Is Faster Always Better?

nsca cw speaking Last month I gave a presentation in Las Vegas for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). My topic focused on ways to increase motor unit recruitment.

It’s a subject I’ve written extensively about over the years, and in those articles and books I’ve placed a large emphasis on increasing acceleration during the concentric (muscle shortening) phase to enhance the number of motor units you recruit.

However, there’s much more to motor unit recruitment than just lifting faster. I’ll use the Turkish Get-up (TGU) as an example – an exercise that beautifully challenges full-body strength.

Assuming you’ve tried the TGU, you know it’s difficult to perform explosively. Indeed, to maintain perfect form you need to move with a slow, deliberate pace and concentrate on joint stability as you transition between each phase of the movement. This is especially true as you work to, and beyond, a 32 kilogram kettlebell.

Could you increase motor unit recruitment if you tried to perform the TGU more explosively? Possibly, but it’s not worth the effort. Certain strength exercises that require full-body strength in complex movement patterns are better performed slowly, even if you could move faster. Pavel refers to the TGU as the ultimate slow grind strength exercise. I completely agree, and that’s why it’s part of all my athletes training programs.

Now, you might not consider a TGU to be a massive muscle builder. But a heavy deadlift certainly is, and it’s a perfect example of a slow grind move that quickly builds plenty of muscle.

And sometimes, no movement at all is best for building muscle. I’m referring here to isometric holds. It’s clear that gymnasts who perform the rings event have incredible upper body muscle development – better than any other natural athlete on earth, if you ask me. Yet, they virtually never move explosively. In fact, a rings routine consists of isometric holds paired with slow, deliberate transition moves in between.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time hanging from rings over the last few years. So I can state with utmost certainty that it takes more muscle and strength to perform a perfect muscle-up slowly. An explosive muscle-up relies heavily on momentum. As momentum goes up, muscle tension and motor unit recruitment go down.

Now, if we take momentum out of the equation and focus on traditional strength exercises with free weights and cables, it’s usually better to perform the concentric phase as explosively as possible. This philosophy forms the foundation of the programs in my book, Huge in a Hurry.

However, as you incorporate less traditional moves into your programs – exercises such as the TGU with a kettlebell or an iron cross hold on the rings – it’s important to understand that faster isn’t always better. In those cases, developing the highest levels of muscle tension possible is the goal. And that usually requires you to slow your pace.

So for complete muscle and strength development in athletes, I incorporate three categories of movements into their programs: explosive, slow grind, and high-tension isometrics. Here are a few of my favorite examples from each category:

Explosive: kettlebell swing, one-arm row, push press, and hang power snatch.

Slow grind: TGU, heavy deadlift, Nordic hamstring, and one-arm push-up.

High-tension isometrics: iron cross, maltese, handstand from rings, and one-arm hang from a pull-up bar or rings.

Stay Focused,
CW

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8 thoughts on “Is Faster Always Better?

  1. I love reading your work Chad. I’ve been a fan since 2008. As scientific research always evolves, so must our training if we want to maximize our gains. Great article man. Although your training philosophies and routines seem to get more and more unconventional, you always seem to be one step ahead of the game. And by unconventional, I mean I’m the only guy that brings Olympic rings in the gym…and people look at me weird. But, I don’t care. After only 2 weeks of HFT, I can already feel my body changing.. and it feels good. Thanks for helping this hardgainer get big and strong.

    CW: Thanks Kyle! Much appreciated.

  2. Okay, I’m going to write this as carefully as possible because I don’t want to sound like a troll or smart ass. I really enjoy reading your work and find you to construct logical thought chains. I’m asking here to learn:

    Aren’t you making distinctions without differences? It’s almost similar to those so adamant about “muscle confusion”. (note, I’m not saying you’re equating these things–just sliding them under the same umbrella for illustration purpose).

    Putting aside sarcoplasmic pump, it seems both strength and size consist of a simple (i.e. muscle fibers don’t have brains and don’t get confused) process where they stretch and contract (even if contraction is against an immoveable object). This cause damage if done with enough effort.

    The fibers then follow a wound healing model and comeback first to homeostasis then on toward adaptation–bigger/stronger. You may need to vary weight, volume, or frequency to keep advancing as adaptation becomes stubborn–but you don’t need to get very esoteric to produce results.

    Want to explode off the O-line harder? Increase strength with deadlifts then take your bigger, stronger frame and practice the specific explosive skill itself to mastery. Ditto a boxer’s jab and pressing motions, etc, etc.

    Why all this variation when all the muscle fibers know is that they’re contracting and healing–but not which “name exercise” is triggering the contraction?

    (again note–this isn’t an argument, it’s meant as a question and I hope it came off that way). Thanks Chad. Loving the 8×3, btw.

