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Default 11-19-2005, 02:30 PM

If your goal is to get big, this is a must read..

The Rep Under a Looking Glass

The lowly rep gets taken for granted all to often in our quest for ever
increasing size and strength. It is the basic unit of work that makes
up weight training. Done correctly for the right number, the results
are staggering. Done improperly, each rep you do can potentially injure
you and NOT significantly contribute to your results. While we are all
different here are some generalities about rep speed and numbers.

Low Reps

When people spend time doing low reps, like 1-4 reps, they are
generally focusing on the strength component. Yes, some people build
great size doing reps this low, but for most people the time under
tension (TUT) is too low to significantly contribute to size gains.
What? Don't strength gains = size gains? Well, yes and no. Strength
gains using a rep range that is high enough to keep the muscle loaded
long enough to stimulate mass gains are what you are looking for, but
when you are only putting the muscle under a load lasting from 3-15
seconds you are primarily training the neural system to become more
efficient at “firing” the signal that tells your muscles to
contract. These high loads also help stimulate ligament and tendon

Low-Medium Reps

In bodybuilding circles low reps are generally thought of as 5-8 reps.
This rep range works very well for strength, and size is also built as
long as the reps aren't done too “fast”. This means that the weight
is controlled throughout the complete rep, i.e., it isn't heaved up,
and then allowed to drop during the descent. Like all things
bodybuilding/weight training related, some people respond better than
others to this rep range, some people build incredible size doing 6-8
reps, and for others, mostly strength is built. This has a lot to do
with muscle fiber composition unique to the individual, but can also
have a lot to do with how the individual rep is performed. More on this
to follow….

Medium-High Reps

Reps from 8-15 are what are traditionally done in bodybuilding to focus
on size at the expense of strength. It is the range most often used by
people doing “volume” training, and training for the pump. Because
the time under tension is increased this range works very well to help
accrue mass. As we will see in a minute any rep range other than very
low reps can all be very effective at stimulating size goals dependent
on how they are performed.

High Reps

Most trainees do not do high reps that start at 15 and go up to 50 or
even more. This is a shame because depending on how they are completed
they can be absolutely the best way to go for some muscle groups, for
some people. Legs especially respond well to higher reps, as do some
people's muscle groups that have primarily slow twitch fibers.

Now that rep ranges have been generically defined, what is the best way
to do a rep, and how many reps should a trainee do for optimal results?
Big question, and one that can't be given as a blanket statement, but
here are some guidelines. First about rep speed, look around you in the
gym and you will see people practically throwing the weights and others
lifting slowly and controlled. If you take a look at the people
throwing them and doing their lifts in a very fast, uncontrolled
fashion, one thing you will usually find as a commonality with these
people is that they are usually SMALL guys! Why is this? A few things
come into play here. One of the biggest reasons is that the eccentric
portion (lowering the weight) of the lift is the part of the lift that
is primarily responsible for muscle hypertrophy. The eccentric portion
of the lift is the part that is responsible for the muscle “damage”
that occurs during training, and this is one of the reasons your body
adapts to the training load by “super-compensating”, i.e., getting
bigger and stronger. Guys that throw the weight up and allow it to drop
are TOTALLY cheating themselves of the portion of the lift that is most
responsible for the growth they are trying to accomplish. They are also
not exposing their muscles to sufficient time under tension for optimal
growth. Doing a set of 8 with a ½ second positive and ½ second
negative exposes the target muscle with about a total of 12 seconds
loading by the time you take into account the short pause at the top
and bottom portion of the movement. Remember that:

Weight x distance x speed = work completed

With this in mind it becomes abundantly clear that all reps are NOT created equally!

Now do that same 8 rep set with a 2 second positive and 2 second
negative and you have about 32 seconds of loading, and a set that takes
about 45-60 seconds to perform counting pauses. Now you have something
that will effectively load the muscle, and keep it loaded for long
enough to increase both size and strength. This is an almost perfect
speed for most trainees and is a still fast enough to use serious
weight, yet still slow enough to load the muscles long enough for
effective hypertrophy training. Is two seconds up, 2 down the perfect
way to perform a rep? Not at all, but it does work very well for many
people. For pure strength training a slightly faster positive portion
can be performed while keeping the negative at 2 or three seconds works
great. Of course you need to keep in mind the range of motion of
whatever exercise you are doing will somewhat determine how long a rep
takes. A calf-raise has a MUCH shorter range of motion that say a
deadlift, so again all lifts are not done at exactly the same cadence.

