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Principles Of Fitness: Part 2 – Basic Aspects Of Exercise

 

 

The Principles Of Fitness

Part 2 – Basic Aspects Of Exercise

 

 

This article is part 2 in The Principles of Fitness article series, so if you have not read Part 1 – Essential Fitness Concepts yet, be sure to do so by clicking this link here now.

 

 

1 – Compound Exercises

 

Compound movements/exercises are exercises that engage multiple muscle groups, not just one.   So for instance doing a chinup engages most muscles of the back, as well as the rear delts (shoulders), biceps and even the chest.  Doing squats engages all of the muscles of the legs, and even a little bit of the lower back as well.  These are examples of compound exercises, as opposed to isolation exercises (explained below), and are superior to isolation exercises because compound exercises engage and work muscle groups together as they were naturally meant to be, give you the ability to do more work in one exercise, and create more anabolic hormones/processes in the body.

 

2 – Isolation Exercises

 

 

Isolation exercises are exercises that only engage one single muscle.  So for instance doing a bicep curl only works the biceps.  Doing a chest fly only works the chest.  These exercises are not as effective of a use of your time in training due to the fact that the factors listed above are significantly limited.  So these types of exercises are generally marginalized in any program and only done sparingly as needed.  For instance, while the arms are getting worked in any pushing or pulling motions, they are getting worked less than the other muscles involved, so it is important to give your arms a little bit more attention and do some isolation work on them in order to make sure they are growing equally along with everything else.

 

 

 

3 – Sets

 

 

Sets refers to the number of times you are doing a certain exercise separately with rest periods in between, otherwise known as the number of “sets” you are doing of that exercise.  If you are going to do an exercise 4 times with 3 rest periods in between each, you would call that 4 sets of the exercise.

 

There are a certain amount of sets that are the right amount for each person in order to produce good gains without overtraining (at which point you are working your body more than it can recover from and doing more harm than good.)  This depends upon the number of years they have been in training.  Beginners need 1-5 sets per muscle per week.  Intermediate trainers need 5-15 sets per muscle per week.  And advanced trainers need 15-25 sets per muscle per week.

Reps, short for repetitions, refers to how many times you are making the movement/motion/lift that the exercise is made up of.  So in weight lifting when you lift a weight to achieve a contraction, and then lower it back down, you have just executed one rep.

A certain amount of reps equals one set.  When you are doing 4 sets of 10 reps, that means you are going to perform that exercise/lift/movement 10 times in succession without rest in between each of those reps, and then after rep 10 take a rest, and then repeat this with 3 more sets of 10.

These types of sets are called “Straight Sets”.  There are also some more specialized ways of doing sets for when you are getting more advanced, or training for more specific purposes.  Many of these are superfluous for most people so I will only outline some of the more important ones here.

 

Fast Sets – Doing sets of an exercise fast is done for primarily engaging the fast twitch muscle fibers.  This is important because that is the predominant muscle fiber in most muscles and is the one that is primarily responsible for making someone muscular.  These sets get a massive pump and can even be metabolic.  Doing sets fast is great but try to avoid just dropping the weight on the eccentric (downward portion of the movement.  Training fast is great for developing power and explosivity (especially when lifting heavy), as well as athleticism.  Fast reps are even better when done as partials, explained below.  These can be very intensive and are often good to do as a rest pause set, also explained below.

 

Slow Sets – Doing sets of an exercise slowly is done to stimulate the slow twitch muscle fibers which do not get focused on as much as the fast twitch muscle fibers, and also to maximize the time under tension of an exercise.  Slow sets are  best done with the timing of 3 seconds up, a 3 second isometric hold at the top, and then 3 seconds down.  At the bottom of the exercise if the muscle is under a stretch you should also hold it for 3 seconds, however if the muscle is in a state of rest then that is optional.  These sets get you a great peak contraction and really destroy the muscle for great hypertrophy.  Slow sets also allow you to really focus on your form and technique, and really perfecting and mastering them, which is an important part of developing the skillset of lifting weights.  These can also be very intensive and are often good to do as a rest pause set, explained below.

