One Rep Away To Undo Laziness

by Eric Buratty on January 26, 2016

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Laziness is a cornerstone of the many excuses people give for not staying active.

In an effort to reduce laziness, we commonly experiment with several workout strategies that offer us an exciting challenge and minimize boredom.

When we think about it, though, many proven strength training programs are boring cookie-cutter routines. These same workout templates have been around forever—as recycled/revamped set-rep schemes that are also available online for free.

If they work so damn well, what’s the issue?

Well, for starters, they’re hard to stick to.

This is because the physiological benefits from a strength training program over the short run aren’t always consistent with our psychological experience over the long run.

In other words, we all enjoy getting stronger by following those cookie-cutter programs until their linear progressions stop working.

Then we no longer experience the same level of happiness from our workouts.

Then anxiety, frustration and boredom settle in.

Then we lose interest and get lazy.

Then we find ourselves hopping around programs like a bunny that lost its energizer batteries.

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As we can see, it’s a hellacious cycle of unrewarding time and effort invested. This is what happens when our original goals become more important than our journey.

So . . .

HOW do we adapt our goal-oriented mindset to fit in with our process-oriented reality?

HOW do we embrace the method to our madness without letting our strength program become just another boring cookie-cutter routine?

HOW do we find balance between the physiological and psychological aspects of exercise without losing sight of what we originally set out to accomplish?

. . . We focus on performance.

Even on the most sluggish of days, the way we perform our reps still dictates the type of gains (or lack of gains) we receive. So, once we become more aware of our stronger and weaker days (over the course of weeks, months and years of experience), the key to boosting performance is then through executing variety in repetition.

Let’s go over how to apply some popular rep styles that further maximize performance and minimize laziness.

Please note that, to get the point across in the most objective manner possible, we’ll assume a total body workout emphasis with demonstrations of each rep style coming from the handstand push-up chain of progressions (i.e. pike push up – to target upper body) and the shrimp squat chain of progressions (i.e. foot elevated/Bulgarian split squat – to target the lower body).

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FASTER “SNAPPY” Reps

This rep style is characterized by a maximum application of force on the acceleration phase of a range-of-motion. Imagine trying to launch off like a rocket or catapult when transitioning from the eccentric/lowering phase to the concentric/lifting phase–especially when our bodyweight resistance makes a movement (initially) feel lighter (until fatigue sets in, of course).

This rep style can be further divided into two subcategories: explosive/ballistic and plyometric reps. The key difference between these two subcategories is that explosive/ballistic reps are performed without “catching any air,” while plyometric reps involve a short but powerful time period off the ground.  From a physics perspective, explosive/ballistic reps demonstrate why force equals mass times acceleration (i.e. F = ma), whereas plyometric reps take things a step further to show why power equals force times velocity (i.e. P = fv).

FASTER Upper Body Demo 1 (explosive-ballistic)

FASTER Upper Body Demo 2 (plyometric)

FASTER Lower Body Demo 1 (explosive-ballistic)

FASTER Lower Body Demo 2 (plyometric)

Pros: Improves speed, explosiveness and fast-twitch motor recruitment—which means greater carryover to athletic skills that require considerable force and power production; Permits the use of momentum to support a smoother eccentric to concentric transition—which allows for a higher number of reps to be performed cleanly.

Cons: Decreases total body awareness—which can lead to injury when an individual hasn’t fully mastered a movement or progressed it appropriately; Does not simulate the amount of speed and muscle tension for setting PRs.

When to Use: Ideal for all fitness levels training in the 6-12 rep range (i.e. working with the lower level progressions of “the big six” from Convict Conditioning) – wherein the emphasis is on speed & power output first, muscle-building & size second, and strength third.

Beyond Calisthenics: For those who wish to supplement their calisthenics training with weighted movements, this rep tempo would be most appropriate for exercises like kettlebell swings and snatches, one-arm rows with dumbbells/kettlebells/barbells, as well as barbell push-presses and hang power snatches.

