As guys, we all have a need for speed. And, of course, that need extends into every facet of life including the gym. The good news is there’s always a faster way to get gains in the gym. One of the best and most underrated ways to get faster gains is simple enough: Move faster. Picking up the pace of lifts will accelerate gains and, as an added bonus, you’ll likely have to spend less time at the gym.
The Fast and The Furious
Just as there are curves running up and down a car, lifts are all about moving the weight up and down. To speed up your gains, you have to make sure you’re making no pauses.
So just how fast is fast? The concentric portion (upward motion) should be one or two seconds and the eccentric (downward motion) should be only one second. The tempo should be incredibly explosive; it should feel as if the exercise couldn’t be done any faster without breaking form.
Keeping Up With The Tempo
Oftentimes exercises are made more challenging by adding weight to increase the force required to lift. A key component of force is velocity or the speed of the lift.
Even when using less weight, increasing the velocity results in the force output skyrocketing. For example, lifting 100 pounds at a controlled pace means exerting enough force to move 100 pounds. Lifting even less than 100 pounds with greater speed actually results in a much higher force output. The goal for building muscle is to constantly overload muscles with more force and this technique accomplishes just that.
The Benefits Of High-Speed Tempos
Fast tempo lifts naturally engage Type II muscle fibers. These are the more explosive and bigger muscle fibers. In slow tempo lifts, Type II fibers get used to an extent, but nothing like when speed training. The more this tempo is used, the better muscle neurons become at using these fibers and the body will regenerate more Type II fibers.
Lifting at fast tempos is also superb for building strength. Want proof? A recent study found that lifting at high speeds lead to more strength gains than lifting at slow speeds. In case you have any doubts, just look at Olympic weightlifters and power-lifters. They lift massive weight fast, and, if they don’t, they usually don’t finish the lift at all.
While speed is the focus, not stopping has a huge influence on gains. According to an National Strength and Conditioning Association study, not pausing and lifting at a fast tempo maximized power. Like life, there’s no time to pause. For maximal results only rest between sets.
Muscles generally perform the heavy lifting, but tendons, ligaments, and fascia play an underrated role in force production and growth. Slow lifters won’t be able to get this benefit. Be the hare, not the tortoise.
Accelerating Gains With The Right Tempo
Speed training can be incorporated into any workout. Focus on taking a solid compound exercise like presses, rows, or front squats and applying the fast tempo described earlier. Continue to lift heavy on other exercises, but vary the tempos.
If you’re just now beginning to focus on speed, then the weight needs to be quite light. For example, on the bench press, use 50 to 60% of the weight you would normally use for a five-rep max. Do, at most, five or six reps. Why? Doing this small number of reps should ensure that each rep is done as fast as possible. If it takes you longer than two seconds per rep, then the weight is too heavy. Do six sets like this only resting for 40 seconds between each set. When you return to lifting your normal amount, the results will be clear as the ease and speed of your reps will seem amazingly quick.
If that’s too much math, then try plyometrics or what’s sometimes called jump training. They’re the original bad boy speed exercises. Although jump squats and clapping push-ups only use bodyweight, they still have huge force profiles because of their rapid speed. You could try starting a workout with three sets of a plyometric exercise, or superset it (back to back without stopping) with a similar movement. For example, you could start a leg workout with box jumps or superset squats with box jumps.
The reality is that making faster gains is as easy as moving faster without taking time to pause. The more force your body puts out, the stronger it gets and the greater your overall gains. Just take a little weight off and speed it up or add in specific speed work on the big lifts. If you can do this, then greater gains should be in your future.