Hill Sprinting

Slow vs. Fast Training

In Strongman Mastery by admin20 Comments

I received this question from Sean over in England the other day and it’s a great one on slow vs. fast training.

“Hi Logan. You said in a post before that it is better to lift quickly to develop strength and power. Is this the same with exercises like pushups and squats. The Convict Conditioning book recommends a 2/1/2 second exercises. Another guy recommends taking 4 seconds in the lift and lower phases. I’ve even heard that this 4/4 phase supposedly increases growth hormone by 4,000%!! What would you recommend for bodyweight exercises? BTW. My laziness causes me to hate these slow reps! 🙂 “

First off there is no difference in what sort of weights you use. Whether a barbell, kettlebell or your bodyweight, it’s merely resistance to your muscles. For this reason there isn’t any difference in how you use one resistance versus another.

There are many people who would argue on both sides of this argument, training slow or fast. I am of the opinion that you should primarily exercise quickly. Fast if not fast as possible in many cases.

There are certain exercises that must be done quickly or they can’t be done. Olympic lifts, the ballistics with kettlebells, various kinds of jumps and more. In this case the answer must be fast. No way around it.

Then there are all the exercises that can be slow or fast. Some call these grinds. Press, pushup, squat, deadlift, curl, pullup etc.

The ideas behind lifting fast:

  • You become what you train. Want to be explosive and fast? Then train that way.
  • You’re going to be able to do more (weight or reps) by lifting quickly rather than artificially limiting yourself by going slow. In general that is exactly what we’re seeking to do.
  • Even with a heavy weight, you seek to lift it as fast as possible. If it is near your limit, this may be slow, but you are attempting to go as fast as possible.
  • Just because you are going fast doesn’t necessarily mean you are bouncing the weight, using momentum or anything that may take away from the movement. It can still be strict and fast. Although you can sacrifice form and strictness for speed which many people do.

The ideas behind lifting slow:

  • Its safer. Without bouncing or momentum, that is change of direction at speed, you’re less likely to hurt yourself.
  • It takes more strength to lift a weight slowly than quickly. A person that can do a single handstand pushup at full speed is not as strong in the movement as someone who can lower under a four count and raise up at the same.
  • It takes more control. While this is tied in to the point above, by going slow you may activate more of the surrounding musculature as it seeks to stabilize. There is no cheating by swinging into any movement.

Whether you train slow or fast, if you know of any main points I missed, feel free to share them below.

Just try sprinting slow…oh wait, you can’t!

As far as the growth hormone claim I find that dubious. Does lifting in a 3/2 pattern only release 2666.67% growth hormone? Is the 4/4 really optimal? I’d like to see how they came to that number. On the flip side I’ve seen numerous studies pointing out how hill sprints and other intense anabolic exercise shoot up growth hormone. Care to try hill sprints with a 4 second eccentric and concentric phase? That would look funny.

For the reasons above I think lifting fast in general is better. Lifting slow can be mixed in every once in awhile to work your body in a different way. It’s also great for displaying the strength you have. But in general I don’t believe you should always train that way. This is regardless of what sort of exercises you do, bodyweight or iron weights.

I think you can do the programs found in Convict Conditioning with a fast tempo and make the same if not better progress. You may want to mix it up from time to time, and test yourself against the benchmarks laid out in the book in a slow manner.

In strength,
Logan Christopher

P.S. We’ll be talking more about fast training and some recent experiments on next week’s call with Adam Glass. Have you joined us on Super Human Training?


  1. Total agree with you on your quote:- “You become what you train. Want to be explosive and fast? Then train that way”. And why would anybody want to be slow (like prey). I want to be fast, agile and explosive (like predator). So I train that way. Look at all the muscular animals in nature – they get eaten! I want to be lean, so I train to be lean. Body building slow exercises are fine (I have nothing against them) but if you don’t want to be a body builder why train that way. Unfortunately commercial gyms work around the body building method, like it’s the only method and nobody every questions it.

    Great articles. Many thanks


  2. I seem to have come to the same conclusion Logan. I lift at my own pace rather than a certain prescribed one such as 4/4. I have been using the Gym Movement protocol and biofeedback testing and lifting faster seems to agree with me better than lifting slow on purpose. Maybe its just me, but everyone should find out for themselves which speed is best for them and their goals.
    Good post Logan!

  3. Part of the lift slow idea is based around “maximizing” the buildup of lactic acid,which some claim will trigger a higher growth hormone output.
    In my own experience,lifting slow led to my slowest strength gains, and I did not notice a significant change in body comp due to 4000% increases in GH.

    I think slow training can sometimes provide a change from the norm,but it is not a superior way of training for strength and bodyfat reduction.

  4. Logan,

    I’ve been checking out your blog for a couple of months now, and this is my first comment.

    I definitely agree with you about lifting speed. I think bodyweight exercises lend themselves to slow grinds because you don’t have to worry much about holding on to/balancing an external weight.

