When you think about your overall abilities in most strength exercises, you probably tend to judge your progress by how much weight you can move at once or how many reps you can complete at one time. And so, these two variables, load and volume, are likely the ones you focus on the most as you practice. You make the work more challenging by increasing one or both.
This strategy is quite smart. Changing only these two variables will work for quite some time before your progress seems to level off - years, really(when programmed correctly). However, there is another variable you can manipulate just as easily to bust through that next plateau. You can play with the speed of your repetitions to help you get stronger, and closer to your aesthetic goals.
And there are a lot of upsides to this beyond those two more obvious, covetable benefits. The first is that you can work with relatively light weights for big gains. You’ll have considerably more options to train sub maximally and still continue to build strength, without super heavy weights all the time. Working with super heavy weights more than a few weeks at a time can fry your nervous system and stunt your progress and cue significant detriment to your health, so this one is major. Whether increasing or decreasing the speed, you'll be working with no more than 60% of your max.
The second is that you'll really OWN the movement. Like any other skill - and strength is a skill to be sure - it's to your advantage to practice slowly at first. As you gain proficiency and fluidity in the movement, you'll be able to add speed and complication while maintaining integrity.
OK, OK. On to the reasons you really care about...
Add Speed For Challenge
As you can imagine, you have many options here. You can try to move your body or the weight(the load) really quickly and explosively. This action teaches your brain to recruit motor units very quickly, and therefore get your muscles to help you execute the action really fast. We’re talking about building efficiency here. You'll feel more like the strong chick you already are. Keep in mind, this is on the advanced end of the spectrum.
Decrease Speed For Mastery
You could also slow down the concentric or eccentric(the push or pull) parts of the lift, fighting gravity a little more to lengthen out the time of the reps. This action teaches your brain to recruit a higher number of motor units, and therefore get more of your body involved. We’re talking about keeping your bod looking like it does all the work you do. Also important to note, is that exaggerated isometrics and eccentrics have been shown to reduce inflammation that can keep you feeling both achey and boxy(you know what I mean here). These are great options on the more beginner end of the spectrum, as we sort of touched on above.
Or, you could slow things down so much that you take a PAUSE somewhere in the lift.
Pause To Break Through Plateaus
Now the pause is great for multiple reasons including all the benefits that come from decreasing the speed of work. But, the pause being a quick hold that you add to a specific part of the lift, also helps you gain more specific strength at the moment you stop, and work through weaknesses that might be holding you back from progress. For example, if you find it difficult to get your back knee close to the ground in a split squat - if that end range mobility is tough - you could dump some of the weight and add a pause in the bottom of the movement, adding greater value and dare I say FUN to the session.
There are an unlimited amount of moments at which you can add an unexpected pause to your typical movements. So, get creative if you're not sure. Really girl: Trust yourself. Try adding it in different places and see which feels most challenging. This can lead you to intuitively find the weak links and learn about your body.
Here are some wonderful ideas (including the split squat example above) that focus on owning that end range of motion, as most of you lovelies express concern with mobility. Beginners can start with 10 reps and a three-second pause. More experienced lifters can use loads of 40-50% for 4 sets of 5 reps and a two-second pause.
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