Fitness Corner: Reps


Texans strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley writes his popular Fitness Corner column for HoustonTexans.com. Riley and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to fitness@houstontexans.com.
Here's Dan...

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When I played football in high school I lifted to achieve a one rep maximum. Why do your players train in the medium rep range? Is it better for overall size and strength? Is it safer and does it help with recovery?


Sgt. David Caruso 4 th Plt. *
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2 nd Force Recon Fwd.

Unit 76671
*Iraq *

Thank you for your interest in the Fitness Corner and more important, on behalf of every member of the Texans organization, I would like to sincerely thank you and all soldiers for your commitment and willingness to serve and protect our country. Your jobs are far more important than anything we do in the National Football League.

Your questions are good ones. I have been a strength coach for thirty-three years and have tried many things. If it is properly performed the system our players now use, will produce as much strength and size as any system available, to include max rep training.

If properly performed, our system is the safest form of strength training available. Injuries cannot be tolerated in the weight room. Our rep range is more joint friendly than using heavy weights and low reps. Heavy weight – low rep training will increase the likelihood of a sudden injury, and/or injuries later in life due to the accumulative effects of joint erosion.

Early in my career I focused on improving the one rep maximum. Many years ago, the influence of the competitive lifter (Olympic lifter, Power lifter) had many coaches organizing their rep range around a one maximum repetition. The influence of competitive lifters and track athletes continues to affect the organization of many strength programs for football players and other athletes.

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There is a linear relationship with how much weight you can lift for a one maximum rep and how much weight you can lift for multiple reps (six reps, eight reps, or ten reps). Modern day conversion charts are available to help predict how much weight an athlete can lift and for how many reps. Increase how much weight you can lift for eight reps and your one max rep will also increase. How much it increases will be determined by your neuromuscular efficiency.

There is a specific neurological skill required to perform heavy one rep maximums. You will not develop the skill necessary to safely and effectively perform a heavy one max repetition unless you perform max reps with some degree of frequency. This is a must for the competitive lifter but not necessary for our football players.

Multiple sets of non-productive exercise must be performed prior to lifting very heavy weights. These are non-strength producing sets that serve as warm-up and gradually prepare the muscles for heavier weights. Our players cannot afford to waste time or energy on non-productive exercise.

More important than the number of repetitions performed is the amount of time a muscle is placed under load and at what intensity. Once you begin the first rep of an exercise start a watch and stop it when you finish the last rep. The time elapsed is time under load.

Through the years we have experimented with many different set/rep combinations and have obtained the best results when eight to twelve reps are performed while strictly adhering to our five Texans "Rep Rules."

It is important for our players to recruit every available muscle fiber if maximum strength gains are to be developed and injury prevention is a priority. Performing somewhere between eight and twelve reps accomplishes this in the most time efficient and safest manner possible.

Sgt. Caruso, please remember that all rep ranges work if, adequate overload is provided. However, during the season our players have very little time or energy to waste in the weight room. Total body strength is a priority for our Texans and the intent of every exercise performed must be to maintain near maximum strength levels. Gearing an in-season workout for a one maximum repetition will not accomplish this.

I wish you and all of the soldiers in your platoon and company the best of luck. Stay healthy, train hard, and come home safe. Thank you again for serving our country.

I am a twenty-six year old amateur football player. Many "traditional" programs encourage sets of one to six reps for most multi-joint exercises like the bench press and squat. I would like to hear why you prefer higher rep ranges in training your players?

Kalle Karppinen
Helsinki, Finland

Your question is similar to the one above and one that I am asked frequently. Remember, more important than the number of reps you perform is how you perform each individual rep and howyou complete each set.

I have already mentioned that multiple sets are necessary when the rep range is low. You cannot expect to generate maximum gains in strength if only one set of one rep is performed. Multiple sets must be performed to activate and gradually fatigue more muscle fibers when only a few reps are performed. Due to the accumulative effect each additional set brings more muscle fibers into play. We can accomplish this simply by increasing the number of reps.

Our goal is to perform as little exercise as possible yet produce the absolute best gains in strength. We have learned through experience that keeping the rep range between eight and twelve reps best improves our player's strength, but it also has a major impact on their short-term endurance.

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I do not know what takes place within the muscle, but there appears to be significant metabolic changes with a higher rep range (eight to twelve reps) that do not occur with heavy weight low rep schemes. These metabolic changes allow an athlete to perform more work at a higher level of intensity and also help them to recover quicker.

Performing a few heavy reps will increase strength but will have less impact on a player's short-term endurance which is necessary for a football player and less important for a weight lifter or shot putter.

If low rep schemes are the best way to build strength for a football player then all exercises (neck, shoulders, back, arms, etc.) should be performed in this manner, not just a few. This would be impractical and impossible for our players.

I am a volunteer coach here in Brandon and had the pleasure of watching one of your team practices in previous years. I would appreciate it very much if you could provide some information regarding stretching exercises and flexibility in order to prevent injuries.