    However, if I’m doing DB swings, or any O-lifts, the last thing I think about is going slowly. You’ll simply not be able to complete the lift. And, as you noted, when we see power-lifters look as if they are taking forever to squat or deadlift a really heavy weight, it may appear as if they are lifting slowly, and I think this adds to the confusion for some trainees like the one who sent you an email. Good post …

    1. Looks like I’m preaching to the choir. Thanks for adding you thoughts everyone.

      @Mike Eves: I really think that’s the main point of this argument.

      @Tim Stovall: Same here, though I must say I don’t really test to see if slow works.

      @Ross: Thanks for sharing your experience with slow lifting.

      @Muata: You’re right. Lifting slow on purpose, and lifting slow because that’s as fast as you can go doesn’t look any different to the untrained eye.

  5. In a heavy press the intent may be to move the weight quickly, but how fast does it really move? Have you ever trained at that speed? I can press Dbl 40kg bells, I also keep a pair of 12kg bells in the house and practice pressing with them moving them super slow, or vary the speed.

    In training why not train at all speeds to truly own the movement? If you are always moving fast, what are you skipping over?

    1. @Ken Froese: You have a valid point. I think it may be helpful to occasionally practice at other speeds, but for the most part fast is the way I go, and what has always worked best for me.

      How often do you train slow and at varying speeds?

  6. Hey Logan!

    Thanks for your feedback on my questions. I noticed that when I was doing the very slow reps I didn’t seen to make any real progress and got very discouraged with it. I still strive for good form, and I don’t go crazily erratic, but prefer to do the reps at a quicker pace.


  7. I respect the work you do, but on this matter I disagree. Strangely enough, I actually adopt the exact opposite approach for my strength training. Much of my training revolves around slow, controlled calisthenics. Twice a week I’ll snatch a 32 kg, run barefoot hill sprints, and do burpees. This method has sustained me for quite some time and I continually make progress at both explosive and slow lifts.

    I think different methods work for different folks. When progress occurs, any method can seem superior. In regards to slow versus fast lifting, both can benefit overall strength, but a mixture is best. I prefer slow movement for the STRUCTURAL benefits of the joints and the development of lactic acid tolerance. I treat fast lifts as FUNCTIONAL tests of my day to day strength. If I know I can throw around heavy weight on a whim and cumulatively sprint for a mile straight with a jogging recovery, most tasks will seem easy enough by comparison.

    1. @Buh: Hi, I know exactly what you’re talking about.
      As a martial artist I’ve experienced first hand the super benefits of slow training. I’ve experimented using it in weightlifting and found that training hard and fast 60-80% of the time and training slow 40% of the time yields fantastic results.

      The main benefit of training slow that i’ve found is learning to actively try to relax the unneeded muscles that are used, which actually makes you stronger as your body learns to not fight itself. I believe Maxick and Arthur Saxon were big into this area of learning to relax the unneeded muscles and only call into play the necessary muscles (this is a very very deep sensitivity that is developed). This allows you to up the weight more. So basically your technique improves, and strength is definitely a skill based endeavour. Also the time under tension stimulates some good hypertrophy in my opinion, the blood really gets into the muscles a lot more.

      I still train hard and fast though, but I do incorporate slow training as well.

  8. Used to believe in multiple speeds ala Z-Health, now prefer speed work when it suits me best. Faster progress as a whole through Sprints or Fast Overhead Movements, etc, including on my isometric gymnastic and controlled eccentric work, which I rarely do because of the lack of progress with focused effort.

    Not sure if I buy into the whole owning a movement at multiple speeds, especially since I’ve read studies are showing vast differences in learning and different motor sequences at different speeds. When time is an issue, better/specific practice seems to reign supreme.

  9. slow is smooth, smooth is fast
    an old axiom from what was by most accounts one of Uncle Sam’s Misquided Children

    to put it in the terms I have become fond of,
    with movement, our bodies will speed through the piece of movement that is most difficult
    when you walk past a house with a dog that barks like hell and makes a good adrenaline burger rise in the throat, you speed up to get away from it

    I am with Ken on this one, the varying speed practice will build better skill over time and yield greater overall results imho

    besides, lets not forget that there is no single factor,
    we are the sums of our experience and our activities
    my development as an athlete has been formed not by what I just discovered today, but by the things that I have practiced before my current favorite discovery
    I cannot consider myself honest and say that “this thing I do now” is “the” thing that put my development to the level it currently resides, nor will “the” thing be the reason I was unsuccessful

    if it were not for years of practicing fundamentals in re:foot work and the 5 angles of attack or cinco de terros from kali, my stick work would not be what it is
    same for the simple footwork and 4 corners drills, chi sau, dan chi sau and harmonious spring drills from jkd
    or the oompa and niwaza work from grappling

    I will say however that the point of “training for your event” or doing what you want to become good at makes a heck of a lot of sense

    just my $2

    1. James: following your analogy of slow is smooth and smooth is fast, than anything fast would actually mean that is the area we are most proficient and is much smoother for the body. If we were to only take this into Z knowledge then we have to go back to the 5 elements of efficiency referring to rhythm. Increased rhythm, which can be directly associated to increased speed is also a sign of less threat to the body.