 

Fast Up, Slow Down Sets – You can also train by combining fast and slow reps, by doing your exercises fast on the concentric or upward part of the motion that contracts the muscle, and slow on the eccentric or downward part of the motion that lengthens the muscle.  This gives you the benefit of working on explosivity and developing the fast twitch muscle fibers on the first half of your reps, and really drawing out the time under tension and making the exercise as hard as you can stand on the second half.  This is a smart way to train because we are actually stronger on the eccentric part of the motion and have more potential for harder work during it, and we are also stronger on the eccentric so lifting like this can be done with heavy weights quite effectively and will help you destroy the muscle much more.  Because of its effectiveness this type of training is very popular and is prescribed in many places such as power lifting, physical therapy, German Volume Training, and sports training, and I highly recommend trying to integrate it into your routine.

 

Partial Sets – Doing sets of partials means you are only doing part of the range of motion in your reps, the area where the muscle is directly stimulated by the weight.  Often in many exercises the curved bar path may mean that at the very top and very bottom of an exercise there is actually no tension being applied to the muscle, whereas the top and bottom give the muscle a rest.  It is the middle part of the range of motion that engages the muscle and puts tension on it.  So to cut out the rest period and only do that partial range of motion will give you a much more intensive workout.  It gives you the awesome pump of a fast set along with the maximum time under tension of a slow set, whether you do these fast or slow.   I have heard a number of bodybuilders say that the way they got certain muscles really jacked and shredded is by doing high rep fast partials of a certain exercise.

 

Pyramid Sets: This is a set in which you increase the weight with each set, and decrease the reps.  So for instance doing 50 lbs for 12 reps, then 60/10, then 70/8, then 80/6.  This is a great thing to do because it is so important to be using different reps at different loads, as explained next in rep ranges.  And instead of doing multiple straight sets of each rep range, it is much more time efficient to use different rep ranges within your sets with pyramid training.  This can also be done in reverse, in an ascending manner with the weight and descending with reps, which is called “Reverse Pyramid Training”, so doing 4 sets with 80/6 first, then 70/8, 60/10 and finally 50/12.  Pyramid and reverse pyramid training are a great way to both hit a variety of rep ranges and get progressive overload.  Of the two I favor Reverse Pyramid Training because I feel it is better to start heavier and then get lighter in weight than the other way around.    Whenever I am doing multiple back to back sets of the same exercise, this is my preferred method, and I highly recommend integrating some pyramid training into your routine.

 

Drop Sets: This is where at the end of your set you drop the weight down and keep going without resting.  This is ideal for when you have failed at a certain weight but wish to push yourself past failure.   An example of this would be if you were bench pressing as heavy as you possibly could for hypertrophy training, and hoping to get 5 or 6 reps in, but only ended up getting 4 which you consider unacceptable because you failed before accomplishing your goal number of reps, you would then quickly remove the two outer plates and continue going for another 4-6 reps, thus accomplishing actually double or more reps than you had originally planned.  Another example of this is when a weight lifter will do what is called “running the rack”, where they will do a certain dumbbell exercise that they want to do with a very high number of reps with incrementally smaller dumbells every 5-10 rep.  So for instance if someone really wanted to push their biceps to the limit with dumbbell curls they could start by curling 30 lbs for 6 reps, then 25 for 6, then 20 for 6, then 15 for 6 until finally they were doing 10 for 6, at which point the 10 pound weight which would normally be too light is actually so heavy that it is nearly impossible to curl for even 6 reps.   This will give you a very intense workout and is a great muscle builder and also boosts strength and endurance, but it also has a high stimulus to fatigue ratio and thus is best done only on special occasions.  Drop sets can on some occasions be done in reverse, where you do half or more, even most of your reps for the set, but then realize you aren’t getting enough or a pump or burn and so you drop that weight and pick up a heavier one to do as many more reps as you can with, which is a wise thing to do if the weight you were using isn’t working your muscles hard enough, and so that would count as one reverse drop set as opposed to two separate sets or any other classification of sets.

