How fast should I lift?

Published: 10th March 2009
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Copyright (c) 2009 Athleticbodysystem

Monitoring your lifting speed is possibly the most important part of resistance training!

A common question among trainees is:

'How fast should I lift?'

The speed you lift the weight/ tempo you use is the primary factor when addressing your goals even if they are fat loss, muscle gain, sports performance or conditioning. It is important to note that you can use the same weight and increase the tempo of an exercise to make it harder as a mode of progression before adding reps/sets to their programme.

Force = Mass x Acceleration

You can use the same weight on an exercise (for example a bench press), but if you accelerate it faster, then you essentially work harder/produce more force!

What makes tempo so important is that it determines the outcome the person gets/goal they achieve.

A recent study carried out on 2 groups of people revealed some interesting results. They lifted the same percentage of their maximum strength, the same exercise selection and the same set/rep scheme. The only difference was; group 1 were instructed to lift explosively in the concentric phase and 'control' the eccentric phase. The other group were given the generic 4-0-2-0 tempo. I.e. lower the weight for 4 seconds and lift for 2 seconds. Group 1 saw greater decreases in fat mass than group 2 and the study concluded that to lose fat fast you have to lift fast.

Time under tension and super slow eccentrics (lowering of the weight) may be of use for people seeking muscle size... but a lot of the 'muscle gains' are simply oedema and this settles after a while. However, there will be excessive muscle damage and subsequent repair so the muscle will grow as a result.

Lifting a sub maximal weight or at submaximal speeds is not going to tax the highest of the HTMU (high threshold motor units or type llb fibres) Training the smaller lla fibres is a more likely consequence, but these muscles have very little growth potential. There are arguments suggesting that lifting velocity should be maximal and the set should be terminated when the tempo slows appreciably but in my experience a certain amount of muscular failure is necessary for muscle gain, in addition, maximal velocity lifting will result in fast eccentric concentric coupling and in essence create a plyometric effect (elastic) at that portion of the lift. To put it practically, when emphasising lifting speed, control the eccentric portion (lowering) a little to slow down the eccentric-concentric coupling so that the stretch shortening cycle (elastic mechanism of the muscle) isn't helping through the lift.

Looking to improve an aspect of sports performance i.e. punching power is a different situation. The movement will have to include an explosive concentric movement with NO eccentric preload. For example a split jerk. Starting position is assumed with knees slightly bent as if in a fighting stance and then after holding for a second THEN execute the lift explosively i.e. mimicking the concentric nature of a punch with no 'preload'.

For a sprinter you would do the opposite with drop jumps etc fast eccentric-concentric movement to simulate/minimise ground contact time, etc.

In summary:

Someone seeking fat loss should use a fast tempo. If seeking muscle gain, then a mixture of both lifting speeds is applicable including both high speed lifting and slow time under tension work. Sports performance is different again. Fast lifting but this will depend entirely on the type of movement being trained, whether to include a pre-load or explosive aspect/ type movement in the lift.


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Bryan Kavanagh BSc. CSCS

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