This article is part of a series on physical fitness and physical culture that I’m working on. To see a convenient summary and listing of my previous articles, please click here.
The VRT system takes a similar approach to exercise that of John Peterson’s Transformetrics. But it adds a few wrinkles and comes from a somewhat different starting point.
John Peterson never involved himself in weight lifting, and his whole approach to fitness rests on the principles of bodyweight exercises, Charles Atlas’s dynamic tension, isometrics, and calisthenics, mixed in with a lot of other similar disciplines.
Peterson then reworks and repackages this into his own system that he calls Transformetrics.
Elsewhere on this site, I have reviewed what I consider to be Peterson’s best book, the well laid-out Pushing Yourself To Power. You can read that review by clicking here. This book is an expansion on Charles Atlas and has many parallels, but in my opinion, it is more accessible and is modernized.
Greg Mangan is the independent creator of the VRT Megapump system. He comes at his system from a background of body building and weight training, and his discovery of this system was very much his own.
In high school in the 1960s, Greg became involved in body building, utilizing weights. He did this for about a year and, being a young developing teen, had some real development. His development was rapid and satisfying, but then other interests distracted him for many years. He held several jobs, studied premed zoology in college, and developed his illustration skills.
Later, at about the age of 24, he decided to work out again and try some bodybuilding. Instead of weights or a gym, he used a Bullworker. The Bullworker is a device invented by a German named Gert F. Kölbel. It has two telescoping spring-loaded tubes with handles on each end of the device. There are also cables or cords attached to the handles, and one can use this device for a variety of both isometric and resistance exercises. The Bullworker was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Here is a link to their site. One sometimes can find it at garage sales or order a new one from their site. I have heard some people complain about pain in their elbows using the Bullworker, but that may be because of faulty training methods.
Later, Greg also worked out at a gym with weights for a while, and the Bullworker and weights were his mainstay for around 6 or 7 years.
Once, when he was waiting his turn to use a piece of equipment in the gym, he noticed that if he did a bit of posing, stiffening up his muscles and flexing his arm mimicking a Bullworker exercise or a weight lifting move, he got a bit of “a pump.”
A pump is a feeling of warmth and fullness that a muscle gets when blood engorges it as the muscle moves against resistance when exercising. For example, if one does a set of dumbbell curls with a demanding weight so that 10th rep (repetition) is almost at the point of failure, blood engorges the biceps muscle and puffs it up a bit. That is what is called a pump. If you are not sure what I’m talking about when I refer to dumbbell curls, check out this explanation in one of my previous articles.
What Mr. Mangan had discovered was that if he stiffened his arm as hard as he could, visualized a very heavy dumbbell in his hand, and did the curl, he got that pump. He kept maximum stiffness, maximum tension, throughout the range of motion.
So there was resistance, all right, but is was an opposing muscle that provided that resistance. In the case of the curl, it was the triceps muscle in the back of the arm stiffening, resisting the effort of the biceps muscle. All our skeletal muscles are in pairs, extensors and flexors. The flexors contract, bending a joint so the angle decreases, and an extensor contracts, bending the joint so the angle increases. In the case of the curl, the biceps muscle is the flexor and the triceps is the extensor. Check out the illustration.
Greg realized that moving through those exercises as a warm-up, flexing his muscles hard while doing it, was in itself a kind of resistance exercise. He then began to wonder, what if he did the standard weight-lifting moves like military presses, curls, triceps extension, leg presses, using antagonistic muscles to provide the resistance? Could he get a decent workout? After a bit of experimentation and practice, he concluded that he could. Moreover, he felt that his newly-discovered system of exercise was as demanding as doing it with weights, if it was done properly and with sufficient focus.
As mentioned, Greg had a bit of a background in science, having been a premed major with a degree in zoology. He was interested in becoming a medical illustrator, so he could visualize the anatomy pretty well. He analyzed traditional weight training movements and concluded that all could be performed without using weights by using self resistance. And Greg began to devote his workout to his visualized resistance training. He really has not looked back since then. He calls this exercise principle Visualized Resistance Training (VRT) and his system the VRT Megapump system, a system using no weights and no equipment. He originally marketed his system through various fitness magazines and now sells it through Bronze Bow Publications, where he has a web forum. (See link below)
An interesting aspect of Greg’s VRT Megapump system is his emphasis on what we call the “positive” movement only instead of the positive and negative movement. To understand what I mean by positive and negative movement, consider the curl again.
If you are curling a heavy weight with proper form, you move it slowly and deliberately so you don’t lose control. As you bring the weight up, you try not to jerk it up. The part where you bring the weight up is called the “positive” movement.
But then, when you let it down, you let it down slowly, optimally slower than you curled it up. You’re actually getting valuable exercise as you break the pull of gravity on the way down. That is the so-called “negative” movement. Controlled negative movements have the added benefit of guarding against strain injury to the muscle. Oftentimes, when a muscle is too exhausted to perform one last positive movement, it can still do one or more negative movements.
What Greg found is that by maximally tensing his muscles on the positive part of the movement and then relaxing the biceps on the negative aspect while performing his VRT curl, completing this negative phase rather quickly, the fresh oxygenated blood rushed into his biceps, as the contracted muscle fibers were not clenching down on his blood vessels. Then, during the subsequent positive movement, he would curl at maximum tension, visualizing the heaviest weight he could possibly move, which resulted in the extensors fighting the flexors (triceps versus biceps in this case), squishing out the spent blood, which had absorbed the carbon dioxide and waste products the contraction had produced. Then when relaxed, fresh blood rushed back into the vessels during the next negative move.
That’s where this differs from doing a curl with a weight. In curling with a weight, it is bad form and potentially dangerous not to control the weight on the negative aspect, especially with heavier weights. But with a VRT curl, the muscle can be much more relaxed on the negative phase, making it easier for the heart to pump the blood into the muscle, giving it more of a pump.
The pump felt great and was even greater than he could get with a dumbbell curl, especially if he had put sufficient effort into the move. He discovered that this constant infusion of fresh new blood helped his muscles work harder. He calls that effect the “Megapump.”
This differs from the John Peterson approach, where Mr. Peterson has tension in both the negative and positive movements. It also differs from Mr. Peterson’s approach in that Greg is visualizing a weight, whereas John is, as he puts it, focusing his attention with laser-like focus into the sensation of the muscle itself moving under great tension. Both approaches aim to develop the sensitivity of the muscles to commands from the nervous system to contract maximally. Exercising is a learned skill, like playing the piano, involving developing pathways from the brain and central nervous system to the muscles. Practicing refines that pathway, that skill. I think Mangan and Peterson’s approaches both help develop that pathway.
To my way of thinking, both approaches are completely valid, and although a bit different, they are quite compatible. I use both.
Greg Mangan has put together a DVD-booklet package that I purchased and like quite a bit. The DVD shows you a workout based on traditional weight strength training exercises. If you have had a lot of experience in weight training, you might find Greg’s VRT Megapump system very approachable to physical culture without equipment.
You can visit Greg Mangan’s web forum at Bronze Bow by clicking here, and there is a link at the banner at the top of that forum to ordering his VRT package. Or, if you prefer, you can click here to get information about ordering it.
If you’ve tried the VRT system, or the Transformetrics system, let me know what you think. Do you like it as well as I do, or do you feel you get better benefit from other modalities? Do you use a combination of modalities, strictly bodyweight, self resistance, weights, or perhaps another approach completely?
I’d love to hear from you. So please leave your comments below.
The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living – Socrates