SLOWER “Grinding” Reps

This rep style is characterized by a deliberate application of constant muscle tension throughout the entire range-of-motion.  Imagine trying to flex the target muscles for an exercise as hard as possible—as if we’re doing a photo shoot for a fitness magazine cover—while executing a single rep for an exercise.

SLOWER Upper Body Demo

SLOWER Lower Body Demo

Pros: Increases total body awareness—which has implications for injury prevention—even if the rest of mainstream health & fitness media deems a particular exercise as being “unsafe;” Simulates the amount of speed and muscle tension required for setting PRs.

Cons: Decreases speed, explosiveness and fast-twitch motor recruitment—which means less carryover to athletic skills that require considerable force and power production; Does not permit the use of momentum to support a smoother eccentric to concentric transition—which will not allow a higher number of reps to be performed cleanly.

When to Use: Ideal for intermediate and advanced-level individuals training in the 1-5 rep range (i.e. working with the higher level progressions of “the big six” from Convict Conditioning) – wherein the emphasis is mostly on strength and precision in power output.

Beyond Calisthenics: For those who wish to supplement their calisthenics training with weighted movements, this rep tempo would be most appropriate for exercises like Turkish get-ups with kettlebells/dumbbells, heavy deadlifts and front squats with a barbell, goblet style shrimp squats (AKA airborne lunges) or Cossack squats (AKA side-to-side squats) with a kettlebell/dumbbell.

MODERATE “Recovery” Reps

This rep style is characterized by a fluid contraction/stretching of the muscles that may also target strength/stability at a specific point throughout a range-of-motion. Imagine the body as an oscillating wave of potential energy—such as a slinky going down a flight of stairs, a child riding a swing back and forth or Wile E. Coyote jumping off the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai with a bungee cord in an attempt to catch The Road Runner.

From a fitness perspective, we’ll have to fire a large number of rapid muscle contractions every second in order for our joints, tendons and muscles to remain stable under oscillating conditions. The more of these contractions we initiate per second while remaining in a stable equilibrium position, the greater our capacity is to recruit the muscles we need to stimulate contraction/growth or stretching/recovery.

There are a few different ways this can be applied:

Isometric Reps

Upper Body Demo

Lower Body Demo

Dead Stop Reps

Upper Body Demo

Lower Body Demo

Pulsed Reps

Upper Body Demo

Lower Body Demo

Normal Reps

Upper Body Demo

Lower Body Demo

Pros: Reinforces a graceful mastering of the positions and transitions throughout a range-of-motion—which can be helpful in overcoming sticking points and plateaus; Encourages healthy circulation and blood flow to muscles, as well as tendons and joints; Ultimately helps make PRs look AND feel easy; Minimizes the amount of muscle fatigue from eccentric stress—which allows the individual to perform more quality work

Cons: Not as energy-expensive as slow or fast rep styles—so they may not be the best starting point for individuals who are simply interested in taking off a few pounds

When to Use: Ideal for anyone interested in progressing high-tension movements like the family of backbends, forward bends, handstands/inversions, front/back/side levers and mid-section holds, as well as one arm or one leg variations for any of these movements—all while facilitating an individual’s original strength training goals

Beyond Calisthenics: For those who wish to supplement their calisthenics training with weighted movements, this rep tempo would be most appropriate for exercises like paused snatches or clean & jerks (i.e. Olympic lifts from floor or blocks), squats with a barbell on the front side or back side, kettlebell or barbell thrusters, cable bicep curls and close grip barbell bench press, as well as farmer’s walks with heavy weight(s) carried above the head, at the “rack position” or beside the torso.

Wrap-Up

At the end of the day, understand that going faster isn’t always better.

And neither is going slower.

We must get stronger and perform better in all rep ranges with their appropriate tempo to balance the physiological and psychological aspects of any workout program.

Since performance is both mental and physical, expect fluctuations to occur depending on sleep and nutrition quality. Learn to respect body along the way to keep those fluctuations to a minimum.

