4 Step Rep

Definition

The four step rep is a simple technique utilized to reinforce contractile control during each of the four phases of a repetition. The specific cues or intentions associated with each phase of each rep can be particularly helpful when employing InTension® to augment muscular effort, control, or joint forces via co-contraction.

The 4 Step Rep was devised by Tom Purvis in the mid 1980’s as a tool for dissecting each individual repetition in order to make InTension more manageable, deliberate, and focused. It was found to be helpful in both rehab and fitness oriented strength training. It was the primary advanced training technique taught at NASM® courses from 1989 to 1999. In 2004 the 4 step rep was utlilized by Bowflex® and Nautilus® as the recommended training technique for SelectTech® Dumbbells and was presented by Tom on the accompanying instructional DVD entitled “Secrets of the 4 Step Rep”.

Importance in Exercise

A repetition in strength training has historically represented a single raising and lowering of a weight. Five reps simply indicated that the weight had been raised and lowered five times.

If the goal is to lift a specific weight a specific number of times, then there is little else that needs to be considered. But if the goal is not the actual lifting and lowering, but a specific internal response to the lifting and lowering, then the number is not the only influence, and beyond extreme ranges (1 vs. 10 vs. 1000) may in fact be of limited importance. The characteristics of each repetition, however, appear to become vital. Ultimately, it is the quality of each repetition that is of primary importance.

Beyond Tempo

Eight reps are not eight reps, meaning eight fast reps are not likely to be the same stimulation for a given goal as 8 slow reps. Not only does time (duration as well as rate of contraction) influence many factors in the neurophysiological response, but the influence of acceleration and deceleration upon the physics of the load will insure that if the same weight is employed at those two speeds it will not be the same resistance, challenge, or stimulation.

It was with one or both of these factors (neurophys and/or physics) as impetus that various tempo techniques have been devised over the decades to improve the stimulation from individual reps for specific goals.

Unfortunately, these methods while designed for very specific goals often become biases touted by their proponents as “best” for every version of exercise, every goal, and every individual somewhat indiscriminately. This focus on tempo as the primary means of controlling the stimulus created by a single repetition exposes a major flaw in traditional exercise instructions and techniques. The focus is on how fast or slow, not how well.

Control = Quality
In order for any stimulus to be effective it must be accurately applied. The 4 Step Rep brings the issue of control to the forefront:

  1. What initiates or accelerates the movement of the load?
  2. What maintains the movement of the load?
  3. What decelerates and stops the load?
  4. Is rest or effort occurring at the top and bottom?
  5. How much effort can be employed? (appropriately and progressively)

The answers to all of these questions are determined by the individual’s current status and ability, and the Goal of the Exercise (GOTE), but the bottom line is that anything that is involved in moving of the load must be strategic, intentional, and determined by goal. An arm curl is not initiated with the lumbar spine, hips, and ankles. Moving more weight with extra joints does not translate into more stimulation to the elbow flexors. Weight launched by the legs is not the load that stimulates the arms, it’s the load avoided by the arms.

Examples

4 step rep – lift (concentric) first: example cues/intentions –4steprep1

  1. Isometric – “Tighten before you move.”
  2. Concentric – “make the muscles do the motion.” Tighten/squeeze it all the way up.” “lead with the muscle” “Don’t let the weight get ahead of the muscle”. If the right muscles don’t start it, then don’t move it”
  3. Isometric – “squeeze at the top”
  4. Eccentric – “Control back down like it’s a thousand pounds, you should be able to stop instantly at any point on the way down with just ounces of extra effort.”  “Make your muscle belly full/tight on the way down.” “Don’t waste one inch of motion.”

Repeat

 

4 step rep – lower (eccentric) first: example cues/intention –

  1. Isometric – “squeeze at the top”
  2. Eccentric – “Control back down like it’s a thousand pounds, you should be able to stop instantly at any point on the way down with just ounces of extra effort.” “Make your muscle belly full/tight on the way down.” “Don’t waste one inch of motion.”
  3. Isometric – “Tighten before you move.”
  4. Concentric – “make the muscles do the motion.” Tighten/squeeze it all the way up.” “lead with the muscle” “Don’t let the weight get ahead of the muscle”. If the right muscles don’t start it, then don’t move it”

Repeat

The introduction of these cues and the intensity generated by them must be progressed like everything else!

Misconceptions

Control doesn’t have to mean slow, although to the vast majority of clients, and even trainers themselves, it should for now.  Faster usually = “sloppy”. Regardless of the goal, you can only move faster as control allows (i.e. speed must come without sacrificing control.)

Mass/Inertia

Nautilus 2 up, 4 down

Three phase repetitions

Six phase repetitions

Super Slow