The Key to Strength and Size Gains: It’s All in the Timing

By on October 26, 2014

The cadence or rhythm of individual exercises is something that a lot of people don’t give much thought to until they’re a little more experienced and advanced in their training (even then, it only gets a cursory mention in most routines). This is a mistake, seeing as the timing of each movement greatly alters the impact it has on your muscles. Below is a quick guide to some different ways you can time moves, or you can watch the video above for a demonstration…

5-1-5 Timing

Using a 5-1-5 cadence (meaning you spend five seconds on the concentric portion of the movement, pause for one second, then take five seconds on the eccentric portion), can help you to increase muscle endurance, strengthen slow-twitch muscle fibre, improve your technique and ‘mind muscle’ connection and target smaller supporting muscle groups.

Most important of all though, a slow rhythm increases ‘time under tension’, which is often said to be the most important factor for encouraging growth. By doing one set with 5-1-5 timing, you can spend just as long under tension as you might doing three sets with ‘regular’ timing.

In fact, this is the same timing that was used in the Colorado experiment and that is recommended by Tim Ferriss in the ‘4 Hour Body’. I tried this workout for a while, and found I did indeed get very rapid muscle gains. The only downside, as I mention in the video, is that my muscles felt ‘softer’ and it seems I didn’t enjoy the same increase in strength that I might normally.

‘Speed Training’

Speed training is a type of training where you pump out repetitions as fast as possible. This is a technique Bruce Lee would use in order to develop his explosive speed and power – and as you know, Lee was damn fast (he could steel a coin from your hand and swap it for another coin without you being able to react quick enough to close your palm).

This kind of training involves the fast twitch muscle fibres – those most important for explosive speed and strength and the same muscles trained by things like ‘clapping press-ups’. A regular set of exercises might not be enough to engage all of your fast twitch fibres unless you were using 100% of your maximum weight, or you purposefully going fast in this way.

‘Speed training’ or ‘speed lifting’ then can help to increase your power while also involving muscle fibres that might otherwise get missed. And more muscle fibres getting involved = more microtears = more hypertrophy.

Slow Negatives

A great way to increase the intensity and effectiveness of any workout is to use very slow negatives at the end of a set. For instance, do as many curls as you can, then veeery slowly lower the weight in a controlled manner to finish (2-1-20+). This would engage your ‘negative strength’, which is your ability to resist a force and is actually greater than your positive strength. Again, it’s a great way to trigger more hypertrophy and to build more strength.  Try it at an end of your next set and you’ll see for yourself how effective it is…

Combine all three of these speeds into a single set with ‘regular’ repetitions (and even some static contraction which Bruce Lee believed helped him build his incredible strength) and you’ll increase your gains in both size AND strength, improve your muscle control and make your workouts more efficient – one set like this may well be enough!

Try it and let me know how it works for you…

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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