C. Taylor
Brandon, Manitoba
Canada

Stretching is a low intensity exercise designed to increase range of motion. Keep in mind each stretch is performed in a static and controlled manner. The number of muscle fibers involved is limited to the specific plane being stretched.

Eventually the range of motion of all involved muscle fibers will be determined by the activities performed on the field at game speed. We cannot recreate the violent forces and excessive range of motion caused by an athlete stopping, twisting, turning, and running at full speed. Our most flexible players will experience undue muscle soreness when they begin practicing at full speed.

Stretching is not a warm-up. For an activity to be considered a warm-up you must increase core tissue temperature enough to break a sweat. Core temperature is unaffected by stretching.

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There is a time and place to stretch if an increase in flexibility is the desired effect. There is very little research that supports an increase in flexibility will prevent an injury.

Dr. Bob O'Connor, from Olso, Norway, published an article in the January, 2003, Coach & Athletic Director, titled "Stretching the Truth: It Is No Bargain."

O'Connor states, "At various times in our history, we have believed that the world is flat, diseases are caused by evil spirits, and warm-up stretching prevents injuries and enhances performance. All of these premises are wrong, although the scientific literature is just beginning to question the validity of stretching as a warm-up."

In the April 27, 2004 New York Times, Lorraine Kreahling published an article titled New Thoughts About When Not to Stretch. Kreahling reported about a major study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study reviewed six decades of research to evaluate the impact stretching had on injury prevention. It was determined that stretching does little to prevent injury during exercise.

My advice to our players is warm-up before stretching. If you stretch it should be to improve your flexibility, not to prevent an injury.

I am 16 years old and play football in England. I am looking for the best workout for a middle linebacker? How do your routines vary from position to position?

Nik Haywood

Logic dictates that once you find the "best" strength training workout for a linebacker, it should also be the same workout used by a quarterback, linemen, wide receiver, or any position.

The number one priority for all athletes, regardless of position, must be short and long-term injury prevention. When a coach finally finds the ultimate "best workout," it must be utilized by all players (regardless of position).

The function of your muscles is the same as any member of your team (regardless of position). Our goal is to find those methods producing the best results and then employ those techniques with every member of our team.

Once a strength coach finds out how to best develop strength, all players should use the same routines. The only difference will be the degree of development. With the same effort, some athletes will respond better than their teammates, simply because they possess a better genetic predisposition for adding muscular size and strength.

We all possess some ability to add muscle strength and size. An athlete with the best physiological, anatomical, neurological, and biomechanical, advantages will respond the most.

During his induction speech at the National Football League Hall of Fame, former Penn State offensive linemen Mike Munchak acknowledged me and the strength program at Penn State for adding forty-five pounds of muscle during his first two years at Penn State.

I have explained to "Munch" that he was a big person with a big frame and had very good developing potential. Through the normal maturation process he was going to gain a significant amount of weight whether he lifted weights or not. One of the advantages of being a college strength coach is capitalizing on the maturation process. Most college athletes generate some of their best physical gains between the ages of eighteen and twenty years-old.

At Penn State all of our players used the same routines yet few of our players responded with the same degree of muscular strength and size as did Mike Munchak. Far more important than the routine, the sequence of exercises, the set/rep combination, or the equipment used, is the genetic potential of the individual athlete.

For an athlete to generate significant strength gains there are certain genetic assets she/he must possess. If you are blessed with a higher degree of these assets you will respond more favorably (regardless of the program, equipment, set/rep combination you use).

This physiological phenomenon can be observed with competitive weightlifters. Weight classes range from the super lightweight to the super heavyweight. Each of the competitive weightlifters uses the same methods, techniques, and equipment, yet the gains in strength and degree of development is different.

This same physiological phenomenon exists with our players. Each position requires a specific job description. Remember, the function of an activity dictates the physical design of the athlete.

The physical demands of defensive lineman on the field are different than the physical demands of a defensive back. Gary Walker and Aaron Glenn are both Pro Bowl players. Yet if we asked them to switch positions each would fail miserably. It would be impossible for Gary to cover speedy receivers and just as impossible for Aaron to take on mammoth offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage.

Gary and Aaron each possess the same muscles. They both use the same Texans weight workouts. What is the physical difference between how much Gary and Aaron respond to the same workout? Obviously Gary has better potential to add muscular strength and size due to the position he plays and the developing potential he must have. That is why he is a defensive lineman and Aaron is a defensive back. It has nothing to do with the exercises performed, the set/rep combination, or the equipment used.

Organizing a strength program for a football player (and most athletes) is easy. Total body strength is a priority. We divide the body into five major segments:

  1. Neck
  1. Hips & Legs
  1. Midsection
  1. Upper Body
  1. Arms

Refer to past installations of the Fitness Corner and our player's training manual for guidance on how to perform an exercise and organize a workout.

All athletes should have the same opportunity to experience the same muscular benefits. If there is a program that is "best," common sense dictates that all athletes should use this program.

Ray, Everett, Virgil, and myself, are constantly looking for safer, efficient and more effective methods, to generate maximum gains in strength. If we find a better way Nik, we will implement those methods all of our players, not just our linebackers.

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