We often go on about diet and nutrition for muscle gain and fat loss because the subject is so deep and critical to your long term success it deserves all the attention it gets. While much has also been written covering what exercises to do, the importance of set and repetition volume, and have gone into detail as to the value of intensity in performing a great set designed for muscle growth. But each exercise and set you do is actually only as good as the repetitions contained within. Performing eight reps with poor form and little intensity will prove to be nothing more than a great waste of time and resources.
They way to get the most benefit out of your exercise program and the effort and time you put into it is to make each and every repetition count.
Sloppy form, lowering and lifting too quickly, going halfway, lacking intensity and concentration are all ways to ruin a rep and waste a great opportunity to grow. If you fall short in your technique you also end up short in your lean muscle gains and fast loss goals, it is immensely important that you get your reps done right. Remember that muscles grow when they are forced to adapt due to the stress they are put under. Only the right amount of stress using proper form in the correct amount of time will force muscles to grow.
In terms of stress we are talking the amount of weight you use – it must be an amount that can be performed with strict form and in the 8 repetition range, referred to as volume. This stress on the muscles also has been proven most effective if your sets fall in the range of 20-60 seconds – yes, time under tension is important. So the three keys factors that you must get right within your set are weight, volume and time under load – assuming your intensity is through the roof.
Muscles grow via a constant process of tear and repair. The muscle fibers tear when put under stress at the gym and then repair when at rest – this is where your diet and nutrition play a role in recovery too. Breaking the set down to the repetition, it is the lowering portion of the exercise that leads to the most micro-trauma (muscle damage), so this must be done properly and with control. It should be a slow controlled motion throughout the rep, roughly a 2 second lifting, pause, and 2 second lowering cadence. At no time should you lock out at either the top or bottom portion of the movement.
Using the Bicep Curl as an example, in the lowering portion of the exercise you cannot let your elbows lock out and basically let your arms ‘hang’ in this position, only lower the weight to a point just before the elbows lock. On the lifting movement, raise the weight to slightly more than a 90 degree angle, at 90 degrees or less the weight will be sitting and resting in your palms as opposed putting stress on your biceps. For every exercise it is the same – shoulder press, bench press, leg press, etc – do not lock out at the top or bottom because take stress off the muscle group you are trying to work.
Finally, it is the last few reps of each set that really cause the micro-trauma to the muscles that we desire. The intensity of the set must be constant throughout, mentally focusing on the muscle group that is being worked at that time, and think about how that muscle group functions. Only the last rep or two are where the muscle is overloaded most and growth is triggered. After proper warm up sets start with the heaviest weight first, then strip weight off as required so that you are still able to perform around 8 reps, maintain the 2-pause-2 cadence, and complete each set within 20-60 seconds.
Choose 3 exercises per body part, perform 2 perfect intense sets that are 20-60 seconds in duration and complete 8 rigorous repetitions for each muscle group. So 6 sets per body part of 8 reps each has you in the range of 48 repetitions per muscle group – a perfect workout! If you set up your weight lifting program in this manner you will add muscle provided you progressively overload the muscle by adding reps or weight. It is a fact.