 

Super Sets: This is where you combine two sets of two different exercises into one without resting in between.  There are two different types of super sets: “Antagonist Super Sets”, and “Agonist Super Sets”.    Antagonist Super Sets are when you combine two exercises that work out opposing muscle groups, usually one pushing movement and one pulling motion.  Agonist super sets are when you combine two exercises that work out the same muscle group.  Antagonist Super Sets are much more common because in order for a super set to be performed at all it can not exhaust the muscles it is working before the second set is completed, and it also cannot exhaust the grip strength, so this excludes most agonist exercises from being combined together.  While just about any push and pull movement can be combined into an Antagonist Super Set, the exercises that can be combined into an Agonist Super Sets are more limited, usually to legs and pushing movements since if you are working out with good intensity and going close enough to failure, usually your grip strength will be exhausted at the end of any pulling exercise.

 

Alternating Sets:  This is where like with a superset you will workout by doing sets of antagonistic muscle groups in rapid succession.  This way there is no need for long rest periods because you are still resting each muscle after it gets worked by then working something that does not overlap with it, but you are able to have a much more intensive workout.  When people ask me if I do supersets I say yes, but I try to superset everything that I do, and that is because I have lined up my entire workout into alternating sets.  When alternating sets are done as an entire workout in a “circuit” like routine which you then run through multiple times, that is called “Circuit Training”.  I highly recommend doing alternating sets almost exclusively (except for some supersets and giant sets here and there in order to really destroy a muscle).  Anytime you are doing multiple sets of the same exercise with a rest period in between it is so much better to go do a different exercise while that muscle rests and recuperates for a couple/few minutes, rather than just sitting there doing nothing or playing on your phone, all while taking up that piece of exercise equipment that you aren’t actively using and other people could.  And while resting for a couple/few minutes between exercises isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is what is called an anaerobic work out, which is a workout that is not aerobic.  That is because you are actually spending more time resting than actually doing the exercises themselves, which only take a moment to do. And you can easily make your workout aerobic, and make it take a lot less time to do, if you do alternating sets instead of having those moments of rest in between sets, and you will still be getting little breaks of rest time anyways while going from exercise to exercise, which will always take at least 30 seconds or sometimes a minute or two, but that is much better than resting for 2-3 whole minutes, or sometimes more, which is what most people are doing.  It’s better to take shorter rests between sets, and you can do antagonist exercises in rapid succession with little to no rest between and make your exercise aerobic and metabolic for more health benefits.

 

Giant Sets:  This is where 4 different exercises for a large muscle group such as back or legs, or the upper body, or even entire body, which are then combined and done in succession without much rest in between.  These exercises are complimentary and also not overlapping too much because they are done for such a large muscle group, so they are basically like an antagonist superset, except with 4 sets instead of 2.   An example of a giant set for legs would be squat, hamstring curl, lunges, and calf raises, so notice that these are 4 exercises that you should be able to do in a row without wearing out any one leg muscle too much to finish.  An example of an upper body giant set would be row, bench press, curls, tricep pressdowns and shoulder lateral raise.  These are great for seriously increasing the intensity of your workouts for both muscle building, shredding fat, and to some extent increasing power and endurance.

 

Burnout Sets: These sets are done later in your routine, after you have done all of the rest of your most important sets, and before you have used up all of your energy, which are meant to then use up most of the energy you have left to use doing a set that is going to be very hard and pushed to near failure.  These are the types of exercises that have a poor stimulus to fatigue ratio and would produce too much fatigue to do early in the workout.  So for instance barbell squats or deadlifts are often used as a burnout set which is saved for last because after doing them you will have spent most of your energy.  Burnouts are done best with long isometric holds at the end of the reps, with an even longer one at the very end.

 

Down Sets:  These are also known as “back off sets”, which are sets that you perform later in your routine after exerting most of your strength and energy and starting to become fatigued.  These sets are supposed to be easier and with lighter weight and are not pushed as hard or as close to failure so as not to exhaust oneself.  They could be sets of the same exercise that you were already doing, but which you are now backing off the weight and the intensity, or they could be simply exercises that are easier and of less importance, such as hip abductor and adductor during a leg workout, which I personally save for last after doing my heavy squat, deadlift or leg press because I don’t care about it enough to spend any of my primary energy reserve on doing it.