When energy levels are lower, take the intensity down a few notches, and just have some fun without any formal workout structure.

When energy levels are higher, kick the intensity up a few notches, and add in some structured work sets to earn that breakfast, that holiday meal or that dinner out with family & friends over the weekend.

When in doubt, do a little of both!

After all, a wise person once said, “for every action, there’s an equal and opposite amount of laziness we kill.” 😉

Have any favorite rep styles? Or how about a movement flow that combines one or more rep styles?

Share them in the comments below!

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Eric Buratty is the health & fitness coordinator at MMA & Sport in the suburbs of Montgomery County. When he’s not fine-tuning his superhero core powers, he helps self-starters move their bodies with more integrity in both one-on-one and group workout settings, writes actionable health content and seeks out further education to help others prevent health problems instead of cure them.

Get to know Eric better and stay updated on his content by connecting with him on Facebook.

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  • Hi Eric. Interesting stuff as usual, I like your articles.

    2 sets of 5 was my staple for nearly 20 years but it was between manual labor, distance running, cycling everywhere as transport & later long distance swimming. Nothing fast, I figured early on that I had predominately slow twitch fibres & some of the injuries I caught came from moving heavy things too quick. I got into doing higher reps last year as part of the Diesel 20 idea & also moving away from distance training. I quickly found that more reps suited me, lighter intensity, more volume. I still do 2 x 5 for dips & chin ups or some days Coach Wade’s Hartigen method of 5 4 3 2 1 instead, but in front of it now is at least 101 incline push ups & 101 other pull movements. 101 reps is my favorite rep range now. I guess some would just call it an extended warm up.

    I start the set at medium pace, often thinking at 20 that it would be okay to stop. I know that’s just the idleness making itself known – from long distance swimming & running I found (for me) that the time between two fifths & three quarters of the way is the worst of it. I say worst in terms of concentration, having to focus on pushing on & not finding excuses not to scratch your nose, mess with goggles etc. It’s the same on land with calisthenics. Once I get to 75 I know I’m doing okay so 80 to 90 I sometimes speed up a touch & then at 95 slow it right down so that the last 6 reps are slow & tough. Occasionally I get to 80 & decide to carry on – the other week I set out to do 101 squat pull movements. At 20 I was thinking the usual laziness thoughts, but by 80 felt really into it. I was moving quite deliberately so didn’t speed up at all & carried on all the way to 250.

    In the high number sets speed can be played around with – (like the REPLEK concept – not sure if that was your article too) & the last few reps can be to failure just by altering the speed. I know that there are more efficient ways to build muscle, but for me the high reps have the greatest appeal. I’ve read enough science & have met several people who benefited from similar systems to feel it worth pursuing. Moreover I’ve found it easy to motivate myself to do it daily & this feels better for me than days on/off.

    If I get 300 reps done in a day of anything, any combination, I’m reasonably happy but 500+ is the goal. I’ve achieved a lot from very basic training & like the idea that it’s sustainable into old age. I watched the Royal Rumble last night standing up with the rule to do 10 free squats every time a new wrestler joined in – (That’s every 2 minutes.) After number 30 enters my watch timer took over. By the end I’d done 350 reps & enjoyed them all. The event has been going for 28 years, so I’m thinking I might watch one a week for the next 6 months – that’s 9800 easy reps to incorporate without much effort.

    • Eric Buratty

      Thanks for the comment, Dan!

      Keep doing whatever motivates you to dedicate 110 percent effort–and play around with movement complexity so that you can balance boredom and anxiety for a better workout experience, EVERY DAY.

      –Eric

  • Matt Schifferle

    I like the idea of using isometrics and stop reps within a workout. I always find these humbling and a great way to improve the mind-muscle connection.

    • Eric Buratty

      Matt–you know what’s up!

