The Strength Training Rep Dissected and Explained

September 5, 2008

The basic building block of strength training is the individual repetition.

If you perform each rep the way I describe here, you will never have to worry about injury. Also, this approach to lifting will insure that you get maximum muscle definition not just on the muscle being worked, but over your entire body. Performing each rep properly makes all the difference in the world when it comes to looking sleek and defined.
people tanning on a yacht
[You have probably noticed by now that I don’t include a lot of sweaty people in spandex lifting weights. I’d rather chose inspiring photos like people sun bathing on the bow of a Mega-Yacht. My blog is just trying to make the Internet a more attractive place.]

Fake Strength Versus Real Strength

Who do you think is stronger, someone who can bench press 275 pounds for 5 reps using a slow pace -or- someone who can lift the weight for 5 reps at a fast pace? I am much more impressed with someone who has complete control of a weight during the entire lift and lifts the weight in a slow manner.

In fact, the biggest problem with ballistic and explosive lifting is that you are asking for injury. The other problem is that you are building more tendon strength than actual muscle strength.

The third problem is that you aren’t generating enough muscle tension to really get the maximum return out of every rep.

Explosive Lifting…Using Your Tendons Like a Rubber Band

Want to know why you see many people explode the weights out of the bottom of a bench press? Well they are taking advantage of the stretch at created in the muscle and tendon at the bottom of the lift.

Just like stretching a rubber band, they are using this force created to assist them in lifting that weight. They can use that stretch combined with a strong push to basically sling that weight up. This way of lifting is asking for a bad injury.

Also, it is kind of like “fool’s gold”…it isn’t true strength.

Take Momentum Out of The Equation for Long Term Benefit

The ironic thing about lifting weights at a fast pace is that it limits the amount of strength you can gain. Make no mistake about it, when you are a beginner at strength training you will make fast progress when you lift the weights in a ballistic fashion.

The big problem that happens is that you quickly reach a sticking point.

The amount of weight you lift is largely limited by tendon strength. As mentioned before, it is also asking for a muscle tear.

Take One Step Back to Take 3 Steps Forward

If you are lifting in a fast and explosive manner, I recommend that you stop. I want you to slow it down to get stronger and more defined in the long run. At first you are going to lose a bit of strength, but if you think about it…that isn’t true strength anyway.

The strength you lose now will come back as you learn to lift weights properly. Then you will surpass your previous strength levels.

The Skill of Generating Tension in the Muscle

Strength is largely determined by your ability to generate tension in a muscle. The harder you can contract a muscle the better strength you can demonstrate in that muscle.

Did you know that you can contract a muscle much harder if you also contract the muscles surrounding it? I learned about this principle called “Irradiation” from Soviet Special Forces Trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline.

Here is how he explains it.

  1. Try flexing your bicep as hard as possible without making a fist.
  2. Now try and flex your bicep as hard as possible while making as tight as fist as possible and squeezing.
  3. You should be able to contract your bicep much harder when making a tight fist.
  4. This is called “irradiation”…what is happening is that the nerve impulses of surrounding muscles can amplify the effect of that muscle.

How to Become a Master at Generating Tension

Here is the craziest thing about the principle of Irradiation.

You can actually create stronger contractions in a muscle by flexing a bigger chain of surrounding muscles.

Take that bicep example above. Try contracting you bicep as hard as possible but this time don’t only squeeze your fist, but contract your pecs and abs as hard as possible as well. Did you notice a difference? After a while you will become a master at irradiation to reach high levels of strength.

Irradiation Develops Muscle Definition Over Your Entire Body

Imagine flexing your Abs hard every time you do curls, bench press, dips, etc.

You are actually increasing your ability to contract your abs hard, while getting stronger in these lifts. All of these tension generating sets are going to create an outstanding level of definition, provided your body fat is low enough.

I started doing this 10 years ago and the first thing I noticed was that my arms had a crazy degree of definition, next came the abs, and after that all the muscles in my torso stood out. Every rep is working many more muscles than before.