    CW: Good points, Nathan. I appreciate your input and I agree with everything you said. My point was to simply address the common notion that people sometimes get from my writings: lifting faster is always better.

  3. Good info. I’ve always wondered why in Huge in A Hurry, when doing Partials (with extra weight), you prescribe only Fast Partials with Medium Intensity (in the Get Even Stronger program) and never any slow grinding Partials with Heavy Intensity. It matches with Steve Justa’s advice (Rock, Iron, Steel – The Book of Strength) which is to do Quarter Deadlifts with a quick burst, but never grind out a rep, or you’re asking for an injury.

    Forget about isometric holds midway during a Partial with extra weight.

    However, partials with extra weight provide an opportunity to overload the joints, and so I figured slow and grinding reps, focusing on Joint Stability, would be beneficial (minus the strain to the lower back).

    Thanks for this article

  4. Hey Chad, this is unrelated but my search for the awnser has proved futile. In my efforts to protect my back from shearing forces as much as possible while still getting a strength stimuli, I’ve began doing pistols while maintaining lordosis. I cannot reach ATG while maintaining lordosis, and the progression downward is inexorably slow. Looking for a way to speed this up, I began googling, and realized that in hudreds of pistol videos and articles, I haven’t seen a single ATG pistol with an inwardly curved lower back. If it IS possible, could you post a video of you or one of your athletes performing such a feat?
    Ryan Bridges

    CW: Good question, Ryan. Is it possible to perform an ATG pistol with lordosis? Nope. No way. The good news is that you can round the spine when there’s no external load. But if it causes you low back pain, the ATG pistol isn’t for you. I highly recommend you perform this drill before the pistols so your core is firing correctly before you round your spine http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baMFUXIvvT8

  5. Hi Chad,

    Sorry for the unrelated question, but since I read under the Slow Grind Category the “One arm push-up” exercise you include in your programs for athletes, I was wondering what could be the best exercise/s that would help me prepare and perform the one arm push-up?

    Thank You.

    CW: I will post a video on this very soon. In the meantime, get in position with your feet wide, then lower as far as possible and hold that position for 3-5s. Do this with each arm, start with your strongest arm first, and do 3 sets every other day. You should be able to lower yourself further, before the isometric hold, over time.

  6. hi chad,
    totally agree. Is the distribution of explosive, slow grind and high-tension moves in your training plans always the same (kind of 1/3 each) or does it depend mostly on training goals? And what is a nordic hamstring-exercise/movement???
    greets,
    gerhard

    CW: It depends on the goals (i.e., weaknesses) of the client. Some guys need more explosive power, others need more grinding power. A Google search will lead you to the Nordic hamstring move, but I’ll post a video of my version in the future.

  7. hi chad, nice article, i want to ask you a question that is a little far from the subject of this article but i need an answer from you coz i know that you are very honest about supplements.
    how far can one train without supplements, i mean can we train and not take any kind of supplements just food? and what about whey, and post workout feeding i mean what can replace whey in food coz we need a fast digesting protein soon after working out and first thing in the morning. i think eggs are the second fastest protein after whey, coz i use to take whey, bcaa, casein, creatine, fish oil, vitamins, beta alanine, citruline malate, zma, green tea extract, and almost all that in the same time i mean every day, but i alwayz felt tired and sick like and not looking good in my face, i did every Analysis possible and went to doctors but i am fine Kidneys fine liver every thing, so is it possible to train without suplement and expect good result?
    thanks chad and sorry about all that but i alwayz trust your judgments and Opinions.

    CW: If I were you I’d stop using all the supplements you mentioned for one week. Focus on eating healthy protein (organic chicken, turkey and wild fish) and eat plenty of vegetables and fresh fruit. Don’t worry about post workout nutrition during that week. Eat healthy foods post workout. After a week I bet you’ll feel/look much better. From there, add in plain Warrior Whey protein post workout and find another brand of a healthy fish oil such as Carlson. Then add in 5 grams of creatine post workout after you’ve spent a week with just protein powder and fish oil. I wouldn’t take anything else you mentioned at this point.

  8. Hey Chad,

    Nice article…thanks for posting it. You mentioned moving fast w/ traditional strength exercises with free weights and cables, but what about w/ bodyweight exercises. If training w/ bodyweight only, and the goal is size, do you see benefit in slowing the reps down and possibly adding a static hold to bodyweight exercises to make them harder or is it better to keep adding reps to sets for size?

    Thanks

    CW: It depends on the exercise. For example, it’s great to perform the push-up and pull-up explosively. Same with the concentric phase of a pistol. But rings exercises are best performed slower in most cases so you enhance recruitment of the stability muscles.

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