According to my driving record, going fast may get you to your destination quicker but it’s not without cost.
The most frequent question I receive from readers and clients has to do with exercise selection. Frankly, anybody can pull together a reasonable list of exercises — squat, row, push-up, there you go.
Did he say squat, then row, before push-up? Wow, he’s good! (Again, not rocket science.)
The complexity of proper exercise prescription comes in the navigation of learner readiness, motivation, imbalance correction, overload principles, resistance application, recovery, and lifting speed.
While all of these factors play an important role in progress, lifting speed is often overlooked.
Generally speaking, your lift should take one to two seconds and your return should take four — assuming your goal is hypertrophy (looking good). That’s five to six seconds per repetition.
If results have stalled in the weight room and you’re looking for a boost, consider these speed-related tips to move things forward.
Battle of the sexes
I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: When lifting, women should increase their resistance and drive a little more aggressively and guys should lower their weight and slow down.
Too often ladies are afraid to hoist a bit of weight — even though many lug around 30-pound toddlers. If you’re not lifting to failure within a minute to 90 seconds, your muscle sees no reason to change.
Ignore the skinny Instagrammer demonstrating a series of graceful glute and hip floor moves. If you can’t adjust your weight progressively (add weight) you will stall within a month.
Guys, an impressive bench press but extraneous movement is diminishing results and causing joint problems (call me when the sharp pain in your shoulder is killing your ‘max’).
Park the ego and slow down! Momentum robs from muscle and stresses joints. Think of it this way, instead of working 100 per cent of your muscle you are working 70 per cent — speed and bouncing are making up the difference.
I often challenge clients to perform super slow sets with zero pause. Each rep takes 10 or more seconds. Think melding the benefits of weight training with yoga or tai chi.
School is out as to whether this formula builds strength over normal lifting speed, but that’s not the point. Slow training draws specific attention to muscle contraction, core stabilization, breathing and momentum, requiring clients to maintain control throughout each repetition.
A few favourites of mine include push-ups, landmine squat presses, single arm overhead presses, and standing bicep curls. In each case, core and cardio are challenged even though they aren’t the focus.
Pause and reflect
Pausing or resting during sets can be counterproductive, as it releases tension and often promotes momentum. Here are a few times when this rule can be parked.
A pause can enhance tension, like at the top of a bicep curl when the muscle is fully contracted. (This only works if you haven’t exceeded the appropriate range of motion. Curling too far, until the bar touches your upper chest, transfers tension from your bicep to your shoulder.) There is little valuable tension at the bottom of a bicep curl, so a pause is often unnecessary. General rule for all exercises — if it burns it’s working; if it offers reprieve, it’s a cheat.
If you’ve completed a full set to failure, additional reps with a pause works in your favour. Instead of ending the set, pausing provides enough relief for a few bonus cheat reps. (Remember, only the final one or two reps to failure moves you forward — the first eight to 10 reps don’t count.) When you’re face down, after completing a set of push-ups to failure, for example, pause for five seconds and see if you can complete one or two more with good form. By the way, it’s kind of hard — OK, really hard.
Not everyone loves the weight room but rushing through a workout is never the answer. Next time, try letting off the gas a little and focus on controlling your speed. As a tradeoff, cut back on your sets.
When focused on the journey, you will arrive at your destination quicker and safer.