Today’s article is all about one of the easiest and simplest ways to breathe new life into your strength training routine. This topic is all about speed. Or more accurately, using a variety of repetition speeds or tempos to wake up sleeping muscle fibers.
Varying the speed at which you exercise can be one of the greatest ways to discover fertile new ground on which to make progress. Best off all it doesn’t require you to learn any new techniques or crazy new workout methods. It’s simply the practice of taking the exercises you already practice and performing them in an advanced way. As I’ve long believed, your body doesn’t improve because you do something different, but rather it changes because you do what you’re already doing better.
But before we jump into the benefits of moving either fast or slow, we first have to do a little mental housekeeping. We need to do away with the notion that there is one best speed to exercise, especially when it comes to strength training. There is no shortage of books and programs that take advantage of the benefits of exercising at a dedicated speed. Some say that lifting slowly is the way to go, while others claim fast and explosive is the ticket.
I’ve fallen into both camps in the past, and both times I’ve experienced big time benefits. I’ve benefited from going super slow and I’ve made gains when really speeding things up. The lesson is that there are big benefits from both going slow and going fast. They both have their unique benefits to bring to your body. The best news is that there is no reason why you can’t mix going fast and going slow into a program. It’s not like a change in lifting speed requires a radical change in your lifting routine. With such a simple change you can vary the speed of your lifting at a moments notice and easily get the benefits of both styles. It would be silly to just stick to one speed.
Why only practice one speed while you can gain the benefit of both? Of course it makes sense to match lifting speed with the type of goal you may have for that particular workout or even that individual set. There are a whole host of benefits that you may experience from going either fast or slow while lifting. So at the risk of over generalization, here is a broad list of benefits you may gain from either using slow versus fast lifting styles:
Benefits of Lifting Slow:
- Requires intense and sustained focus through a full range of motion over a relatively long period of time. Sometimes a single repetition can last as long as 30 seconds to a full minute. That’s a whole lot of time under tension.
- Allows you to mentally focus on the mind-muscle connection to finely tune which muscles are activated and working harder during a lift. It also helps you tune into which muscles are at work at certain points in the range of motion.
- Provides a challenging workout with much lighter weights thus sparing your joints from excess stress.
- Makes weak points in your technique and range of motion more obvious and helps to strengthen those weak points.
- Helpful to work on breath control and mental stamina.
Benefits of Lifting Fast:
- Trains the neuromuscular system for fast and explosive movements that can be helpful in different sports.
- Can possibly maximize muscle fiber recruitment so you are working more muscle fibers at a time, for maximum strength.
- Helpful in figuring out where balance and core stability are lacking during explosive movements like jumping, running and punching.
- A killer cardiovascular workout within a single set or when multiple exercises are done in a circuit.
Again, it’s important to recognize that both speeds offer great benefits and it would be kind of silly to go with just one at the expense of the other. You may also notice that certain types of equipment might feel better for slow or fast lifting.
In the past I’ve preferred machines and exercises that move weight directly against gravity as a preferable choice with slow lifting speed. This is because I feel that the pull of resistance is more consistent throughout the entire range of motion.
When it comes to fast and explosive movements, free weights and stretch bands are a great option. Some pieces of equipment, like kettlebells, were practically made for this sort of exercise style.
These days however, I’m much more the body weight enthusiast and I find that body weight based exercise lends itself very well towards both fast and super slow training.
Programming variable speed workouts can be fun and an exciting experience in your routine. Here are some ideas:
- Switch between super slow and super fast repetition speeds in between each set. You may notice that you’ll perform about 1/3 to twice as many reps for the faster speed than you would for the slow speed.
- Use a fast and slow day split during the week. So for one workout you only do slow movements and then you do fast movements on the second workout.
- Mix fast and slow movements within a single set. So do 3 reps super slow and then 3 super fast before doing another 3 super slow.
Lastly, I know safety is a concern for folks when it comes to lifting fast. It would be irresponsible of me to wave my hand and say that lifting at either speed is safe and not to worry. Both speeds pose their own unique risks and pit falls. This is why it’s always important to remember that your technique is the single most important aspect of any lift at any speed. It’s more important than adding weight, reps or sets. It’s even more important than the speed you use.
I would even go so far as to suggest that the entire purpose behind using different speeds is to challenge your ability to use the very best technique you can. If you struggle to move in a smooth, balanced and controlled manner, then the exercise has little benefit and a whole lot more risk, regardless of what speed you’re moving at.
The reason why both fast and slow lifting works to progress your strength is because both speeds pose their own challenge for when it comes to controlling the resistance of the movement. Being 100% in control is what keeps you safe. When the resistance starts to take over and force your body to move in a jerky or uncontrolled manner it’s time to rest and recover. Whether lifting fast or slow, your goal is to make the exercise look as pretty as possible.
Be warned though that both extremes on the speed spectrum require a lot of focus and concentration. Your muscles only do whatever your mind tells them to do so make sure your head is clear and focused before starting each set. Distractions will only slow down fast movements and speed up slow movements. So tune in that laser focus and give every rep everything you’ve got!