Workout Tip: Get Better Results From Any Workout By Making This One Simple Change
No matter what resistance training routine you currently use, you can get better results by altering this simple, often overlooked aspect of exercise execution.
By Herve Bensabat, CFT, CSCS, NASM-CPT
You train hard every time you hit the gym. Or maybe you workout from home. Either way, you expect to build up your strength and grow bigger muscles through your efforts. Muscle growth occurs in part, as a result of the amount of time your muscles are under tension. We commonly refer to this notion as 'time under tension'.
Tension is created by exposing your muscles to an external resistance such as dumbbells, barbells, or weight machines for example. By performing numerous reps and sets of an exercise, you provide the stimulus of overload necessary for muscular gains.
A repetition typically involves three different muscle actions:
--a concentric action as the muscle shortens, such as the upward movement of a biceps curl as you raise the weight against the direction of the resistance,
--an isometric action in which the muscle is tense but there is no movement, such as the momentary pause between concentric and eccentric actions,
--and an eccentric action as the muscle lengthens, such as lowering the weight with the direction of the resistance in a biceps curl.
When you think about it, a rep is really nothing more than a means of 'counting' the amount of time your muscles spend under tension.
One of the most common errors I see people make is performing a poorly executed rep.
I'm sure you've seen this too… people flinging the weights up and down, swinging their torso, using momentum to perform the movement. They rush through their reps using so much momentum it's hard to tell how many neighbouring muscle groups are replacing the primary muscles used to complete the lift.
It's true momentum allows you to lift heavier weights- which apparently seems to be a major preoccupation. However, jerky motions and flinging the weights may lead to pulled muscles and back strains, NOT faster gains.
Here's how to get better results with less wasted effort from any workout…
--Slow down the speed of your rep.
For starters, this will make your exercise harder, not easier. If you don't believe me, try it some time.
Don’t fling the weights up and down. Improve your exercise technique and get far better results by eliminating momentum. One simple, tried and true method to virtually eliminate momentum from your lifts is to slow down the speed of your rep. The speed of your rep is called 'tempo'.
Every rep should be performed in a slow, controlled, yet fluid motion. Make every repetition of each exercise count. Focus entirely on each rep ensuring only the rep you’re working on now matters. Understand that even five perfectly executed reps are better than ten poorly performed reps. Do not rush through a single rep.
Adjusting your repetition tempo accomplishes several simultaneous benefits to help you get the most out of every workout. By slowing down your rep, you eliminate momentum, get only the right muscles involved, and increase the time under tension.
You'll also avoid potential injuries.
Here's a general rule to follow for most of your lifts. Use a 4/1/2 tempo whereby the first digit represents the eccentric action, the second digit represents the isometric action, and the third digit represents the concentric action.
For example, during a biceps curl this means you will lift the weight to a count of 2 seconds, hold the isometric contraction for 1 second, and lower the weight to a count of 4 seconds.
As you can see, each rep will take 7 seconds to perform (4 + 1 + 2).
If you perform 8 to 12 reps, each set will take you 56 to 84 seconds to perform. This is the amount of time your muscles will spend under tension for this particular tempo.
Repetition tempo is one of the most overlooked and underused aspects of exercise execution. Simply applying this singular change to your workouts will enhance the effectiveness of every muscular movement and lead to better, faster results.
About the author: Herve Bensabat, CSCS, is a Strength And Conditioning Specialist and personal trainer. He is also certified in post-rehabilitation fitness therapy, biomechanics, youth fitness, and performance nutrition.