Lower Slower

My blog this week looks at something I see taking place every day in the gym (yes, I do go every day at the moment). It’s a bad habit which people slip into, and I hope I can correct a few with these sentences.

It’s to do with the speed of performing any exercise. This really relates to any resistance exercise, whether it’s with dumbbells, barbell, cable machine, fixed-path machine, Smith machine or anything I’ve forgotten. Oh yes, body weight too.

It’s the principle of ‘lower slower’, a term I came up with to describe that the lowering phase should be executed more slowly than the lifting phase. Every resistance exercise has a lifting phase – technically called the concentric phase – and this is when you are pushing the weight up – such as standing up in a squat, pressing the bar in a bench press, sitting upwards in a floor crunch or curling the dumbbell towards you in bicep curl. This phase can be seen as moving the weight in the opposite direction that gravity wants to move it, and isn’t the bit I’m talking about, so I’ll move on.

The other phase is the gravity resisting phase, what happens as the weight lowers. I see many people struggle on the lifting phase, then let gravity take the weight downwards again, without any work for the muscle in that second stage. In fact, this phase – if timed correctly – is more beneficial for strength and muscle building than the lifting phase. And the correct timing I’m referring to is for it to be slower than the lifting phase – at least twice as long per rep.

The lowering phase is called the eccentric phase, technically, which is a term I hate as it sounds like it’s for weirdos only. I’ve also seen it referred to as the ‘anti-grav’ phase, which is nicely Star Trek I guess, but does get a few raised eyebrows. And not just from Mr Spock. So I tend to stick with the term ‘lowering phase’ – easily identifiable as the opposite of the lifting phase.

In some exercises, the lowering phase needs to be thought about, as it may be slightly counterintuitive. For example, the lowering phase of a lat pull down is as the bar goes up – it’s the weight stack that is lowering at that time. Similarly, on a tricep push down on a cable machine – the weight stack lowers as the hands go upwards, and it’s this lowering of the weights that makes that the lowering phase.

By lowering quickly, and letting gravity do all or most of the the work for you, you are missing out on most of the benefit from performing the rep in the first place, as I said before. But worse may be to come – how does a rapid lowering phase usually end? Maybe with a slam into the ground or bang on the weight stack of a machine, or perhaps a sudden jolt on your body’s anatomy as you halt the rapid movement pretty violently. The first offers no benefit to the body, the second is potentially seriously injurious.

The number one offending exercise is probably the deadlift. I’ve seen some people really struggle to lift the bar to back-straIght position, then just drop the thing. Apart from the effect that has on the other gym users (and the structure of the building), they are missing out on so much of the benefit they are aiming for. Much better to use less weight, lift as before, then lower slower to within a nanoprobe’s distance of the floor, then commence the next rep.

So, for the next few times you are undertaking a resistance exercise, think of the lowering phase, and how you can do that more slowly. Lower slower, my friends. Have a great weekend, live long, and prosper.