You Can’t Use the Principal of Irradiation While Lifting Quickly

That fast explosive way of lifting, doesn’t give you time to generate tension. The only tension generated is right at the bottom when the weight gets reversed quickly. It takes about 2-3 seconds to really generate a lot of tension in the muscle.

Using the bench press as an example, I recommend taking 2-3 seconds to lower the weight before lifting the weight back up. I’ll break down an ideal rep on the bench press in detail.

  1. Lift the bar off the rack and lock out your arms and prepare to lower.
  2. Squeeze the bar hard increasing the tension as you lower it.
  3. Feel the tension work its way down your forearms past your elbow.
  4. The harder you squeeze the bar the further this tension travels down your arm.
  5. At the same time you are doing this you are contracting your pecs shoulders and upper arms as hard as possible.
  6. At the bottom of the lift contract your abs hard while slowly blowing out.
  7. By the time you reach the bottom of the lift your entire upper body should be rock hard.
  8. Now purse your lips and blow out slowly as you lift the weight. You will be able to keep your abs flexed hard by pursing your lips as you let out the air.
  9. The more tension you generate the lighter the weight will feel when you slowly lift the weight back up.
  10. The better you get at building tension and enlisting help from surrounding muscles, the stronger you will become.

It is Hard to Do More Than 5 Reps in This Manner

One of the reasons I recommend 3-5 reps is that it is tough to do more than this while keeping the quality of each rep. Also, make sure that each rep is almost a separate entity.

What I mean by that is pause a second in between each rep and let the tension out for a second. Then grip the bar and begin building tension for the next rep.

The reason you “pause and reset” a bit is that you will be unable to effectively generate maximum tension for the entire set. You need to rest a second let your nervous system recharge and get ready for the next quality rep.

This is much different than those “pumping” non-stop bodybuilding sets you see 80% of gym members doing.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

chris - zen to fitness September 5, 2008 at 3:54 am

great post rusty. Some very important stuff in here sometimes we forget that we are meant to be working and putting our muscles under tenssion throughout the exercise. Pushing big weight is no good especially if your not working the muscles in focus. This is something I forget regularly and need articles like this to remind me……..thanks Rusty

Ramon September 5, 2008 at 8:16 am

Great tip Rusty! I will definitely be using it in my workouts from now on. Thanks!

Jimmy September 5, 2008 at 10:08 am

Hey,
Ive always wondered how does a steady state cardio works. I know about HIIT but not sure bout steady state. Can you tell me bout it please thanks.

nodietneeded September 5, 2008 at 11:39 am

Very well said. The whole purpose of strength training is building strength by generating the most resistance to muscle contractions, not to tendons. This info can also help you select exercises that will better serve to strength training. For example, if I have to choose between regular crunch and plank, I will go with plank as it creates much more tension in more areas than crunch.

Bobby September 5, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Rusty,

Great post. I will definitely be using this at my next workout.

Steven Anderson September 5, 2008 at 12:10 pm

Great article/advice. I have been employing this style of training in my own regimen for some time now and concur with the results. Not just with muscle definition but with immense strenght as well. I use the style of “irridation” daily when working OAC/OAP, pistols, one-arm push ups and the various gymnastics levers. Good stuff!

Kasper September 5, 2008 at 12:50 pm

You have a great blog here Rusty, but I do have some pointers.

“Who do you think is stronger, someone who can bench press 275 pounds for 5 reps using a slow pace -or- someone who can lift the weight for 5 reps at a fast pace?”

How on earth you can compare that to each other I don’t know.

“The ironic thing about lifting weights at a fast pace is that it limits the amount of strength you can gain.”

Ahh what!!! Tell that to weightlifters and powerlifters. I dont ever see them lifting slow!

Second your post on low reps for building strength, not muscle. I have commented on it before and I do it again, because its completely wrong!

Pictures says more than words so I let the pictures speak for themself:

Skip La Cour, One of the best natural bodybulders in the world:

Jeff Willet, ditto

criticalbench.com/images/bodybuilders/Willet1.jpg

Brooks Kubik, author of “Dinosaur Training:

Here is what Brooks said about heavy single rep training, “… heavy singles made me bigger and stronger than any other combination of sets and reps I ever tried. I know that they allowed my good friend Greg Pickett, to push his upper arms to 18″ of rock-hard muscle at a height of 5″6.”

