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Building Muscle

Building Muscle: Is lifting a weight faster better than lifting slower?

Let me first start by defining the topic, “lifting a weight faster or lifting slower” This article is referring to the speed at which a person raises a given weight.  For example, when a person is performing bench press that person might raise the weight in one second and lower the weight in one second.  In exercise physiology this is referred to as the tempo or the rate of speed a trainee lifts and lowers a given weight.

A common question I get from my clients is “what’s the point of lifting slow?”  Clients will say:

“He lifts fast” or “everybody else at the gym is doing it and that person is getting results.”

This topic has been an ongoing debate in exercise physiology.  Is it better to lift weights slowly or quickly…

A recent report in Sports Medicine.2007; 37: 225-265 supported the view that lifting slower is better than lifting faster or more explosive (Wernborn M, Augustsson J, Thomee R).  After reviewing a number of studies between 1970 and 2006, they reported the following:

“Based on the available evidence, we suggest that the time-tension integral is a more important parameter than the mechanical work output (force x distance).”  The “time-tension integral” is referring to the time under tension.  For example, if you lift a weight lowering it in 3 seconds and raising it in 3 seconds then the time under tension for that repetition is 6 seconds.  The study concludes that for muscle growth, the time under tension is more significant and important than lifting a weight quickly or explosively.

This conclusion really makes sense.  Lifting a weight slowly with control is much harder than lifting a weight quickly.  A common mistake I see at the gym are people who use a tremendous amount of momentum by lifting quickly.  Not only is this dangerous, but now exercise physiologist agree that this method is not as effective as lifting slower. Also, I just recently read a study in the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online which came to the same conclusion and added that trainees that lifted weights quickly were 30% more likely to be injured (Kuland DH. The Injured Athlete).

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends lifting a weight with a 3/3 tempo.  This means that a person would raise a weight in 3 full seconds and lower a weight in 3 full seconds.  Not only is this safer, but now science has come to the conclusion that it’s more effective.