 

Rest/Pause Sets:  These are sets in which rest periods are actually built into the set so that you can push yourself past failure.  In these sets you will rep out until you cannot anymore, and then take a 10-15 second rest/pause, and then try to keep going.  Like with a Drop Set, after doing this a few times you will have given your muscles an extremely intense workout.  Rest pause sets are denser and thus more time efficient and effective.

 

 

4 – Rep Ranges

 

Rep ranges refers to the number of repetitions you are doing in your set.  This should be based upon how many reps you actually can possibly do with a specific weight, for it is only considered a work out when you are pushing yourself to do something that challenges your body.   It would not be qualified as exercise if you were to pick up an extremely light weight that you could do a lot of reps with but then only did a moderate number of reps and stopped before you were even exerting any effort.  The amount of reps you do in a set should come close to the maximum number  you can push yourself to do with that weight before you couldn’t possibly do any more.  This is because hypertrophy doesn’t actually occur during the reps you are doing at the beginning and middle of the set that feel relatively easy, hypertrophy actually only occurs at the end of the set when you are nearing failure.  So when we talk about rep ranges we are also talking about the amount of weights you can do those reps with.  Choosing the right rep range is really about choosing the weight that you can do that amount of reps with.  Rep ranges are part of a spectrum of reps which can number from 1-30+ based upon how heavy or light the weight is and thus how many times you can lift it.  The different rep ranges have different effects on the body, and you need to choose the one that is right for you and your training goals.  The ranges are categorized as follows:

 

1-5 Reps: Strength Training & Power Lifting

This rep range trains your body to become stronger by lifting the heaviest weights you can lift a small number of times.  But while lifting the heaviest weight possible may seem like a cool thing to do, doing so few repetitions actually does not give you much of a work out and does not cause much hypertrophy/growth.  It is also the least healthy form of exercise and does more harm than good.  Thus it is best done sparingly, if at all (and is actually not even necessary for most people).  All this accomplishes is training your body to be able to lift heavy weight and training you to be stronger (which is why it is called strength training).  The type of Training that is called Power Lifting is done at the lowest end of this rep range, this is where people are basically trying to lift as much as they possibly can once or twice, or maybe three times maximum.  This type of training is very different than hypertrophy training because when you are lifting a weight just for the purpose of lifting it from point A to point B, rather than for the purpose of building muscle, you will be using a different form and technique, recruiting more muscles and using more of your full body rather than just certain muscle groups.  This type of training is the only way to get stronger, and so it is essential for anyone who’s goal it is to get stronger.  And if you wish to get stronger as well as more muscular this type of training can be combined with hypertrophy training very well.

However this type of training has more con’s than pro’s.  The downsides and dangers involved far outweigh any positive benefits you may get of being able to lift heavier weight. Lifting so heavy that you can not lift the weight more than a few times comes with a very high risk of injury and is very hard on the body. When done consistently over time it will be wearing your body down more and more until you will reach a point in which you have too many aches and pains and have been too worn down to continue to train the same.  Even when you are not hurting yourself, lifting heavy has a poor Stimulus to Fatigue Ratio, which will be explained in full later on but to sum it up means that while you are producing more stimulus by lifting more weight, you are producing exponentially more fatigue, so you are depleting your energies faster over the course of shorter time, and this fatigue means you are getting a much worse workout in the short time you are spending working out, and makes recovery difficult and longer so you end up training less.  Also this fatigue accumulates from workout to workout, and so if you are doing too much strength training you will find that over time at some point you will be accumulating so much fatigue that instead of gaining strength you actually begin to lose it.  Also as I said this type of training does not produce much hypertrophy.  This is largely because it is done for a shorter period of time and less frequency than normal hypertrophy training.  So this type of training is self defeating and unless you absolutely need to for your sport or career it is best to minimize the amount of sets you do in this rep range.  And when you are doing strength training it is advisable to stay on the high end of the rep range and go for 4 or 5 reps, which will give you a better workout and cause more hypertrophy, as well as less fatigue, aches and potential injury.

 

 

5 -10 Reps: Hypertrophy Training Primarily for Growth in Size/Volume and Strength:

This rep range trains your body to grow muscle and increase in size/volume and basically to become more bulky looking, which is done at the expense of definition (meaning that it will make you look big but not toned and defined and thus as aesthetic as the higher rep ranges will).  This type of weight lifting is best for people who mainly care about getting bigger and not so much about getting “cut” or “shredded”, and who also want to be lifting higher weight because they may wish to be getting stronger.