Go over to Brookskubik.com and take a look at Brooks’ photos. The guy is a super strong natural lifter that does not take any supplements.

BENJAMIN HENNEQUIN OF THE FRENCH OLYMPIC TEAM
Massive quads on a weightlifter who have to make weightclass.

Search the net on him, or maybe you saw him on tv at the olympics?

Reg Park: One of the old timers (Schwarzeneggers big idol. By the way Arnold build his size through powerlifting):

t-nation.com/img/photos/2008/08-149-training/image001.jpg

Regs number one Rule: If you want to get bigger, then get stronger
Many people training today separate hypertrophy training from strength training. They think that when focusing on getting bigger, one should focus on the muscle not how much weight one is using. This explains why today’s bodybuilders are nowhere near as strong as the old school bodybuilders like Reg Park.
Reg didn’t separate strength training from bodybuilding. He believed that in order to get bigger, you must get stronger. Heavy weight training equals more recruited muscle fibers, which equals more muscular growth. The only difference, says Reg, is that the pure strength trainer shouldn’t increase caloric intake to avoid putting on size, while the bodybuilder should ramp up high quality nutrition in order to pack on more size.

What do these guys have in common? They all build their physiques with set of around 3-5 reps and explosives reps.

Its about diet, genetics and getting stronger. No matter what the reprange!! Genetics and diet determines the outcome.

Read up on all of Chad Waterburys articles on T-nation. Maybe you could learn a thing or two about low reps and explosive lifting ;o) Here’s a little teaser:

The Science of Fast Training

Muscle physiologists have discovered an important law of motor unit recruitment: the faster the tempo, the greater the recruitment of motor units. This is important because the more motor units you recruit, the greater the strength and muscle gains you’ll achieve.

Our nervous system is designed with an inherent, orderly recruitment of motor units. In other words, low-force tasks such as walking around your living room do little to induce muscle growth. Why? Simple: walking requires very little recruitment of motor units.

Jumping and sprinting, on the other hand, induce huge amounts of motor unit recruitment that leads to substantial muscle growth. What’s the primary difference between walking and jumping? Speed of muscle action, of course! The proof is clear when you observe the lower-body musculature of a gold-medal 100 meter sprinter compared to a hair stylist (i.e., someone who’s merely standing and walking all day long).

The benefits of fast training are:

1. Improved High-Threshold Motor Unit Recruitment
Quicker high-threshold motor unit recruitment occurs with super-fast tempos since you improve the recruitment of the motor units that have the most potential for growth. What I’m referring to are the fast-fatigable (FF) fast-twitch motor units that possess Type IIB muscle fibers. These motor units are capable of inducing huge amounts of strength and hypertrophy increases.

2. Improved Rate Coding
Rate coding is also enhanced with fast training. This relates to a change in discharge frequency of motor units with faster tempos. In other words, the firing rate increases with increases in speed (power) production.

3. Enhanced Synchronization of Motor Units
The last scientific element improved with fast training is enhanced synchronization of motor units. As you increase the frequency of fast training sessions, motor units improve their synchronous activation during maximal voluntary efforts. This leads to more strength and enhanced neuromuscular efficiency.
The three aforementioned variables (recruitment, rate coding and synchronization) all work in concert to enhance intramuscular coordination. But I’m not finished yet! A few more advantages of fast training are:

4. Improved Intermuscular Coordination
When you apply maximal effort to a load (attempt to lift it as fast as possible), you’re improving your body’s ability to maximally activate many different muscle groups simultaneously. This coordinated effort enhances intermuscular coordination which, in turn, improves your strength levels.

5. Altered Muscle Fiber Characteristics
With a consistent execution of fast training speeds, the skeletal muscle and nervous system adapt by converting many slow-twitch (Type I) muscle fibers to fast-twitch (Type IIA and IIB) characteristics. This is another perfect example of the specific adaptations to imposed demand (SAID) principle.

