Maximize Results with Each Repetition by Chrissy Zmijewski, MSW
While the kind of program you are on and periodization are critical to your success, another issue is even more crucial: how you execute each repetition in the gym. The “how” includes your form, line of force production, order of muscle engagement, and quality of contraction of the desired muscle(s). Even more important is your mental focus on performing each repetition. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about the importance of focusing on the muscle you are engaging. You must work SMARTER. Rather than focusing on merely completing your workout, you must focus on how you do each repetition in the gym. Each exercise and each repetition has a purpose, and when done with the right alignment, muscle recruitment, and FOCUS, you will get the results that you are looking for.
The only challenge is that getting that alignment and muscle engagement actually means taking a step back, reducing the weight you are using, and focusing on the basics, regardless of how long you have been lifting. Most people see that as regressing and avoid it at all costs. Athletes sacrifice their form as their ego drives them to lift heavier and heavier weight. While the weight they lift increases, their performance and results do not, as the numbers on the dumbbells alone are not indicative of your bodybuilding success.
Your body wants to be as efficient as possible, which is not always in your favor as a competitor. As it follows the path of least resistance, like water flowing downhill, your body recruits the muscles and uses the mechanics that it is most familiar with even if it is not the best structural alignment or the most advantageous. To change the way your body moves, new mechanics must be practiced over and over again until these mechanics can be produced automatically.
Therefore, they dedicate part of their training to ingraining the pattern that they want by doing that movement over and over again with intense focus.
Look at any professional athlete and you will see that part of their training protocol is to work on their form on various techniques. Why? Their bodies, just like yours, have developed neuropathways for movements that may not be the most ideal for success in their sport. Therefore, they dedicate part of their training to ingraining the pattern that they want by doing that movement over and over again with intense focus. Research shows that these sessions are most beneficial when done for shorter periods of time more frequently (rather than only doing them once or twice a week for an extended period of time). There is no set time limit on how long it will take for the new movement pattern to become ingrained, but when practiced consistently, the body will learn and adapt to using the new movement pattern so that it is now the body’s preferred method of moving.
If you are like most bodybuilders, skill development may not be part of your training protocol. You go into the gym, lift weights, do your HIIT (high intensity interval training) program, eat, and rest, but if you want maximal results, you need to incorporate skill development and mental focus into your routine. Maintaining proper form with light weight is usually not as much of a challenge, but putting your body under heavy weight is a different story. Like the athlete who needs to work on their technique during game situations, the heavier weights are your game. When your body is under duress, it will choose the easiest way out. You have to incorporate skill development into your program and teach your body the correct mechanics. Otherwise, your body will choose the form that gets that weight up any way it can. While you may be excited that you can lift more weight, your inability to execute a lift with the right technique may cost you growth and a 1st place finish.
Your sport is bodybuilding. You are literally sculpting your body, so that it is symmetrical top to bottom, front to back, and right to left sides. It is an art and one that takes great attention and care. You must be conscious of what muscles you are engaging. Your form for each exercise should target the muscles that need to be balanced. If not, expect that your results will be sub-par.
As an example, I train many competitors who swear that it is not in their genetics to have a round gluteus maximus. They tell me about the various versions of squats and lunges that they do and nothing seems to work. When I work with them in the gym and examine their mechanics and muscle engagement, I am not surprised to find that they have limited to no glute engagement on these lifts. Their bodies’ habitual way of moving is one that does not focus on glute engagement, so no amount of squats or lunges is going to help until their alignment changes and they can recruit the glute muscle in their squats and lunges. Their training includes both skill development, mental focus on glute engagement, and exercises to “trick” their body into getting the glutes to fire.
While it may sound impressive that you squat X number of pounds, when you are on stage, the judges do not care.
This is both a physical and metal endeavor. Since the muscle is unaware that it needs to be contracting, conscious attention must initially be put on that muscle and you must mentally send a signal for it to contract. At first, the muscle may not respond, but with consistent focus, the right mechanical loading conditions and practice, the muscle will realize that it is supposed to be working during a particular lift and will start to engage. Because this is unfamiliar to the body, the weight that you use on the lift will have to significantly decrease until you can maintain proper form, engage the glute, and complete the lift. If you simply do a little bit of mental training and then load the weight on, the glutes will not be strong enough to handle the weight and your body will resort back to its old, familiar way of moving.
While it may sound impressive that you squat X number of pounds, when you are on stage, the judges do not care. They are only looking at the physique you have developed while doing your daily training in the gym, and if you did not take the time to focus on skill development, it will show in the physique that you present. On the other hand, if your ego is willing to take a temporary hit by lifting less weight to focus on skill, you are on your way to a more balanced body.
As you start incorporating skill development into your protocol, your effort in the gym will produce greater results.
Using the example of squats and glute engagement is only one of the many examples I could use to demonstrate how the specific form you utilize in the gym makes or breaks your physique. As you start incorporating skill development into your protocol, your effort in the gym will produce greater results. Now you are working smarter instead of harder! You do not need to add hours and hours of time in the gym to accomplish this. Even five to ten minutes, four times a week is sufficient to begin creating different neuropathways in the body.
While there is much more to consider when it comes to the quality of contraction with each repetition, the information here will help you start thinking about your current routine and how you are performing each repetition. The process of developing a winning physique requires that you first honestly assess your current physique. It is often best if you have a professional do this for you, as they are able to see minor details that you may overlook. You are used to looking at your body everyday and may not see the imbalances or “imperfections” that may be glaring on stage. Have them assess what muscles are overdeveloped and which ones are underdeveloped and create a workout routine that focuses on the areas that need the most improvement. These two steps are only the beginning, however. Once you have your program, you need to ensure that you are lifting in a way that targets these muscles effectively.
If you would like help assessing your physique and developing your skill to get greater results with your workout program, contact Performance Enhancement Specialist Chrissy Zmijewsk, MSW, FNS, CPT at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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