Slow It Down: The Benefits of Lifting Weights Slowly
The thing I love most about teaching group fitness classes is being able to regulate the tempo at which my participants exercise. Setting the music to a speed at which strength gains are maximized; a speed that many participants (as evidenced by their against-the-beat movements) clearly find too slow.
While performing quick, low-weight-high-rep sets is a great way to add occasional variety to your workouts, slow movements should be the mainstay of your program.
5 Benefits of Lifting Weights Slowly
Greater range of motion. Watch someone who’s lifting quickly and you’ll likely notice that they’re only moving the weights through a narrow range of motion. Stopping before they reach full extension on a shoulder press. Returning the weights to the starting position after completing only half a bicep curl. Giving yourself the time to execute an exercise through it’s full range of motion will increase the number of muscle fibres stimulated. Muscles only get stronger within the range of motion they’re worked; that’s the ‘specificity of training’ principle, otherwise known as ‘use it or lose it’.
Better neuromuscular control. Lifting slowly requires intense concentration and focus on the muscles doing the work. Studies have shown that just thinking about performing a bicep curl can lead to (modest) improvements in bicep strength. Combine the power of your brain with the power of your body and the sky's the limit!
Reduced momentum. When you lift weights rapidly, you harness the energy of the movement you've just finished and transfer it to the movement you're about to initiate. This transfer of energy is called 'momentum' and it requires substantially less muscular effort to utilize than initiating each movement from a dead stop. Slow down to use muscle, rather than momentum, pausing slightly at the bottom and top of each lift.
Lower risk of injury. Rapid movements with heavy weights increase your risk of strains, sprains and muscle pulls. They also place your fellow gym goers at risk. Have you ever had to dodge a rapidly moving dumbbell in the gym?
Better strength gains. Muscles get bigger and stronger with increasing time under tension. The slower you perform each movement, the more time your muscles will remain contracted and under tension. In particular, slowing down the eccentric (the non-working, or easier part of each movement) phase of an exercise can dramatically improve muscle strength by simply increasing the length of time the muscle remains under tension.
The best thing about lifting more slowly? Despite spending more time on each individual rep, your muscles will fatigue more quickly, getting you out of the gym sooner than if you’d lifted faster!
What’s your preferred tempo for lifting weights?
Do you vary it from workout to workout?