The Missing Link
I can’t even begin to name all of the misleading advice that’s been dished out by newsstand muscle magazines, but one of the biggest misconceptions is slow training. I don’t know why in the hell trainees think they should lift a load slowly, maybe because it’s easier to lift slowly, or maybe because they can “feel” the muscles working. Either way, it’s pure bullshit that leads to inferior results.

If you want strength and size, you better learn to start lifting fast. How fast? As fast as humanly possible without compromising form!

Jimmy September 5, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Im actually referring to the program not how does it help shed extra fat.

David September 5, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Great post Rusty.

I haven’t left a comment for a while now but I still read and re-read ever post.

I have been trying a different style of exercise for the last two months. The aim is to work the smaller muscles surrounding the major (larger) muscles. When these smaller muscles get stronger they pull in the larger muscles and give you a very lean, tight physique. You also do 45 minutes of cardio five days per week.

I’m very happy with the results, but I also like to mix in some high tension, high muscle fiber contractions.

I’m working on a workout that takes from all different sources with the goal of becoming functionally fit, increasing strength, stamina, flexibility while still giving you a lean, toned athletic body with out being bulkey.

Helder September 5, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Excellent post Rusty, it’s really a very good advice, specially for beginners. Sometimes i do use explosive lifts, but i’m an advanced lifter and i never lose control of the lift, i believe both lifts have their place, and both are necessary for you to get stronger, after all strength is also related to speed, but it has to be done carefully and only by experienced lifters. I do it only sometimes, the core of my training when in the gym is slow controled reps. When i teach someone about lifting fast, i’m always very carefull, to let them know there’s a difference between fast lifting and cheating and throwing weights around, proper form is always necessary. No doubt that the slow reps will give a much better definition, if anyone needs proof of that, just look at gymnasts, they keep their bodies tense all the time, and most of their movements are very controled, a few other are explosive, but the norm are slow controled movements.

admin September 5, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Chris,

Yeah…the focus on tension is what creates overall muscle definition.

Ramon,

You will notice a huge difference within just 2-3 months of lifting this way.

Jimmy,

Steady State cardo is fine as long as you don’t do marathon style cardo. The best use for steady state cardio is to use the fatty acids for fuel, basically burn body fat that is released during intense efforts like HIIT or circuit training.

nodietneeded,

Yep..I’m a huge fan of planks for that reason. It is the best ab exercise in my opinion.

Bobby,

Yes, just remember you may be a bit weaker at first…you will come out ahead over time.

Steven,

You sound like you have read a bit of Pavel as well. This stuff works brilliantly.

Kasper,

You put a lot of great points in your comment (sorry I had to remove a link…my blog is acting up and won’t let the post go through with too many links).

I disagree with so much of the bodybuilding advice out there. Even from the big guys over at t-nation, bodybuilding.com, etc. Mainly because we have vastly different goals.

Sure you can use strength training to get big, especially if it is supplemented with a high volume of lifting, pushing past failure, eating large amounts of calories, bulking up, and avoiding cardio during this time. We won’t go into steroids, because that issue is talked about too much when referring to bodybuilders

I recommend a low volume of strength training supplemented with cardio and never reaching failure on a lift. This doesn’t resemble anything remotely like how a bodybuilder or powerlifter trains….because I don’t like the way either of these two groups look. This blog isn’t about getting big…it about having a slim functionally fit body. One of the reasons I push cardio harder than all the other sites is that I believe a fit person should be able to run 2-3 miles without coughing up a lung.

Although the bodybuilders you mentioned have done impressive things, they aren’t anything like the look I am promoting on this site. We use some of the same methods, but in vastly different ways.

David,

That sounds great. The best thing to do is to take these principles you are learning and customize them to your needs.

Helder,

I do a tiny bit of explosive lifting, but just for short periods of time during the year. I’m after longevity, so I don’t ever push the boundaries of injury. Plus like you said, this slow way of lifting keeps everything extremely defined. Good call on using gymnasts as an example.

Good stuff guys!

