EYC Podcast #9 Text Breakdown
How Repetitions Affect a Workout
When putting a routine together, it’s very important to understand how you are going to structure your repetitions and how they pertain to your goals. Do you want to build raw power, do you want to improve your endurance, do you want to maximize muscular strength? Are you training for a particular sport? Understanding how repetitions can pertain to achieving your goals is important because it will help tailor them to what you want to get out of a workout. Now of course there are many factors that come together to make a great routine, but this will shed some light on one of these aspects
On the lower end of the spectrum, between 1-4 reps, you’ll get more focus on building raw power – you’ll usually see this a lot with the heavier, more compound exercises like deadlifts, or clean and press. You’ll often see longer periods of recovery between sets because the goal is not to completely exhaust the muscles during the training. As you approach 1 rep, it correlates with your 1 rep maximum, or 100% of the weight you can move. Knowing your 1 rep max can be useful for understanding where you are at and setting a bar that you can overcome with time and training. As you move up the scale, 5-12 represents a range ideal for muscular strength and growth. Within this range you are looking at anywhere from 70-80% of your 1 rep maximum. This is where bodybuilders would tend to focus because their goals require maximum growth. Because you are recruiting a lower percentage of your 1 rep max, it allows you to perform a higher amount of repetitions, and exhaust your muscles. This method of training will require more recovery time between sessions so the muscles can repair and grow. Finally, on the higher end of the scale at 12+ reps, muscular endurance will improve – this generally anything below 70% of your 1 rep maximum, so an even higher amount of repetitions can be achieved. Because of the reduced intensity, less recovery between workouts is needed. This can be useful for endurance sports like cycling, or even just making it easier to perform every day tasks. For beginners, it’s a good idea to focus on endurance in order to ease the body into training, practice proper technique, and building confidence.
The key is understanding your goals, and go from there. From a calisthenics standpoint, you may hear people ask – can I build size using bodyweight only exercise? This is a really good way to illustrate what I’ve discussed so far, and the answer is absolutely! What you need to keep in mind is you have to setup your training in a way that promotes muscular growth – ensuring that you are working to exhaust your muscles, allowing sufficient recovery time between workouts, using simpler compound exercises that will allow you to reach a higher amount of reps, and related to today’s topic, ensuring that the amount of reps is in the range for muscular growth.
A great book based entirely around this concept is “C-Mass” by Paul “Coach” Wade and I encourage you to check it out if you want to learn more about building size using calisthenics training
One thing that I will emphasize throughout my podcasts is that nothing is certain – things like what I’ve discussed are guidelines, and everyone is different. One of my favourite aspects of training is the experimental side of it which helps figure out what works for you, how your body works, and how it responds to exercise. Most importantly, you want to design a safe and effective routine that you love to do and guidelines like the above, the many great resources and books out there, or a great trainer can help you get there
The Almighty Pull-Up
The pull-up has always been a great measure of overall strength, and can humble even the best of us with its difficulty. It is still one of the exercises that I find the most difficult to progress, however it is extremely rewarding when I do. I think that it is often avoided because it is so difficult and people could greatly benefit by understanding how to approach their first pull-up in a progressive way. Understanding what to do in order to regress, or progress a pull-up variation. I will also discuss a little bit about the different grips that are available and how they can be used.
First I just want to talk a bit about how my approach has been and any insight that I have learned. When I first truly began training pull-ups consistently, I had no idea how to approach it, but over time, I was able to make great progress so it’s not to say that you can’t get anywhere by taking a less structured approach, no, get out there and do them any way you can, however I think approaching it in a progressive way can help build confidence and ensure you are getting the most out of every workout.
When I began training the pull-up, I found I was just doing my max number of reps per set, and doing as many sets as I could. I usually kept the number of sets between 8-10, and nearing the final sets I was doing 1 or 2 reps max. I started with the underhand pull-up, or chin-up, which is common for new practitioners because it allows you to involve the biceps to a greater degree, helping compensate for a weaker torso. As I gained strength, I began including hammer grip pull-ups, and standard pull-ups, using pretty much the same rep and set structure. With time however, I did follow more of a standard rep and set structure, usually keeping the reps between 8-10 for 4-5 sets. Even to this day, I tend to stay in the strength rep range for advanced exercises like typewriter pull ups, or uneven pull-ups, and the hypertrophy range for less advanced variations.
The reason I gave you an idea of how it worked for me is to emphasize that mine is one of many different pathways to pull-up strength. It will likely be very different for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Doing what you can is better than not doing them at all, and try not to avoid them because they are too difficult, or because you can only do 1-2 reps and can do 20 of something else. As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, pull-ups can be very humbling, but when you see progress, even in the smallest way, it is extremely rewarding.
What I wish I knew back when I started is that pull-ups can be approached in a structured and progressive way, which can make the process less daunting. I wrote an article on the website that I really encourage you to check out, which is about using the inverted row to help build the necessary strength for your first pull-up. It’s a great way to accustom yourself with the pulling motion, and build strength in your back, biceps, and shoulders. I still use the inverted row in my routines and many of the grips and variations used in pull-ups, can be simulated using the inverted row. The smith machine at the gym is a great way to train the inverted row because the height of the bar can be changed, while also providing a stable bar to hang from. The parallel bars I am using in the photos in the article are another great option. One thing that I want to emphasize here, which I also mention in the article, is that inverted rows are not meant as a substitute for pull-ups. They are a horizontally oriented pull, whereas pull-ups are vertical, however they can still help develop the necessary strength to achieve your first pull-up.
You can also approach pull-ups in a progressive way using vertically oriented movements, and that is something I’ll be getting into in a future podcast. I’ll also be writing an article related to it so stay tuned.
The overall message I wanted to get across today is, don’t be so intimidated by the pull-up that you avoid it. While the haphazard way I approached them initially might not have been ideal, I’m glad that I just went ahead and did them anyway, and made an effort over time to learn how to approach them with more understanding