In particular, the benefits of slowing things down.
“There’s a little bit of this old school idea like, I have to lift more or move faster to make things effective,” says Thea Hughes, Brooklyn-based strength coach and founder of Max Effort Training. “Thinking of rhythm instead may not be so sexy. “But if we think about why and how our body moves, I think people can optimize their results faster by controlling these movements.”
What Hughes means by tempo in strength training is the speed with which you do a repetition. So instead of going downhill quickly in a squat, the idea is that you might lower yourself in that squat while counting for three to five seconds. Doing so increases the time your muscles are “tense,” says Hughes, which means they work harder for longer.
“Whether you’re holding a 50-pound plate or your body weight, your body is tense, but it’s actually harder to do it more slowly,” says Hughes.
A study of rhythm in Journal of Physiology found that performing slow leg movements resulted in more muscle growth than the same activity that was done quickly. A meta-analysis of studies on muscle growth strategies published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health could not determine if a slow pace was really more effective than performing fast repetitions, but ultimately suggests that maintaining control over the resistance part of an exercise is the best way to optimize movement.
Hughes agrees that control is a necessary component of building muscle and believes that slowing down your movements ensures that you maintain that control.
“It requires you to put in place the right mechanisms and do things the right way,” says Hughes. “This brings mind-body awareness to our workouts instead of just doing the movements.”
This does not mean that higher speeds have no place in your training. Hughes suggests combining moments of explosive force with slowing down resistance, such as squatting or pushing up where you jump or push fast, and then slowly lower yourself.
“Slowing down and controlling your movement is not mutually exclusive from fast movement,” says Hughes. “By controlling our pace, we will be able to really do a little bit of this higher intensity, faster movements or jumps better because we will have better control and understanding of our range of motion.”
So if you want to mix up your workout or play with ways to get results, don’t forget to consider your speed.
“Everything has a rhythm, whether you watch it or not,” says Hughes.
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