Rusty

joggs September 5, 2008 at 2:09 pm

hey KASPER GET A LIFE DUDE! just be fit and enjoy life and dont spend your life in a gym! rusty has such a positive outlook on fitness and how to enjoy it the right way. So go write your complaints somewhere else because we enjoy rusty info better then 5 6” 18 inch guns who are all trying to bash someone elses blog

Rusty you rock

Kasper September 5, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Rusty, from your posts on how you train I dont see much difference in the weight department. Have you looked at the links? The volume is usually around 1-6 sets of 1-6 reps. Pr musclegroup or exercise. Fx only squat for legs. If I remember correctly you actually trains with a higher set volume of low reps than this. Powerlifters and weightlifters rarely trains to failure, and never beyound. High volume og training is NOT nessecary to get big. Again read the links and my previous post. My point is still. Genetics and diet determines the outcome of your training. Your blog is about getting strong and fit without getting big. You control this mainly through diet. It’s the same training combined with more calories that can swing the pendule the other way. Not some magic higher rep or setrange.

admin September 5, 2008 at 3:00 pm

joggs,

Kasper is a knowledgeable guy for sure…I don’t want to discourage people who disagree with me. There are so many approaches to reach the same goal. I do appreciate the compliment, buddy 🙂 and thanks for having my back, but Kasper is a good guy…even though he likes to challenge me on a regular basis. What sucks is that he actually makes valid points. Darn you Kasper 🙂

Kasper,

I agree with you point on diet being a big factor as well as genetics. I recommend a lower calorie diet than most…plus my site emphasizes HIIT followed by steady state cardio after lifting. I really push getting stronger without getting bigger and the diet and cardio I recommend allows that to happen.

I have gained strength for years without putting on size, but if I decided to drop cardio and eat an excessive amount of calories, certainly I would put on size.

Have a good one guys,

Rusty

Kasper September 5, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Joggs

Actually I have a life. A great one of that. I don’t know where you got the idea that I spend my life in the gym and have huge guns? I’m more into the look Rusty promote. I have a general interest in training and nutrition. I like to study how various people trains, eat and maintain their lifestyle to reach their goals. I draw my own conclusions mainly by observing whats going on around me, and reading stuff from as many different people I feel provide useful information. Rusty is one of them. Improving peoples lifestyle is my hobby and my job. I have done so for 16 years with huge success. You cant find a better job than this.

I don’t know if I came out like a dick. Actually I really like Rusty’s work. We need more of this on the internet. I have commented on this many times.

What I want is just to comment on Rusty when he makes a statement that comes out like its written in stone or incorrect. Theirs a lot of ways to skin this cat. Rusty’s ways can be tweaked a little bit and the outcome will be completely different. And that’s what I like to prove with the text and links.

Rusty

Thanks for standing by me, even though I challenge you a bit some times. But that’s how we learn isn’t it?? :o)

And sorry for my English. As some of you know I’m from Denmark.

Scoth September 5, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Great site Rusty, came across it a few months ago and found it a breath of fresh air after reading about building big guns and huge quads etc on other sites.
I’m no expert, but I feel a combination of performing reps in the manner you prescribed and also using fast, explosive reps would be a viable option. This has a definite carry over into functionality or for sports as it helps to improve the rate of force development of the muscles involved and hence use some of the strength built.
Both methods could be alternated workout to workout or even combined as in complex training i.e slow strength work follwed by a plyometric movement or explosive lift, taking advantage of the motor recruitment of the strength work. A quicker lift may even be used prior to a slow movement as a form of activating the fast twitch fibres before the strength work to come (after a thorough warm-up).
I just feel that sticking to slow lifting tempo’s may detract from functionality, SAID principle and the body adapting to slow movements by becoming slower. The body becomes it’s function. Most sports are not performed slowly and very few tasks in every day life. I appreciate the point you’re making and in the context it was suggested but just feel there’s no need to limit ourselves to just one method of lifting.
I like where your coming from with the idea of a more proportionate build and not the big mass monster look. I find myself aiming for a more athletic look e.g sprinter or MMA athlete these days after being a lot larger in the past.

Keep up the good work, it’s much appreciated!

eric September 6, 2008 at 2:56 am

my comment disappeared in the internet again or it did something wrong. i just wanted to know if this technique also works for your “sensible mass building routine”?

