Slow V. Fast - How slow should your strength training go?

Slow V. Fast - How slow should your strength training go?

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Slow V. Fast - How slow should your strength training go?

By Frank Claps, MED, CSCS



Or is it better to ‘explode’ with each repetition, pushing the work phase faster than the proverbial speeding bullet? And what about the more traditional speed seen at most gyms? As has always been the case when it comes to resistance training, there are few cut and-dried answers.

Here’s one spin: researchers from Japan recently published findings suggesting that the size and strength benefits of a ‘slow’ regimen – three seconds for the work phase and three seconds for the return using a lower intensity (55 to 60 per cent of one-rep maximum) – were equal to those garnered from regular speed and strength training at a higher intensity (80 per cent 1RM).

But not all experts are buying in.

“The study was only 13 weeks with untrained young men,” Gary Hunter, PhD and professor in the Human Studies Department of the University of Alabama, says. “Almost any kind of training regimen will create substantial improvements in the first 13 weeks of training.”

Hunter also points out that, for many muscle groups in the study, the ‘normal-paced’ group actually showed greater increases in mass than the slower-paced group.

“It’s not that slow-pace and low-intensity training won’t be able to increase strength and muscle size,” he says. “But slow training will be inferior for expending energy and increasing muscle size, strength and especially power for either normal-paced or explosive training.”

‘Theoretically’, notes strength and power consultant Harvey Newton, a former 0Olympic Team coach, slow training increases the time you place your muscles under tension. Because the time increases when you do slow movements, “one can abbreviate their training to include only one or two sets of each exercise and, also theoretically, gain maximum benefits,” Newton says.

Note carefully Newton’s use of the word ‘theoretically’. It’s important because he can cite several other studies that indicate that slow training, while safe, may not yield maximum size or strength increases. So, in the case of slow training, what works in theory may not work for you in the gym. Slow training may, in fact, be especially detrimental for athletic performance, notes Mark Stephenson, director of the Human Performance Centre of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

“When you train slow, you become slow,” he says. Additionally, he notes that slow training is also “very time consuming and tedious”, a fact that can work against the busy individual who has limited time in which to build their strength and physique.

“I prefer to utilise both traditional and explosive types of training,” Stephenson recommends. Indeed, there is a growing body of research that suggests you may want to try fast or ‘explosive’ movements, performing the ‘work’, or concentric, phase as fast as possible.

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