Why Repetitions are an Important Training Variable

There are four training variables that require manipulation during a workout in order to make significant gains in the gym. An easy way to remember them is with an acronym known as FITT. The FITT Principle, as it is referred to, stands for training frequency, intensity, timing and type (specificity). These variables are controlled for during each training session and over the length of the training program. Frequency is the number of sessions per week, intensity is the load expressed as resistance, time is simply duration of a workout and finally type is the activity.

With that said, to reach any fitness goal, the rules of overload and progression should be followed in a given workout. Each of these are key training principles that refers to the amount of load or resistance and the way that load should be increased respectively.

The Importance of a Repetition

You can perform hundreds of repetitions in a given workout. The speed of a repetition, total number of repetitions and the volume, all play an important role in muscular development. Variations in either will have a direct correlation on the nervous and muscular systems via the corresponding training stimulus. Let’s break down each one of these.

Repetition Speed or Tempo and TUT

A repetition has three distinct phases, an upward, isometric and lowering phase. As a result, we have the ability to increase or decrease time under tension (TUT) by manipulating the tempo (speed) for a given repetition. For example, a workout with a prescribed tempo of 1/1/2 would mean, a 1-second upward (concentric), 1-second isometric and a 2-second lowering (eccentric) phase. Therefore, in this case, each one takes 4-seconds to complete. In other words, 4-seconds x total repetitions = TUT. If we use 8 repetitions as an example, we would have 32-seconds of TUT. A good range to shoot for is about 30-50 seconds of TUT/set. Research has demonstrated the importance of TUT and the key may be in the cumulative effect of TUT for an entire workout (all sets) versus to a single set.

Repetition Tempo x Total # Repetitions = TUT

Quantity of Repetitions

One of the first things you learn when strength training is a higher number of repetitions stimulates muscle endurance while a lower number builds strength. Here is nice graph, showing the importance of a repetition scheme on a specific training goal, as seen in the NSCA manual.

TRAINING GOALREPETITIONSINTENSITY (% 1-RM)
Strength Endurance>12<67%
Hypertrophy6-1267-85%
Maximum Strength<6>85%
Power
-Single-repetition event
-Multiple-repetition event

1-2
3-5

80-90%
75-85%
Source: NSCA Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd ed.) 2008.

Exercise Volume (sets x repetitions x load)

The volume is the quantity of work that someone does in a training session. In regard to strength training, this is the number of repetitions multiplied by the number of sets and weight lifted. For example, performing four sets x 8 using 40-lbs. dumbbells equates to a volume of 32 x 40 or 1280. In addition, volume can also be expressed in terms of distance, time, number of throws, or even number of jumps, etc. For example, when performing medicine ball throws for 35-seconds, volume can be quantified by time. Volume can also be expressed in terms of distance, such as sprinting for 100-meters or running a certain number of miles, like a 5k. An inverse relationship exists between the intensity of an exercise and its volume.

The Value of this Information Moving Forward

During your next workout pay attention to how you execute each repetition in each set you perform. Be more aware of the tempo for each repetition; have an idea of the cumulative TUT post workout. Are you less than 30-seconds/TUT/set like many who train? Is your total TUT changing from one workout to the next based on your training goals? If you know you move through your repetitions quickly, that fine (especially training for power), maybe slow down that final phase of each repetition. The lowering or eccentric phase is important because you can typically handle more weight, so slow things down to challenging your muscles more often, keeping the concept of TUT in the back of your mind. Stay strong with Jefit.

You Can Get Stronger Doing Bodyweight Home Workouts

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Special times call for more creative home workouts. Even though we are all stuck at home because of CV19, life hasn’t stopped and neither should our workout. With local gyms still closed, the only option is working out in and around the home. The question is, can we keep our bodies strong with body weight home workouts?

Some people are more fortunate and have a home gym or some piece of home exercise equipment. The majority of people however don’t have either. The next best option is bodyweight home workouts. The Jefit app, has been helping on that front, by publishing strength-based and bodyweight home workouts to their 10 million members.

Exercise Progression is Key for Home Bodyweight Workouts

You may see improvements in strength initially with bodyweight only as a resistance. The key to a home bodyweight workout is figuring out how to safely progress your workouts over time. The body typically adapts to a new training routine within a few months depending on several factors. After this point it’s important to add exercise progression into the mix. This is done in one of three ways, either changing the sets, repetitions, or resistance. Generally speaking, the goal is in the 2-5 set range and 5-15 repetition range. This could change depending on the individual goals. The resistance needs to be challenging enough to enable you to reach and stay within those ranges. If someone is able to perform more than 12-15 repetitions, then the load is too light and weight should be increased. If bodyweight is the main resistance than you have to get more creative.

Changing the angle of how an exercise is performed (i.e. progress from kneeling push-up to a push-up to an elevated push-up) will also help. A second option is slow down the speed of each repetition in order to increase the time under tension. A third option would be to add an external weight source, like a weighted vest, chains, medicine ball or sandbag when performing the exercise. Finally, a fourth option is to add an incline (hill) or platform (plyobox) to challenge the body even more when doing specific exercises.

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Some of the Better Bodyweight Exercises

The human body cannot differentiate between various types of resistance. It only knows that a load is being placed on the muscles. Free weights typically work best for building strength because you can increase that resistance as the body adapts and gets stronger over time. It becomes more challenging to do that with a person’s body weight only. But if you are creative, you can in fact build strength with just your body weight. This may be challenging to do over a long-period of time though.

There are many great bodyweight exercises to choose from when putting together your bodyweight home workouts. Exercises that are multi-joint are considered best. These are exercise that engage more than one muscle group to perform the movement. These types of exercises are more beneficial than isolation exercises. Multi-joint exercises are also best for building strength and muscle size. Here are some of the best exercises, in no particular order, to add to your bodyweight home workouts. The majority of the exercises listed below are multi-joint exercises.

Bodyweight Exercises

  1. SQUAT
  2. LUNGE
  3. STEP-UP
  4. PULL-UP
  5. CHIN-UP
  6. PUSH-UP (and variations like T-PUSH-UPS)
  7. INVERTED ROW
  8. DIPS
  9. PLANK
  10. SINGLE-LEG GLUTE BRIDGE
  11. PISTOL SQUAT
  12. BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUAT
  13. SINGLE-LEG ROMANIAN DEADLIFT

To answer the original question, can you get stronger doing bodyweight home workouts? The answer is yes. Research published in Physiology & Behavior showed that body weight exercise can be beneficial because muscle growth “can occur independent of an external load.” Additional research in the European Journal of Applied Physiology also showed gains in strength with a “no load” exercise protocol. Let us know if you have a favorite exercise that you’ve been using from home, that’s not listed here. Stay Strong!

ADDITIONAL READING

How to Grow Stronger Without Lifting Weights, Scientific American, Clayton Mosher, 2014.

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