The pros for this rep range is that it probably trains primarily “fast twitch” muscle fibers which are predominant in most muscles and responsible for most of what you see in muscular growth, and the sets are shorter.  And though the time under tension may be less long the quality of the tension is greater because you have more of it due to the greater loads, and you have more time to do other work.  But the cons are that these greater loads again have a poor Stimulus To Fatigue Ratio so you are getting more fatigue than stimulus, and they do not produce as much of a “pump” and as many metabolites in the muscle, and can also cause more inflammation and aches and pains as well as injury proclivity, as well as the aforementioned lack of definition/aesthetics.

So while this rep range is good because it is causing higher tension and thus good hypertrophy without taking a lot of time doing a very large number of reps, it is probably not best to have this be your primary rep range.  For if you are doing it more than the others you are probably missing out on a lot of good muscular conditioning for definition, and you also are not training your muscle for any kind of endurance or even time under tension.  And lastly, if you focus on this rep range primarily it will produce more fatigue, inflammation and aches/pains than the higher ones would.

 

10-20 Reps: Hypertrophy Training for Mass & Definition:

This rep range trains your body to grow muscle and increase in both mass as well as tone and definition, so you will be growing muscle as well as increasing definition at the same time and thus becoming more aesthetic looking.  This is the middle ground between the lower end of the rep range that borders on or is strength training, and the higher end of the rep range that borders on or is endurance training.  Therein this rep range gives you that middle of the road effect where you can achieve the essential best of both words.  This range produces good well rounded muscular growth.  This rep range stimulates fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers equally, and thus you get the best effects from the upper and lower ranges combined in muscle building.  With this rep range you will become more massive as well as more defined for a look that is both large as well as aesthetically well defined – the ideal muscular look that most people who do hypertrophy training are going for.  Therein if you are to focus your energies primarily on any one single rep range, this would arguably be the best one to choose.

It’s pros are that it gives you all the best benefits of the higher and lower rep ranges with not as many of the downsides that they have, it gives you a really great pump without being as taxing or causing as much inflammation, and that it is also actually easier than doing either the high reps or heavy weight.  The cons are that you are not getting the maximal benefits of the other rep ranges, while some of the downsides of the other rep ranges are still there and it still does cause some inflammation and wear and tear on your joints and connective tissue.  So you do still need to do other rep ranges at least some of the time, but for most all hypertrophy purposes you will probably achieve the greatest results sticking within this rep range most of the time.

 

20-30 Reps: Hypertrophy Training Primarily For Definition/Aesthetics & Athleticism/Endurance: 

This rep range trains your body to grow muscle in a way that does still cause your muscles to increase in mass, but here you are not training for the primary purpose of becoming more bulky and huge (volume wise) as with the 5-10 rep range, but more to become more toned and defined, which causes you to become more  aesthetic (giving you that definitively “shredded” appearance).  Though you will certainly still see significant size increases in this rep range (just as long as you are pushing yourself hard enough and going close to your limit), they may or may not be as large as you might get from the lower rep ranges, for with lower rep ranges you are growing in volume and here you are growing in mass (muscle density).  This is a form of training that produces great definition in your muscles, thus creating an extremely aesthetic physique in which all parts of the muscle and even the muscle fibers themselves become visible, and it is ideal for cutting fat and getting shredded.  It also is a favorite among athletes and is considered more athletic in the sense that more reps means you are doing more work and experiencing more time under tension.  It also gives you more room to do certain things that make the exercise very hard, such as fast partials with constant tension (no rest or pause), or varying the movement of each rep slightly so that you are targeting the muscle from slightly different angles throughout the set.  And this type of higher rep training borders on other forms of exercise such as metabolic/aerobic/cardio and endurance training such as what you would do for a sport or for fat loss, thus making it a great happy medium between the two that will give you a bit of both worlds.