Luke September 6, 2008 at 5:04 am

SOOOOOOOOOO Rusty, I wish I knew about all your info three years ago when i became an extreme over emotional eater. Let me say this. You are brave and right about everything you have to say about fitness and i wish this kind of stuff was mainstream. I can’t wait to join you in “maintenance land”. Because I WILL be going to live there as soon as possible. Thanks again Rusty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tom Parker September 6, 2008 at 5:55 am

Hi Rusty,

Great to finally read a detailed post on rep speed. I know you have done a couple on this topic before but this post really goes into detail and explains the exact type of lift you are referring to. Currently, I think I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to generating muscle tension. Most of the time I try to perform my reps slowly and fully whilst concentrating on getting a full squeeze out of the muscle involved. I never lift super fast and explosively because I see so many guys doing it in the gym and think it’s just an injury waiting to happen. The perfect example is lat pulldowns where guys do it so fast that they go from sitting upright to lying down. Sure they will lift a lot on the exercise but how much of this is their momentum and bodyweight and how much is their actual lats?

However, I don’t think I focus on generating muscle tension to the degree you describe. For example, with a bicep curl whilst I will make sure that I perform the exercise fully and slowly with no swinging and make sure I am squeezing the bicep, I don’t take this any further and make sure that my chest, abs and legs are contracted too. I’m always open to new techniques though and have started to vary my training more and more in recent weeks (different weight/rep ranges, isolation/compound weeks etc) so I will definitely give this a try at some point.

Cheers again for the great post,

Tom

P.S. Your ‘Notify me of followup comments via e-mail’ option does not appear to be working.

Steven September 6, 2008 at 7:21 pm

Kasper, I certainly hope that you’re not getting “all” of your information from T-nation. You might want to pick up a copy of Mel Siff’s “Supertraining” and read all 498 pages (yes, the index too) of it. He does advocate a certain set range and rep range. Pavel also has great insight on how to program for both “wiry strength” and putting on mass if one is so inclined. I do agree with your point on it coming down mainly to diet and genetics but, after obtaining a certain level of strength and/or mass, set and rep range can matter, along with (hasn’t been mentioned yet) the time in between sets. The longer the rest, the better the strength gains. The shorter the rest the results will be more of a metcon effect.

Will September 7, 2008 at 2:04 pm

hey Rusty, fast reps recruit more muscle fibers. also, slow reps have their place, they work the slow twitch muscle fibers and the fast twitch muscle fibers are more capable of muscle growth and power. also, take a look at sprinters versus marathon runners. catch my drift, speed is the way to go. i dont think anyone should neglect the slow twitch muscle fibers neither tho. also, there was a study down comparing fast vs. slow reps and which one burns more calories, fast reps won. read this good article written by chad waterbury.

t-nation.com/article/bodybuilding/lift_fast_get_big&cr=

here is a lil something he wrote.

Muscle physiologists have discovered an important law of motor unit recruitment: the faster the tempo, the greater the recruitment of motor units. This is important because the more motor units you recruit, the greater the strength and muscle gains you’ll achieve.

The benefits of fast training are:

1. Improved High-Threshold Motor Unit Recruitment

Quicker high-threshold motor unit recruitment occurs with super-fast tempos since you improve the recruitment of the motor units that have the most potential for growth. What I’m referring to are the fast-fatigable (FF) fast-twitch motor units that possess Type IIB muscle fibers. These motor units are capable of inducing huge amounts of strength and hypertrophy increases.

2. Improved Rate Coding

Rate coding is also enhanced with fast training. This relates to a change in discharge frequency of motor units with faster tempos. In other words, the firing rate increases with increases in speed (power) production.

3. Enhanced Synchronization of Motor Units

The last scientific element improved with fast training is enhanced synchronization of motor units. As you increase the frequency of fast training sessions, motor units improve their synchronous activation during maximal voluntary efforts. This leads to more strength and enhanced neuromuscular efficiency.

