Grabbing some heavy weights and whipping them around for a few minutes won’t get you far in weight-training -- and it might even hurt you. An effective weight-training program requires controlled, slow movements that maximize the challenge while minimizing your risk of injury, resulting in the greatest possible fitness benefits.
Weight-training involves two basic phases. During the concentric phase -- also called a positive movement -- the muscle contracts to shift the weight. The concentric phase of a bench press, for example, is when the barbell is moving away from the chest. The return, or negative, movement is called the eccentric phase, which is when the muscle lengthens as the weight returns to its original position.
You might think that fast positive and negative movements will make you quick and powerful, but actually they increase your chance of injury. When you move a weight quickly, it stops short at the end of your range of motion. The shock can tax your muscles, joints and connective tissue, causing pain, swelling or serious injuries. If you experience such symptoms during an exercise session, stop immediately and visit your doctor. Trying to push through the pain and finish your workout can worsen the problem and significantly increase your recovery time.
Slow Negative Movements
Maintaining slow, controlled movements is the safest approach for weight training. But there’s another factor to consider: slowing down the negative movement maximizes the impact of the exercise. For example, try taking twice as long to lower a weight as you do to lift it. It’s harder, but the long, slow negative movement forces the muscles to contract to resist the pull of gravity, resulting in a more effective exercise.
Fast Negative Movements
Fast negative movements, on the other hand, might be easier, but they deprive you of the fitness benefits provided by slower negative movements. For example, during a bench press, it’s easy to let the barbell return to your chest quickly. But the reason for doing the exercise in the first place is to obtain fitness benefits, so you might as well slow your negative movements and really challenge your muscles.
Work with a certified fitness instructor to determine how fast your movements should be in absolute terms. For example, an expert can tell you how many seconds it should take to perform first your positive movement and then your negative movement during different types of exercises.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.