Saturday, January 5, 2019

Start With The Rep

Start With the Rep for Maximum Gains
by Ken Leistner, 1990. 

When people think about getting bigger and stronger, they generally think about individual body parts: huge pecs, wide lats, striated delts! They think about lots of heavy iron loaded on a bar; heavy bench pressing; a sweat soaked, incline bench under them; huge dumbbells being pressed upward, etc. They think about the glow of satisfaction that comes with the completion of a productive and intense workout.

They might also think about the admiring glances of others, the ability to intimidate the local tough guys, or success upon the athletic field. 

Few, however, think about doing ONE repetition; ONE REPETITION of anything. 

It may not be acceptable rhetoric, but every set begins and ends with a properly performed repetition. It may seem simple beyond words, but there cannot be a successful set without a series of proper reps - not a successful workout without a number of properly done and productive sets. If you then string together a number of well done workouts, and do so consistently, you will then reap the rewards offered by weight training. Still, it all begins with THE REPETITION. 

Each and every rep of each and every set must be done properly if one is to expect to make any type of progress. Yet, when people consider their lack of progress, they look to magazines, talk to friends in the gym, seek out a trusted training partner or coach, or review previous training diaries. They look to change exercises or the order of exercises. They either increase the reps per set, or lower them. They decide to train lighter or heavier, faster or slower, take more rest between sets or less rest, or train more frequently or less frequently. They pour over their lists of dietary dos and don'ts, increase, decrease, or alter their nutritional supplementation, and in the most tragic cases, consider using anabolic steroids or other dangerous drugs. 

It is almost unheard of to have bodybuilders or powerlifters give thought to the way in which they are doing their repetitions. Yet, without changing the program in any other way, the most significant changes in both the training itself, or the resultant productivity, can be brought about by changing the way in which one does repetitions. 

Despite the claims of the so-called experts, the building of muscle tissue mass for bodybuilding or powerlifting is more art than science. Many wish to make it seem a complicated and mysterious science or procedure, but the process of getting bigger and stronger is not particularly complicated or mysterious at all. One must consistently, over time, train in a manner that produces the desired stimulation the the muscles. 

Control the Weight

Throwing, tossing, cheating up the resistance produces force, due to the speed of the movement, that in some cases (especially if very heavy weights are being used), can exceed the ability of either the involved connective tissue and/or muscle tissue. This could result in injury, obviously. 

Throwing the weight means that one's body position changes as the resistance moves through its range of motion. Note: Remember that you can, by the way you position your body through the exercise's range of motion, make any exercise 'easier' or 'harder' and focus more or less of the stress on specific muscles. So, the muscle(s) that the particular exercise purports to work may not be working, and certainly won't be working as efficiently as possible, if you are throwing, tossing or cheating up the weight.

By making shifts and changes to the body's position, the angle at which the moving joint should be working may be altered, and that reduces the effectiveness and safety of the exercise. 

For example, in the barbell curl, when one swings the bar by extending the low back and hips - perhaps bending at the knees and quickly extending the thighs, and bobbing the head back and forth until the weight comes to the completed position- the lumbar spine is endangered; the shoulder joints are endangered; the elbow joints are endangered. The angle at which the curl should have taken place is altered - usually not to the trainee's advantage. Thus, the biceps and other forearm flexors do not get the work they should have benefited from, and of course, other vulnerable areas are exposed to an increased risk of injury.

Note: Now consider for a moment the opposite of a 'cheating' series of body placements in the barbell curl. With the arms fully extended and the bar in the beginning position, try leaning the body back slightly (the opposite of leaning forward to cheat up the weight). As the bar is raised, gradually lean the upper body forward at the hips/waist, until at the top/completion of the curl the body is slightly bent over to produce a stronger contraction on the biceps. Quite a difference, quite a huge difference there! 

For the sake of muscle growth stimulation, little tension is produced when momentum elevates the weight. Force plate studies have indicated that when a weight is literally thrown, the speed of movement of the bar may exceed that of the muscular contraction. Thus, the weight moves, the involved body part moves, and the contracting muscle has to "catch up" to the moving bone(s) - resulting in the production of little or not tension within that muscle or muscles throughout part or most of the movement. This is not an efficient way to stimulate growth. 

One must elevate the weight so that momentum does not play a part in its movement. I do not believe that it is necessary to use a certain time period to lower the weight. Common sense should dictate the speed of movement. However, most forget that it is important to lower the weight at least as slowly as it is elevated. 

As you get closer to momentary muscular fatigue, as you should in every set, you will have to try to move the weight faster. Fatigue and the progressive diminution of strength will prevent the weight from moving "quickly" - at least quickly enough to cause injury. Further, I believe that if you are training properly and really attempting to reach the point of failure/fatigue during each set, you will not be able to count. Why distract yourself from the job at hand? We always tell our trainees to push or pull "until your eyeballs fall out." If you're busy counting, you can't do this! 

A properly performed repetition is done slowly and through the fullest range of motion possible. 

It is elevated under control, and lowered under control. 

The trainee must attempt to visualize the muscle(s) as it works, and move the weight so that as much tension as possible, within reason, is produced by the movement. Some have gone to "super slow" training in order to do this, but for psychological reasons I think it is important to use an exercise style that allows the performance of proper reps with a "reasonable" amount of weight.

Training in a super slow manner may produce more tension than moving "slowly and carefully," but if you can only use 20% of the weight you would otherwise use, this can be very defeating, especially if, after months, you are still able to use weights that are relatively light. A balance must be struck between training hard and intensely - using proper form and controlled movement - versus training so that perhaps a bit more tension is produced, but in a way that turns one off to training so that it loses much of its potential productiveness. 

The bottom line is pushing to the limit, with as much weight as possible with each and e very rep contributing to the success of the set.


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