Exercising one hour a week and getting the same results as traditional strength training might sound unreal, but University of Florida orthopedics researchers have developed a system that they say makes it possible. It’s based on a training principle that Winter Olympics gold medal winner Bode Miller has used in preparing for competition.
Called NeGator, it uses eccentric — or negative — resistance training, which capitalizes on the fact that the human body can support and lower weights that are too heavy to lift.
“So there’s this puzzle of ‘how do I lower something I can’t lift?’” said Michael Mac Millan, M.D., chief of spine surgery at University of Florida College of Medicine and a member of the UF Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Institute. “Well, it turns out that you need a little help.”
NeGator is there to lend a hand.
Through a system of motors, pulleys, cams and sensors it adds weight when a person is performing a lowering motion, and removes that weight when the person is lifting.
As a result, the body starts seeing loads, resistance and forces that it doesn’t normally see, Mac Millan said. “It responds by growth and development so we really tap into an unutilized potential.”
The researchers, who work out of UF’s strength science lab, use medical levels of specificity to determine the maximum effective dose of strength training each individual can safely and effectively manage during a full body workout.
“You want to go to complete muscular exhaustion in one set,” said fitness director Trevor Barone, M.S. “It’s one set, maximum effort.”
The team has distilled down to what a person needs to do to get the benefit of strength training while doing as few exercises as possible in as little time as possible as infrequently as possible. For each person, they figure out the exercise intensity from which the body can recover in a week.
“So you only have to — and you only should — work out once a week in order to get the right stimulus and the right recovery,” Mac Millan said.
That’s just fine with Jean Michelson, 53, who used to exercise “on and off” with traditional resistance training before starting her training on the patented NeGator system with Barone. The NeGator team hopes more people like Michelson will come in to the strength science lab to experience what it is like to train with NeGator. The technology has been licensed by UF and the researchers.
Now Michelson, a dietitian, said she’s not so bored with the squats, pull downs, rows and presses. And after a few months of training, she’s now lifting twice the amount of weight she could when she began her training program.
“I like it because I really feel like I’m much stronger when I’m done — I couldn’t squat when I started,” she said. “And it’s one day a week and I get good coaching.”
She recovers from her workouts more quickly than in the past, and has an easier time with day to day activities such as getting in and out of a car, she said.
Increasingly researchers and clinicians recognize that strength training is important for people, especially as they age, to enhance quality of life and maintain physical independence.
“If you don’t have adequate muscular support you’re going to be injured more, you’re going to do less, your mobility is going to be decreased,” Mac Millan said.
He and colleagues spent more than two decades laying the scientific groundwork and developing the processes and systems by which NeGator works.
Published research from the team shows that so-called eccentric training may protect the hamstrings from injury, and that it more effective than traditional resistance training at stimulating the body to produce growth hormone and testosterone.
The lab has submitted medical research grant proposals to the National Institutes of Health, and is conducting rehabilitation studies on how overuse and sports injuries respond to training with NeGator. Users are already being monitored as part of a longitudinal study.
UF’s rugby, lacrosse and Ultimate Frisbee teams rely on the NeGator team for help meeting their training needs in the limited workout time they have.