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It isn't so much the weight your athletes can lift as the way they do it

Coaches are always asking us how to initiate a strength program, and we tell them that it all starts with the execution of the repetition.

Technique is the key to the strength program. Until you decide exactly how to perform each rep, everything else is meaningless.

Once the athlete understands what you want from him, he will be ready for your protocol on how to complete the set. You cannot ask anyone to perform four sets of eight reps without first teaching him how to execute the reps and finish the sets.

Once these basics are established, you should be able to look around the weight room and observe a standard form of execution, regardless of the equipment used or the exercise being performed.

We call this rep reproduction. Each rep must look identical. Everything you do while performing an exercise and everything you do between sets must maintain a consistency and reliability in monitoring your strength gains.

Whenever your athlete adds weight to an exercise, you must make sure that he has done so because he has gotten stronger without compromising form.

Following are the key points we stress while teaching our players how to execute a single rep. Every day in our facility, we reinforce these points:

* Force the muscles to raise the weight (through the muscles' fullest range of motion).

* Pause momentarily in the contracted position.

* Emphasize the lowering phase (through the muscles' fullest range of motion).

* Eliminate momentum at the transition point.


The player must raise the weight at a speed that forces the muscles to perform all of the work. There can be no sudden movements that cause a rapid change of speed or the use of any momentum. No bouncing, jerking, or sudden movements (cheating) that can minimize the number of muscle fibers recruited.

We teach our players to try to raise the weight as fast as they want or can, provided the muscles do all of the work. The player must then pause momentarily in the contracted position before lowering the weight. Don't be misled by the word "fast." A heavy weight can only be lifted so fast.

For an idea of how we train our players, have one of your athletes perform the underhand lat pull-down [ILLUSTRATION FOR PHOTO 1 OMITTED].

He can pull the bar down at any speed he wants. But he must stop (no visible bounce) in the contracted position. If he cannot pause for a count of 1001, the weight is too heavy or some momentum is being used to help lift (throw) the weight.

You may also have the athlete perform a bent-over row with a dumbbell. He may raise the dumbbell at any speed he wants, while keeping the upper body parallel to the floor throughout the exercise (eliminating the lower back muscles).

Once the weight is raised, the athlete must pause in the contracted position [ILLUSTRATION FOR PHOTO 2 OMITTED] for a count of 1001. If he cannot hold the dumbbell in this position until 1001, the weight is too heavy or the athlete is using some momentum to help (throw) the weight instead of allowing the muscles to lift it. You cannot fool the brain. If you incorporate momentum, you will need fewer muscle fibers to do the work.

Dr. Bob Christina, renowned Motor Learning expert, states, "It is the neurological intent to raise a weight fast that is the key to developing explosiveness, not that the implement itself is lifted fast."

For example, observe the raising speed of a power lifter attempting to bench-press a heavy weight. In competition, he will lower the weight to his chest and pause momentarily with the bar touching his chest. He will then try his hardest to "explode" - raising the weight as fast as he can.

It is the power lifter's neurological intent to raise the weight fast. But the bar will move in a smooth and controlled manner. This occurs because the weight is heavy enough and the form required strict enough to eliminate momentum while raising the weight. We suggest that this be done with all exercises.

Remember, it is not how fast the implement moves that is the key. This can be demonstrated with an isometric contraction. Fast-twitch muscle fibers can be recruited while performing an isometric contraction {where there is no movement at all). It is the effort exerted and the intent of the effort that ultimately generate the explosiveness we look for from exercise - not how fast the implement is being thrown up and down.

The speed at which our players lift a weight is no different from that of most strength programs. You can only lift a heavy weight so fast. The only major difference between our program and others may be that our athletes are taught to eliminate momentum, pause momentarily in the contracted position, and take more time to lower the weight.


The lowering of the weight constitutes half of the exercise. It is done with the same muscles that raised the weight. Significant strength can be gained (from lowering the weight) by adhering to stringent guidelines.

Gravity makes it easier to lower the weight, but the strength gain can be nullified by ignoring this part of the exercise. Athletes often choose to focus only on the lifting part of the exercise.

Athletes who take more time to lower a weight may increase the amount of work done while decreasing the amount of weight lifted.

