The SLOW versus FAST debate
Throughout your fitness experiences over the years, you have probably been told to complete your freeweight/bodyweight/machine repetitions at fast speeds by some people, and five minutes later, some “know-it-all” has tapped you on the shoulder and told you to slow it down to a snail’s pace. Confused? You’re not the only one!
Many people are wondering which approach is better – completing a movement super fast, or super slow? The truth is that BOTH approaches are valid, however they will give you different results.
Should you be focusing on slow reps or fast reps?
Fast repetitions will provide a higher intensity cardio workout (that is, your heart will be forced to work harder), and you’ll also be able to lift heavier weights as you gain more momentum from the speedy movement. It is also more likely that you will be allowing other muscles to assist you in lifting/lowering the weight instead of properly isolating the relevant muscle. In other words, fast reps will make you strong and you’ll be burning calories, but it will take longer for your hard work to be visible in your physique. If you’re doing bodyweight exercises such as push-ups or squats as part of a cardio/interval workout, faster reps are going to work better for the end-in-mind.
However, if you’re really wanting to gain muscle, it is best to slow things down and ensure that you are always in full control of the weight throughout both the lifting and lowering phases of the movement. It is best to complete the lifting (concentric) phase of the movement explosively yet controlled, and the lowering (eccentric) phase of the movement at a slower and very controlled pace. Sean Nalewanyj explains it in this Youtube clip.
Slower reps place more tension on the muscle and allow muscle fibres to grow.
Put simply, fast repetitions will improve your fitness and strength, whereas slow repetitions will give you more visible muscle growth, and much faster.
A great idea is to take on a workout that includes a balance of high-intensity interval training (such as plyometric exercises, bodyweight exercises and traditional cardio training such as skipping, jogging and cycling) with slower weight training. This is the best approach if you’re time poor and cannot afford to dedicate each workout to only one muscle group or a specific strength and fitness goal.
The alternative is to have ‘cardio’ days and ‘weights’ days – or, you can end your weights session with a generous serving of cardio. This is the approach of many bodybuilders who let their diets do most of the fat-burning work for them, and focus most of their time at the gym on building muscle.
If working up a sweat and burning calories is your main priority, you’re better to focus on high-intensity interval training and cardio work. If you aren’t eating a balanced diet to support your metabolism, limiting your training to controlled weights sessions is unlikely to assist you greatly in weight loss and cardiovascular health.
To sum it all up . . .
The approach to your repetition speed depends on your health and fitness goals. A well-rounded training plan will consist of a combination of slow AND fast movements. But if you have muscle gains in mind, your training will focus more on the explosive lifting phase and slower, controlled lowering phase.