Double Your Strength by Slowing Down at the Right Time


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

No, you don't need a trainer or a fancy fitness gizmo to double your strength training results. You can use whatever equipment you have right now (or none at all) and still get a benefit from this research-proven lifting technique.

A recent article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined whether concentric or eccentric muscle contractions resulted in greater strength gains. If you feel confused already, stick with me. A concentric muscle contraction is the shortening phase of an exercise, typically when you're lifting a weight (like lifting a dumbbell during a biceps curl). An eccentric muscle contraction is the opposite: when the muscle lengthens, usually when you're lowering a weight or returning to the start position of an exercise (like lowering the weight during a biceps curl).

Most of the time, people spend about an equal amount of time in both phases, say 2 counts to lift (concentric phase) and 2 counts to lower (eccentric phase). But research suggests that slowing down the eccentric phase has greater benefits. In one study, subjects who emphasized the eccentric contraction of an exercise gained nearly twice the strength as those who focused on the concentric portion of the exercise.

Why try this technique? For one, slowing down during your strength training is usually a safe betóit reduces your risk of poor form and injury. Secondly, slower is usually better when it comes to strength training. Slower, more deliberate form provides greater challenge to your muscles and can give you better results overall. But it's good to know that you don't necessarily have to slow down your entire work out to reap these benefitsójust slow down for a part of each exercise.

How to do it: Try not to get bogged down figuring out which phase of an exercise is eccentric and which is concentric. A very safe bet is that the lifting phase is concentric (keep a normal pace for that), and the lowering phase is eccentric (slow down there). Spend about 2 counts on the lifting phase, but take 4-5 counts when lowering or returning to the start position of an exercise. As a bonus, you can use this technique whether you use dumbbells, gym machines, resistance bands, or even body weight as your resistance.

Personally, I do use this technique from time to time. I try to change up the pace of my exercises regularly in order to keep my muscles guessing. I've long known that slowing down the eccentric phase of an exercise has benefits, but I'm more apt to make it a regular thing now that science is on my side, too.

How about you: Do you slow down on the lowering phase to increase the burn? Will you try this lifting technique?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!
NEXT ENTRY >   True Confessions: I like watching TV. Do You?


  • 125
    I will try this week - 10/11/2011   12:11:38 PM
  • 124
    I'm just starting and have read a lot of articles so I think slow and steady is the way for me. - 10/11/2011   9:21:04 AM
  • 123
    I have been (sort of) taught that in my water aerobics class at the gym I go to, but so far I haven't really implemented it in my machine workouts. I think I'll try that when I go workout this evening. - 4/29/2011   9:23:52 AM
  • 122
    If you want to read a book about this AND suggestions about how to reduce the amount of time you spend exercising (with the same results!), check out "POWER OF 10". I saw it at Borders recently (04/10) and then picked up a used copy via Amazon.
    I'm still on the working-out-the-details stage. But I have learned about "muscle burn" and how strength is gained. This author actually suggests a 10 sec. concentric movement, then 2-sec. hold, then 10 sec. eccentric movement, then immediately continue with next rep (without stopping) until muscle comes to point of "burn" or fatigue. This is where the strengthening begins if adequate rest and recovery is scheduled.
    The author presents a 3-pillar platform for health: nutrition, exercise, rest & recovery.
    As I said, I'm still in the discovery stage of this program. I will evaluate in 6 weeks! - 5/16/2010   1:31:27 AM
  • 121
    I want to try this 2-count for lifting and 4-count for returning to normal position for my bicycle crunch. Must be more effective compare to my normal way - 2-count lifting and 1-count returning. - 3/1/2010   1:00:50 AM
  • KOALA9
    I like the 12 second sequence. Its message is also slower is more effective. - 7/31/2009   10:14:05 AM
  • 119
    I am a certified PT, whose fav thing is resistance training, my motto is slow and steady, I have my clients double the time on the eccentric about say 2 counts to lift (concentric phase) and 4 counts to lower (eccentric phase). Drives them batty, but the results speak for themselves, sometimes you can add a hold in between. Happy training!!! - 12/30/2008   12:37:41 AM
  • 118
    Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't these "nagatives"?

    This really isn't anything new. But they did write an article about it in the latest issue of Oxygen magazine. - 12/17/2008   9:22:39 PM
    Sounds great! I'll try to remember to slow down the next time I strength train. - 12/17/2008   9:22:10 PM
    This sounds good. I run an after school program and every Thursday I do yoga with the kids. I also have them do some basic exersizes like arm circles and assorted stretches. I tell them to go slowly and control the movement, don't let the movement control them. I have told them that if they control the movements and don't whip thier arms around they will have better strength, I am glad to have this confirmed.I have several kids with special needs and a few with asthma. When they get to playing an active game and start showing signs of shortness of breath or just getting out of control, I will stop the group and have them all sit down and just do some slow breathing and give them time to get thier bodies under control again. - 12/13/2008   8:04:29 AM
  • 115
    I will try it tonight when I do my strength training! Thanks! - 12/12/2008   2:10:07 PM
  • 114
    My trainer emphasizes this to me - he always tells me to slow down on my release (that comes right after he tells me to quit shrugging my shoulders and keep them loose haha). Reassuring to know that other trainers agree :) - 12/12/2008   12:46:11 PM
  • 113
    I will definitely do this! - 12/11/2008   12:15:00 PM
    I need to clarify a comment I made concerning heavy weights and using the described eccentric training method, "Do not attempt to perform this technique using extremely heavy weight. If you do, you will not be able to control the movement properly, and you dramatically increase the risk of causing irreparable muscle damage.."