      And what results do you speak of and in terms of what? If we were to take the premise that multiple speed practice results in better, then to what are you referring to study wise or performance wise that has made that so? It’s true over time and if all else were equal than it may help, but there are multiple factors to contend with including exercise variety that may pose a greater increase in results given that time is what is most limiting.

      I think the main argument being posed in when slow vs fast speed is best used. Obviously when learning a new skill we must match the speed/rhythm to the pace of the trainee, for most this means slow speed, but as the skill gets better speed naturally increases. This again goes back to SAID – specific adaptation to imposed demands and the intention of what we are really trying to do with ourselves or our clients.

      Julia: Although I used to believe that slow speed is working out the weak links and supporting muscles – I cannot say that I accurately believe that’s what going on. From a physiological standpoint the main differences in speed point to the differences in brain activity and also differences in muscular coordination, not necessarily increased strength of weak links and/or supporting muscles as even that varies with speed. Also, slow speed can also be related to maxing out on weights, aka Grinds and also Body transitions as shown in Gymnastics via Ring Work, both of which aren’t necessarily focused on fixing those weak links.

  10. …after “pushing” a weight up as fast as you can, the “return” of the weight to the starting position is usually called the NEGATIVE portion of the lift. You can gain lots of strength quickly on the negative side of a lift if you do it SLOWLY!

    To get a detailed description of this technique … Google: “negative training for strength building”
    and checkout a couple of articles by Nick Nilsson.

    1. Author

      Something I’ve found is that when I train fast I can do more reps or weight as stated above. And I make progress in doing this being able to do more over time. Then with my new strength I can go back to a weight or move that previously may have been difficult and do it in a slow, controlled manner.

      Any time I’ve purposely tried to work slow for a period of time always got away from doing so cause it just didn’t seem to work well for me.

      Note in this article I didn’t say never train slow, but that the the majority of your training should be fast.

      @Buh: You are correct in that different things work for different people. If slow training works for you keep at it. Glad to see you at least mix in the explosive movements too.

      @Darryl Lardizabal: Thanks for injecting some of your scientific knowledge into this debate. Can you point me to any of those studies as I’d be interested in giving them a read?

      @Richard: I’m familiar with negatives and use them on occasion. An important thing to note is that negatives are usually relegated to be used every once in awhile as a way to build extra strength and muscle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them used as a general training method.

  11. I have to agree with Ken and James. If you are training for a martial art, you definitely need to vary speed. I’d guess it helps with gymnastics, too.

    When you are working on slow speed, it is true you won’t see the same kind of immediate results, mostly because you are going to be using a lower resistance. You are working primarily on your “weak links” and supporting muscles, thereby improving your ability to max out on the explosive moves. It also lets you know exactly where you are weak and where you are strong, improving your control and reducing the risk of injury.

    On the other hand, if you only go slow, your explosive moves will suffer, losing both speed and power.

    If you work on both in cycles, you will probably start seeing much better gains when you do your fast cycle, and you may even see an improvement in chronic problem areas and old injuries. Richard’s method of explosive lift, slow return is effective also, but I feel better using a slow lift to really master control.

  12. I like to train both fast and slow by mixing up the exercises that I do, I train primarily for my power and strength in the martial arts and not bodybuilding.
    I use kettlebells a lot I like to really slow down the pressing movements and the turkish get ups etc so I can really concentrate and feel every muscle in my body working as a unit adn also teh power breathing. Alternatively I utilise speed on the ballistic exercises such as the snatch and the swing (hard style). By mixing both slow and fast exercises I feel I get the best of both. I adopt exactly the principles with my bodyweight stuff as well.
    I do certainly agree though that it is good to mix things up so I will go for speed on everything sometimes and work for 30 secs with 10 secs rest and attempt as many reps as possible in the time limit. The one thing I would stress is that I see a lot of people when going for speed is that their form often is greatly compromised. I am a big believer of perfect form. Anyone can crank out a few extra reps by “cheating” and letting their form slip, but who are they cheating?? If it is purely for bragging rights then if it can’t be proven with good form then to me it is a useless claim!!

  13. In my experience slow reps tend to pump my muscles up more and give me more lasting size gains that fast lifts. I could see for me at least if I wanted to body build doing a cycle each weak to maximize my size with slow lifts and maximize power with fast lifts but that’s just me.

    1. Author

      A pump and more muscle size aren’t usually my goals at all, so that would be another reason I mostly do faster lifting. I would agree with you though. If you want more of a pump slower lifting will do it.

      1. Yea it’s not my goals eather I’m a powerlifter my goal is heavy so I have to be explosive. But because of the weight I’m not lifting fast but I’m still training for explosiveness.

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