Another opinion on slow lifting

Is it true that the best way to build muscle is by doing really slow repetitions?

IB, Southampton

Several years ago, a study suggested that lifting weights slowly -14 seconds per repetition – increases strength faster than lifting at normal speeds.

But there was a flaw.

The slow lifters gained more strength in slow lifts than the others gained in normal speed lifts.

They never compared the two groups in absolute strength.

“There’s no one size fits all way to build muscle, you have to look at your training regime, your diet, even your genetic make up,” says Ceri Hannan, national fitness manager at Fitness First.

He suggests that to boost muscle fibre, you alternate between slow and medium speed repetitions to ‘shock’ your muscles.

“Generally, however, it’s better to push slower because it makes you concentrate on your technique and control more, which is the biggest problem,” adds Hannan.

As a rule, count to four lowering a weight, and to two pushing or pulling it up.

But don’t ignore speed completely.

A study from George Washington University in the US looked at slow versus normal lifting, comparing how much could be lifted for one repetition before and after a ten week training programme.

Those lifting weights at the normal speed gained 24% more strength than the tortoise trainers.

“Vary your workout speed as much as possible and, more than anything, don’t push weights above your station,” Hannan advises.

Metabolism and Exercise

Here are some factors that do influence the number of calories a person expends in general:

Some people are born with high metabolisms (the rate at which one’s body uses calories) and others are born with low metabolisms. The main culprit of these phenomena is the thyroid gland. Some individuals produce more thyroxin (the hormone that is secreted from the thyroid) than others. Thyroxin is responsible for metabolism, so if a person’s body produces a high-normal amount of thyroxin, s/he will utilize calories more quickly. If a person’s body produces a low-normal amount of thyroxin, s/he will utilize calories more slowly. NOTE: if thyroxin is out of normal range in either direction, it is dangerous and needs medical attention.

Typically, men have greater muscle mass than women. Since muscle requires more calories to maintain, men tend to have 10 – 15 percent faster metabolisms than women. Similarly, men have a lower body fat percentage than women.

Metabolic rate is higher in childhood than in adulthood. Children are growing and need more calories to fulfill their bodies’ requirements. After the age of 20 years, metabolism drops 2 percent per decade.

Brain Power
The brain is only 2 percent of the body’s weight, but accounts for more than 20 percent of total calories used. Also, the length of time per day spent awake affects the amount of calories utilized. We expend more calories when we are awake than when we are asleep.

For every increase of 0.5°C (32.9°F) in body temperature, BMR increases by approximately 7 percent. For example, if someone has a fever of 42°C (107.6°F), s/he would have an increase in metabolic rate of 50 percent. The reason for this is that chemical reactions in the body occur more quickly at higher temperatures.

Some medications, such as anti-depressants, can slow down metabolic processes and lead to weight gain.

During exercise, the following factors influence calorie expenditure:

Cardiovascular Exercise Intensity
The intensity of aerobic exercise has the greatest impact on calorie usage during exercise. As exercise intensity increases, the greater the caloric expenditure during and after exercise. Intensity refers to the rate of exertion during exercise, which can be measured by VO2 max (oxygen consumption), heart rate, or perceived exertion. Here’s an example of cardiovascular exercise intensity: running on a treadmill at 6.5 mph is more intense than running at 5.5 mph, so increasing speed can impact intensity. However, two people can be running at 5.5 mph, but if one runs on an incline, that activity would be more intense.

Cardiovascular Exercise Duration
The length of time per exercise session not only impacts the number of calories utilized during exercise, but also the number of calories to be utilized after exercise. The longer the bout of physical activity, the more calories will be expended right after it is over, a.k.a. the ‘after-burn.’

Intermittent vs. Single Bouts of Exercise
Several studies have concluded that intermittent aerobic exercise expends more calories overall than continuous exercise. People used more calories during two, 25-minute sessions when compared to a continuous 50-minute bout of the same exercise. This occurs for two reasons: first, the body has to work harder at rest to move from an anaerobic state, using glucose and other simple and complex carbohydrates during the first few minutes of exercise, to an aerobic state, which relies on fat as its main energy source during more sustained activity. This will happen twice in intermittent exercise bouts versus once in a continuous bout. Also, there is more ‘after-burn‘ of calories in intermittent exercise sessions versus one continuous session.

Resistance Training
The intensity of weight training also influences calories utilized. Heavier lifting (3 sets, 8 exercises, 3 – 8 reps at 80 – 90 percent of 1RM) will use more calories during and right after than lighter weight lifting (4 sets, 8 exercises, 15 reps at 50 percent of 1RM). 1RM refers to the weight of one repetition at maximal strength. For example, if a person’s 1RM of a squat is 100 pounds, then heavy lifting would be doing 3 sets of 3 – 8 reps of squats at 80 – 90 lbs. Lighter weight lifting would be squatting 50 lbs for 4 sets of 15 reps.

Fitness Level
People who are more fit expend fewer calories during and right after exercise than people who are less fit. This occurs because people who have been exercising more consistently have faster recovery time in breathing and heart rate, and repair muscle more quickly

Slow Weight Lifting vs Faster Reps

When lifting weights try and go slower and more controlled with lighter weights for more muscle mass.
With slower repetition speed you effectively increase intensity of the lifting (concentric) phase while decreasing momentum. While momentum may allow you to lift bigger weights, it basically reduces target muscle stimulation and intensity while also increasing your chances for injury. Researchers in Massachusetts, USA and in collaboration with the YMCA, looked at this phenomenon on middle-aged men and women (mean age 53). They divided these previously untrained people into two groups, all performing 2-3 days per week training in this 8-10 week program.

One group was performing weight training at normal repetition speed (7 seconds) while the other was performing it at slow speed or 14 seconds. To ensure that muscle time under tension was constant, the normal speed group performed 8-10 reps while the slow speed group performed 4-6 repetitions. They conducted two studied and in both, the slow speed group increased strength significantly more than their faster speed counterparts. In study one, the slow speed group showed a mean strength increase of 12 kg while the normal speed group showed an only 8 kg improvement. In the second study, the slow speed showed a 10.9 kg increase while the normal speed showed an increase of 7.1 kg.

This study shows the importance of repetition speed when performing resistance training and further cements the idea that weight must be lifted in a fully controlled manner. This holds especially true when training for strength increases in older adults.