What is better to build muscle – fast or slow reps ? Rep tempo aka. rep speed has been a debate for a very long time in bodybuilding.
A lot of coaches still recommend doing very slow eccentrics up to 4 seconds to build more muscle and this might not be the most optimal way to train for size. We know from looking at the research that volume is king when it comes to muscle hypertrophy.
The problem with slowing down reps is that you’re going to ultimately sacrifice the total amount of volume you can do.
A simple example would be someone who has a 8 reps max with 225 lbs on Bench Press with a standard tempo – 2 second eccentric, no pause, and a 2 second concentric without a pause on top.
If you tell that person to increase the eccentric, to slow the descent of the weight, they’re unlikely to be able to do 8 reps. It will probably be closer to 5. So the total volume had to be reduced to accommodate the slow repetition speed. By limiting total volume you’re reducing the growth stimulants.
A slow rep in essence means higher time under tension. And this is the big idea behind a lot of marketing out there. If you want to build muscle you have to increase your time under tension.
The problem is that time under tension itself doesn’t override the volume principles. Higher time under tension will generate more muscle damage but that’s a secondary competent to growth.
The Mechanical Overload component is the primary growth factor which we should aim to progress in over time. Mechanical Tension Overload is simple increase volume you can handle over time.
That can come from increasing the amount of reps you can do with the weight or adding more weight depending how your program is structured.
So the bottom line is, you don’t want to put the “horse before the cart” by prioritizing time under tension and slow reps over the total volume of work. Don’t fall for the “super slow training” marketing or the “slow eccentric” stuff.
Demonstrate “deliberate control” on the eccentric portion of each rep. This means you don’t slow down too much on the negative portion but you do control it so it doesn’t free fall. When contracting the muscle on the concentric portion of the lift be as explosive as you can.
This is currently the best way we know how to perform reps for size – volume is the key to building more muscle.
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