Lift your training to a new level by tweaking the timing of your reps!
‘Tweak my timing? Do you want me to dance now?’ Don’t worry, you don’t have to move the weights to the rhythm of your music.
Let me explain to you what exactly I mean.
We often hear the prejudice that at some point you will not get any further when training with your own bodyweight only. We have already answered in a blog post that this is completely wrong. You have countless ways to create new training impulses just by altering your body position, increasing the number of reps or the instability. And today we’d like to talk about another option which has been tested and proven: timing your reps.
By timing your reps I mean the speed with which you go through every phase of a movement. You can divide a movement into the following phases:
- the eccentric phase: the part of a movement where you lower your body or the weight and the working muscles lengthen (during a squat, for example, this would be the part where you move your butt down)
- the pause afterwards: how long do you stay in the lowest part of the squat?
- the concentric phase: the part of the movement in which the working muscles shorten (you get back up from the lowest position of a squat, for example)
- the pause at the end of the movement which at the same time is also the pause before a new rep (you are standing upright, knees are stretched)
The speed is denoted with 4 digits (seconds) or letters. You might already have stumbled upon directives like the following in strength training programs: 4010
Looks like a zip code, doesn’t it?
In this example, the first digit tells you to work eccentrically for 4 seconds. In a squat this means that you would lower your butt and reach the lowest point 4 seconds after starting to move. The second digit – 0 – shows that you have no pause at the lowest point. You start directly with stretching your legs (concentric phase) and, as denoted by the third digit, are back in an upright position after 1 second. In the starting point, digit number 4, there is no pause, thus you immediately start to lower your body again.
Especially strength training programs of experienced coaches often contain notes on movement speed and rep timing because you can achieve completely different results with the same exercise and the same number of reps just by varying the rep timing. If you want to train for explosive power you would keep the concentric phase as fast as possible, a long eccentric phase, in contrast, is good for hypertrophy training and benefits muscle growth. In general, you always train all components of strength if you don’t place any particular emphasis on rep timing. You can, however, change the main focus by tweaking your rep timing. Bodybuilding, powerlifting, and athletic training mostly differ in their rep timing.
Let’s say I wanted to do a push-up with a sling trainer and lower myself as quickly as possible then I would be taking advantage of the prestretching, and thus the neuromuscular spindle reflex, to generate more initial force. However, this requires that there is no pause in the lowest position and an equally quick upward movement. A great way to increase power for boxers or athletes that throw and/or bat.
One possible timing would be 10X0.
This is also a great progression for hobby athletes (an increase in training intensity) because doing every movement in the same moderate speed would at some point start to lose its training effect. Or try something completely different: when doing pull-ups lower yourself as slowly as possible. You will soon realize that you can only do a fraction of your normal number of reps. The impacts on your muscles, however, will be huge. After some time you will build more strength and your muscles will start to grow. This tip is not only great for people that already struggle to complete one pull-up. But if you have trouble pulling yourself up for the first rep try to work on your eccentric phase first. The rest will soon almost by itself.
Go ahead and try it and leave your experiences in the comment section. What is your favorite rep timing scheme?