Strength training repetitions build the foundation of any strength training program. Learning proper form, speed, and breathing is paramount for any strength training newbie.
Perhaps, for many beginners, learning the basics of strength training is the single basic deterrent to starting a fitness program. But don’t scurry off yet!
The rest of this page is dedicated to bringing you simplified answers to common strength training repetition questions. You will finally be able to figure out your proper speed, what concentric/eccentric means and how it all relates to breathing.
How fast should I lift?
Strength training repetitions can vary in speed. Some experts believe that lifting at a very slow speed produces more results in strength. But as the experts usually do- some believe that lifting at a fast pace is beneficial as well. So which is it? Fast or slow? What do I recommend?
I recommend lifting at a calm and normal pace. I am a firm believer that lifting at fast speeds defeats the basic principle of strength training.
Performing proper strength training repetitions are first based on actually requiring the muscle to work. The faster we lift, the more momentum takes over. The more momentum takes over, the less our muscles work.
Lifting at a super slow pace does have a bit of merit behind it. The slower your strength training repetitions are performed the more the muscle is required to work.
But there is a major drawback to lifting slow. Since we slow the momentum down so much, we cannot lift as heavy of a weight as we could with a regular and calm pace.
Lifting a lower weight also defeats the primary function of strength training repetitions. You may read all about superslow strength training by clicking here.
What I mean by lifting at a calm and normal (what is normal, anyway!) pace is moving to the natural flow of your breathe. The natural flow of your breathe should match the movement of the exercise.
Let’s take a bicep curl as our example. The two pictures on the right illustrate a bicep curl. The curl is performed by holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms down by your sides and palms facing the same direction as your toes. As you begin to left the weight to your shoulders (by bending the elbows) exhale at a regular pace.
As you lower the weight back to the start position you will inhale. The movement of the exercise and the pace of your breathe are relative to one another.
What does eccentric and concentric mean?
Concentric means shortening. Eccentric means lengthening. Learning these words can be a bit confusing at first, but don’t fret. You can still learn about strength training repetitions as long as you have a general idea about concentric and eccentric movements.
Concentric movements occur when our muscles shorten. Using the bicep curl as our example, the concentric (shortening) phase happens when we lift the weight towards our shoulder. Our muscle actually shortens.
Eccentric movements occur when our muscles lengthen. The eccentric (lengthening) phase happens when we lift the weight back to the starting position- down by our sides. This causes the bicep muscle to lengthen.
If you actually make the bicep curl movement right now, you will be better able to visualize the above scenario.
So how does this all relate to breathing and strength training repetitions?
Learning the concentric and eccentric movements help you determine when to breathe.
As a general rule of thumb, you should exhale on the concentric (shortening) phase and inhale on the eccentric (lengthening) phase.
Earlier on I said that you didn’t have to quite understand concentric/eccentric. I said that because if you remember the following saying you will grasp the essence of shortening/lengthening movements and when to breathe.
Remembering to exhale on the difficult part of the exercise is much easier than trying to remember foreign words.
Exhaling allows you to push that weight up a bit more or lift it a bit higher. Exhaling at the proper point is essential to performing strength training repetitions properly.
Breathing at the correct time also limits a rise in blood pressure. Beginner lifters (and some advanced lifters too!) tend to hold their breathe as they move through the exercise.
This is not good! It causes a rise in blood pressure. Remembering to breathe in conjunction with the exercise movements will reduce this likelihood of spiked blood pressure. Exhale on the hard parts and inhale on the easy 🙂