When it comes to determining the most effective ways to train, science should always come before anecdotal evidence. Luckily, researchers from the field of exercise science have been working pretty hard to help us get more conclusive answers as to which training method builds most muscle. Here’s the latest tip from the laboratory: playing around with your lifting speed can help you grow more.
Not surprised? That’s because you’ve probably already heard coaches or online bodybuilding gurus suggest that repetition speed is a huge factor in achieving muscle hypertrophy. In reality, repetition speed has always been a bit of a controversial topic among lifters, so a group of scientists in Sao Paulo, Brazil recently conducted a study in the hope of uncovering the differences between “slow speed” and “fast speed” lifting and came to some extraordinary results.
In every gym around the world, there are a handful of guys who everybody secretly hates because they seem to ignore or neglect every basic rule about effective muscle building and yet they manage to grow like crazy. This however should not discourage you to follow training tips that are reasonable and science-backed because guys like that will always exist – blame it on their great genetics.
Fast vs. Slow
Wide-spread gym wisdom tells us that focusing on the eccentric portion of the lift is everything when it comes to muscle hypertrophy while emphasizing the concentric phase can produce superior strength gains. And although things are not as black and white as this “rule” make them appear, it’s true that many of the guys who also incorporate slow tempo lifting tend to add more mass than those who strictly use fast lifting speeds and perform their every rep in an explosive manner.
Based on previous studies, we can safely claim that lifting speed affects important factors that promote hypertrophy and strength development such as muscle damage, time under tension and metabolic stress. But to what degree does speed determine hypertrophy?
A group of Brazilian scientists gathered a group of twelve experienced male weightlifters, divided them in two groups and made both groups perform Scott curls twice per week for 12 weeks. The workout consisted of 3 sets of 8 reps. Before the start of the experiment the researchers recorded the 1RM of each of the subjects for later comparison.
The first group had to perform “slow speed” reps by lifting the weight in one second and lower it in three seconds. The second group performed “fast speed” reps – they lifted the weight in one second and lowered it over the course of one second as well. After 12 weeks of training, the researchers assessed muscle growth in the subjects with the help of ultrasound examination of the cross-sectional area of the brachialis biceps muscle. As a measure of strength development, they compared the previous 1RM of each subject with their current one.
The results they got were really fascinating. Namely, not only that the lifters in the “slow speed” group built 3 times more muscle, but they also showed nearly five times more progression in strength than the “fast speed” group!
So does this mean that you should completely ditch fast reps and get obsessed with slow eccentrics? Not really, because other studies have shown that alternating between slow and fast lifting tempo produces the best results in the long run. The reason for this is that if you expose your muscles to only one kind of stimulus for a long period of time, they will get “bored” and stop responding in the same positive way. Therefore, for optimal gains, try to incorporate periods of slow tempo lifting into your workouts, followed by periods of lifting with significantly faster tempos, for example 6-12 weeks of slow speed followed by 6-12 weeks of fast speed.
Have fun and stay big!