This rep range probably stimulates more slow twitch fibers than the lower rep ranges which are generally smaller fibers and which is why you will probably not grow as big.  The pros are that in addition to producing great definition, this range gets you the greatest pump and the most metabolites in the muscle, and this rep range is also the healthiest of the hypertrophy rep ranges as it is easiest on your joints and connective tissue and comes with less inflammation and aches/pains.  Thus this range probably has the most benefits of any of them, without much downside.  The cons are that since it borders on endurance training you may start to exhaust your nervous system before your muscles, so if you are going close to failure unless you get really used to doing this rep range it probably isn’t your muscles that are getting fatigued but your central nervous system.  So you may be getting more of a metabolic workout than a muscular workout because the most hypertrophy occurs in the reps closest to failure but in this rep range your muscles may not actually be getting close to failure and you will be failing simply due to CNS fatigue and not having enough endurance.  Also this range does not stimulate fast twitch muscle fibers well, and while this rep range does provide muscular conditioning it is not conditioning you to get much stronger or be able to lift heavy weights.  The only way to get stronger is to lift heavier, and you do need to have some heavy lifting in a hypertrophy program.  So while this rep range may be good to focus on a lot, you wouldn’t want to focus on it too much more than the 10-20 and 5-10 range.

 

30+ Reps: Endurance/Metabolic/Aerobic/Cardio Training Primarily For Athleticism or Catabolism/Weight Loss: 

This rep Range is not done for hypertrophy and growing muscle, but for getting healthy and conditioning your body to become more athletic, usually for the purpose of either burning fat (catabolism) and getting “cut”, or for the purpose of          training for a specific type of sport.  Many exercises are not effective for building muscle at high rep ranges, because the muscles we try to grow in hypertrophy training are too large to grow with low weights and high reps and require heavier weight in order to get larger.  So for instance if you can do 50 pushups in one set that may be a great athletic feat, but that high number is not an indication that you are building muscle, instead it is an indication that you are too strong for bodyweight pushups to be a good exercise and need to add more resistance in order to get a good workout.  The only cases that such high reps will give the appearance of being more muscular for are the abs, which is because the abs are so small and only the smallest muscles require the highest rep’s, but the abs also have an extremely limited growth potential anyways.

So this rep range is not for becoming more muscular, but it is generally done for some type of a metabolic workout.  While doing 50 crunches or jumping Jacks will not build muscle, it is a very good aerobic exercise to do, and is essential even in a hypertrophy program for two reasons.  First is that these exercises are still crucial to making someone look more shredded and aesthetic, and second is that they cause someone to be athletic enough to handle the other aspects of a hypertrophy workout (for instance, you need a strong core in order for your body to support heavy lifting).

The highest rep exercises in which you are facing very little resistance and doing hundreds or even thousands of reps, such as riding a bicycle or swimming, is considered an endurance sport.  Doing that does not create anabolic processes or hypertrophy in the body, but totally different processes which only condition the muscle to be able to do that specific sport very well.  So endurance training taken to the extreme as it is in these types of sports does not mix well with hypertrophy training, the two are mutually exclusive.

While high rep endurance training may not make you more muscular in the sense of a growth in size, which is one of its only Con’s, this rep range comes with a long list of Pro’s.  It will get you extremely cut and shredded by making you extremely well defined and melting away all of the fat on top of your muscle, so you will look extremely lean.  So it can still make someone look muscular in that sense, while being thin, and this look is an aesthetic one for women to have.  But perhaps best of all this range comes with a countless list of health benefits as well because it is aerobic and cardiovascular exercise. The only real downside being that it doesn’t make you stronger, but that is ok for people who do not need to get any stronger, but if that is something you do want to do then you will need to do some of the lower end in your training.  However while the 30+ rep range does not combine well with hypertrophy training, it does combine well with the low end strength training, and much athletic/sports training does combine strength/power and endurance/cardio training for the purpose of training athletes bodies to be both explosively powerful and fast, as well as to be able to perform continuously over longer periods of time without fatiguing.

