The Beginner’s Guide To Bodybuilding: Part 2

Everyone has an opinion about reps

Rep counts are everywhere.  Do a search on the subject and you’ll find information from people who recommend sets of 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 5, 3 or even singles.  Here’s what you need to know about rep counts:

They all work

That’s right.  All of them.  There are differences in Rep rangesthe results that you’ll get, but those differences will be slight if you stay way from the extremes.  In general low reps are about building strength and high reps are about cardio and muscular definition.  The differences  are probably marginal for the beginning bodybuilder and that’s why the number you choose is probably not that important.

But let’s pick one.

Consistency is necessary.  Without consistency its impossible to track progress.  So we have to pick a rep range and stick with it for at least one cycle.

It would seem that the majority of us should stay in the middle of that upside down pyramid.  Lets try to get the best of both worlds and keep the sets at somewhere between six and twelve reps.

Wait a minute.  I said “pick one” and I give a range.  Yes, a range.  Do it this way – pick a weight you can handle for six reps and gradually work it up to twelve.  When you get there, add weight and do it again.  If you find a six rep increase to be a bit difficult, narrow the range.  Try 8 to 10 instead.

But there is an alternative

I’ve said in previous posts that there are better ways to track workouts than counting reps.  In fact, I think that focusing entirely on rep counts can be a bad thing.  The goal of any exercise should be to keep the bar moving continuously at an even pace in strict form.  No bouncing, jerking, heaving or cheating.  Reps counts can be a bad thing when you sacrifice good form in the pursuit of “one more rep”.  It is the pursuit of one more rep at all costs that  short circuits so many cycles and prevents so many of us from making the gains that they should.

Its an easy line to cross.  After all, a workout is a multi-tasking event.  Humans are only capable of focusing on so many variables at a given time.  Good form is hard to maintain.  Think of all you have to pay attention to when under a heavy squat bar.

  • Retract your shoulder blades
  • Chest out
  • Weight on your heels
  • Back straight

That’s only a short list.  Add to that the task of counting to ten.

Was that 8 reps or only 7?

It might sound like a joke, but can you say that you never asked questions like that during a hard set of squats?  Those with training partners don’t have that problem, but people like me in the basement gyms do.

In the face of the pain that goes along with an intense workout its understandable that you might lose your count.  If you are focused on counting at a time when your muscles are weakened, you form will break down.  You might hit your rep target but the result is only the illusion of progress.  Your cycle will stall.

Why not try TUL (Time Under Lift) instead of counting reps?  Take your cell phone and bring up the stopwatch function.  Start the timer and get the bar into position.  Glance at the watch to get the start time and lift until you “can’t lift no more”.  Check the time at the end and you have your TUL.

Try this:

  • Each movement gets two warm up sets of five reps each and one or two work sets.  Don’t bother counting reps on your work sets, because…..
  • Work sets are done for time, not for reps.  Keep it going with slow, continuous movement done in strict form for anywhere from 45 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Choose a weight heavy enough to make it a challenge to get to 60 seconds TUL with the weight.  After you hit 60, increase the weight, drop the goal down to 45 seconds and gradually progress until you hit 60 seconds.

Equating the two approaches, a set of ten reps done at a 3/3 cadence (three seconds up and three seconds down) would give you sixty seconds TUL.

Whichever way you choose, remember that the differences are insignificant.  The only thing that matters is effort.



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