This blog post is going to highlight some important cues that will increase the effectiveness of your lifting repetitions.
Mechanical efficiency… aka masterful technique
I like to think about efficiency as “making it look easy.” Your reps should be consistent, controlled, and fluid in nature.
“Good form” is really just a matter of practicing positions. The way you set up for a loaded multi-joint exercise is going to significantly impact the following execution of the movement.
It’s like setting up for a deadlift with a slightly flexed spine. In doing so, you are guaranteeing that your spine will now have to extend under load. It’s generally agreed that significant shear stress on the lumbar discs of the spine probably isn’t the best idea. Therefore, if you place your spine into a position of neutral or slight extension before the lift, you now have the opportunity to maintain that position by using the active tension of your skeletal muscle tissue.
You need to consciously feel tension in the targeted muscle groups while training
Exercises are meant to stimulate different muscle groups. If you go through the motions without actually feeling the muscles you’re trying to target, you’re leaving a lot on the table.
Developing a strong mind-muscle connection (MMC) is in your best interest. It’s kind of a hard concept to define clearly, but the more you train the more you’ll understand how it works.
Essentially, the mind-muscle connection is a concentrated mental effort to keep maximal tension/stress/activation on the working muscles throughout the full range of motion of the exercise.
One common movement that people struggle to “feel” properly is any type of rowing variation. I’ll use the single-arm DB row as an example.
Too often, the DB row is “felt” more in the forearms and biceps rather than the lats and upper back, which should be the primary targets of the movement. Using the MMC, you should be consciously aware of the stretch in your lats and rear delts at the bottom of the row. As you begin to lift the weight, you should still be consciously aware of the intense muscular contraction in your lats, rear delts, traps, and mid back. Sure there will still be stimulation in the forearms and biceps, but the bigger muscles of the back should be doing the most work.
Apply this idea to all of your exercises. Know what you’re targeting, and then feel it. The contraction might not be perfect right away, but just knowing where you’re supposed to feel activation can make a big difference.
Use inertia to your advantage
Newton’s 3rd law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Think about touch-and-go deadlifts. When the plates hit the floor, they are essentially “bouncing” and therefore the completion of each rep is usually going to be easier. Touch-and-go deadlifts are a good option for low back endurance as well as grip strength, however I would stick to more dead-start reps if your goal is maximal strength.
I program a lot of paused squats and paused deadlifts with my clients. Both are good options for taking some elastic energy out of your muscles and forcing you to accelerate through reps without the assistance of the stretch-shortening cycle.
Front squats done from a dead start are a game changer!
Anything that enables you to generate starting force from nothing is extremely valuable. Take advantage of these challenging strategies!
Better reps = better results
As with most things in life, quality is superior to quantity in training. Regardless of your training goals, one perfect rep is more beneficial than five shitty reps. Keep these thoughts in mind and apply them to your lifts and I’m sure you’ll feel the difference.