Fifty is a popular number at C.O.A.S.T. All of our patients are very familiar with that number because 50 are the number of repetitions assigned to most exercises. Why such a high number? Because high repetitions (reps) stimulate the body to repair/build tissue (such as muscle) more rapidly than low rep exercises. The body responds to increased stress on tissues by producing more of that tissue in the location being stressed. An obvious example of this is skin calluses. Repetitive rubbing of the skin will eventually cause a noticeable thickening of the skin—such as the bottom of your feet. The bones of people who exercise are significantly thicker (more dense) than non-exercisers. The reverse is also true-a lack of stress to tissue will cause the body to weaken that tissue.
To prevent over-stressing of the tissue (injury), high reps must be balanced with low loads (resistance/weights). That is why we instruct our patients to use a weight that they can lift 50 times. As 50 reps become easy, we instruct the patient to incrementally increase the weight. The goal is to feel muscle fatigue by the end of 50 reps. High rep exercise does not cause the significant tissue breakdown that higher resistance exercise does (but which is necessary for a muscle to become more powerful). That allows us to repeat the exercise frequently each day. Frequency is important because the amount of time and effort the body spends building tissue is directly related to how often that tissue is stressed.
We use high rep exercises at the beginning of a rehabilitation program because it is important to strengthen the tissue integrity (we call this TISSUE TOUGHENING) prior to exposing that tissue to higher loads. This reduces the risk of tissue injury. High rep exercises not only increase the structural integrity of muscle, but also tendons, ligaments, bones, and joint surfaces. Once these tissues have been adequately strengthened, higher load exercises (heavier weight, fewer reps) can be safely initiated.
Another benefit of high rep exercises is improved technique via “muscle memory”. The more often a movement is repeated, the more efficient the body becomes at producing that movement. Most of the exercises we give patients are parts of normal movement patterns (what we call “functional” exercise). After thousands of reps, the body “memorizes” the movement—-which means the muscle is primed to react a certain way each time that movement is initiated. This is one of the reasons patients usually return to their sport or activity at a higher level of functioning.
High rep, low load exercises are a safe and highly efficient method of training, and should be an integral part of every exercise program. COAST Physical Therapy Services Personal Training and Fitness Training programs incorporate the techniques described here. For more information on our Tissue Toughening Technique, please contact Gerry.