The three aforementioned variables (recruitment, rate coding and synchronization) all work in concert to enhance intramuscular coordination. But I’m not finished yet! A few more advantages of fast training are:

4. Improved Intermuscular Coordination

When you apply maximal effort to a load (attempt to lift it as fast as possible), you’re improving your body’s ability to maximally activate many different muscle groups simultaneously. This coordinated effort enhances intermuscular coordination which, in turn, improves your strength levels.

5. Altered Muscle Fiber Characteristics

With a consistent execution of fast training speeds, the skeletal muscle and nervous system adapt by converting many slow-twitch (Type I) muscle fibers to fast-twitch (Type IIA and IIB) characteristics. This is another perfect example of the specific adaptations to imposed demand (SAID) principle.

3ller September 7, 2008 at 5:29 pm

hey rusty, is there any benefit of working opposite body parts in a session?

Also whats the best back exercise. nothing too big…i’m 17. (bdyweight or with weights)

Yavor September 8, 2008 at 3:59 am

3ller,

for a full development of the back, I’d do a few different exercises. My choice would depend on my proportions, the waist to shoulder ratio more specifically.

1. If you have wide shoulders and small waist, the exercises of choice would be some kind of barbell rows and shrugs.

2. If you have wide shoulders and wide waist, the exercise would be shoulder width grip pullups and barbell shrugs.

3. If you have narrow shoulders and narrow waist, the exercsies should be pullups and barbell rows (no shrugs)

4. If you have narrow shoulders and wide waist, the exercise of choice would be pullups.

DR September 8, 2008 at 10:36 am

Great article and an even better discussion…

Here’s my 2 cents.

Personally, I rarely train in the manner that Rusty is advocating.

Why? Because that method is not designed to develop my body in the manner that I want.

This doesn’t make Rusty’s approach wrong. Just not right for me, right now.

Ignoring any genetic tendencies towards muscle fiber type, muscle and tendon physiology, etc., our muscles will adapt to the type of training that we expose them to.

Want muscles to perform as quickly as possible. Train in a way to develop neuro-muscular efficiency, muscle firing speed and maximize the elasticity in your tendons. But also be aware that this type of training may expose you to a greater danger of tendon injury.

This doesn’t make it wrong. Just different.

Decide what YOU want out of your training program – Body composition, strength, power, speed, endurance, joint mobility, reduced chance of injury, re-hab, pre-hab, flexibility….

Then organize your training around those goals.

Keep up the good work Rusty

Steven Anderson September 8, 2008 at 11:14 am

Best back exercises, IMHO are pull-ups and gymnastic ring rows.

Caleb Lee September 8, 2008 at 11:49 am

Rusty,

Great post, and you’re absolutely right!

Strength is mainly the ability to create maximum tension in your muscles, basically training your muscles to contract harder.

In fact, I’ve heard that when people get electrocuted it fires off all the “contracting neurons” (not sure the technical name)… and overloads the safety mechanisms your body has in place to keep you from contracting your muscles too hard…to such a degree that the person’s muscle’s contract so hard they break bones!

That’s why you see some guys with “wiry strength”–they just know how to get more horsepower out of their smaller engines — they understand maximum tension = maximum strength.

Best,
Caleb

3ller September 8, 2008 at 7:12 pm

yavour and steve A, thanks a lot. Really appreciate it

Helder September 10, 2008 at 9:32 am

Yavor i totally agree on your choice of exercises for the back, according to body types.

Steven Anderson i Love rings, they’re really hard, but so good to develop back and strength

Rusty have you heard about Lance coming back to competition next year, i just got really happy about it, i’m a huge fan of Lance in every way, his a Life Champion and an example in every possible way you can think of, and his return represents also a very important fight, once again his going to help a lot of people that’s for sure.

RobinC September 12, 2008 at 2:01 pm

Hey Rusty,
After seeing the doctor, he suggested that I stay off my leg for another 3-4 weeks to let my achiles heal 🙁 Yep I messed that one up. Can you, or anyone here, suggest any ways I can apply myself cardio-wise that doesn’t involve heavy legwork?

I was thinking of the rowing machine, but I’m not wanting to build my upper body anymore and I’m kind of afraid that using this as my only means of cardio for near a month with put me askew with the rest of my upper body strength training routine!?

