An Interesting Look At Training Speed – A Research Study About Slow Reps vs Fast Reps
By: Intense Fitness Writers
One of the main factors that you may or may not be aware of that goes into determining the results that you see from your workout session is the speed at which you’re training with. This is often referred to as the tempo of the exercise and is represented by three different numbers, each number indicating the time it should take you to execute a different phase of the movement.
For example, the tempo 3:1:3 would indicate that you are to take 3 seconds to perform the first part of the movement, rest at the top for a one second pause, and then take three seconds to lower the weight back down to the starting position. Each rep would be performed in this fashion until all reps of the exercise were complete. Tempo is often altered as part of a training program in order to elicit different gains in physical properties of the muscle cells.
Recently a study was published by the Journal Of Applied Physiology that looked at the effects of both high and low velocity training programs on the muscle fibers of both younger and older individuals.
Let’s have a look at the influence this training element had.
J Appl Physiol. 2011 Jul 28.
Effects of high- and low-velocity resistance training on the contractile properties of skeletal muscle fibers from young and older humans.
Claflin DR, Larkin LM, Cederna PS, Horowitz JF, Alexander NB, Cole NM, Galecki AT, Chen S, Nyquist LV, Carlson BM, Faulkner JA, Ashton-Miller JA.
University of Michigan.
A two-arm, prospective, randomized, controlled trial study was conducted to investigate the effects of movement velocity during progressive resistance training (PRT) on the size and contractile properties of individual fibers from human vastus lateralis muscles. The effects of age and gender were examined by a design that included 63 subjects organized into four groups: young (20 to 30 yrs) males and females, and older (65 to 80 yrs) males and females. In each group, half of the subjects underwent a traditional PRT protocol that involved shortening contractions at low velocities against high loads, while the other half performed a modified PRT protocol that involved contractions at 3.5× higher velocity against reduced loads. Muscles were sampled by needle biopsy before and after the 14-week PRT program and functional tests were performed on permeabilized individual fiber segments isolated from the biopsies. We tested the hypothesis that, compared with low-velocity PRT, high-velocity PRT results in a greater increase in the cross-sectional area (CSA), force and power of type 2 fibers. Both types of PRT increased the CSA, force and power of type 2 fibers by 8-12%, independent of the gender or age of the subject. Contrary to our hypothesis, the velocity at which the PRT was performed did not affect the fiber-level outcomes substantially. We conclude that, compared with low-velocity PRT, resistance training performed at velocities up to 3.5× higher against reduced loads are equally effective for eliciting an adaptive response in type 2 fibers from human skeletal muscle.
So what this study essentially set out to look at was whether a high speed, lighter weight lifting workout program would call the type 2 muscle fibers (fast twitch) into play as well as a lower speed, heavier weight program. Most people who are at least somewhat involved in a muscle building program realize that heavier weight loads are one of the primary determinants of increased strength and size gains.
So, what was the case when the load was lightened and the exercise was sped up?
Interestingly enough, there wasn’t a notable difference between the groups. Each group, both the slow speed and fast speed trainees performed their workouts for a 14 week period and at the end of the study, the program selection did not have an influence on fiber level adaptations. Both groups were able to see an increase in size of the cross sectional area of the muscle as well as increased force and power output.
So from this study, putting things into practical application, we can conclude that you shouldn’t always be so quick to assume that you must lift very heavy weights to make progress. In some cases, speed up the movement while reducing the load can still evoke great training responses and help you make progress with your workouts. For those who are commonly dealing with knee, back, or hip pain due to such a high loading stress constantly being placed upon them, this could be very welcoming news.
Every so often they should consider adding a ‘back-off’ week where they do reduce the total load in order to give their body a break from that constant stress. By increasing the speed of the movement as they do this, they could continue to make training progress.
So make sure you take this information and apply it to your program. Once again, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to progress but rather, multiple different strategies can get you to your end goals.