7 Steps to the Perfect Rep
Practical Advice on Exercise Performance
The perfect repetition is the most basic of all strength training principles. It influences all the loading parameters, such as sets and choice of exercise. Yet, most trainees fail to observe the basic guidelines for performing the perfect rep. Hence, they don’t progress as quickly as they could.
Executing the perfect repetition comes from within. Here are seven steps to help you get the most out of your training:
Step 1: Be clear on how an exercise should be performed. Proper technique must be clear in your mind before you begin an exercise, as your results are directly proportionate to the extent you understand how an exercise should be performed. If you are not certain what perfect technique is on an exercise, book a consultation with a qualified trainer.
Step 2: Use the proper start position. Most people are already in a faulty position before they start the rep. In the front squat, for example, your elbows should be up and in, the bar must be slightly choking you, your torso should be as upright as possible, and your feet should be shoulder-width apart and externally rotated slightly. If you are not in that position, you are already starting to waste the rep. Also, beginning with the elbows too low in this exercise puts enormous strain on the scapulae retractors and many other muscles of the shoulder girdle. It also accentuates the load on the lumbar discs.
Step 3: Begin with the end in mind. The proper mindset is critical. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that you should always ask yourself, “Why am I doing this set?” Answering this question will give you the right mindset. Let’s say you have two more sets of deadlifts, but you want to go home. Knowing that those perfect reps will pack on mass and strength on the whole posterior chain will fire you up to stay in the gym and grind out those last two sets.
Step 4: For maximum hypertrophy, feel the muscles, not the weight. Instead of focusing on the external (the weight), focus on the internal (the muscles). Starting to apply this principle with single-joint exercises, such as incline curls, is much easier than compound exercises, such as squats.
For incline curls, pretend your mind is inside your elbow flexors. Focus on the force of the contraction during the concentric range and the stretch of the eccentric range. Fire your antagonistic muscles (triceps) as you hit the bottom range. This last suggestion will provide a greater stretch of your elbow flexors and augment the force of the next concentrate rep.
Step 5: For maximal strength and power, feel the speed. Concentrating on accelerating the load will tap into the higher threshold motor units, especially as evolve through the set and the reps are getting harder. Research shows that concentrating on the speed of the concentric contraction helps shift the force/time curve to the left, hence producing a greater rate of force development.
Step 6: Count down the reps. Begin every set with a definite goal for the number reps – let’s say five. As you begin your set, count, or have your partner count down the repetitions: 5,4,3,2,1. Why? It keeps your mind focused on the task at hand, not on the outcome. When you count upwards, you tend to let your mind wander with anxiety about whether you will complete the set or not with thoughts, such as, “Will I get stuck at 4 reps?” This trick also allows you to be more present during the sets, hence improving your rate of progress.
Step 7: Make certain the first and the last rep look the same technically. The technical limit is a concept that I first heard about from Ian King. In the effort to handle progressively heavier loads, there is a temptation to use the heaviest weight possible without regard for technique. Classic technical errors are excessive momentum to lift the weight, deviation from the correct movement pattern, and shortening of the range of motion. Keep in mind that the actual training load—the one that determines results—is determined by the weight you are using and how you are using it.
On a given set, perform as many repetitions as you can within the technical limit. When you reach momentary muscular failure within the technical limit or go outside of the technical limit, you are done for the set. The use of cheating movements to get more repetitions is counterproductive. It teaches bad motor patterns and interferes with the recovery of the motor units (functional units of nerve and muscle) that were trained properly until that point in the set. You have gone outside technical limit if any of the following faults occur:
• Use more momentum to lift the weight,
• Deviate from the prescribed movement pattern.
• Lose full range of motion.
Consider that your concentric tempo can slow down as you fatigue. This is not a problem, as long as your intent is to lift the weight at the prescribed speed. Again, increases in load should not come at the expense of technique. To get the full benefit of any program, respect the concept of the technical limit.
Churning out perfect reps set-after-set is paradoxically simple and complex at the same, and is the foundation of productive training. Pay attention to perfect form and you are on your way to optimal results. After all, in life, you either have a result or an excuse!