Things Trainers Say: "Don't miss a rep"

I recently had a client who was training for her kettlebell certification, and I gave her the instruction not to 'miss' a rep.  She duly proceeded to train, ensuring that she forced herself to do every rep that was written down for her, straining and struggling to ensure that she completed every piece of what was written in the program, even after her form suffered.

This was, most definitely, not what I was asking her to do.

In retrospect, this was an absolutely terrible turn of phrase to use, that almost everyone on the planet would have interpreted in the fashion that it was interpreted.  This phrase should definitely be struck from my lexicon.

 

'Absolute failure is a strategy that I never employ with my clients, partially because there are other ways to achieve similar outcomes'

 

So what does "don't miss a rep" mean?

I actually meant, make sure that you don't fail an attempt at a rep.  And more than that, I meant don't hit technical failure at a rep.

"Technical failure?", I hear you query.

There are two forms of failure that people regularly refer to in training: technical failure and absolute failure.  Absolute failure occurs when you absolutely, positively cannot do anymore.  Bodybuilders used to use this as a way of getting a maximal hormonal response from the muscles and would use strategies like getting a partner to support the weight for extra reps they couldn't do on their own until they had completely and utterly exhausted their musculature's ability to hold the weight.  Absolute failure is a strategy that I never employ with my clients, partially because there are other ways to achieve similar outcomes, and partially because it carries a very high injury risk.

Technical failure is the point at which you can no longer perform a movement beautifully.  The path of the bell changes, you can't maintain your desired body position, something about the movement's integrity has been impaired.  This is also a strategy that I choose not to employ.  When I asked my client not to 'miss a rep' I was saying, definitely, don't fail absolutely, but strive also to avoid failing technically.  Obviously, 'don't miss a rep' was a horribly inadequate way of expressing this...

Benefits of avoiding missing a rep

 

'When we maintain quality and stop our set or our session before our movement changes, our body maintains the strong, supported position that we so deliberately set up at the start'

 
  • There are myriad reasons to avoid failing a rep.  The two most important in my opinion are safety and efficiency.  When we maintain quality and stop our set or our session before our movement changes, our body maintains the strong, supported position that we so deliberately set up at the start, that not only optimises our strength but does so while ensuring the greatest safety possible.  Alongside this, a lot of our strength comes from our brain telling our muscles what to do.
 

'When we allow ourselves to fail technically (which is some time before absolute failure), we end up practising bad reps, essentially putting ruts in the beautiful neural path that we had forged into our brain.'

 
  • Neuroplasticity, the idea that our brains are constantly changing and adapting, tells us that when we use a pattern on a regular basis it becomes more efficient.  I sometimes describe this process to people as being like cutting a path.  The first time a path is cut it is hard work.  You have to think about it and it takes a long time to make any progress at all.  But as the path is travelled more and more regularly it becomes easier, more efficient, and eventually, virtually automatic.  In strength terms, this means that every time we practice a movement, we become better at using the musculature and that the skill of lifting things and being strong is enhanced.  When we allow ourselves to fail technically (which is some time before absolute failure), we end up practising bad reps, essentially putting ruts in the beautiful neural path that we had forged into our brain.
As an aside, decades ago, Alfonso Duran gave the young weightlifter Geoff Neupert the advice to cease his training when the bar slowed down.  Geoff has noted that almost all his injuries have come when he has ignored this advice.  This might be an even better rule of thumb than to avoid failure.

So ultimately, while it's definitely being weeded from my way of speaking, when a trainer tells you not to 'miss a rep', they are telling you, for the good of your health, and your long-term strength, don't let yourself perform reps that aren't very good.  Good reps beget good reps and give you the best chance for your body to feel good and function well for the long term!
qkbPiers Kwan