 

Choosing Rep Ranges:

So which rep range is the best you ask?  Well that is an easy question to answer:  None of them.  They are all useful for their various purposes and there is not one single one that is best.  You should be doing a mix of rep ranges because doing one at the exclusion of the others would be limiting to your physical conditioning.  The real question is what are the ratio’s of rep ranges you should be using.  While the middle rep range of 10-20 is the best general middle of the road all purpose rep range that if you were to choose one to focus on most would be the best pick for just about anyone, you should still be doing some of the others as well.  It all depends on your goals of course.   If your goal is hypertrophy, or for any other general fitness purposes (such as health, aesthetics, etc), you should focus on that range first and the 20-30 rep range secondarily, the 5-10 rep range thirdly, and then pepper in the endurance training and strength training just a little bit here and there.  However if you are training primarily for weight loss, you would want to focus primarily on endurance training, secondarily on the 20-30 range, thirdly on the 10-20 range, and then just pepper in the 5-10 range a little here and there, if at all, and exclude any strength training.  If you are training for strength you would focus primarily on both the 1-5 and 5-10 rep ranges and then pepper in some of the others for good measure.  If you are training for a certain sport you are going to have a completely customized combination that is entirely specific to that sports training.

So while there are some general rules choosing rep ranges gets a bit trickier than that depending on your specific purposes for training.  It also gets more customized based upon your own body, and if you have certain body composition goals.  Every person’s body is different.  A young high schooler who wishes to train in order to become an Olympic athlete will train totally different than a person who is older, has health problems, strength limitations, and is overweight, and wishes to shed their fat and then get as muscular as possible in order to be healthy and look and feel good again, which will also be completely different training than a female who wishes to become a fireman and needs to develop as much strength/power as possible in order to lift and carry 200+ lb men quickly out of a burning building, and wishes to achieve this goal by the time of the next firemans test.

And not only is every person’s body and physical goals different, but every muscle is different as well.  So in trying to develop different muscles you would also choose different rep ranges for them.  This is because of a number of things.  Muscles come in a very wide variety of sizes which require different rep ranges.  And each muscle group is a combination of a different number of smaller muscles.  Each muscle contains a different ratio of fast to slow twitch muscle fibers, each of which responds best to an opposite rep range.  And each muscle works in cooperation with other muscle groups that it will recruit.  So all of these factors make different rep ranges ideal for different muscle groups and different exercises.  So you shouldn’t generally be doing the same rep ranges for all muscle groups.

Ideally you should be focusing on the rep ranges that are ideal for each muscle and exercises.  So how do you do that?  Well the general rule is that the larger the muscles and the more other muscles that work together with it (in compound exercises), the heavier the weight you should be lifting and the lower reps you should be doing.  Whereas the smaller the muscle and the more isolated it is, the lighter the weight and higher the reps.  So for instance if you are doing pulldowns which work your entire back which is made up of a lot of large muscle groups and also your biceps, or squats which work your entire legs, gluts and lower back, which are also large muscle groups, you should be doing heavy weight and low reps.  However if you are isolating your shoulder or arm muscles, you will want light weight and high reps.

But also you need to keep in mind that these are just more general rules, and just as how every muscle is different, so is every exercise.  For instance there are some back exercises, such as certain forms of rowing, which are meant to primarily target the trapezius muscles, and thus which should be done at a higher rep range and lighter weight than other back exercises for most of the time.   And there are some forms of pulldowns that are simply harder than others and will also need a lighter weight and higher reps, such as close grip, wide grip or single arm pulldowns.  And sometimes just because a muscle is big does not mean you should be using heavy weight, for instance with quad extensions, even though the quads are one of the biggest muscle groups in the body, because this is an isolation exercise you are not supposed to be using heavy weight and low reps with it.

Another nuance to these general rules is that just as how every muscle group and exercise is different, every person is different as well.  Slight variations in how your muscles connective tissue connect them to the bones will mean different amounts of leverage on different exercises, and thus you will be stronger or weaker on different exercises.  So because of this, even though most people are stronger when it comes to pulling than pushing, because the very large back muscles are responsible for pulling, and the chest and front delt which are a fraction of the size are responsible for pushing, some people such as myself are still stronger on pushing movements than pulling movements.  So if someone were to tell me that I should be pulling more than my bodyweight, and pushing less than it, I would have to tell them that it actually works the other way around for me because that is just how my body is calibrated by my genetics.  A lot of big muscular people like to say what generally works based upon what has always worked for them, but just because something works for someone (yes even a famous athlete) doesn’t mean it will work for most other people.  What we need to do is start by using the general scientific principles and then adapt and customize things for our own specific bodies using our mind muscle connection, which is what will tell us what works best and what doesn’t work as well.

