Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tiny Repping = Not So Tiny Failing

One of the biggest crimes people commit against their bodies, in the gym anyways, is performing exercises with too much weight.  Most commonly, this leads to form breaking down and non-performance of full repetitions, or tiny repping.  Although I've espoused the benefits of heavy weight training many, many times, it is important to note that "heavy training" and "training with a lot of weight" are not necessarily the same thing--in fact, they are often not.  The weight used during training is only one aspect of the overload as perceived by your muscles--making the exercise more difficult, i.e. making the exercise feel heavier, can also be done by improving form, increasing the number of reps performed, and most importantly, using a full range of motion.  In many cases this requires a significant reduction in weight.  There are other techniques for increasing difficulty as well, such as pre-exhaustion, but those are pointless if you can't do the elementary stuff.  

Failure to properly execute an exercise is usually a symptom of some deep, deep ignorance about proper lifting.  A lot of people think that you can just throw moar weight on in order to grow--not so!  Using training principles properly is an entirely different matter than just knowing the principles, and progressive resistance is no exception.  Let me explain why applying progressive resistance willy nilly is a bad idea.

In order to fully develop a muscle, tension must be applied to the muscle in its entirety--all muscle fibers must be activated, overloaded, and repaired.  In order to activate all muscle fibers, the muscle needs to be worked from multiple angles as well as sufficiently exhausted, but it must also be worked from insertion point to insertion point.  You must stretch and contract fully!  Anything else is just a waste of time and a recipe for disaster.  To someone like me, this is omfgobvious, but I've realized over the past few days at the gym that this is not the case for others.  As well as additional size, training a muscle fully from insertion to insertion results in deeper separations because the muscle is more fully developed where it ties in to the next--you will never get full or thick or big by doing partial reps, I promise!

But it gets worse:  Performing 1/8th reps because you are not strong enough for a full rep does not mean that the muscle will only develop 12.5 percent as much.  It doesn't even mean that the part of the muscle you are applying tension to will grow and the rest won't.  Unfortunately, when reps are limited to an extent as great as this (I see it extremely often, or I wouldn't use it as an example), it is only the connective tissue which is being loaded.  Individuals who are only able to perform the "top," or "bottom," of a movement are basically relying on the elasticity of their connective tissue to return the stack or bar or dumbbell to start or rest--connective tissue does not respond well to this.  Not only that, but because there is a lack of stress being applied to the muscle tissue itself, you aren't actually stimulating much growth.

Furthermore, based on my previously explained state of nature argument, your body will only be confused by this type of overload.  Generally speaking, those who cannot perform full reps are also unable to perform very many reps--this is also not ideal for growth.  Your muscle must be stressed more than briefly in order to precipitate growth (time under tension principle).  Imagine that you are doing one rep maxes--despite the fact that you are lifting a lot of weight, your body will think it's a one time thing, and you successfully did it--even if you did it really poorly, you still did it--so why adapt?  Even if you do 1RM's every week, unless you are also applying progressive resistance elsewhere, your body will see no reason to put effort into growing--because you still "got" that one rep, right?  This is why "personal records" are meaningless and stupid--especially if they entail 1RM's, which they usually do.  PR's not only work against you as far as growth and strength gains due to the hormonal response to this training style (your body goes into panic mode as you struggle to complete the rep, releasing "fight or flight" hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, both of which induce immediate catabolism), but form also breaks down way too much at the max end of the spectrum for there to be anything to brag about.  The only exceptions to this rule are professional, competitive powerlifters--PR's for anyone else, including bodybuilders such as myself, are a counterproductive, dangerous thing to do out of misguided pride.

Additionally, the concentric phase of an exercise is only one part of the overload being applied.  Strength when lowering (eccentric loading) is 30% higher than when lifting--this means you can get a lot of stress and adaptation out of even just the negative of a movement!  Don't waste it by not performing it!

So, to recap:  In order for growth patterns to be successfully introduced, tension must be applied to the entire muscle--a full stretch means a full contraction.  Tension must also be applied for time--not sporadically or briefly as with PR's, 1RM's or other "lower end" rep ranges.  This may mean reducing weight--by a lot--and there is absolutely no shame in that.

There is shame in training like a dumbass though, because there's just no excuse.

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