More than a year ago I began a thread on the board about myself that generated interest in my experiences in training naturally and making continuous gains over the course of 16+ years. As I answered questions relating to all aspects of my ‘take’ on nutrition, recovery, and training, I began a sister thread devoted exclusively to my training methods as they have evolved. Given the opportunity, I would like to use Mind & Muscle as a means of re-examining some of the most beneficial elements of my training strategies. The focus of this article is on the controlled explosive rep.
The controlled explosive rep combines repetition styles in a manner that maximizes training efficiency and effectiveness. I developed this style of repetition as I searched for a means to combine two training principles that I found to be very effective, while being ever vigilant of preventing injuries. I realized early on that, beyond continuously increasing the amount of weight lifted, there were other means of increasing the workload on a muscle. Increased stress on the muscle can be achieved by simply slowing down repetition speed. Likewise, learning to truly force targeted muscles to perform the majority of the work through a full range of motion and achieving maximal contraction, produces an increase in direct stress on the muscles. Although slowing things down and squeezing muscles results in a more focused contraction, my work in powerlifting has taught me the benefits of explosive repetitions (with regard to both strength and size increases), and I have worked to develop a technique to bridge the two seemingly oppositional styles. The end result is a style that I have found to be tremendously effective.
The controlled explosive repetition is a QUALITY repetition incorporating several techniques intended to train muscles (and in turn, muscle fibers) efficiently, safely and effectively. The goal of the controlled explosive repetition is to combine the desirable full range of motion with a dynamic, explosive rep speed, while removing (as much as possible) the opportunity for ‘cheating’ via the use of momentum, or much worse, injury. By paying very careful attention to the details of the movement, a full range of motion and an explosive rep speed, maximal muscular contraction can be achieved.
For the sake of description, envision yourself taking the bar off of the uprights on a bench press. The controlled explosive repetition begins with a slow negative taking 3-5 seconds to travel down, followed by a complete stop at the bottom of the movement. There should be NO bounce or rebound, but the stop should be momentary, and should NOT allow tension to release from all of the muscles and connective tissues involved. Imagine a tight spring finally coming to its maximal compression, ready to reverse direction and release its potential energy.
Following the pause, a slow, controlled ascent begins, and then after the weight has moved one-half to one inch, the explosive rep is performed. To clarify, the muscles, NOT THE HANDS OR OTHER FIRST LINKS IN THE CHAIN, begin the motion slowly, under COMPLETE CONTROL. Once complete control has been established and the intended muscles are moving the weight, the explosion begins. Careful attention must be paid to ensure that the range of motion through which the weight travels is indeed the most effective path to reach maximal contraction, NOT simply the shortest distance between two points.
Although this portion of the repetition is being referred to as the ‘explosion’, it should be performed in a manner that maintains tension on the targeted muscles, NOT simply thrown or otherwise uncontrolled. To perfect this portion of the movement, one could practice exercise form slowly, working it until the target muscles can be isolated via strict form. Once this is achieved, rep speed can be gradually increased until the muscles can be effectively targeted with greater velocity.
The rep slows down UNDER CONTROL one to one-half inch from completion, so that MUSCLES, NOT JOINTS control the final contraction. That last inch to half-inch of motion is the point where maximal contraction must be performed, to the point of forcing the muscle to such an extreme contraction that it nears cramping.
The reason for a complete stop, a brief slow movement, and then the explosive force is that two undesirable possibilities can occur if that protocol is not followed. If the complete stop is not employed, a bounce occurs, decreasing the training effect on the muscle and increasing the chance for injury. If the complete stop occurs, but the 1/2 inch of controlled lift does not precede the explosive force, the explosion begins from the stopping point, and intentionally or not, there is a ‘release’ or very brief rest in the stop position, in an attempt to pool one’s resources for the explosion. If this occurs, there is that brief moment when muscles, connective tissues, etc. are ‘slack’ or ‘flaccid’, and the sudden explosive force puts tremendous strain on them (particularly the joints).
Although the description of the form is divided into distinct segments, the motion should not be excessively ‘jerky’. It will take practice, thought, continuous re-evaluation, and more practice to perfect the motion, but once perfected this may potentially provide the ‘perfect’ rep.
No single style of training is likely to suit everyone or even suit one trainee for an indefinite period of time, but a style or strategy based in sound principles of sports physiology is very likely to be an effective tool for many of us to use and re-visit as long as it proves effective. The controlled explosive rep is one such concept, and I hope that many of you will indeed put in the time necessary to learn the form and find it useful.