When you do a resistance workout, do you vary the speed with which you lift the weights? Or do you lift at the same pace for every workout and every exercise, whether it's a biceps curl or a squat? If you don't vary your pace, you may be missing out on building explosive power for your sport, or training specifically for your sport.
Suppose you're a basketball player, a mountain biker, or even a hockey player. These are sports that require periods of intense activity coupled with periods where the athlete is not being incredibly active, but is ready to instantly spring into action when necessary.
Slow lifting prepares an athlete for the 'ready' phase, while building the muscle power every athlete or active person needs. Fast lifting provides explosive strength that helps hockey players skate fast, helps basketball players fight through traffic, or gives mountain bikers an edge when handling a trail obstacle or maintaining control over an unexpected rut or 'rock garden.'
The most important part to remember when it comes to lifting speed is that it's never an either/or thing. You can do one fast set, then a slow set. You can choose between the two techniques by scheduling days when you'll lift heavier weights slowly, or lighter weights with more speed. There are advantages to each type of lifting.
If you do all your reps at a slow pace, perhaps even a deliberately slower-than-usual pace, you'll be holding the weight for a longer time, putting more stress on each muscle worked in that way; thus building more strength. But the advantage is, when doing sets slowly, you can lift more weight. You must also stay focused on the weight for a longer period of time, which will train your power of concentration. However, when you lift lighter weights at a faster pace, you must be much more careful to use proper form and perfect technique. A mistake in performance when increasing the speed of your reps can cause a serious injury, like a strain of a muscle, tendon or ligament (ligaments connect the bones of a joint together).
One good way to plan the pace of your workout is to train at the speed of your sport. When doing this, always start with lighter weights – in fact, dropping the poundage to half what you normally lift is a very good start. Let your body get accustomed to resistance at a faster pace before you started using heavier weights.
If there's any point in which lifting fast prevents you from maintaining proper form, lower the amount of the weight immediately. Suppose you're doing fast biceps curls using your regular poundage, but you can't get the dumbbell up to your shoulder on the final few reps. That's a clear sign that your muscles are not yet ready for a faster speed using your accustomed weight.
Because dumbbells and weight plates usually increase in five-pound increments, you may need to resort to a one-pound wrist band on each arm, or maybe even two of them, to train your muscles to lift your usual poundage at a faster speed. But never rush into using heavier weights. You may easily be able to lift a heavier weight when you do it slowly, but moving faster puts much more stress on muscles and bones – as well as a different kind of stress than occurs when lifting a weight at a more sedate pace.
The final big thing to remember is to always keep control of the weight. If you're lifting fast and it slips out of your hand, that's a problem you never want to happen. But if you vary your rep speed, and vary the weight you use, you'll soon be a much more agile, balanced and coordinated athlete.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly , which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.