By Naomi Rabon, NW Fitness Team Member
When you hear the word “rep” what comes to mind? Is it just a small part of a set, which is a small part of a workout? And that workout is just one of the 5-6 you do in one week for a 12-week fitness program? So basically, a rep is a little speck of dust in the universe. So what difference does one little measly rep make in the grand scheme of a 3-month program?
Well … everything. Every single solitary rep matters. Not only that, but each part of each rep matters.
ALL THE RIGHT MOVES
There are three parts to a rep (most of the time), or three “states of being” that muscles go through during an exercise. We’ll use a biceps curl as an example. 💪
• Concentric A contraction that shortens the muscle, thereby generating force. Example: biceps contracting when lifting the weight.
• Eccentric The elongation of the muscle in response to a greater opposing force (weight plus gravity). Example: biceps extension when lowering the weight.
• Isometric A “static hold” where the muscle is generating force but the length of the muscle is stationary. Example: 3-second hold mid-way through a biceps curl.
NO REST FOR YOU!
I tell my clients that a set is a set and a rest is a rest. This means that a set is for work, and rest is only reserved for a rest-pause rep or a full rest period. There is no rest during a set, or else it’s not really a set anymore. It is a bunch of little sets broken up by rest-pauses or rest periods, right?
I teach my clients to make their muscles work during each and every single movement of the rep. We’ll stick with the biceps curls as an example. I generally see people engaging only in the concentric movement (lifting part) of the biceps curl. Then they just let gravity take over the eccentric movement by releasing the tension of the muscle and letting the weight drop down. At minimum, you should be doing two of the three movements: the concentric and eccentric. The isometric hold can be thrown in occasionally for intensity purposes.
You want to fight gravity when you lower the weight with the tension of your muscles as you are elongating them. Resistance creates a different kind of tension and engagement of the muscles than when you are lifting the weight up and squeezing. If you don’t utilize the eccentric portion of any exercise, you are missing half – if not more – of what you can get out of the rep! What a waste of a rep. You have to think in your head: “NO! My biceps are the ones dictating how fast or slow I lower the weight, not gravity!
GET THE MOST OUT OF EACH REP
1. Use The Big 3 Every exercise has, or can have depending on the intensity technique you’re using, three different muscle engagement possibilities: the contraction, the elongation and a static hold.
2. Work The Whole Rep Make every rep count! Just because it’s your first, fourth, sixth rep doesn’t mean you should lolly-gag through it until you get close to the end of a set before you start thinking about performance. Use controlled but powerful force on the contraction. Squeeze it! Do a 2-3 second static/isometric hold. Hold, hold, hold! Then keep a slow, controlled resistance as you extend or elongate the muscle. Extend! Resist! These are the words you can tell yourself in your head (not out loud, unless you’re working out at home 😉) as you coach yourself through each rep.
3. Work The Whole Set Unless you are lifting heavier than usual and incorporating rest-pauses, your muscles should be working either concentrically, isometrically or eccentrically each rep throughout the entire set. Don’t get lazy and rely on gravity or momentum. Use your muscles the ENTIRE workout unless you’re resting.
THE POWER OF ONE
The next time you find yourself just hum-drumming through a set of 12-15 reps, thinking that the early reps don’t really matter, think about what your muscles are doing and what you’re feeling. Are they squeezing? Are they lengthening? Are you letting gravity or momentum take over, or are your muscles in control of the movements?
If you don’t think one rep can make a difference, consider the Grand Canyon. It’s is the result of all single drops of water that chiseled it into the natural wonder we see today. Think of your physique as the Grand Canyon. Then think of each rep as a drop of water in every workout. Now think of what all those reps in every workout will do over time to transform your physique. 👍
ABOUT NAOMI RABON
One of the trainers on Nicole’s elite NW Fitness Training Team, Naomi is a certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is a NPC Figure competitor who has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over 12 years.