Why Every Rep Matters (Motor Engrams)

Last week during my training at the Primal Strength Gym, I noticed some things were off with my deadlift technique.

It was my first deadlift session since my Strongman competition and the weights felt abnormally heavy. It was clearly an “off day” for me and the ‘heaviness’ of the weights were causing me to lift with some bad technique.

Spurned on by some frustration, I pushed through with one heavy set by muscling through it. I was lifting with my ego instead of my head. But a seasoned lifter needs to know when to throw in the towel, even if you know you’re capable of much more.

Besides risking injury from bad technique, muscling lifts reinforces bad habits and usually does more harm than good. Sure you may set a new PR by meatheading your way through a rep and get a psychological win, but at what cost in the long run?

The Development of Motor Engrams

Strength is largely a neurological adaptation. A huge piece of this is the development of motor engrams, which is really just a fancy term for muscle memory.

Each rep you perform builds or reinforces motor engrams for your lifting. As you perform a movement over and over (a deadlift for example), your body develops a motor engram that allows you to perform the movement with much less brain activity and input. This allows you to perform much more efficiently.

This is why it is crucial for you to focus on each rep and to reinforce good motor engrams. The more your technique breaks down, and the longer you go without correcting it, you are simply developing bad habits that will prevent you from lifting efficiently.

Research suggests that it takes 300-500 reps to develop a new motor engram, but it takes 3000-5000 to wipe out and re-teach an engrained one.

Think about that for a second.

Performing your reps flawlessly and focusing on technique, you can probably teach yourself a movement in about 4 weeks. Perform bad reps persistently without fixing the issue, and you are setting yourself back 10 times as long.

Every Rep Matters

This is why you need to focus on your reps in training. The greatest lifters you will ever see focus just as much on their warm up sets with an empty bar as they do when they are dealing with serious weight.

If the weights start causing your form to break down, sometimes you can muscle through and set records; but don’t let it persist and develop bad habits…unless you want to spend months trying to reverse them.

Every rep matters…

All the best Primal Nation,

— Tank

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