I remember our first brainstorms about muscle adaptation to load. Not long before that moment, astronauts had walked on the surface of the moon where gravity is much lower than on Earth, (Earth: 9.81 M.sec2 = 1G; Moon: 1,62 M/sec2 0.2G).
So we discussed what the consequences would be for sports performances being performed on the moon instead of on earth e.g. further and higher jumps and further throws. Then the subject shifted to what would be the consequences for training on the moon like going there on a training camp for a few weeks, and come back to earth and compete.
I kind of forgot about this discussion but my conversation partner did not. It was the late Dr. Carmelo Bosco, at that time scientific consultant to the Italian Track and Field Federation and I considered him my mentor.
A few years later he published research articles about hypergravity training: he looked at the effects on the neuro-muscular system while continuously being exposed to slightly higher loads. He did this by having the athlete wearing a weight vest of 13% of their bodyweight during the day over a period of three weeks, excluding sleep and normal training.
Suppose you do squats with 2 times your body weight, so total 1G+2G = 3 G. And you perform 4 sets of 10 reps, total 40 reps. You might perform the squat in 3 seconds, going down and coming up again. Now 40 reps times 3 seconds = 120 seconds, or 2 minutes times 3 G = 6 Gminutes, this is the total load for your anti-gravity muscles or extensors. You can compare this to „time-under tension“.
Hypergravity training consists of wearing a weight vest of 13 % of your body weight = let us say 0.1 G, total 1G + 0.1G =1.1 G, but during 14 hours a day, (considering 8 hours of sleep and 2 hours of normal training in which you do not wear the vest). Now 14 hours is 840 minutes times 1.1 G = 924 Gminutes. Approximately 150 times more that doing the squats! What would be the effect for athletes? What do you think?
Dr. Bosco figured it out: great effect on explosive strength and a long retention time, which means that the training effects of a three week hypergravity period last much longer than for any comparable training method.
It’s not the intensity, but the time or duration factor that produced the result. We know this in daily life: if the sun exposure is constant, 5 minutes in the sun won’t do much, but 1 hour in the same sun will give you a tan.
There were a few disadvantages while using this method. First of all the social inconvenience of wearing a bulky vest for 14 hours (but at that time you could still go shopping in busy street without people panicking and calling the police) It was bulky and the mass was centered around the upper body only. While the 13% was OK to wear outside the track or field, training with the 13% extra was not advised due to the excess load on tendons and ligaments. These only adapt slowly to the sudden extra load.
Good news – things changed. We are now working with the same principle but with much better equipment due to better fabrics and materials, no more cotton vests and cramming little sandbags filled with sand or lead pellets in pockets.
Now we can work with flat, little weight pads of 50, 100, or 200 grams, easily Velcro’d over all relevant muscle groups: upper arm sleeves, fore arm sleeves, shoulders, upper body front and back, thighs and calves. Not only that, the special fabric also supplies you with compression so more blood will be shifted from the skin and be available for the working muscles.
You can now easily increase and decrease the loads, and place the loads where you want, arm, legs, trunk, not only for hypergravity use, but also for specific strength training. You can move, run, sprint and play while wearing it!
One little snag: be aware of the coaches who will ask for heavier weights i.e. 500 gr pads (the more, the heavier: the better!!). Then the athletes will no longer be able to move properly (think RoboCop) and the movement patterns will be disturbed and injuries will occur.
Bosco, C: Physiologische Betrachtungen zum Explosivkrafttraining unter Hyperschwerkraft-Bedingungen; Leistungssport, No.2, 1985, pg.19- 24. (in German)
Bosco, C; Rusko, H; Hirvonen, J:The effect of extra-load conditioning on muscle performance in athletes; Med.Science Sports Exerc. Vol.18, No.4, 1986, pg.415-419.
Bosco, C: Adaptive response of human skeletal muscle to simulated hypergravity condition; Acta Physiol.Scand.Vol.124, 1985, pg.507-513.
Bosco, C; Zanon, S; Rusko, H; Dal Monte, A; Belotti, P; Latteri, F; Candeloro, N; Locatelli, E; Azzarro, E; Pozzo, R; Bonomi, S: The influence of extra load on the behavior of skeletal muscle; Eur.J.Appl.Physiol.Vol.53, 1984, pg.149-154.
Rusko, H; Bosco, C: Metabolic response of endurance athletes to training with added load; Eur.J.Appl.Physiol.Vol.56, 1987, pg.412-418.