Make Every Rep A Single

A photo of me and my dog, because why the hell not?
A photo of me and my dog, because why the hell not?

This was a coaching cue I learned from Brett Jones, while working towards my Russian Kettlebell Certification a few years ago. It’s a cue that I actually kind of forgot about using on my clients for a short period but has resurfaced numerous times lately.

I pretty much use this cue exclusively on the big four: squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press for those of you who have been living under a rock. However, it could definitely be used on other compound exercises as well.

The basic premise for using this cue is to help avoid technical breakdown as fatigue sets in. Go onto the Tubes and watch a newer lifter do a grinding set of deadlifts for instance. The first few reps (hopefully) look like they’re being executed with proficient and safe form. Unfortunately, as each rep becomes more and more of a grind, the hips start shooting up a little fast, the back begins rounding, and the lockout may even begin to resemble a spastic seizure.

Obviously these are technical breakdowns we want to avoid during training. So, how can simply thinking “treat each rep like a single” change the way a set is performed. There are a few reasons I think this cue works:

  1. The first couple of reps of a set are usually the most aesthetic and efficient reps performed in set. If you keep the mindset that each rep will look like the first rep, you will hopefully minimize “shit” technique.
  2. Let’s face it, singles are easy compared to doing multiple gruelling sets of 5+ reps. Just having the mindset that you have to simply perform a few singles with no rest between sets can give you a positive thought process towards a set, or sets that you may be dreading.
  3. Simply, it reinforces the skill of executing a lift properly. The more times you perform an exercise the proper way, the better you will be at assessing when you should maybe stop a set short, or adjust the load in order to stay safe.

There are a few simple things to think about when doing the Big Four that I’ve noticed over the years. I want to quickly go over these cues so you can use them in conjunction with the thought process I’ve just explained.

The Squat

  •  Don’t let the knees cave in
  • Keep your chest up

The Bench Press

  • Feet must stay on the floor at all times. Don’t flounder (literally)
  • Try and maintain your bar path

The Deadlift

  • Don’t let the hips shoot up too fast
  • Make sure your body is aligned properly when you initiate the pull (shoulders shouldn’t be too far forward over the bar, or you are forced to finish the lift with your spinal erectors rather than hips)

The Overhead Press

  • Don’t stand completely erect. So many people do this and you are simply robbing yourself of easy strength. While still keeping the knees, hip, and core stiff you should sway slight backwards to initiate the lift, sway back forwards once the bar passes your forehead
  • Don’t bend your damn knees.

So there you have it, a simple cue to add to your repertoire if you’re a trainer or if you are simply a lifter something to think about when the sets are getting heavy.

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