Q: I’ve been told to lift slowly to build muscle. Does this work?
A: It’s a bit more complicated than just lifting slowly. However, this method will help you build muscle—if you do it right.
Miguel Aragoncillo, STACK Expert and strength coach in the Philadelphia area, explains the idea behind “lifting slow” is to maximize time under tension. “Increasing the amount of time your muscles are actually contracting will increase muscle growth,” Aragoncillo says.
When you slow down a lift, your muscles work longer than they do during a traditional rep, causing more fibers to “essentially rip apart.” When they repair during the recovery process, they adapt and get bigger.
Your immediate temptation may be to do every rep as slowly as possible, but this is where many people—especially athletes—need to be careful.
“I cannot justify doing one rep for 40 to 60 seconds and then completing multiple reps, similar to what some bodybuilders do,” Aragoncillo explains. “The exercises will take up too much time. You need to move, and moving that slow is not as effective.”
Instead, he recommends taking five to eight seconds during the eccentric phase (i.e., the lowering portion of an exercise) and exploding up as quickly as possible for three reps over three sets. Also, reserve this technique for only two of your main lifts—such as the Squat and Deadlift or the Bench Press and Pull-Up—per workout so you’re not too fatigued for other resistance work.
Aragoncillo explains this method is ideal for early sessions during the off-season, but it should be avoided during the season because of the challenge it places on your muscles—and the potential soreness that results from slow eccentric lifts.