Monday, December 15, 2014

Power Up Your Bench With Maximal Velocity on the Bench: Almost 2x Greater Strength Gains Compared to 50%

Bench press bros, listen up! You better push that weigh up fast, if you want to make maximal strength gains - O-lifting says "Hello" ;-)
Do you train deliberately slow? If so, you may be limiting your strength gains. A recently published paper in the European Journal of Sports Science shows: "Movement velocity can be considered a fundamental component of RT intensity, since, for a given %1RM, the velocity at which loads are lifted largely determines the resulting training effect" (Gonzalez-Badillo. 2014).

Before we take a closer look at how "large" the effect of training the training velocity actually is, I would like to invite you to take a closer look at the design of the corresponding experiment that was conducted at the Pablo de Olivade University in Seville, Spain.
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The experiment was designed in an attempt to clarify the influence of repetition velocity on the gains in strength consequent to isoinertial resistance training. To this ends, the scientists conducted two separate studies:
  • Study I compared the effect of two distinct RT interventions on strength gains using movement velocity as the independent variable. Two groups that only differed in actual repetition velocity (and consequently in time under tension, TUT): maximal intended velocity (MaxV) vs. half-maximal velocity (HalfV) trained three times per week for 6 weeks using the bench press (BP) exercise, while the remaining programme variables (number of sets and repetitions, inter-set rests and loading magnitude) were kept identical.
  • Study II was a complementary study that aimed to analyze whether the acute metabolic (blood lactate and ammonia) and mechanical response (velocity loss) was different between the type of MaxV and HalfV protocols previously used in Study I
Of the 24 men who volunteered to participate in Study I, only 20 successfully completed the entire study (mean ± s: age 21.9 ± 2.9 years, height 1.77 ± 0.08 m, body mass 70.9 ± 8.0 kg). Therefore, the scientists recruited 10 additional participants (25.3 ± 3.4 years, 1.77 ± 0.08 m, body mass 75.2 ± 8.7 kg) for the follow up study (Study II).
High speed training works, as long as you maintain maximal velocities: F. Pareja-Blanco and his colleagues from the Pablo de Olavide University and the Instituto Navarro de Deporte y Juventud (INDJ) in Spain report in another recently published paper that doing squats with maximal velocity concentrics lead to significantly greater improvements in maximum strength and that "[m]ovement velocity seemed to be of greater importance than time under tension for inducing strength adaptations" (Pareja-Blanco. 2014). Similar results had been observed by biceps curls (9.7% with fast, no gains with slower concentric contractions | Ingebrigtsen. 2009). In studies with untrained subjects, on the other hand, similar benefits have not been observed (Pereira. 2007) - a difference that may be explained by the inability of someone who has never bench pressed or squatted before to actually push the bar at maximal velocity while, at the same time, keeping proper form. Another factor that may explain the existing differences between pertinent studies may be related to whether the exercise was performed to failure. In that case, the prescribed velocity cannot be maintained for all reps, so that the differences between the high speed and the regular / slow speed groups vanish.
The participants were physically active sport science students with 2–4 years of recreational RT experience in the bench press exercise - a fact that may be important if you take into consideration what I wrote about the Pereira study in the red box above.
Figure 1: Schematic timeline of study design (Gonzales-Badillo. 2014)
"Based upon pre-test 1RM strength performance, participants were allocated to one of the two groups following an ABBA counterbalancing sequence: MaxV (n = 9) or HalfV (n = 11) [the non-random allocation to the two groups ensured that there was no significant strength difference between the two groups at the beginning of the study].

The only difference in the RT programme between groups was the actual velocity at which loads were lifted: maximal intended concentric velocity for MaxV vs. an intentional half-maximal concentric velocity for HalfV [note the difference between doing each rep at maximal velocity and trying to do so!]."
Both groups trained three times per week, on non-consecutive days, for a period of 6 weeks using doing nothing but bench presses on each of the workout days. In that, Study I and II were performed 3 weeks apart using a different sample of participant.
Figure 2: Changes in bench press 1-RM over the course of Study I. The relative changes are 16% increase in the maximal 9% increase in the 50% velocity group (Gonzales-Badillo. 2014)
As you can see in Figure 2 the scientists are right, when they say that it seems as if "[m]ovement velocity can be considered a fundamental component of RT intensity, since, for a given %1RM, the velocity at which loads are lifted largely determines the resulting training effect" (Gonzalez-Badillo. 2014). A corresponding difference in lactate production during the workouts was yet detected only if the exercise was performed at low intensities and high speed, i.e. 3 × 8 with 0.79 m/s at ∼60% of the 1RM and with 3 × 6 with 0.62 m/s a ∼70% of the 1RM.
Figure 3: Root-mean-square amplitude (RMS amp.) before (initial) and after fatigue under varying speed-controlled conditions (slow, medium, and fast) and intensities (40–80% 1RM) for pectoralis major (a), anterior deltoid (b) and triceps medial head (c). Results show mean ± standard deviation for 13 subjects (Sakamoto. 2012).
Bottom line: It appears unlikely that the small changes in lactate production are what's responsible for the superiority of maximal (intended) velocity contractions as strength builders. Rather than that it would appear logical to assume that the muscle fiber recruitements between fast and slow contractions differ. An assumption that is in line with the results of a 2012 study by Sakamoto et al.

In said study, the Japanese researchers determined the muscle activations of the pectoralis major at varying lifting speeds and intensities during bench presses and found the maximal velocity to be highly superior during the initial phase of the training. When the fatigue set in and the subjects were no longer able to perform at a maximal velocity, the benefits vanished (see Figure 3) - an observation that is in line with my previous elaborations on the differences between the existing comparisons of the effectiveness of working out at different velocities in the red box. Accordingly, the results of the study at hand may not be applicable for those of you who like to peg out under the bar and/or crawl out of the gym after a workout that was long and intense enough to trigger a near-death experience | Comment on Facebook!
  • González-Badillo, Juan José, et al. "Maximal intended velocity training induces greater gains in bench press performance than deliberately slower half-velocity training." European journal of sport science ahead-of-print (2014): 1-10.
  • Ingebrigtsen, Jørgen, Andreas Holtermann, and Karin Roeleveld. "Effects of load and contraction velocity during three-week biceps curls training on isometric and isokinetic performance." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 23.6 (2009): 1670-1676.
  • Pareja-Blanco, F., et al. "Effect of Movement Velocity during Resistance Training on Neuromuscular Performance." International Journal of Sports Medicine EFirst (2014).
  • Pereira, Marta Inez Rodrigues, and Paulo Sergio Chagas Gomes. "Effects of isotonic resistance training at two movement velocities on strength gains." Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte 13.2 (2007): 91-96.
  • Sakamoto, Akihiro, and Peter James Sinclair. "Muscle activations under varying lifting speeds and intensities during bench press." European journal of applied physiology 112.3 (2012): 1015-1025.