Form Follows Function: The Best Rep Style For Pushing and Pulling

Muscle Monday time everyone, and today instead of talking about what lifts to do or how much of each, let’s talk about the rarely discussed HOW to pick things up and put them down again.

I wont make this needlessly complex by talking about angles and force vectors and yadda yadda yadda, but it is often helpful to have one or two “rules” or cues when we lift to get the most out of each rep. I have generally found the most success by doing my Pushing exercises one way, and my Pulling exercises a slightly different way.

Push it FAST

The Pushing muscles (Chest, Shoulders, Quads, Tri’s) generally respond best to rapid acceleration and maximum force. 1014lb Squatter “Dr. Squat” Fred Hatfield referred to this technique as Compensatory Acceleration Training… Which is a fancy way to saying always move the weight as fast as possible, no matter the load (you compensate for the low load by accelerating it as fast as possible, thus producing max force each rep)

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No time to slow tempo’s here

Think of what these muscles are designed to do. Before modern weights came around and workout clothes were naught but a loin cloth, these would be used to throw a spear fast, to strike another predator as hard as possible, to jump up into a tree, or to push a foe off of your chest. All things that simply cannot be accomplished to the best of their ability done at a slow pace.

When you are doing a compound exercise for the pushing muscles (Bench Press, Overhead Press, Squat and all their variations) I want you to think “EXPLODE!” when you come out of the bottom of the movement. As you approach greater and greater loads the movement won’t actually be explosive, but its the intent to be explosive we are after.

Pull it HARD

The function of the muscle on the back of body and the biceps, the pulling muscles, on the other hand are designed to hold, and to be fatigued. After one defeats a bison and has to take the copious amount of meat back to the campsite, or to hang off a cliff or tree branch, think of how long the back and bicep muscles would be activated to hold this load.

To get the most out of these muscles while training them, it is worthwhile to focus on fatiguing them during the set. A very simple way to do this is to incorporate a 1-2 second squeeze at the top of each rep.

Really squeeze and activate the muscles. This technique also ensures you are using “the right” weight for back, bicep, and hamstring work because so many people use a ton of momentum to do lat pulldowns, hamstring curls, and do heavy cheat curls that the muscles you are trying to hit are really getting short changed, and you only work the bottom 1/2 of the movement (or even less than that). But if you have to pause at the peak of the movement it basically kills the momentum, and focuses the load right on the muscles you are trying to use.

The cue I use while doing these movements is to literally think “squeeeeze” at the top of the rep, or to count “and one” while holding the squeeze. It engages your mind into the muscles and keeps you focused on the contraction.

This also goes a long way into developing a better Mind-Muscle-Connection (MMC), so that when you do end up using a bit of momentum with a heavier weight you are better at focusing the load on the right muscles.

Putting It Into Action

So next time you are training your hamstrings, back, and biceps, kill the momentum out of the bottom a bit and really focus on a 1-2 second squeeze at the end of every rep. For a real killer version you can do a slow 2-3 count negative, or incorporate a 1-2 second pause half way down the lowering portion of the rep. Do this on your first exercise of the day and then move on to the heavier weight stuff so that when you do you will have a killer pump and a better MMC going into it and will get more out of it.