Lewis Bowling: Take the time to perfect your reps

Apr. 17, 2013 @ 01:44 PM

This week I will cover the “perfect” repetition. It seems to me that if a person is going to invest his time in weight training, it would serve him well to use that time wisely and efficiently. By following the guidelines of the “perfect” repetition when performing your exercises with weights, you will be maximizing results while minimizing roadblocks to improved fitness.
There are six keys to a successful repetition. The first two are related to each other and, for most of you, are obvious. Be sure to position your body so you are lifting against the direction of the resistance. For example, most of you know to lie on your back when performing a barbell bench press. This positions your body to push the barbell away from your chest to arm’s length so that you are working against the gravitational pull of the weight, which is toward the floor. This works fine. But if you stood up and pushed the barbell from your chest to arm’s length in front of you, this would not be effective. You are pushing the weight in one direction while gravity is pulling it in another. So the first two keys are to determine the direction of the resistance and then position your body so you are working against that resistance.
The third key is speed of motion. Control the weight. For improved muscle strength, muscle size and muscle tone, two seconds to lift and two seconds to lower the weight is a good guideline. The ability of a muscle to contract forcefully increases as the speed of motion decreases. Allow the muscles to work. When lifting fast, momentum takes over and the muscles work less.
Range of motion is next. On this one, be careful, as there is no one perfect range of motion for everyone. Some of us are more flexible than others. Go through a safe range for you. But remember, more range is not always best, as you can injure yourself. Also, you can stretch a muscle so far that it loses its ability to contract. This is called a muscle’s length-tension relationship. Determine what is safe for you by performing the exercise motion without weight. Stop at that point where you feel any discomfort whatsoever. Stay with this range for a while and possibly, very gradually, you can increase it. But keep in mind that full range of motion will, in most cases, lead to hyperextension, which can be detrimental to your performance and health. Too much range can lead to injury and lessens the ability of a muscle to contract.
Always keep the path of motion in mind while resistance training. In a previous column I described how the pectoralis major (chest) muscle contracts optimally if you keep your elbows in line with the middle of your shoulders when doing a dumbbell bench press. Another example is when performing leg extensions, you should medially rotate the hip so the quadriceps (front thigh) muscle is able to contract more in a direct line against the resistance. Following the correct path of motion will lead to better results.
The last key is using good technique. Good technique encompasses all of the above and more. Have you positioned your body against the line of resistance, are you using the correct speed of motion, range of motion, and path of motion? Are you performing the exercise in a way that yields the most benefit? Are you using unnecessary motion, such as moving your upper body when doing barbell curls?
These six keys can lead you to some great workouts. Your time is valuable, make the most of it. Use these six keys, and you will train more efficiently.
Lewis Bowling teaches at N.C. Central University and Duke University. He is the author of several books on fitness and sports. His website is www.lewisbowling.com. He can be reached at 919-530-6224 and at Lewis_Bowling@yahoo.com.