Take away all the bells and whistles, and weight training in its purest form involves moving a resistance from point A to B, through the process of repetition. Hit the muscle often enough with an appropriate amount of resistance, and structuring your program with enough recovery and you get bigger, stronger, faster etc.
Not matter what style of training you follow, one basic fundamental stand-alone and that is the simple rep. No matter if you are training heavy, light, use drop sets, supersets or any other method for that matter - we are all bound by repetition. So whilst we might all have something in common, we are not so lucky when it comes to application.
In our attempt to get more from our training, we are always looking at ways to generate greater amounts of overload. Overload is your muscles best friend. To generate the -RIGHT' training response (progression), you need to overload the muscle.
Think overload, and instantly more weight gets added to the bar and here we have the training principle of progressive overload. Progressive Overload means exactly that - increasing the stress the muscle is subjected to from session to session.
Increasing the weight on the bar is really just one method for generating greater levels of overload. There are literally hundreds of them out there, but no matter how outrageous they sound they still share the basic fundamental that is performing an exercise for repetition. It really is THAT important!
So what actually is the Rep?
To the untrained eye, the rep is simply the action of picking up a weight and -moving' it from point A to point B. This must be it because if you venture into any gym in any town, this is what 90% of the trainees will be doing - weight in hand and -going through the motions'.
Well unfortunately, going through the motions just doesn't cut it. I wish it did, we would all be a whole lot happier, and a whole lot bigger. I honestly think I spent the first 5 years of my training life going through the motions - no wonder nothing happened!
But lets look at it in a little more details. From the onset, you can break the rep down into two main phases. The first being the concentric (the muscle shortens during the contraction - i.e. - up phase in the bench press), followed by the eccentric (where the muscle lengthens under load - i.e.: lowering phase in the bench press) phases of the rep. You could even add in the isometric phase (where the muscle is under full contraction against an immovable resistance - i.e.: the second in which you hit muscular failure) but still there is just a little more to it.
It's all about performance
The performance of the actual rep can be as equally challenging. For instance, taking rep speed into account there are so many schools of thought, each proclaiming their own unique benefits over the rest! We have fast explosive reps, super-slow, controlled reps, rest/pause, reps performed to a time cadence etc - the list goes on.
So what is the best for you? Well you might need to experiment a little here. I don't think the set time works for most athletes, and fast explosive reps seem to be one of the most abused principles performed in any gym. A lot of new guys see explosive reps as a way to simply throw more weight around, but generally their form goes way out the window in an attempt to -ego' the weight up.
Simple strategies to get the best out of ANY style of training you employ
As there are so many different quirks people use in their own training, it would be ignorant of me to come in and try to change everyone's perception to use only one manner of training - I will leave that up to the hustlers. What I do want to talk more about though is the performance of YOUR rep, or in other words the ways in which you approach the simple rep. Maybe with a few twists and turns we can simply get more bang for your buck.
What's your focus?
Sounds simple enough, but lets look a little more in depth. As you stare at the loaded bar on the bench and you are about to attack that -personal best' weight, what is your focus? You are thinking about blasting the weight up! If this is a 1 rep single, that is all you are focusing on - getting that one rep. If you are going for reps, you would be focusing on the number of reps. But very, very few athletes would be looking at that bar and focusing on the deep stretch, intense contraction and working the targeted muscle to it's best potential. Even though the muscle should come first, in 99% of the times we focus on moving the bar from point A to point B.
Breaking it all down for increased results!
Every exercise has there own set technical parameters that need to be adhered to for optimal performance. I won't delve into every exercise, but for example purposes, we will focus on the bench press. The following information can be applied to any exercise, just adapt it as you need to.
First thing is first. Looking down the barrel, what are you trying to achieve with this set (firstly breaking it down to the individual rep)? The core goal should be to simply place the intended muscle group under as much stress as possible. This isn't always moving the most amount of weight, but the greatest -stress'. It is how your body recovers from this stress will determine how much strength/size you build. Performance is ALWAYS number 1.
So we move into the exercise, your intensions need to remain clear, your intensions set and you need belief in your abilities. Set yourself up on the bar, prepare to lift and lift off - now what?
As you lower the bar (and this is big), you want to lower it under complete control. As you lower, you want to feel the pecs stretch and the tension build. The speed of the bar isn't really that much of a concern, but it is easier to control the bar when you control the decent speed. If you just drop the bar you won't really get the same feel.
From this bottom position, what should be the very first thing to happen? The DRIVE - you are exactly right! Everything is tight so all we do is reverse the path the bar has taken, but again remember the purpose of this exercise. We are targeting the chest, not just moving the bar. Taken into account, you should be feeling an intense contraction within the pecs. If you are not feeling the contraction, then it is fairly safe to say that this exercise is missing the mark and your form is off. If you cannot feel the pecs doing the work, then you are not working the pecs - period.
As you continue to drive, as you near lockout stop the rep about 2 inches short as this will help to keep tension on the intended muscle group, and then start the decent again. Keep pumping the reps out in this deliberate and controlled manner until you reach momentary muscular failure (or your pre-determined number of reps), then lower on your pre-set safety pins on the bench or have your spotter assist you to lock out. That's it!
So the next time you are in the gym and ready to tear it up, remember that its not just about moving weight or even the style of training you employ. Break it down to its simplest component (the rep) and get the most out it you can. A focused, controlled and deliberate action will enable you to get the best from your training. That at the end of the day is what is most important isn't it?
It's all about heart, determination and a never say die attitude, both inside and outside the gym. That's all the insight you need right there!
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