Lastly, as I illustrate in this article, every piece of work out equipment is different and thus it will also be good for different weight and rep ranges.  So in the end while you should use these general rules as a template for programming your workout routine, you also do need to take the time to try out different weights and rep ranges with all of the different exercises on the different pieces of equipment for each muscle group and see which ones work the best for you.  However even when you find the rep ranges you like most for each exercise/muscle group, you will still have to use the others for variety.  This is because even if you are doing what works best, over time your body will get so used to it that at some point it will stop being so effective and you will hit a plateau and your progressive overload will cease.  So while you may want to primarily use certain rep ranges for certain work, diversity is still key and you will need to at very least pepper in some of the other weights/reps to force your muscles to keep up the good work.

 

 

5 – ROM

 

 

ROM is an acronym for Range Of Motion.  This refers to how much of the movement, or range of motion, you are going through in your exercise from the very top to the very bottom.  The full range of motion means that you are taking the movement of the exercise as far in each direction as possible from the full joint extension to the full muscle contraction.  Some people see a problem with this as usually going to the very top and bottom of an exercise means experiencing a point of rest at one of those positions, which many advanced or intensive lifters do not want their muscles to have.  These types of people will say that full range of motion does not have to include the very top or bottom, but that if you are going to the precipice of it that is good enough.  However there are lifters like me who when going heavy and to failure will often need that moments rest otherwise I would not be able to do many reps at all before my muscle gets exhausted.  So again the range of motion you go through really depends upon the exercise and your personal preference.

 

Anything much less than the full range of motion is called a “partial”.  This is done for the purpose of only doing the part of the movement that is most beneficial, maintaining constant tension on the muscle and maximizing what is called “time under tension”.  An example of a “partial” that is generally better than a full Range Of Motion is in the case of the Squat.  The best low point to go to on the squat is part of the exercise is when the thighs are parallel to the floor or above parallel.  Anything below that is starting to round the lower back and put it and the hips into a bad position and is doing more harm than good for most people.  And of course some people may not feel the need to get that moments rest at the very top of the exercise either and may stop before what is called “lock out” (where your joints lock out and the load is no longer supported by muscle tension but is resting solely on your bones).  So partials are a good ROM to do for Squats, and certain other exercises.  I have heard from many very muscular bodybuilders that doing fast partials is the key to hypertrophy for certain muscles.  However there are some exercises where doing slow full ROM with a moments pause at the top and bottom are what feels best to me.  This is probably due to different muscles being predominantly made up of fast or slow twitch muscle fibers.

 

 

6 – TUT

 

TUT is an acronym that stands for Time Under Tension.  Time Under Tension refers to the amount of time in which your muscles are experiencing a state of tension.  The more time under tension, the better, as tension is what causes hypertrophy.  This time under tension is why many bodybuilders prefer doing partials and avoiding a “lock out” state in which the tension has been released, as constant tension is best, however only if it does not limit your time under tension, as most people will be able to achieve a much greater time under tension when they have that brief moment of rest between reps.   The ideal amount of time under tension is 45 seconds or more, which is yet another reason why sets of 10 reps or more are best because 45 seconds is about how long it takes to execute 10-12 reps.  But as I just said, the more time under tension the better, which is why 15 reps is generally better than 10, and 20 is generally better than 15, just so long as you are using the right weight/intensity and technique.  The higher the reps the faster you can perform them because if you are doing 20+ reps you will almost certainly be spending enough time under tension even if you do them fast, and you want to be recruiting more fast twitch muscle fibers too.  But for reps under 10 the only way to optimize them is by slowing them down to make sure you are spending enough time under tension, as doing 6 reps in 12 seconds is not going to create very much hypertrophy, which is not optimal.  So no matter what rep range you are doing just make sure you are using the right pace when you are doing your reps so that you are spending enough time under tension.

 

 

 

I hope that you enjoyed this first installment in the principles of fitness article series and found it very informative.  And if you did, be sure to read the next one on different aspects of exercise programming which you can do by clicking here now.

 

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