How do I perform perfect reps?

March 17, 2012

Q: I’m confused about how to lift the weight when performing the average repetition. Should I go fast, should I go slow or am I thinking about it too much?

A: When most people go to the gym, the last thing they think about is how fast or slow they should move the bar, how far they should stretch the movement or how long it should take to lift the weight, but for me this is normal fodder for thought because it makes a big difference in results. Here are five things to remember that will help you learn how to achieve prefect reps.

Control the bar
When I was in college and was a member of the powerlifting team, I was fascinated with how much weight I could lift. It didn’t matter how ugly it looked or if my body became contorted in the process; as long as I could finish the rep, I was satisfied. Then one day I decided to try something different. I began lifting slowly, pausing the bar for a split second at the top and bottom of each movement. The results were amazing. I immediately began to feel the shape of my muscles change, and I became exhausted with half the amount of sets. My workout became shorter and more effective, and I never went back to sloppy lifting again.

Reduce momentum
If you are lifting fast, it simply means you have reduced the amount of muscle power needed to move the weight and replaced it with momentum. There are two basic problems with this type of lifting. First of all, you reduce the amount of tension on the muscle, giving you less isolation and yes, less results. Secondly, you place an extraordinary amount of pressure on the joint, giving you a much greater chance of injury. It makes much more sense to drop the weight, slow down the movement and learn how to place constant tension on the muscle.

Don’t lock out
A locked joint is a rested muscle, and if your goal is to change the shape of your body, you should take special care not to completely lock out and allow the muscle to rest and the joint to take the brunt of the pressure. A good example of this would be the dumbbell chest press. The normal range of this lift is to start with a dumbbell in each hand extended over your chest. You then lower the weight to 90 degrees, where each dumbbell almost touches your chest, and then push the weight back up to the starting position, but when you get to the top, keep a slight bend in your elbow so that the elbow joint never locks out. This technique will keep the pressure on the chest instead of the joint, and you will be amazed at how fatigued the chest will get by the time you’re done your set.

Use constant tension
There are two main points in any exercise when resting is possible, and they are the top and bottom of the bar’s path. The idea is to figure out where they are and eliminate them, placing the muscles under constant tension and recruiting the maximum amount of muscle fiber to move the weight. For example, when most people do a standing dumbbell curl, they start off with the weight resting on their legs and then curl it up until it touches their chest, making the exercise 50 percent less effective. To do it properly with constant tension, simply start by extending the arms at the starting position but keeping a slight bend in the elbows, not allowing the weight to touch the legs. Curl the weight to the top but keep it 3 inches away from your chin, not allowing it to touch your body.

Develop mind-muscle connection

If you practice all the above techniques, you will develop what experts call the mind-muscle connection. This means that you have practiced so diligently that your mind, body and nervous system are on the same page and know exactly how to move the bar to get the most out of every repetition. You will be able to feel constant burn in the area being worked, recruiting the maximum amount of muscle fibers and giving you the best results possible for your time spent in the gym.

Try the above techniques, and you too can learn how to perform perfect repetitions.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out