Form vs Reps: More Complex Than Gym Lore

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Two prominent groups within the fitness community – the racers and the builders – are currently shaping the debate on form versus repetition.

'Racers' are those who thrive on performing numerous exercises against the clock, while 'builders' focus on increasing muscle size or strength through meticulously executed sets of lifting.

Both groups are dedicated to their pursuits and look great in fitted T-shirts, but they have distinct practices and traditions.

The surge in high-speed competitive strength training formats, such as the popular CrossFit and Hyrox franchises, presents fitness enthusiasts with a choice: rapid, high-pressure, exciting workouts or steady, traditional weightlifting in controlled sets.

So, which is better, fast or slow strength training? What should we prioritize regarding form versus repetitions?

A common concern associated with timed lifting, where participants are driven by the thrill of competition, is 'injury'.

Often, people say, “It’s great, I loved it, it’s very addictive, but I injured myself.” CrossFit is extremely demanding, requiring strength, stamina, and various skills, including Olympic lifting, where the bar is lifted from the floor to overhead in dynamic movements.

Samuel Quinn, the personal training lead for Nuffield Health gyms and an avid CrossFit supporter, also highlights the risks for the inexperienced who attempt too much too soon.

“It’s incredibly intense for someone who hasn’t been training previously. If you were to enter a CrossFit gym and try multiple highly skilled movements while fatigued, it could be a recipe for disaster.”

CrossFit classes teach these key skills under a qualified coach's guidance. The temptation might be to push yourself for a good score and try to lift many reps quickly.

Weights and times are displayed on a board at the end of the class.

Graham Halliday, an ambassador for Built For Athletes and a member of the Elite 15 set to compete at the Hyrox World Championships, argues that lifting after warming up with cardio is actually safer.

“As long as you have warmed up adequately and use the correct form, there is absolutely no reason not to lift weights during conditioning workouts and fitness races such as Hyrox. In fact, using weights in this format offers the added benefit of having warmed up through cycling and running, loosening your joints and muscles and increasing blood flow, thus lowering the risk of injury.”

Halliday, like Quinn, believes that working within your limits is key to a challenging yet injury-free workout.

“Everyone should understand their own fitness level, so it’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself to extremes. But provided you execute each weighted move with proper form and have built up the necessary volume of reps and distance in your training, there should be no greater risk of injury.”

Ultimately, the question of what’s better – fast or slow – depends on your goal. CrossFit releases a workout of the day (WOD) daily, deliberately varied to promote overall physical preparedness.

Balance, stamina, agility, and strength are all required, and the variety in the WODs keeps the body adapting.

If building bigger muscles is your sole goal, then a traditional approach focused on sets of 8-12 repetitions may be more beneficial.

Samuel Quinn explains, “The workout of the day can be very varied: one day it can be a one-rep max lift, the next day a bodyweight workout with 1000 reps.

The issue is that we need a consistent stimulus to progress, so if you’re not repeating strength workouts frequently enough, you might not achieve the repetition you’re aiming for.”

With a bodybuilding workout, you control the variables – when you lift, how long you rest, and, crucially, the speed of each rep.

“To build muscle, you need to train progressively, manipulating variables like weight, sets, rest periods, and tempo," Quinn says. "For example, controlling the eccentric (downward) phase of a bench press will yield more benefits compared to doing 100 reps as quickly as possible.”

Both approaches will yield results, but you won’t maximize muscle-building efforts, and maintaining good form might be more challenging if you’re exhausted after a cardio burst. “Your strength movements will be performed under high respiratory fatigue, making technique more challenging,” adds Quinn.

Tribal identities are fluid, and many people switch between the two approaches, enjoying the benefits of both. Whether fast or slow, form versus reps – any lifting is better than no lifting.

Source: gq-magazine

The opinions shared in the GymNation blog articles are solely those of the respective authors and may not represent the perspectives of GymNation or any member of the GymNation team.