As Formula 1 cars tear around the track they are subjected to enormously destructive forces. The explosive accelerations, high speeds and violent braking can take a hefty toll on the vehicle’s mechanical components sometimes leading to complete meltdown.
A similar case could be made for the human body.
How many footballers, rugby players, gymnasts, sprinters, tennis players and other elite athletes are regularly breaking down with a sports induced injury? Again the rapid changes of speed, direction and force they are subjected to in their training and competitions has a large part to play in their susceptibility to getting hurt.
Accepting risk is one thing for a high-level sportsperson but the majority of us are not striving for ultimate athletic performance. We just want to look good and feel good.
Resistance training is one of the best tools we have at our disposal to achieve these objectives and comes highly recommended on this blog. But as has been discussed before there are potential drawbacks.
So how can we maximise the benefits whilst minimising the drawbacks?
Choosing joint-friendly exercises, mastering good technique and starting with appropriate loads is a sensible place to start but in many cases we can further minimise the drawbacks by slowing the speed at which we perform an exercise.
Perhaps not perfect but my case for slower reps can be summed up like this;
Rapid changes of speed and direction = Increased strain on the body
Slower changes of speed and direction = Reduced strain on the body
Slower rep speeds prevent us from bouncing off our connective tissues, reduces the momentum in an exercise and allows for greater control over our movement. Combined this leads to less wear and tear on our joints.
So putting this idea into practice the following is an exercise tempo which I recommend for most people starting out on a new resistance training program.
- Perform the lowering phase of each resistance exercise slowly and smoothly to increase time under tension
- Pause at the top/bottom of each resistance exercise to eliminate elastic energy from connective tissues and prevent bouncing
- Smoothly accelerate through the upwards phase of each resistance exercise to increase muscular tension
This combination provides a good blend of muscular tension, time-under-tension and safety.
Not everything in life has to be done at 100mph. In fact choosing to slow down is usually a less stressful option and resistance exercise seems to be no exception.
Note - Of course not all resistance exercises lend themselves well a slow tempo which will become pretty obvious when you try them. Kettlebell swings for example. This doesn’t make them bad exercises but perhaps should raise a warning flag to be particularly mindful of good biomechanics and technique when performing them.