weight releasers should be about 90% of your 1-rep max and the total weight on the concentric range should be about 80% of your 1-rep max.
Don’t worry, the slow eccentric tempo will make this weight feel very challenging. Remember, you have to use a 10-second lowering phase on every rep! If you lower the weight faster than this then you run the risk of injuring your knees or some other body part.
If you are not able to lower the weight over 10 seconds then the weight is too heavy and you need to lighten the load.
Most trainees find that their eccentric strength levels increases very rapidly on a routine like this. Do not be afraid to start increasing the load on your 2nd, 3rd or 4th time repeating this workout!
Part 3: Eccentric Cluster Sets
I mentioned earlier that it is very hard to perform multiple repetitions with weight releasers. I’m going to have to eat my own words here: it is possible to perform multiple reps with weight releasers if you use cluster sets!
If you are a long time reader of Revolutionary Program Design then you probably already know that I am a huge fan of cluster sets.
The most popular cluster set training protocol involves performing 5 sets of 5 reps with 15-20 seconds rest in between each repetition. This set / rep scheme is unbelievably effective for building maximal strength and functional hypertrophy.
It turns out that clusters work great when paired with weight releasers! After each rep you walk to either side of the barbell and re-load the weight releasers on. Then you perform your next rep before the 15-20 second rest break runs out.
Here is a perfect demonstration of bench press cluster sets using weight releasers:
Cluster sets is easily one of the most effective set / rep schemes to use when using weight releasers. The multiple repetitions are great for practicing your exercise technique and they are less taxing on the central nervous system when compared to maximal singles.
Here is a sample bench press / upper body routine you may want to try. Check it out:
Bench Press Eccentric Clusters
- A1: Bench press w/ weight releasers (medium grip)**, 5 x 5****, 10/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Medium supinated grip chin ups, 5 x 5****, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Seated ez-bar french press (narrow grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Standing unilateral cable external rotations (arm adducted), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Use 80% of your 1-rep max on the barbell and an additional 5-15% of your 1-rep max on each weight releaser. The total weight on the eccentric range should be 90-110% of your 1-rep max and the total weight on the concentric range should be 80% of your 1-rep max.
****Performed as a Poliquin-style cluster set. Rest 20 seconds in between each rep. During the rest period you will pick up the weight releasers and place them back on the barbell in preparation for your next rep. See the video below for more details.
You don’t have to alternate back and forth between pressing exercises and pulling exercises as shown above if you don’t want to. However, in my experience using antagonistic supersets is a great way to get more work done in less time and to improve your performance over the course of a workout.
Part 4: The 1+2 Method
The 1+2 method is easily one of the most popular loading schemes to use when training with weight releasers. Here is how it works:
- Step 1: Perform 1 rep with weight releasers. The weight releasers will be on the barbell during the eccentric range of the rep and will fall off in the bottom position before the concentric range of the rep.
- Step 2: IMMEDIATELY after performing your 1st rep you perform 2 additional repetitions. These 2 extra reps will be performed without the weight releasers on the bar.
In other words you perform 1 rep with the weight releasers and then immediately perform 2 more reps without the weight releasers. Here is a perfect video demonstration:
Here is a sample training routine you may want to try. Check it out:
Back Squat 1+2 Routine
- A1: Back squat with weight releasers (medium stance / heels flat)**, 3-5 x 3****, 8/0/X/0******, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in), 3-5 x 5, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Front foot elevated DB split squat, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: DB stiff legged deadlift, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Use 80% of your 1-rep max on the barbell and an additional 5-20% of your 1-rep max on each weight releaser. The total weight on the eccentric range should be 90-120% of your 1-rep max and the total weight on the concentric range should be 80% of your 1-rep max.
****Perform 1 rep with the weight releasers. Immediately after completing the first rep perform 2 more reps with just the barbell weight.
******Use an 8-second eccentric on the first repetition and a 3-second eccentric phase on the second and third repetitions of each set.
The 1+2 method works so well because the rep with the weight releasers compliments the rest of the set. You definitely won’t have any issues getting your strength gains to carry over to the regular movement with “straight weight.”
The 1+2 method is also very time efficient. You don’t have to perform a large number of sets in order to get a really high quality strength training stimulus.
Part 5: The 3 To 1 Method
The 3 to 1 method might be the single most powerful loading scheme that you can perform with weight releasers. It works unbelievably well for building both maximal strength and functional hypertrophy.
The 3 to 1 method is performed as a contrast set. You are going to alternate back and forth between sets of regular triples and sets of singles with the weight releasers. For example:
- Set #1: Regular triple
- Set #2: Single with weight releasers
- Set #3: Regular triple
- Set #4: Single with weight releasers
- Set #5: Regular triple
- Set #6: Single with weight releasers
The triples are performed with a weight that is around 85-90% of your 1-rep max. For the singles I recommend you use about 80% of your 1-rep max on the bar and an additional 10-40% of your 1-rep max between the two weight releasers.
Here is what a sample bench press routine might look like:
3 To 1 Bench Press Routine
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 3 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- A2: Bench press with weight releasers (competition grip)**, 3 x 1, 10/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: DB floor flys, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Decline ez-bar extensions (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Use 80% of your 1-rep max on the barbell and an additional 5-30% of your 1-rep max on each weight releaser. The total weight on the eccentric range should be 90-140% of your 1-rep max while the total weight on the concentric range should be 80% of your 1-rep max.
I recommend you stay conservative with the weights that you use on the first couple of sets. If you are feeling strong you can increase your weights as you work your way through the workout.
The 3 to 1 method operates on the principle of post-tetanic potentiation. This is just a fancy way of saying that the contrast sets “excite” the nervous system and allow you to lift heavier loads than normal. You may find that by your 5th set you are lifting a weight that exceeds your normal 3-rep max on the bench press!
I recommend you have at least some experience with weight releasers and other forms of accentuated eccentric training under your belt before you use this training method. If you are more of an intermediate level lifter then any of the other routines listed in this article will probably give you better results.
Weight releasers or eccentric hooks are easily one of the most powerful tools you can use to break strength and hypertrophy plateaus. They are frequently used by some of the world’s best strength coaches such as Josh Bryant and Christian Thibadeau for one simple reason: they produce results!
If you are at all interested in purchasing a pair of weight releasers I highly recommend you do so. They are well worth the investment!
If you want more help with using weight releasers to blast through strength and hypertrophy plateaus then I highly recommend you check out my online coaching program. I have had a lot of success using weight releasers with my more advanced coaching clients.
More importantly I know the right times to use them and when it is best to back off and use more traditional training methods.
“Hard work and training. There’s no secret formula. Lift heavy, work hard and aim to be the best.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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