What about going slower to increase the TUT? Is this the way to go? For
pure size gains I will state unequivocally YES! This is with the caveat
that you have the mental fortitude to do this type of training. Here is
why the average guy doesn't do as well with 4-8 second eccentric reps.
1) They are forced to use weights that don't stoke the ego. It's hard
for the guy that is benching 250 for 6 to drop it to 200 for 8 slow
reps. Makes him look bad in front of the guys. Never mind that if you
did the math (see the formula above) you would see he was actually
doing more work. 2) It HURTS doing reps this slow and the pain factor
simply makes most people cave-in before getting their work in.

So what are some good ways to increase TUT? Well you can increase the
reps. This works fine except for the fact that it forces you to use a
lighter weight thus reducing the actual load imposed on the target
muscle. You can just do more sets; this too increases the total overall
time your muscles are loaded for. The problem with this method is that
once your training volume reaches a certain threshold you have entered
the city limits of over-training where no growth is allowed within city
limits. Alternatively you can do intensity enhancing techniques such as
drop sets, or rest/pause that among other things significantly increase
your TUT. Drop sets work well for many people as they allow you to take
a weight and do your full allotment of reps using a nice controlled rep
speed, and then when you fail, instead of terminating the set you
immediately pick up a lighter weight and continue to do more reps. The
downsides to this are: 1) That after the weight is dropped you are now
lifting a lighter weight, thus the weight load perceived by your
muscles is lower. 2) Too much beyond failure training tends to
over-train many individuals. My favorite way of increasing TUT aside
from slowing down rep speed is rest/pause. Rest pause is done by taking
a weight you can get your target reps with, and then when failure is
reached instead of racking the bar, you rest/breath long enough to get
a couple more reps, then repeat the rest/breath sequence until your
target reps are completed. Typically, the reps beyond failure are about
equal to how many reps you got on the first portion of the set taken to
failure. So if you got eight reps before hitting failure, you would
then do 2 more, + 2 more, + 2 more, the 1 more making a total of 15
reps completed. One great feature of rest/pause is that the same heavy
weight is used throughout the set. So you now took a weight you could
only get 8 reps with, and instead of racking it, you rest ONLY long
enough to keep the set going. The downside to rest/pause is that like
any other beyond failure technique a little goes a long ways and
over-training will result for many people that do too many sets like
these. The classic 20 rep squat set is nothing more than a rest/pause

How many reps should you do? And how fast should you do them? I can't
tell you that because your goals and body is unique to you and you
alone. Here are some general recommendations though. I almost always
recommend 5-8 reps for bench press. Why? Because every damn person I
know wants a big bench, because for some reason when the average person
asks how much you can lift they are rarely asking what you can squat or
deadlift. For legs most people do best on higher reps. Again this is
not universal, but most folks build bigger wheels with higher reps. 10
as a minimum and as high as 50 works well. Do a all out set of 20 rest
pause squats or 30 rep leg presses as your leg workout until you add a
couple hundred pounds to them and tell me your legs are not looking
wicked. For arm work I like to have the trainee do some work with lower
reps (these don't necessarily have to be direct arm work either, heavy
back work slams bi's as does heavy chest work slam tri's) and some
higher rep work to cover all bases. If you are only doing strait sets,
the old scheme of doing one low (5-8) rep set and then doing a burnout
set of 15-20 works well for many people. I like people to train abs
HEAVY with reps in the 10-15 rep range because if you want a big squat
and deadlift you gotta have STRONG abs.

Back work is usually done for mid-range reps. One constant I have seen
is that MOST people do VERY well on high reps for shoulders. I like 10
reps as a minimum and eventually put most people on rest/pause for
shoulders because…..well…it just works for so many people. Any
muscles that you are able to train to failure, and then with minimal
rest, (15-30 seconds) you are able to get 3-4 more reps with are
usually prime candidates for high reps or EXTENDED rest/pause sets. As
far as rep speed goes a 1-1/2-2 second positive and 2-3 second negative
is a good speed for most lifts, for most people. A little faster is
permissible on lower reps and a little slower sometimes for mid and
higher reps work wonders for many folks. If you can successfully
integrate 4-8 second negatives into your program you may be absolutely
AMAZED at the growth it produces, and after a short time you will
probably find you are now doing the same weights you were doing before
at the higher cadence. To add precision to your sets get a cheap
wristwatch with a second timer. Now when you do say a set of 10 reps
time how long it took to perform these ten reps. Next week if you add
weight and are now doing the set in less time did you really accrue
strength? Probably not, all you did was decrease the loading by
performing the movement faster. Not what you wanted! All in all,
everyone needs to do a little bit of all rep speeds and ranges in the
long run to see what works best for them. But you already knew that huh!

Iron Addict
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