How fast should you perform a lift or exercise?

The answer to that question really depends on several things such as your goals (e.g. what you are trying to accomplish with the lift), your experience level, your physiology,  how much weight you are lifting, and whether or not you are doing Tracy Anderson workouts.  In the case of the latter you should plan to flail around with 2lb dumbbells for your whole workout.  P.S. Don’t do that.

Like everything else in life, there is a time to move fast an other times when you should move slower.  Let me explain how to incorporate this into training.

When to lift a bit slower…

When it comes to the beginner, I will typically have my clients lifting at slower pace to allow their CNS to develop proper patterning as well as allow them to focus on a few external cues that get lost when moving too fast.

For example, when you see someone who is not yet proficient in the squat (note: you should probably not be using a barbell at this stage) dive bomb and bounce out of the bottom you will more often than not see their knees cave in, excessive hip and lumbar flexion, and they will be developing force from their toes rather than midfoot-heel.

It becomes very difficult to coach someone out of those habits because their body is moving too fast to pick up on the external cues…

Once you slow it down 50%-75% you will magically be able to stabilize your hips and back which will allow you to keep your knees out, chest up and drive from your midfoot-heel.

Still awesome lol

When to speed it up…

The goal once you are more proficient with a lift should be to speed up the movement.  There are two reasons for this:

  1. You will be able to lift heavier weight.
  2. You want your nervous system will be able to handle heavy (or various) loads at greater speeds.  Because life doesn’t always happen at low speed.

Try to lift a heavy weight slow.  Chances are it won’t budge.  Now lift it faster and voila, it moves!  It probably won’t appear to move that fast because, well, it’s heavy and it’s not moving fast but your muscles are.

Lifting weights faster will allow you to develop more force and train your CNS to be able to handle more loads.  Nine times out of ten when you want to move a heavy object you don’t want to be ginger about it.  You want to get that sucker to where ever it needs to be as fast as possible.  Nothing slow about it.

For most people, once technique goes in the crapper either slow down the lift or lighten the weight a bit.

When to lift really, really fast…

Unless you are competing in the Shake Weight Olympics you should only need to focus on high velocity movement during explosive lifts such as Olympic lifts, plyometrics and when incorporating speed work to improve power for strength sports such as Powerlifting.

In most cases I will recommend leaving the Olympic lifts to those who compete in the sport in favor of kettlebell and medball exercises.  For most people you will receive the same benefits at a significantly lower risk.  In each case the goal is to accelerate the object as fast as you can.

I am also a fan of speed work for Powerlifting as well after being introduced to it by Eric Cressey years ago.  Benefits include improvement in technique, power development for strength, and allowing you to train the big lifts multiple times per week without feeling like doody.  Here is a great post Eric wrote a little while back about speed deadlifts.

In the grand scheme of things, lift a bit slower when learning to lift as it will help with teaching your body stability and ease the learning curve.  Once you have hammered technique and are safely performing the lifts it will be time to speed it up and start adding weight!

Written by Steve