Friday, January 28, 2011

What's Reps Got to Do With it?

There's a lot of small details that people get way too caught up in when they decide to induce muscle hypertropy. One of them are reps, specifically how many to for muscle growth. Generally, you'll hear people toss out things like 3-5 for strength, 8-12 for muscle growth, and anything beyond that is just endurance.

I'd love to know where that all came from. If anyone knows, please drop me a line. Or, is this a case that proves the point, "success has many parents and failure is an orphan?"

For as long as I've trained, I've never bought into that. Back in 2007, i grew my upper back and arms (in addition to my entire body) by doing pull-ups and chin-ups in 15-20 rep ranges. How did that happen? I discussed this a while back, in this post.

I don't see the point in regurgitating old posts yet again. Besides, like any other form of regurgitation, people don't generally have positive reaction to it. I do have something to add to it, to further get the mind off of the strict importance of rep ranges.

Lately, I've been doing quite a few exercises that render it impossible to fit into the normal, pretty category of one rep. When we think of an exercise, we're kind of accustomed to a movement that has a definitive concentric (muscle shortens) movement followed by an eccentric (muscle lengthens) movement... or sometimes the other way around. Either way, put them together, and you've got A REP!

What about rope climbing? Going up is nothing but concentric movement. Going down is nothing but eccentric movement. What do you consider one rep on that? What's the rep range for building size and strength on that one? I can certainly vouch that it can! Or, what about any kind of carrying or farmers walk work? Does it even have concentric and eccentric movement? Better still, how about pushing a car? Most people that do car pushing do a lot more than just 20 "pushes" in the scheme of doing so. Is that just endurance? Try it and get back to me...and don't be a smart ass and use a SmartCar!

Definitely Strength-Endurance!

What's also very interesting about these three is that if you ask anyone who has done them with any kind of frequency, they'll tell you that you can, and will, get brutally strong with them.

Hey! There's a workout for you: Rope climb, truck push, and farmers walks. PhunSHUNcTal too!

This kind of brings up another angle to muscle confusion. By destroying the typical eccentric+concentric=one rep movement that makes up most exercises, we have another angle to building some awesome strength. Let's level with each other: after a while, if we get tired enough, our body instinctively finds ways to make the rep easier, usually by dropping out the controlled, eccentric movement. You can't do that when you're hanging 12' off the ground anymore (unless you love sore elbows, or the the sensation of hitting the ground from the top of the rope).

That's why I'd rather think in terms of amount of time under contraction rather than reps. I will say that for a beginner, giving rep ranges have their place. They make for a good starting point. Besides, a lot of the exercises (maybe the concept of scrambling concentric+eccentric=rep isn't for beginners anyway) I described aren't exactly beginner's movements. It just goes to show that there isn't this carved-in-stone rulebook to getting big, buff, powerful and sexy.


TR said...

I am trying to do pullups on monkey bars in Toronto winter. I couldn't do much before (maybe 4-5 on a good day) but now with a hoodie and winter coat and boots I can barely do one. I'll do one or two on my first set, then after that I can't even get my nose above the bar. Should I continue or build strength at home using handstand pushups, or both?

Justin_PS said...

Do both! HSPU's + some pull/chin work is one of my favorite supersets of all! It's very difficult though so proceed with caution...

Abo said...


Very good post that mate. I agree with you.

Humans have been working out all day and doing things that support life, digging holes, lifting wood, wrestling for women.

None of this fits into a few reps and sets.

Load of balls.

Workout make it hard and you will get fit and strong, simples.

Anonymous said...

hey justin, just wondering, so then the theory of time under tension and ATP thing.. will have to be left in the past right?, because exercise like rope climbing, car pushing, sled dragging and so and so, as you say, they don't have eccentric or concentric or both, so there is no TUT and they still build lots of muscle. correct me if I'm wrongtru

Justin_PS said...

I think use of the phrase, "time under tension," would be an inaccurate description. I think that the idea is for the activity to last for no longer than one minute due to the physical inability to keep doing it.

I leave to others to condense that into a good acronym. I need to move, get a shower, and get some food.

Justin_PS said...

It's not subjective if your muscles use ATP to move. They do. Both forms of ATP use can only last so long. It's just not relevant if they use it on a concentric movement followed immediately by an eccentric movement.