    SUYRADROP mentioned a DVD, "there's an excellent strength-training dvd called SLOW & HEAVY featuring/designed by cathe friedrich... she also advocates lifting heavy, and maxing out earlier with a smaller number of reps." I am familiar with this DVD and other heavy weight training methods.

    Mike Mentzer, famous bodybuilder in the 70's, left the Weider organization to preach his Heavy Duty weight-lifting program. Basically the program provided a few warm-up sets, to be followed by one low-rep super-heavy set to complete failure. I tried this routine for a while and it eventually caused soreness in my joints. It is a great program to minimize your time in the gym, but should be used only by those that consider themselves experienced weight lifters.

    I continue to use heavy weights, but only on a 8 week cycled schedule (beginning of the cycle with light weights - building to my 2-rep max at the end of the cycle), and only with an attentive spotter.

    Heavy weight training is one of several methods to gain muscle, increase strength, and overall conditioning. With that said, do not make it your only weight training method. Regularly change-up your lifting techniques, amount of weight, and sets and reps, to maximize your results.

    What I am attempting to stress is that if you are an experienced weight lifter, but new to eccentric focused weight lifting, you should condition your muscles with moderate to moderately heavy weights before going for the max. Staying healthy includes smart-safe-well planned training; Good luck. - 12/11/2008   9:34:25 AM
  • 111
    I've done this in classes before!!! Now I know why! I'll pay much more attention to my timing next time... :) - 12/11/2008   4:37:01 AM
    I am going to do it in a few minutes. I am glad to get more information like this. More muscle equals more fat burning! - 12/10/2008   7:34:38 PM
  • 109
    It is funny that I was just considering this the other day.

    I am so glad to have it confirmed..great article! - 12/10/2008   12:36:34 PM
  • 108
    Definitely will try this--my husband and I were just talking about this very thing this morning! - 12/10/2008   12:26:22 PM
  • 107
    It's easy for me to slow down, and work slowly and smoothly, as with my medical problems and arthritis, the smoother I do this, the more I can do, as well as when I try quickly, it hurts. So I had learned early, that this works better for me.
    Very interesting article, to know I'm doing something right. LOL
    MistyPaws - 12/10/2008   12:15:47 PM
  • 106
    GREAT article! Thanks for the info...I will definitely be trying this out today! :) - 12/10/2008   11:26:57 AM
    I try to slow down. I know I can feel it more, feel the burn & it's more beneficial to me. I really try to concentrate on the form & try to slow down to do everything right. - 12/10/2008   10:31:08 AM
  • 104
    I know a thing or two about muscles (I'm a licensed massage therapist)--but it doesn't mean I always practice what I know. I think we tend to avoid things that are painful--like the burn of a muscle strengthening exercise. That being said, I have been trying to practice this technique. I do need to get stronger. It is a good thing to build/maintain muscle strength to aid with stability, flexibility, and stamina as we age. A little burn now could save a lot of pain later. - 12/10/2008   9:22:05 AM
  • 103
    I'll definitely try this! - 12/10/2008   8:50:31 AM
  • 102
    Definitely will try this - thanks for all the good info! - 12/10/2008   7:52:37 AM
  • 101
    there's an excellent strength-training dvd called SLOW & HEAVY featuring/designed by cathe friedrich, and, if i'm remembering correctly (um, haven't done it in awhile), she discusses this method of working with weights to make significant strength gains.

    she also advocates lifting heavy, and maxing out earlier with a smaller number of reps, in many cases. it's definitely worth checking out her workouts at a good number of them are programmable, and you can mix different segments up as you choose for different days of the week.

