Having spent the best part of my life immersed in gym culture and all things strength related, I have heard conflicting opinions when it comes to the right and wrong way to lift. “ You need to do full range with a lockout to achieve maximal contraction,” bellows the suited up power lifter over by the racks. Or at the other end of the spectrum, “constant tension via partial range movement is the only way to achieve maximal growth” growls the bodybuilder pumping out reps on a dumbbell press. The truth is, both have their merits and one would be foolish to profess to only one method as being the holy grail of training. What is in fact more important is the execution of either method and how well one can perform each repetition throughout the entirety of the set. This is what we at Definitive Physique would term the Definitive Rep.
When a lifter first starts training the most important goal tends to be how much weight can be lifted and how many times. These two factors normally always mean that form and mental concentration go out the window in the hope that the all-important 8 or 10 reps is completed. We have all seen it and perhaps experienced it too, hips are off the bench, the dominant arm is 3-5inches ahead and a bar path that would make a Brazilian free kick expert jealous. The point I am making is that individual reps are forgotten and the sole aim of the lifter becomes hitting that rep target. Actual stimulation of the correct muscle group becomes a lower priority and thus the purpose of the exercise can become redundant. From strictly a strength point of view one could argue weight lifted reigns supreme and if the bar travels from point A to point B then the exercise was a success. However, lifting in such a manner can sometimes lead to dominance of the incorrect muscle group. Correct form will help to isolate the appropriate muscle groups and switch on the correct muscle fibres. Both of these factors will contribute to greater overall strength and growth in the particular trained muscle.
Once a lifter has achieved intermediate stage, a basic understanding of certain do’s and don’ts usually mean that the lifter will achieve proper muscular stimulation and thus gains in strength and muscle should not be an issue. That being said the Definitive Rep will often still elude them. This is primarily due to the lack of what is known as the mind muscle connection. This is the ability to continually match movement pattern, tempo and muscular stimulation with every rep. Mental analysis and feedback of each rep will ensure that each rep is completed with equal concentration and performance. For an intermediate they will usually experience this feeling on the first and last rep of every set, but will lack the ability to sustain this focus throughout the whole set. This is in my opinion what separates the intermediate and the advanced lifter. The “advanced lifter” has the ability to have a continual loop of analysis and feedback throughout the set ensuring complete focus on the muscle and thus maximal stimulation of all muscle fibres.
Some may scoff at this next paragraph and probably imagine the candles and incense are coming out next. Well, this is definitely not a Definitive Physique practice, but in all honesty the seriousness of focus and concentration in the world of weigh training cannot be ignored. The missing link in most lifters arsenal is the mental side of things. The preparation, the set up and of course the set itself all have to be approached with complete single-mindedness so as to channel all energy into the designated area. A term I often use with my clients at Definitive Physique is “squeeze and flex”. This is not suited so much towards low-end reps but has significant importance in high rep sets aimed at hypertrophy. We aim to get our client’s to squeeze the bar and flex the designated muscle group throughout the movement of the rep. The point of which is to try to create movement by primary muscular contraction rather than the combined contraction of primary and secondary muscle groups. A big advocate of this subject is the late Mike Mentzer, who as previously discussed in “Failure is not an option or is it?” related this directly to his training approach to muscle growth. In a strength aspect where raw power and absolute strength are the emphasis a slightly different approach is implemented. This is where one will need to focus on negative tempo and try to slow this movement as much as possible. This forces the mind to concentrate on the negative portion taking out the stretch reflex that is seen in very fast reps. it also gives time to channel mind into the positive phase, which will require an explosive finish. Yes, bar speed will be less when not using stretch reflex, but as every good strength coach knows, it is the intent of the movement rather than the actual speed.
Many of the great influences on the strength and muscle world have expressed the importance of the mind muscle connection. Mentzer in particular talked about this as one of his primary influences to success. Arnold talks very eloquently on the pump and how important and great that feeling is. Some of the newer breeds have also coined some great new terminologies in terms of specific training styles that focus on proper muscle stimulation, such as FST-7, created by Hany Ramboid which has been used to great success by both previous and current Mr Olympian champions. All of these are great illustrations of the importance of the focus upon all repetitions. Next time you pick up a weight, I want you to make it your goal to try to analyse every rep within the set. Aim to feel the stretch and contraction and recognise that feeling of correct muscle stimulation. The mind is a powerful thing and by far the strongest component of the human body.
This article was written by Mike Proter, Director, Definitive Physique