Beyond Reps Sets And Weight

What do comedy and weight training have in common? … It’s all about the timing. When I first stepped foot in a gym I had two things on my mind, get big and get strong. Shortly after these groundbreaking thoughts came reps, sets, and weight. Oh lord! The fun I was having manipulating these variables and watching myself grow. 3×10 turned to 4×12 which let to 6×8. Achieving higher Personal Records (PRs) and making once difficult weights into easy ones, this is invigorating.

Like most good things these fast paced gains did not last for long. Manipulating sets and reps (Volume), and weight stimulated my muscle enough to break my initial plateaus but my gains grew stale. I found myself frustrated and eventually accumulated multiple injuries from pushing too hard as well as over training. Finally I realized sets, reps, and weight are only the beginning. Variables such as intensity, rest-time (between sets and exercises), rep-tempo, and frequency/ time off/ de-load (weekly/monthly) are not only as important but when focused on, become game changers.

Intensity – The amount of work or force required to achieve an action or activity, and is proportional to the mass of the weights being lifted.

Yeah that’s the definition but what you really need to remember is to keep yourself in check, at least if you’re not looking to tear a pec or end up like the old man with back problems, walking around in the shape of an upside down upper case L. The key word in the definition is proportional. The right amount of intensity paired with proportional weight and reps WILL set PRs. Let’s make this simple, Joe is going to bench press. Let’s say, if Joe put forth 100% (blasting headphones, eyes popping, roaring like a lion) he hits 225 for 10. If Joe didn’t already induce a tear on this lift because it’s bound to happen soon.

Furthermore Joe’s chest will likely be sore beyond the 3-7 days he had planned to rest, making his next bench session far less progressive. Now let’s rewind. If Joe does 225 for 8 using high intensity but leaving two reps in the tank, he will avoid injury and have more energy for assistance lifts to improve his bench. Intensity will also vary depending on your goals and reps as a general rule assistance lifts should be between 50-75% of your max intensity.

Rest Time – The amount of time for recovery between sets or exercises.

The importance of this variable is greatly overlooked and every second counts. Generally speaking less rest between sets improves endurance and muscle definition gains, more rest will improve strength gains, and hypertrophy or muscular growth has a sweet spot in between. Let’s get general again 30-45 sec rest time for endurance and definition, 60-120 sec for hypertrophy, and 2.5-3.5mins rest for strength and power. Look at all the fun there is to be had simply in paying attention to how long you rest and correlating that with your goals. Doesn’t sound like fun?? Just wait until you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror next week….oh yeah RESULTS.

Rep Tempo – The speed with which an exercise is performed.

2-1-2 …what is that?? Other than a New York area code, it’s a great rep tempo for building strength. There are 3 stages of contraction to a rep and each one is a part of the tempo. The 3 stages of contraction are Eccentric, Isometric, and Concentric. I’m going to use the good old bench press as an example again.

  • Eccentric – Tension generated is insufficient to overcome the external load on the muscle and the muscle fibers lengthen as they contract (lowering the bar to your chest.)
  • Isometric – Muscle generates tension equal to external load without changing in length (holding the bar at your chest.)
  • Concentric – Muscle tension is sufficient to overcome the external load, and the muscle shortens as it contracts/ force generated by muscle exceeds the opposing load to its contraction (pressing the bar off your chest and completing the rep.)

In our 2-1-2 tempo the first 2 represents the amount of seconds the eccentric stage of the rep will take. The 1 represents the amount of seconds the Isometric stage will take. The last 2 represents how many seconds the concentric stage should be. Here’s a few Rep Tempos to try.

  • POWER – 2-0-X     X represents as fast as can be safely controlled.
  • Strength – 2-1-2, 2-1-1
  • Hypertrophy – 4-1-3, 3-1-2

Training frequency – How often an exercise/muscle group/movement is trained per week.

Denying your training frequency the planning and thought it deserves can easily lead to lost gains and overtraining. After a good squat workout your legs will be weaker for a period of time, this is due to activating, stressing/small tears, and tiring the muscles. During this “weaker” time period (3-6 days depending on intensity of workout) the muscle is regenerating. After these 3-6 days of recovery/regeneration the muscle will be stronger in order to deal with that weight/ workout more comfortably.

Once recovery/ regeneration of the muscle is complete, the muscle can handle and requires greater stimulus/weight to continue to grow. If you miss this window of opportunity the muscle will begin to weaken again, the muscle assumes these is no purpose for growth if there is no stimuli. This is widely known as the Theory of Super-compensation.

De-loading is a part of training frequency. It’s just a short period of time either with no weight training or training under %50 intensity with the same rep range that would usually be used for %75. It is common to de-load 1 week out of every 4 or sometimes even 2 weeks out of every 3 months. De-loading is a great way to let your body catch up on all its gains and prevent injury.