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Manipulating Rep Speed

7309-prime7Q: Should I use plyometric-type “speed” sets to get as big as possible? I am most interested in bodybuilding, but I also want to be strong.

A: While strength training at higher speeds is specific to the movements that occur in most sports, it must be performed only after people have built a solid base of maximum strength. Telling a kid with biceps as big as his wrists to perform high-speed tire flips is not only potentially dangerous but also ineffective.

Eventually, many athletes can get great results from these types of explosive exercises, but they must first develop a base with slow-speed work. Then they must continue to use slow-speed movements throughout their athletic careers to ensure continued progress.

For a bodybuilder, one secret of success is to manipulate training speeds and create maximum adaptations. As such, you should emphasize slow-speed exercises over fast speeds because they make the muscles work harder by eliminating momentum. As I’ve explained in the past, slow-speed should never be the only training speed employed. Muscles require a variety of stimuli for optimal results, and varying training speeds will provide much of the necessary variety.

Two studies published in 1989 have shown the superior value of varying your speeds over keeping the contraction speed constant throughout a program. One study showed that in order to increase poundage at both high and low speeds, training must be performed at both speeds. Another found that low-velocity training produces greater increments in force production than high-velocity training produces.

Even so, the latter study suggests that high-velocity training alone does not produce changes as great as those produced by training that includes both high and low velocity.

These data support the use of training programs in which the speed of movement is varied for athletes attempting to increase strength at high speeds.

I have included an extensive assortment of routines for specific purposes in my books. In each of those routines you will see prescriptions for rep tempos. Follow them. Counting through each phase of the lift keeps your concentration focused where it should be—on the components of the lift.

You’ll also begin to feel how slight variations in the tempo affect the exercise. In just a few weeks you’ll be able to see positive differences from varying your lifting speeds.

So, go get big fast, but don’t forget the slow!

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc­cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med­alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit Also, see his ad in this issue. IM

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