Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
“Slow down, you move too fast” isn’t just the opening line of a Simon & Garfunkel song; it should be a mantra that we apply to our strength training routines. While much of strength training instruction focuses on fast, powerful movement of the weight, it’s necessary for the good of our muscles that we vary our workouts, tempo of our repetitions (reps), and the load placed on our muscles. Slowing the speed of our movement during reps will provide
better results, helping build strength, increase instead of shorten our range of motion and flexibility, improve breathing, reduce risk of injury, and improve brain function.
There are three phases of muscle action in strength training:
- Concentric: This is the shortening of the muscle fibers. Think of someone showing off their biceps by flexing; the muscle fibers in that balled-up bicep are shortened. This is the phase we tend to fixate on when we first begin to lift weights.
- Eccentric: This is the controlled lengthening of the muscle fibers from a concentric state. Think of bringing the dumbbell back to the starting position while doing a bicep curl.
- Isometric: This is where the muscle is tensed, but the joint is not moving. Think of if you paused and held the dumbbell at a 90° angle during the bicep curl, keeping the load of the weight tensing our arm muscles.
Of the three muscle actions, effective use of the eccentric phase will produce the greatest force on a muscle, followed by the isometric movement and then the concentric movement. So you can see that is unfortunate that we tend to fixate on the concentric phase! Slowing the tempo of the eccentric movement and a momentary pause in the isometric position will utilize muscles more evenly. Slow, controlled reps increase the time under tension of the muscle and ultimately lead to better muscle gain.
Slower movement will also lead to greater range of motion of the joints. If you are lifting quickly, you most likely are not moving the joint through its full range of motion. Exerting tension on muscle in a limited range will only strengthen the muscle within that range; life unfortunately doesn’t limit its demands to the range of motion we choose to focus on!
In addition to short-term strength and flexibility, using a joint in its full range of motion is important to develop and maintain its health throughout our lives. The less we move our joints in their full range of motion daily, the stiffer we become, negatively impacting the health of the joint. If you don’t use it, you truly will lose it.
Slowing down our movement when lifting weights helps by limiting the negative effects of momentum. When we lift weights quickly, the momentum gained reduces the load on the muscles, in effect short-changing the benefits we get from the movement.
Momentum also increases the possibility of injury due to the weight not being under our complete control. If we are letting fast movements and momentum push the weight, we also risk losing our mental connection with our movement. We can adapt more quickly to what our nerves are telling us and correct potential problems if
we are always in control of the weight.
Our breathing is also aided by slowing down our movements when doing strength training. If you are more connected to the movement, you can adapt your breathing to be more efficient in doing its part to help you move the weight.
When you move too quickly, your breaths will be more shallow, keeping your body from taking in as much oxygen than it should be. By controlling the movement and focusing on your connection to the weight, your breathing will adapt and allow you to take in the requisite amount of oxygen for your muscles to effectively push the weight.
Finally, slower movements will increase neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change. A slower tempo to your lifting requires concentration, focusing on the muscles doing the work, the muscles supporting our body’s posture, our breathing, etc. This increases brain activity, which is a very good thing! Studies in aging populations have shown that exercise activates brain activity and leads to improvements in physical strength and overall health.
Remember to slow down and focus on all three phases of loading our muscles. Your entire body will thank you!