Unless taught the value of eccentric exercise (lowering a weight), most athletes will sacrifice form during the lowering phase in exchange for the ability to lift more weight or do more reps. As fatigue sets in, each rep will become more difficult to perform.

Regardless of how hard it is to raise a weight, the lifter is always capable of lowering the weight in good form. Coaches must encourage them to be disciplined and not "give in" during the lowering phase as they fatigue.

Fewer muscle fibers will be used to lower the weight that was raised unless you observe one or both of the following:

* Take longer to lower the weight.

* Add more weight during the lowering phase.

It's a fact: You can lower more weight than you can raise. For better results, you could have spotters add more plates when you lower a weight and take them off when you raise it. A more pragmatic approach would be to take more time to lower the same weight raised.

By taking more time to lower the weight (regardless of the equipment used), you can make the exercise harder and more productive. For example, while performing bodyweight dips [ILLUSTRATION FOR PHOTO 3 OMITTED], athletes often drop rapidly, ignoring the potential strength benefits derived from taking more time to lower their body in good form. The only concern is "how many dips can I do?" (with little or no concern about how each rep is completed).

Teach them to emphasize the lowering of the weight and the exercise will immediately become harder (and more productive). Many athletes perform "half dips," making the exercise easier (and less productive). On every rep, have them lower their chest until it touches their hands before raising the weight. When they can perform 10 - 12 reps in good form with their bodyweight, begin adding extra weight.

What is the ideal amount of time needed to lower a weight? Who knows. We certainly don't. Common-sense and logic dictate that more time must be taken to lower a weight than or raise it.

As a guideline, we'd suggest you watch the speed of a power lifter lowering a weight in competition and use that as a standard.

Our players take approximately 50 seconds to complete a set of 10 reps. This includes raising and lowering the weight through the muscles' fullest range of motion, with a momentary pause in the contracted and extended position.


The transition point is the position during an exercise in which the lifter makes the transition from lowering a weight to raising it [ILLUSTRATION FOR PHOTO 4 OMITTED]. The weight should be lowered in a smooth and controlled manner to this point before the lifter begins to think about raising the weight.

More often than not, lifters can be observed letting the weight fall effortlessly as they approach the transition point, and then bouncing the weight to use some momentum to help raise the weight. This is an attempt to make the exercise easier and less productive.

If your goal is to have your players develop strength throughout the entire range of motion of any exercise, require them to eliminate any bouncing or cheating motions at the transition point.


Without a video, it is difficult to illustrate how our players perform a rep. To better understand how we do it, have one of your players warm up on the bench press. Then select a weight that he can barely complete eight strict reps.

Start him off by having him lower the bar to his chest and pause, ever so briefly. (Do not allow any bounce in this position.) Then ask him to raise the weight as fast as he can and pause briefly (count of 1001) in the arms-extended position [ILLUSTRATION FOR PHOTO 5 OMITTED]. Time how long it takes him to raise the weight.

Use the above protocol for each rep. On each succeeding rep (if you want), you can yell, scream, holler, tell him to "explode" when he raises the weight off his chest.

Time each of the reps separately from the point of pausing briefly with the bar on his chest, until his arms are completely extended. You'll note that the raising speed will be approximately the same for each rep until the last rep or two. As fatigue sets in, the raising speed may slow down slightly, even though the lifter is trying to explode in the same manner as he did when he raised the weight on the first rep.

The average speed of the eight reps performed is probably a good guideline to use for all exercises. If the weight is raised any faster, it is too light or some momentum is being used to help raise the weight.


On the field, you must practice fast if you want to be fast. In the weight room, you must train hard - the harder the better. But, remember, it's not how much weight your athletes lift that is the key, but how they lift the weight.

To generate maximum gains in strength, power, and explosiveness, they must try to lift as much weight at they possibly can, but never at the expense of good form and technique. They must also emphasize the lowering of the weight, pausing in the contracted position, and eliminating momentum during the raising phase.

It's time for you to make "rep reproduction" part of your weight room credo.

May the Power Be with You!
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Title Annotation:method in weight lifting exercises
Author:Arapoff, Jason
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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