April 8, 2012

The Value Of Repeated Efforts

“Practice makes perfect” is a saying that many of the greatest coaches and athletes live by, and with good reason. Like anything in life, you can make the assumption that the more times you do something, the better you’ll likely become at it. It’s rare to see anyone pick up a new skill/sport with no prior training, and excel at it. Strength training is no different. Whether you want to believe it or not, lifting weights is a skill.
While the saying “practice makes perfect” may sound accurate, it actually is flawed because if you are practicing poorly, then you’re only making things worse for yourself, as the dysfunctional motor patterns that are developed from performing anything less than perfectly will likely negatively affect you in some way sooner or later. That’s where the saying “perfect practice makes perfect” becomes more accurate if becoming the best you can, at whatever you endeavour, is your primary purpose.
As it relates to strength training, assuming you are lifting with proper form, the traditional hypertrophy protocol (3 sets of 10), is certainly better than nothing, but likely not enough to make maximal progression in strength development.
Multiple set protocols are the most effective way to go about improving strength levels as increases in strength are primarily credited to increases in neuromuscular coordination. This basically means that the more times you perform a movement (PROPERLY), the more efficient your nervous system will become at recruiting the “right” muscles at the “right” times. The better you become at doing this, the more force you’ll be able to generate, AKA you are stronger.
Performing repeated efforts with high intensities have shown to deliver the most positive testosterone response from training. This alone will lead to an increase in strength development as testosterone improves the muscles’ ability to contract because of the positive effects it has on the neuromuscular system.
Increases in strength do not necessarily translate into increases in hypertrophy directly, but it certainly helps. The increases in strength that are developed from performing repeated efforts with high intensities will enable you to use heavier weights when using hypertrophy methods, therefore maximizing the equation for results: LOAD X TIME UNDER TENSION.
Repeated efforts are also necessary to fully deplete glycogen storage, which is another way to increase hypertrophy. The more glycogen depleted through training, the more glycogen that can be replenished post training, and greater size is the result.
Performing repeated efforts with low-moderate intensities with minimal rest intervals have shown to deliver the most positive growth hormone response from training. This alone will lead to greater hypertrophy as growth hormone is also an anabolic hormone.
In sport, repeated efforts are needed to win championships. While you can win a single game/competition by scoring once, or by being somewhat unproductive, to be the best you need to be able to repeat positive efforts, whether it be scoring a touchdown/field goal, sinking a basketball, hitting a baseball, knocking out an opponent, etc. You can’t just do things once and expect to win consistently!
In business, repeated efforts are needed to become successful. While you can make a lot of money by signing one big deal, to be wealthy you need to find something that “works”, relative to the business you’re involved in, and stick to that. If, and when, you figure out what that is, you do it again, and again, and again.
Like sports and business, fitness (strength and/or muscular development, fat loss, etc.) is no different. Assuming you know how to perform the exercises you choose to do, to get the best result given your time and effort, you need to repeat your efforts.
If you take your training seriously and look at it as “work”, then you probably already understand the value of performing repeated efforts. Like work, as in your occupation, the harder you work, and more work you get done, the greater reward you’ll get in return, as in paycheque.
Unfortunately, lifting weights is often perceived as “hard work”, and people usually tend to shy away from doing things that are “hard” unless they have a true understanding of the benefit, and the reward, AKA result, and thus it is worth it to them.
Even those that enjoy “hard work” as in lifting heavy weights, or at least understand the necessity of lifting heavy weights, the majority of lifters STILL only perform one or two “heavy” sets. It is very common to see the biggest guys in any gym pyramiding up (going progressively heavier with each set) their sets up to one, or two, heavy sets, before pyramiding back down (going progressively lighter with each set).
The reason for this is crystal clear. IT’S HARD WORK TO LIFT HEAVY ASS WEIGHTS REPEATEDLY! But for those who are willing to do the “hard work”, the results are theirs to be had. Multiple-set protocols, AKA repeated efforts, with exercises that provide the most bang for your buck, is the most effective way to accomplish any goal whether it be increased strength, increased muscle mass, or even decreased bodyfat.
There are two primary ways to apply the value of repeated efforts for improvement in the performance of whatever exercise you choose.
The first way is to take an exercise (bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and dips are especially effective here because you cannot reduce the weight below your bodyweight) where you can only get a certain amount of reps, and only perform half of that, but for ten sets.
For example, let’s say you can only do 8 pull-ups. If you were to do a set of 8, it isn’t likely that you’d be able to repeat that the second time around. Even if you could, the chance of doing a third set of 8 is minimal, if 8 actually was your true 8 rep max.
What you would do instead of going for 8 reps is stop at 4, even though you could do 8, but do ten total sets! If you can complete all ten sets of 4, then next time you aim for ten sets of 5. You continue to go in this fashion until you are satisfied with your strength, as well as endurance.
When you get to the point where you can do your current 8 rep max, for ten sets of 8, there is no question that you will have made a dramatic improvement in performance in an exercise that once presented you with a substantial amount of difficulty
The second way is to have an absolute goal. By absolute goal, have a fixed number of repetitions that you’d like to perform with a given exercise and a fixed weight, and do as many sets as needed to hit that goal.
Using the bodyweight, 8 rep max pull-up as an example again, you would have a pre-determined amount of reps that you would aim for, and not go home until you complete all of them.
Let’s say, your goal was to perform 50 total pull-ups. You would essentially perform as many sets till failure as needed to get all 50 reps. The next time you would simply try to do 50 again, but get it done in less sets, or you could see how many more reps you did in the same amount of sets. Whichever way you choose to go, just be consistent each and every time so that you can quantify your results.
The absolute number you choose is entirely up to you, but in my experience to make optimal improvement you need to perform at least 30 reps at a given weight per workout.
Both of these methods can be used with any exercise, not just bodyweight exercises. For example, if you wanted to increase your bench press you could simply pick your 6 rep max, and perform ten sets of 3, or you could take your 5 rep max and do as many sets as needed to get to 50 reps. Either way, you’re exposing the neuromuscular system enough times to a certain intensity that is relatively “abnormal” to the point that it will become “normal”.
At the end of the day, lifting weights is hard work.
If it were easy everyone would do it.
But it isn’t.
It comes down to how bad you want it.
To be the best there is (or best you can be) at anything you do, you need to be able to repeat your efforts.
If you have any questions about the value of repeated efforts, feel free to contact me at ben@paramounttraining.ca. I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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