  • WOW! Love all the videos and ideas here. Definitely using a few of them to get past a couple *mental* sticking points! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Eric Buratty

      Hey Adrienne–that sounds like a plan!

      Keep representing for all the strong women out there (who may not even know it yet!) 🙂

      • Aaahh! You make such a good point! I think there are TONS of women who don’t give themselves enough credit or realize their potential because they’ve been bombarded with goofy messages from the media (AND FROM EACH OTHER) on what they can and can’t do. I love shattering those illusions, even if at first they say stuff like “well you’re different and obviously an alien creature”. Its like NOPE, just start with the basics like everyone needs to, and work towards gradually building up strength over time. Such a useful pursuit! Even if they do not aspire to visible muscular strength, building up strong bones and connective tissues (along with muscles) leads to longer, happier lives filled with enjoying activities for a lifetime–no matter what those activities are. tl;dr women, you don’t need “permission” to do TRUE strength training… yoga and running are fine, but they’re not the ONLY things you’re “allowed” to do…. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Love the wrap-up quote at the end, “for every action, there’s an equal and opposite amount of laziness we kill.” All the content in here is killer! Never thought about the pulsing motion as a way to train calisthenics, but now I’m curious to try it out! These are all great ideas for my bodyweight class! Thanks for the videos, too, Eric!

    • Eric Buratty

      Schweeeeet . . . Diesel Grace is in the houzzzze! Can’t wait to hear what you think after trying out the pulsed reps–have fun! 🙂

  • Patrick Brunetti

    Really great article and well explained Eric. I agree with Grace Kavadlo in using some of the methods you talked about in the classes that I teach. I had forgotten some of the methods I use to use in my old weight training days. Love this stuff, thanks my man.

    • Eric Buratty

      You bet, Patrick. Sometimes we need to open the old school toolbox to make our new school approaches more interesting! Thanks for the comment and stay cool.

  • Thoughtborne

    Hey Eric, maybe I’m over-thinking this but I’m not really clear on what you were trying to convey with the moderate recovery reps. Just to clarify, are you saying that the idea is to simply consciously contract and relax the target muscles as rapidly as possible while performing an exercise? Thanks!

    • Eric Buratty

      Thanks for the comment, my man. Yes–you may be over-thinking things here. Take pull-ups on a pair of gymnastics rings, and compare them to the straight bar. The former requires a s*** ton more stability from your core and joints to execute the movement. Use the rep tempo examples from the videos to guide you in getting the most out of either tool. Hope this helps– and keep me posted if any other questions arise.

      • Thoughtborne

        I totally get what you’re saying there, Eric. My confusion comes from the statement “The more of these contractions we initiate per second while remaining in a stable equilibrium position, the greater our capacity is to recruit the muscles…”. From the rings vs bar example, it sounds like you’re saying to favor unstable equipment/exercises to put that idea into effect. But I don’t understand how that only applies specifically to the moderate rep speed nor the techniques demonstrated.
        To my mind, it seems that that idea as well as the isometric, dead stop and pulsed techniques could all by applied using the faster or slower principles, or both, in same cases. My apologies if I’m way over-complicating this!

        • Eric Buratty

          Ahhh–I see what you mean!

          That’s correct–go for the unstable training surfaces when applying the moderate ‘recovery’ style tempos.

          These are all pragmatic examples and tools, my friend.
          Not dogmatic rules.

          In other words, this is just A WAY.
          Not THE WAY.

          If you find the unstable training surfaces/equipment appealing for the slower and faster tempos, who am I to tell you that you can’t try it to see for yourself, what works best for you?

          Best Regards,
          Eric

          • Thoughtborne

            Roger that, Eric. Thanks again for the follow-up and clarification. =)

  • Maverik

    Is there any research to support the figure presented. If so, please provide citations. If not, then it is just one person’s speculation and should be labeled as such. The qualifier word “forecast” (in the figure heading),does not supply the casual reader with enough info to realize this is not science.

    • Eric Buratty

      Supporting references are always provided when available.

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