Workout Smart: Speed vs. Contraction and Form
Working as a trainer in a gym, I see all kinds of people working out. Some are experts, some are beginners, and some are just plain doing it wrong. I never like to judge: people workout and train for all kinds of purposes and goals, which means they workout differently. However, there are still ways you can workout the wrong way, despite training differently for various goals. It’s not just annoying to see this, it worries me. Working out the improper way doesn’t just make you look silly, but you could seriously hurt yourself too.
This is where the topic of today comes in: speed versus contraction and proper form. Some guys and girls, usually teenage boys (but sometimes 60+ men which is the most worrisome), will try to do reps of exercises–whether it be curls, rows, pull-downs, you name it–as fast as they can. I’m not sure if it’s because they can’t properly handle the weight so they try to get it done as fast as possible or they are trying to show off their abilities. They are wrong in both reasonings. They might even think that doing it as fast as possible is the right way to do it–WRONG.
Don’t get me wrong, I will give an exception where fast training is okay. Plyometrics. Athletes. Competition trainees. These are the few exceptions. Athletes need to use plyometrics (training muscles to exert maximum force in the smallest amount of time possible with the most power possible) to get better at their sport. They improve their speed and power this way. You will see athletes doing plyometric jumps or lifts as well as other agility drills. This is okay! People who are training for certain competitions also need to do power-lifting, in which you will see a lot of jerks and snaps for getting their weight up. This is also okay!
I’m talking about the people who aren’t training for competitions, but just working out to achieve certain goals. The average gym-goer. Form is my #1 priority with my clients and they know it! They learn so well that they are able to point out others’ bad form in the gym while we are training. And because I love good form so much, I hate bad form even more. Attention weight lifters: you do not look cooler, sexier, or fitter when you yank that bar down so fast you pull a muscle.
Weight-lifting is all about control. Control is power. It’s not even all about not injuring yourself (although working out in jerky, fast motions without proper muscle control is a quick road to injury), it’s about maximizing gains and muscle strength. We could get very detailed about how fast repetitions should be based on what you’re looking for (muscle endurance, hypertrophy, strength, power, etc.), but that’s for another post.
Let’s just go to the basics. You will “feel” the reps more when you slow down. You will feel your muscle working, breaking down, and getting stronger. If you don’t believe me, try it out for yourself. Try a set of bicycles (lay on your back, knees up, elbow to opposite knee, repeat). Do 30 seconds of it fast, and then try 30 seconds slow. I’ll bet your abs will feel it a lot more when you go slower. I always have my clients slow down, for example, doing rear delt flyes, even on machines like leg extension, you will get such a better workout if you just slow down.
Just think about it. When you slow down, and thus get the full repetition, you are allowing your muscle to go all the way through the motions, feeling it at each range of motion. Also, another quick note: don’t skimp out on the “negative” motion of a muscle action (aka the release, the elongation, the extensionof a biceps curl, not the actual curl). Many are tempted to quickly let go of the muscle tension and let it “fall down” to the starting place rather than controlling it. Again, we control it, we gain strength, we show power. If we cut it short, then we don’t get to strengthen the muscle at the most important part: the elongation of the muscle where it feels it the most.
Next time you hit the weights or the machines, remember about good form and slowing down. Don’t hunch, keep your shoulders back, and your heart strong. Use these tips to stay hungry and fit! Cheers!
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