Let’s talk about one of the most important facets of weightlifting: Repetitions. It’s so easy for beginners, and even more experienced lifters, to get caught up in advanced routines, exotic supplements and complicated diets that the knowledge of how to perform reps properly can be overlooked, or forgotten. Reps are done in series – sets – with periods of rest in between. Yet doing something so basic correctly is fundamental to maximizing the result of everything else that goes into a training regime.
Performing repetitions the right way requires more than mindlessly moving a bar up and down, from point A to point B. On the simplest level, a correct rep requires an understanding of the exercise and good, fluid form. The targeted muscles should be doing all the work.
Conversely, poorly done reps can “water down” efforts by engaging other muscles and reducing growth potential in the desired area. An oft-made mistake is to perform a rep too quickly and jerkily, relying on the momentum of the weight to carry it through the movement, instead of the contraction and strength of the muscles. Not only is this ineffective, it increases the risk of injury. A slower, more controlled velocity that maintains tension on the target muscles provides maximum growth stimulus to the desired area.
On a more in-depth level, performing reps correctly can mean a number of things, depending on the style of lifting:
Explosive, during which the weight is lifted explosively upward, and lowered in a slow, controlled manner is the best way to perform your resp for maximum growth. This technique “fires” more muscle fibers. The slow controlled lowering of the weight on the eccentric portion of a rep is most important because this part stimulates the most growth.
How else can you lift?
- Slow and steady, whereby the weight is lifted up smoothly, held and squeezed, and lowered again, usually more slowly on the eccentric portion than the concentric (upward) movement. This style does not utilize the weight’s momentum, and involves controlled movements. It is well suited to exercises which work the muscles at the top of the weight’s trajectory.
- Holding and squeezing – this involves holding and squeezing the weight as long as possible at different points throughout the exercise’s range of motion, before proceeding through the rest of the rep. Certain exercises – barbell curls, for example, do not produce significant tension at the top of the concentric portion, in which case, this technique would be applied to a range of motion limited by muscle tension.
- A weight can be lifted over and over again without stopping, keeping the muscles under tension, providing them with no reprieve until all the reps in a set have been completed. Performing an exercise in this manner makes it tempting to lift fast, but should actually be done at a steady, controlled pace, rather than relying on the weight’s momentum.
- Lifting very slowly – “super slow” repetitions – is not as popular as it once was. It involves performing both the concentric and eccentric portions of an exercise very slowly and at roughly even speeds of about 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down, or about 20 seconds per repetition. I would never recommend anyone train like this.
- Weights can be lifted within a restricted range of movement. Instead of starting at the very bottom and lifting all the way to the top, a movement can be performed “in the middle” of the range of motion. This technique is favored by many top-tier lifters whose preference for it is based on the fact that it may reduce strain on the joints.
Tempo – lifting speed – varies. People have different preferences. However, the most common rep tempos involve a shorter concentric (upward) movement, a pause and squeeze half as long as the concentric movement, and a slower eccentric (downward) movement, longer than the concentric. Some lifters employ slightly faster eccentric movements and omit the pause altogether.
An ideal lifting temp for maximizing growth would be:
2 seconds to press the weight (concentric) – fast, powerful contraction
1 seconds pause at the top of the movement – squeeze the muscle at the top
3 seconds to lower the weight (eccentric) – slow, controlled, maintain tension
0 seconds pause at the bottom of the movement
What’s the Best Way to Perform Reps?
Performing an exercise following the lifting tempo above with strict form and a weight you can handle for around 8 reps is the best way to gain maximum muscle mass.
But there’s more: the ability to focus and concentrate. Thoughtlessly hammering one’s way through a set might be fun, but you are better served by observing what happens during every repetition: How’s your form? Are only the targeted muscles being worked? Are you locking your joints? Is your intensity even throughout the whole set? Paying attention will help you get the most out of any style of lifting.