People have suggested swimming, yes that’s a possability, but with time restraints, swimming can take away a lot of time from the rest of my routine/life, plus I hate the water :/ And for some reason they decided to make the pool some dumb artistic shape at my gym so swimming laps is about as easy as navigating in the dark…. God I miss running.

Anywho, that’s my story. Lately I’ve just been adding more and more puships at different variations (burpe’s i’m not allowed to do at this time).

A message to all: Don’t push yourself too hard, hurting yourself is not worth it.

RobinC September 12, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I forgot to mention, I’ve read that using a Heavy Punching bag is a great cardio workout, what do you think?

Dustin September 12, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Rusty,
I have to admit I have been reading your blog for a while now and I always thought the slow rep was b/s; however, I finally tried it and wow I haven’t had a workout like that in a months. Keep up the good work man.

RobinC September 13, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Performing your reps slow really takes a lot of concentration; it should to get that high tension. Sometimes it helps if you can find a way to loose yourself in the task. Try closing your eyes while you perform each repetition; for myself at least, I find I can focus better on the muscle and tension itself this way. It’s just a little way to prevent distraction and keep on top of the task at hand–your not exercising to train your eyes afterall anyways.

It’s all focus, and willpower; don’t rush yourself.

eric September 14, 2008 at 8:02 am

two questions rusty: you recommend brad pilons eat stop eat which means fast for two days 24 hours straight per week. i dont know if you personally follow this approach. but i am doing it for a while now and it is really tough to eat strict (low carb or less frequently for example) on your eating days (this is what you recommend in most of your posts and comments, or isn`t it?) i
i am not sure which fitness guru i should believe: rusty moore or brad pilon! 😉 seriously, you guys have very different philosophies and that confuses me a bit because i read the blogs from both of you. personally i like your workout tips like strength training with low rep and especially your advice to hit cardio hard more than brads point of view. but as far as eating goes i wonder if brad pilon would make the eating style you promote responsible for people getting “Obsessive compulsive eaters”? i want to get a slim and toned body but i dont wanna get anorexic or get a social outsider by thinking about food and clean eating all day long! how can i juggle BOTH of your philosophies, rusty!?

sky3vil September 22, 2008 at 8:44 am

hi, i am a newbie in this thing and i just came across your site. i have some question:
1st of all i am quite poor and so i just bought a (not a set) dumbbell. i used for my biceps, and i do push ups for triceps.

after reading your article i learned that high rep cannot make muscle permenent:

So can I do this?:

I normally lift 12rep with the dumbbells, can i just slower the rep and make it between 2-5, same with the push ups……..

just curious can some one help me out

nob September 27, 2008 at 11:55 am

i wonder that when we do bicep curls is i possible to flex you triceps as well? i mean i can do it at the top and bottom the movement but when am raising the dumbbell it wont flex. the pec and abs are different though. i flex them throughout the movement.

so is it possible to flex the opposite muscle of the muscle that you are working on?

nathan September 16, 2009 at 11:57 am

If speaking only of sloppy form and bad technique then slow, controlled reps are great things.

This bashing of the idea of increasing strength in tendons and ligaments is an incorrect emphasis, IMO.

You WANT the strongest, thickest, density-intense tendons and ligaments you can build. You want ’em like steel cables. This is true power and not only the apperance of strength.

You bypass the tendons and only develop the muscles you are asking for injuries all day long.

Tendon strength is fundamental strength. Building it is not lazy, or cheating or incorrect–it is foundational. Double the size of your biceps = by pretty. Double the size of the tendons and ligaments in your wrist = superhero.

tom watson February 23, 2011 at 7:43 am

hi rusty,
great post – one question: i’ve read both this article and your one on explosive press ups. are you saying basically that there are 2 ways to train for strength with low reps: 1. balllistic movements with very light weights 2. slow steady movements controlling the weight with far higher weight? i can see its bad to train ballistically with high weights as this will cause injury but then is it bad to do explosive push ups because this would be using tendons as elastic bands wouldn’t it??
thanks
tom

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