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,


How to Improve Your Sleep

Today I want to address one of the most important aspects of recovery: quality sleep. Here’s a question I recently received from a reader.

Question: Hi Chad, I purchased your HFT program and I’m wondering if I should modify the workouts to take into account high stress and poor periods of sleep? I have a stressful job and two young toddlers so sleep is often less than perfect on a weekly basis. Thanks, Matt

Answer: Matt, I feel your pain. I’m not someone who functions well on less than eight hours of sleep, and I rarely reach that coveted goal these days. Oftentimes my athletes can’t get a full eight hours due to travel and schedule demands, so I had to find a way to make the most of their sleep time.

The key is to maximize however much sleep you can get. Six hours of high-quality, restful sleep is more beneficial than eight hours spent tossing and turning.

So before I answer your original question about manipulating the HFT workouts to meet your sleep insufficiency, I want to outline my three top tips for improving the quality of your sleep.

1. Take Vitamin C and magnesium before bed: Magnesium is a powerful mineral that helps relax the central nervous system, and Vitamin C lowers cortisol. The combined effect helps you quickly feel drowsy, and then it helps you remain asleep.

The best concoction I’ve found for improving sleep quality is with a combination of Vitamin C and magnesium. But just any old Vitamin C/magnesium combo won’t work since neither nutrient is easy for the body to assimilate in regular supplement form. You need a high-quality version of each nutrient to get the job done.

My clients and I use Lypospheric Vitamin C and Mineralife Magnesium 15 minutes before bed. Mix the two nutrients in a few ounces of water and shoot it down like a shot of tequila. It tastes terrible so don’t let it sit in your mouth.

2. Sleep in a cool room: Research demonstrates that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature range lowers your core body temperature which helps you feel sleepier. It’s important to lower your temperature because an elevated core temperature is one physiological mechanism associated with the wake cycle. People with insomnia typically have a higher pre-bedtime core temperature.

3. Sleep in a pitch black room: The tiniest bit of light can have a negative effect on your sleep quality by reducing melatonin. There’s a small region of your brain within the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) that controls all aspects related to the sleep/wake cycle, including melatonin production.

When your body senses light, the SCN turns on physiological processes related to the wake cycle: it stops melatonin production, and increases cortisol and core body temperature. Since those three factors are related to the wake cycle, you obviously want to minimize them by keeping your bedroom pitch black.

Now, back to the original question: Should you manipulate the HFT parameters when you can’t get adequate sleep?

Yes, and this applies to any training program you’re on. When you feel rundown, you should decrease the intensity of all the sets. This could mean either lowering the training loads by 20-30% or stopping each body weight exercise an extra rep or two sooner than normal.

In extreme cases, it never hurts to take an extra day off. But in most instances, just going through the motions will actually help you sleep better that night since there’s a strong, positive correlation between exercise and sleep quality. This is true even when your workouts aren’t up to par.

And speaking of HFT, I recently did a 45-minute interview with Dr. Lonnie Lowery’s Iron Radio podcast where I discuss the mechanisms, observations, and science behind my HFT protocols.

You can listen to my interview at Iron Radio.

Stay Focused,