    hmmm...i have to find where my copy of this got off to, so i can get back into it. although way challenging for me, i remember feeling really good after doing thes kinds of workouts. - 12/10/2008   6:51:42 AM
  • 100
    Thanks for your HELP, I`ll give it a try!!! - 12/10/2008   1:32:14 AM
  • 99
    I can hardly wait to try this with my exercises tomorrow. - 12/10/2008   12:45:37 AM
  • 98
    This is an excellent technique to use for lifting, and one which I've incorporated in my workouts. It's amazing how much of a difference you feel with this technique. You can lift lighter, and get the same results, so it's a good tool to use. Lifting slowly and with control is also something I've done from the start. Proper form is most important and it's amazing to watch people in the gym who have no clue! - 12/9/2008   11:38:03 PM
  • 97
    I can't wait to try this. It sounds like it would make an amazing difference. Thanks for the info!
    - 12/9/2008   11:36:48 PM
    The original Nautilus exercise machines did something similar to this. I keep forgetting to change speed between up and down, but it feels like the muscles are getting more benefit for the same number of reps. Thanks! - 12/9/2008   11:02:45 PM
  • 95
    My trainer started me this way over 6 years ago. It's second nature now, and it DOES make a difference. I lift 1,2, hold 1,2,3, release 1,2,3,4,5. The 'hold' lets me both check form and feel the burn begin. The slow release keeps me from being clumsy (necessary in my case). It's so much better than military-flavored fast reps. - 12/9/2008   10:53:30 PM
  • 94
    Hmm...I will definitely be trying this one tomorrow ^^ Just buzzed this up on Yahoo! so hopefully others will catch the spark! - 12/9/2008   10:40:03 PM
    I REALLY WORKS! - 12/9/2008   9:12:40 PM
    I had my first session with a new trainer at my gym on Mon. Coincidentally he stressed throughout my session the need to slow down when working with weights. I did throughout the hour and it made an incredible difference, ie sore muscles that night but fine the next day. This article reinforces what he was telling me. Initially I was skeptical, but it definitely works. - 12/9/2008   8:42:20 PM
    What a great giveaway. Sign me up!! - 12/9/2008   7:05:05 PM
  • 90
    Perfect timing...have started paying more attention to strength training and will definitely use this advice. Thanks. - 12/9/2008   4:26:52 PM
  • 89
    I really need to slow down my strength training and knowing where to make the changes is very helpful! - 12/9/2008   3:41:40 PM
  • 88
    I kind of do this now, but will be even more conscious of doing it! - 12/9/2008   3:18:21 PM
  • 87
    This makes a lot of sense. I'll start trying it today. Thanks for the tip! - 12/9/2008   3:05:58 PM
  • 86
    I try to do this but I have to really put my mind to it. - 12/9/2008   3:03:34 PM
  • 85
    I recently read a book recommended on this website, it talked about the same technique, I am in my eighth week of trying this fitness strategy. I feel good and although I haven't lost any weight I know I'm toner. - 12/9/2008   2:15:59 PM
    This is good information for someone like me who has no idea what they are doing when it comes to strength training. Thank you for sharing the why behind the technique. - 12/9/2008   1:31:35 PM
    This makes working out sooooo much harder! But it's definitely worth it :) - 12/9/2008   1:26:44 PM
  • 82
    This technique was introduced to me by a personal trainer and I have stuck by it ever sense. It takes a little more time and concentration but the results are worth it. - 12/9/2008   12:56:28 PM
  • MWOODS0921
    I tried it today at my desk with my dumbells and it truly made me feel as though I had a good 20 min. workout - 12/9/2008   12:29:27 PM
    I've been using this technique since it was originally reported in another study performed in the early late 80's to early 90's. According to this older study, only half of the technique is explained. In the study that I am referring reported the following recommendations: each exercise should be performed with moderate to moderately heavy weight, the concentric movement is performed very quickly, while the eccentric performed very slowly. This conditions the muscle two ways, first to train the muscle to perform with explosive energy as required in most sporting events, and second as Nicole explained - producing a dramatic increase in strength. What was not mentioned are the muscle mechanics involved. Think of your muscle fibers as having little shafts and claws (troponin and tropomyosin) that grab each other (myosin grab or pull the actin by making crossbridges, making the sarcomere shorter) simultaneously during the concentric action. During the eccentric action that Nicole eluded to, when you relax to make the muscle longer, the synchronized action during contraction is intermittently released, thus placing more stress on those remaining little claws (crossbridges). Hence there is a dramatic increase of stress on the internal muscle filaments during the eccentric portion of the exercise. This only happens when the eccentric movement is performed very slow. Some gym rats use a similar technique called negatives. You should realize that exercise is not what makes a person stronger, the strength comes when the body heals itself from the damage caused during a workout. This is why getting 8 hours of continuous rest is so important for those that train intensely. Exercised without enough rest causes "over training" or the bodies inability to fully recover between workouts. Do not attempt to perform this technique using extremely heavy weight. If you do, you will not be able to control the movement properly, and you dramatically increase the risk of causing irreparable muscle damage. - 12/9/2008   11:56:22 AM
    Sounds useful, will give it a try - 12/9/2008   11:53:12 AM
    Sounds good to me! - 12/9/2008   11:36:22 AM
  • 77
    Wow, sounds like an easy way to gain more strength. I get the idea with bicep curls, etc, but what about with squats? So I should take 2-3 counts to get into the squat, but 6-7 to come back up into a standing position? What an easy way to make exercise count more! Thanks for the tip, I will certainly try it. - 12/9/2008   10:04:22 AM
    Thanks, this makes sense. I'll be sure to try these techniques. - 12/9/2008   10:02:32 AM

Please Log In To Leave A Comment:    Log in now ›