The Perfect Rep for Strength and Muscle
My article was recently published on EliteFTS, however I would like to post it here on the blog with a few extras for you.
When weightlifting or strength training, athletes tend to just try to get the job done and lift the weight or perform their prescribed number of reps any which way they can. They don’t focus on how they lift the weight. When strength training, you want every repetition to stimulate your muscles as much as possible to produce maximum gains. This is what I mean by how you perform a rep. Lift the weight not just for the sake of getting the job done but for producing maximum muscle stimulus for radical strength gains and, if you eat for it accordingly, hypertrophy gains.
Performing exercises using the tempo for each repetition that I do is the foundation of all my training and the results I get. It’s the most important aspect that my training hinges on. The modified rep system is the biggest contributing factor that has caused such explosive strength and muscle gains in a short period of time for both me and my clients. Yes, this rep system can be used with weights to produce great results. Resistance is resistance, and your body doesn’t know if it comes from body weight training or a barbell.
The goal here is to increase time under tension when on the lowering portion of each repetition and maximize force and power output on the upward portion to produce both strength and hypertrophy gains. We aren’t concerned with the number of reps but rather our focus is solely on the quality of each rep. Bashing out repetitions as fast as you can to perform the highest number possible won’t offer any benefit to your training. Let’s get this clear right now—the number of reps that you perform matters very little. The most important factor in your workout is the quality of each and every rep. Again, don’t focus so much on how many reps you’re performing but rather on the quality of each and every rep.
To explain the modified rep system, I’ll be using the pushup as an example. But these principles can be applied to nearly any exercise in this article as well as any of the various push-up, pull-up, and squat variations.
When you begin your rep, start by lowering your body. Using the example of the push-up, lower yourself by bending your arms until your chest is about an inch off the floor. This lowering portion of the lift is often neglected and ignored in strength training. Most people look to perform it as fast as possible so that they can crank out more reps. Doing so is foolish and limits your gains. When lowering yourself, keep the movement under control, contract all the muscles being used as hard as possible, and make sure that you move downward slowly as you do this. In total, the lowering portion of each rep needs to last for five seconds. This ensures that you have the optimal time under tension to get the best results possible. This does make each exercise more difficult than if you cranked out the reps as fast as you can, but the results you get from performing exercises using the modified rep system will be tenfold.
When I say that you must lower your body for five seconds, I don’t mean lower yourself so that the total time of downward movement is about two seconds with a pause at the bottom for three seconds before pushing back up. This is incorrect. The total time that you’re actually moving downward has to last five seconds. You may find this very challenging, but it’s very beneficial and will teach you to better recruit the muscles in use. The modified rep system involves spending as little time at the very bottom portion of an exercise as possible.
Now on to the upward moving portion of each exercise…Once you reach the bottom position, move upward as fast and explosively as you possibly can. You’re looking to generate as much force as your body is capable of. Maximum force and acceleration are key here. You want to be able to go from zero to sixty as quickly as possible. This is the display of true power. Once you reach the bottom of the push-up, press yourself up as hard as you can as if you were trying to knock someone out with a punch. By doing so, we will be effectively stimulating the nervous system and teaching the body to move in fast, powerful, forceful, and explosive movements. Who wouldn’t want that?
Now that I’ve touched on how to both lower yourself into an exercise and explode upward forcefully, I want to talk about the in between. Minimize the time between reaching the bottom position and exploding upward as much as possible. There shouldn’t be any pause at the bottom whatsoever. By pausing, you’re giving the muscles a chance to relax and are basically decreasing the amount of time under tension mid rep. It’s acceptable to rest for a moment in between reps but certainly not in the middle of one! For example, when performing a push-up, lower yourself slowly and under control for five seconds. Then as soon as you reach the bottom position where your chest is an inch off the floor, immediately explode upward forcefully, minimizing the amount of time spent at the bottom. You may then pause for a brief moment before continuing on to the next repetition.
Take care while using this rep system with any kind of deadlift. If you do, be sure to go lighter than usual in weight because the downward portion of this exercise causes many injuries. Many people just drop the bar on to the platform from the locked out position. If you choose not to use this repetition system with deadlifts, that’s fine, but I suggest doing so with lighter weights.
One and a half reps
Another way to overcome a plateau and stimulate your muscles using muscle confusion is to use 1.5 reps because these are a great way to build strength. Let’s use the push-up as an example. Lower yourself all the way down to the floor, come halfway up, go back down again, and then press yourself all the way back up. One and a half reps should be done in a slow and controlled manner. Speed and the number of repetitions aren’t the focus here. Instead, concentrate on contracting the muscle being used. Remember, you’re using a much bigger range of motion per repetition, so the time the muscles are under tension is much greater. Don’t be surprised if you’re performing significantly fewer repetitions than usual. The modified rep system doesn’t apply to 1.5 reps. Every part of a 1.5 repetition should be performed slowly and under control.
It isn’t just the weights you lift. It’s how you lift that’s important and can make all the difference in your training.