Workout Speed: Should I do my reps slow or fast?

by Nate Alexander on July 28, 2009

Training fast or training slow?

The age old question, do I do my reps slow and controlled or fast and explosive? There have been “slow” programs from the superslow training principles with advocated 10+ second reps to the faster explosive programs of Olympic lifting and plyometrics. So which one is right? I say a little of both.

You see, a muscle only works 2 ways, on or off. If you watch someone lifting quite heavy, it may seem that the muscle is not being explosive but believe me…it is. Its just that the weight is heavy enough to stifle the explosion.

Example: throw a tennis ball as hard as you can, then get in a pool of water and try to throw it underwater. You may use the same force, but the resistance is higher and your arm moves slower.

May the Force be with you!

Ah yes, FORCE. Good old Newton and his discoveries. Force can easily beĀ  summed up as a push or pull that can cause an object with mass to change its velocity. Force is directly proportional to mass and/or acceleration. (cue Revenge of the Nerds Soundtrack)

Force and its relation to weight lifting

Force and its relation to weight lifting

Two things are involved in creating more force. Mass (weight in this case) and acceleration (speed). Lets take two examples to see why fast and slow traing are both effective:

We have a very heavy weight, the bar will probably move slowly because it is difficult to lift…thus a high amount of force, right?


We have a light weight but we move it as fast as we can, is there less force because the weight is lighter?

Nope, still high force!

A muscle basically sees the same thing! A heavy weight, slow (but maximum effort) speed repetition or lighter weight, fast explosive speed repetition are virtually the same in producing force.

What does this mean for how you should train?

For someone looking to develop strength and athleticism, there should be a mix of both heavier lifts and lighter explosive lifts. Adding in fast explosive training will actually help your strength in heavier lifts. This is called “carryover.”

Note: fast or explosive lifts are only explosive on the concentric or positive phase, the negative/eccentric or lowering phase should be controlled.

Should everyone do this?

Yes, everyone from an elite powerlifter to a weekend runner will benefit from varying fast and slow training but with a word of caution: perfect form should still be used. You want to make sure your joints are in the correct positions when you apply high force to them. Too many times, I see form sacrificed for speed, which is just a recipe for injury.

How to build up to it?

Start slow. Perfect your form for whatever exercise it is. Build up speed and keep your reps low. You’d be surprised how light, explosive reps can tire you out. This is not the place for doing 10 reps or your form will turn to crap. Start with sets of 3-5 and doing 3-5 reps. By the end of that you’ll have done 9-25 very explosive, productive reps.

How to do it?

Some possible exercises that work well with slow (heavy) and fast (lighter) reps:

Squats/Squat Jumps
Bench Press/Pushup
Deadlifts/Kettlebell Swings
Lat Pulldowns/Explosive Pullups (oh yeah! Coming soon!)

Give these a try in your workouts, you’ll see that alternating from heavy to light, slow to fast can make a huge difference. In about a week or so, I’ll have a video up showing one way to do this with your upper body. Stay tuned!

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