There is no shortage of fitness magazines you can read or internet sites you can visit to find training routines that will lead to, “Massive Muscles…Mind Blowing Strength… Faster Growth…A Championship Physique…Shredded Muscle” and a laundry list of other desired benefits of weight training. It’s interesting (and amusing) to read the scientific explanation given by the author as to why and how his program will succeed where others have failed. Provided is the reasoning for the systematic placement of each exercise, how they should be rotated, stacked, and staggered, as well as the specific repetition range, targets and percentage of one-rep-max that must be adhered to in order for the magic formula to work.
Without fail these routines typically…fail. Aside from the most obvious reason that no routine or specific formula can address or make up for the various intrinsic and extrinsic factors of all individuals, the second common reason why they fail is because they never address how the exercises should be performed. More specifically, they give no detailed instruction on repetition performance other than a few generic recommendations like, “Lift the weight under control. Don’t cheat.” or “Move slowly.”
It is impossible to provide anyone with a training routine or to follow a routine that is certain to produce the desired result unless you are assured that the exercises will be performed properly or in the manner intended. Although the repetition is the most fundamental element of weight training it is also the most overlooked, underappreciated, and misapplied component. This should not come as a surprise. Consider how many trainees (the author included) have stepped into a gym for the first time and had mapped out exactly how they will perform their very first repetition. It would not be a long shot to say none, unless the first visit was with a very mindful and detail oriented personal trainer.
Unfortunately, many bad habits are established within those first few months of training which for the majority will never be reversed unless conscious thought and effort is given to improving rep performance. Whether new to exercise or a seasoned veteran, it serves one well to be very clear about the purpose each repetition serves. It should not be to simply move the weight from point A to point B—that’s a simpletons approach. The purpose of each repetition is to maximize muscular tension and force output so as to effectively recruit the greatest number of muscle fibers available and deplete the muscles chemical resources (ATP and glycogen) while minimizing the force and strain placed on the joints and tendons. This is best accomplished by moving at a tempo slow enough to keep momentum from becoming a contributing factor in the completion of each repetition and being able to feel the muscles at each point of the range of motion.
Fast repetitions (i.e. 0.5-2 seconds to lift the weight, 0.5-2 seconds to lower it) utilize momentum to carry out a better part of each repetition whereas repetitions performed slowly (i.e. 4-6 seconds to lift the weight, 4-6 seconds to lower it) must rely on the muscular force generated in order to complete each rep. Moving slow makes performing the exercise harder and as we know, the harder or more demanding an exercise is the greater the likelihood of it encouraging a physically adaptive response.
Effective weight training begins and ends with the repetition. It is the foundation from which every set of every workout is built, and will be a determining factor in any programs success. Address the rep and everything else will begin to fall into place.
Michael Lipowski is the author of Pure Physique: How to Maximize Fat-loss and Muscular Development, President of the International Association of Resistance Trainers and a Professional Natural Bodybuilder. Michael can be contacted at MikeL@ExerciseCertification.com or visit www.PurePhysique.com and www.ExerciseCertification.com for more information, articles and books.