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How to Make Strength Training 3-5x More Effective

August 30, 2017

How to Make Strength Training 3-5x More Effective

Lift Slower, Build Faster

A new study in the International Journal of Applied Exercise Physiology had 12 healthy men, all experienced strength trainers, train their biceps by doing curls twice a week for 12 weeks. Each workout consisted of three sets of eight reps. The men trained to failure.

Half of the men lifted fast. They took one second each to do the lifting and lowering parts of the movement. The other group did their reps more slowly. They took one second for the upward movement, but three seconds to do the lowering movement.

The researchers used Musculoskeletal Ultrasound scans to measure the circumference and density of the participants' biceps, before and after the twelve weeks. In addition, they measured changes in strength by comparing the amount of weight with which the men were just able to complete one rep of the curl (their 1RM, or One Rep Max) before and after.

 

Results

At the end of the 12 weeks, both groups increased their strength. However, the participants in the slow-speed group demonstrated five times greater strength gains than those in the other group.

In terms of hypertrophy/muscle mass, the slow-speed group gained three times more size than the high-speed group.

 

Slow Reps Build More Muscle and Strength

 

"We conclude that slow speed training is more effective to improve hypertrophy in well-trained adults", the researchers wrote.

 

Putting it to Work 

This isn't an isolated study. A tremendous body of research supports their findings: Time under tension (often shortened to TUT), particularly emphasizing the lowering, or negative portion of each rep, is a powerful muscle-building tool.

 

  • As is common in research, the study used a strict Either/Or approach to clearly highlight the differences between the two methods of lifting. This study does a great job of demonstrating that if you could only lift one way, slow is the way to go.

 

  • Luckily for us, in the real world, we don't have to only lift one way. It's very likely a combination of fast and slow sets would produce even better results, as well as better skill transfer for athletes who need to be quick and explosive in addition to big and strong. 

 

  • When one looks at the broader spectrum of research on lifting speed/tempo (as well as TUT and "Negatives"), the positive effect this study finds looks to be particularly noticeable in single joint movements.

 

  • Good candidates for the "lift slow" method are lateral raises, most bicep or tricep lifts, or other isolation-type movements like chest flyes or leg/quad extensions. 

 

  • Slowed tempo lifting is effective for multi-joint movements as well, such as bench press. However, when the effort is distributed across a higher number of muscle groups, the hypertrophy benefits (ie, increases in muscle mass) are reduced. However, the positive effect on strength absolutely carries over -- negatives are an excellent way to boost your numbers on a lagging lift. 





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