10 simple ways to make every rep more effective

Make these small adjustments to get big benefits and accelerate your progress

Squeeze the target muscle
This is so simple to do, yet is often overlooked by the average gym-goer. At the top of each rep, squeeze the target muscle so that you feel it properly contract. The better the contraction, the better the muscle-building result.

Squeeze the agonist muscle
The agonist muscle is the one on the opposite side to the target muscle. So, if you’re training your biceps (the front of your upper arms), the agonist is the triceps (the back of your upper arms). Before you start each rep, squeeze the agonist muscle to ensure that you use a full range of motion and also send the right signals from brain to muscle to maximise muscle fibre recruitment. Again, so simple but so effective.

Don’t use momentum
If you swing your weights around you aren’t properly applying tension to the target muscles. And it’s the application of tension, rather than the number on the end of your dumbbell, that really matters. Using momentum might help to grow your ego but it won’t do much for your muscles.

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Think about the muscle 
This is an old-school bodybuilder technique. You’ve probably heard of the mind-muscle connection, and it’s real – studies have shown that thinking about the muscle you’re trying to target will have a positive impact on the effectiveness of your session.

Use mental cues
Your overall goal for the session should be to perform every rep as well as you can. One way of helping yourself get focused before the start of a set is to use a verbal or physical cue to tell your brain, “right, time to go to work”. You could say the word “strong” to yourself. Or you could quickly tense your muscles. See what works for you.

Create a pre-set routine
To take the above idea a step further, you could create a pre-set routine. This could involve something along the lines of purposefully planting your feet, taking three deep breaths and visualising the first rep before you get the weights in place. Remember: a focused rep is an effective rep.

Control the eccentric 
The eccentric (lowering) phase of a lift is important because it’s an opportunity to expose your muscle to stress in its strongest part of the lift. Take the bench press, for example. If you drop the bar to your chest, rather than controlling the lowering phase of the lift, you’re missing out on a huge proportion of the exercise’s potential benefit.

Keep tension on the muscle 
Rather than jolting your joints and locking out on every rep, aim to maintain tension in the muscle by keeping a softness in your joints, particularly in machine and isolation moves. For heavy compound lifts, such as deadlifts, squats and bench presses it is safer to lock out each rep.

Make the first rep count 
You will always be comparatively fresh at the start of each set, so it’s easy to switch off for the first couple of reps. Remember, they way you perform the first rep will determine the quality of your set.

Squeeze the bar 
Squeezing the weight before you lift will send a signal to your brain to recruit muscle fibres and help you move the load. It will also help to get your mind focused so you can put maximum effort into the exercise.

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