The Importance of the REP

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The endless arguments in sports performance and strength training. What exercises should we do? How deep should we squat? Is the bench overrated? How much should we eat? The debates roll on and on and on. Yet we forget the biggest key. We forget the topic that matters most. We forget the means of execution that truly guides where our gains will be going!

What is it? 

 

The ONE thing that governs all of the training is the REP. When we sit back and analyze programming, periodization, mass building, strength gains, whatever it might be, the repetition and the means of that execution is the most telling aspect behind the performance.

As a coach, we must set up all of our goals and our analysis of our athletes based around the repetition. In 16 weeks, an athlete has to peak? Well, guess what?!?! We better understand what rep ranges they adapt to the best, we better understand how they execute their reps and understand what various means of execution tells us as coaches! Using the rep as the foundation behind programming is incredibly important because it is precisely what will determine the overarching success of the athlete. That is EXACTLY how we laid out the Mass Builder program!

 
 

Points of the Execution

To fully understand the absolute value behind the rep, we have to understand the points and patterns of movement and how it is executed. The execution will then tell us:

1. Weaknesses an athlete may have 

2. The goals of the set and even the training session.

Starting with the basic understanding that the rep is what determines time under tension. The length of time under tension and the dynamic focus of the movement will channel the focus of the goal of that particular set and even session. But how is time under tension determined?

The rep may start with the eccentric portion of the lift (think squats, benches) or with the concentric portion of the movement (think Olympic lifts, pull ups). Let’s get a true grasp on the eccentric movement.

 

During the eccentric phase, the muscle is being lengthened during the contraction. This is when most of the damage is done to the muscle which then leads to the renovation of the area. It is clear that a longer eccentric movement ignites more perturbations which leads to more satellite cell recruitment AND more renovation, thus more growth to that specific muscle or muscle group.

Controlling the eccentric portion can be extremely difficult, especially as loads increase in multi-joint movements like the squat or bench press. This control can lead to significant size AND strength gains dependent upon the entire set length.

As the eccentric phase is executed, the individual shifts into a slight isometric or amortization point of contraction. This is where the muscle does not shorten or lengthen but there is still force implemented onto the muscle or muscle group. For example, the athlete squats into the hole and there comes a point where they briefly do not descend or ascend, this point is the isometric contraction.

 

The isometric point or coupling time or amortization or turnaround can be manipulated based off individual goals. Want to improve squat depth? Hold the isometric longer! Want to enhance speed out of the bottom? Shorten the period of the isometric contraction. Want to increase time under tension? Make the isometric contraction a long period. The isometric contraction is poorly manipulated by MOST strength coaches while it can enhance stability and tension quite a bit. As the individual exits the isometric, they enter the concentric contraction.

During the concentric movement, the athlete is shortening their muscle length. Think about the pressing point of the bench press, the pecs are no longer lengthened but instead become shorter in length. Same for the squat, the individual drives out of the bottom and the quads AND hamstrings both shorten during the concentric movement.

 
 

The concentric movement is where athletes should understand their contraction FORCE output. One of the biggest keys and understandings we know from research is that the faster an athlete moves the concentric portion and the more focused on the intent to move the concentric rapidly, the more the athlete recruits high threshold motor units. If they repeatedly attempt to have an aggressive contraction force, this will also fatigue the high threshold motor units leading to a trained result! AKA GAINS!!!

 
 
 

Interpreting the Rep/Effort Analysis

It is important to know what types of manipulation will do what to training changes and results!

Controlled Eccentric: The controlled eccentric elicits a significant amount of damage on the muscle fiber, typically resulting in impressive gains in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. When an athlete or individual wants to gain mass, the focus should turn toward controlled eccentrics!

One of the other unique aspects behind controlled eccentrics is found in Olympic weightlifting. When athletes do heavier pulls or even hang based lifts, the controlled eccentric can imprint sound technical positions and slowly lead to strength gains through those positions. The eccentric portion enables an athlete to hold 110-120% more strength and this can carry over to the competitive movement!

Non-Controlled Eccentric: This is usually done in burn out sets for bodybuilders or with elite athletes looking to move heavy weight fast. There will still be a point of “control” but the main focus of the movement is control in the slightest form while entering rapidly into the amortization phase. Some research shows that the more rapid a stretch occurs, the more aggressive the muscle is lengthened, the more the body recruits high threshold motor units and the more the body signals to activate and proliferate satellite cells!

It is important to understand that this type of eccentric movement still has control but the descent is done in a faster manner than otherwise would typically be executed.

Rapid Concentric (contraction force): The concentric movement is one of the most error prone points of contraction. Many people exercising and training just slowly walk through the concentric movement. They don’t focus on anything and gradually execute the movement as though there was no point to move it fast or slow.

For starters, I NEVER tell my clients to move a concentric portion slowly. I believe that every single concentric movement should be done as fast as possible with the intent to move as fast as possible. When every set is done with the highest level of speed, the athlete constantly knows and feels how to move fast. The faster a concentric movement is, the more fibers are recruited and the stronger the individual will get.

 

In 2019, I was fortunate enough to coach Jordan Wissinger at the 2019 World Championships in Thailand. While there, I witnessed Lasha do some of the most impressive things while under the bar. This included a 210k snatch, a 255k clean and jerk and a MONSTER squat. One point of interest. Even when Lasha only had 70k on the bar, he was still squatting it as fast as he possibly could in the best possible positions. This lesson is important to remember.

Paused Isometric: The isometric contraction can either have a slow or longer duration. One of the major benefits behind manipulating the isometric contraction is an immediate gain in strength. This leads to more time under tension and a strong HOLDING position through that range. Paused isometrics in the squat can improve mobility and trunk strength dramatically while teaching excellent positioning.

Recap

Manipulating various portions of the rep can lead to various results. It is very important to understand the REASON and RESULTS needed for each training session to ensure the repetition is executed in alignment with the goals needed to be achieved. Various tempos and positions can significantly alter the strength gains needed for different modes of training!

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Dane Miller

Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of elite athletes building comprehensive programs for strength and sports performance. Several times a year he leads a seminar for coaches, trainers, and athletes.

 

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