Speed of Movement and Pacing - Two Sides of the Same Coin
Posted November 12, 2021 by Matthew Romans
Most of our clients and regular readers of this blog understand that the Total Results exercise protocol is inherently unique. No other type of exercise methodology places as great an emphasis on the little details: instructional verbiage, entry and exit of the equipment, and recognizing and correcting form discrepancies. Our protocol utilizes a 10/10 speed of movement (on both the positive and negative phases of the movement), but 8-12 seconds in each direction meets an acceptable standard. This is done to maximize muscular loading, minimize momentum, optimize safety, and also to allow for the full benefit of our machines' cam effect. A kevlar belt is attached to the machine's weight stack, and the belt goes around the perimeter of an eccentric-shaped lobe (cam) that is connected to a pulley; this mechanism is what varies the resistance based on leverage factors throughout the range of motion of the exercise. Proper variable resistance is an essential part of obtaining the optimal exercise stimulus, and it's one reason that duplicating the Total Results exercise experience in a commercial gym is virtually impossible.
Total Results exercise founder Ken Hutchins talks about cams and speed of movement in his recent book "Cams Within Cams." According to Hutchins, "Speed is the most important factor affecting the resistance curve of an exercise. This remains the most important factor regardless of the tool - barbell, bodyweight, gymnastic tool, exercise machine." Clearly a standardized and appropriately slow speed of movement is necessary from an equipment (cam) design standpoint. Ken goes on to discuss this point a little further, saying that, "...A defined speed is the only way to obtain a reliable resistance curve. And specifying speed is also the only way to avoid confusion with exercise subjects." This is why most of the equipment that you see in home and commercial gyms is poorly manufactured; the engineers that designed these machines have not standardized their speed of movement and go way too fast. In such equipment, any cam effect is purely coincidental; take a look at most gym rats, and you will see what amounts to throwing and catching of the movement arm on an exercise machine. Incidentally, many of these same engineering flaws were present even in vintage Nautilus equipment of the 1970s and 1980s. Nautilus protocol recommended 2/4 speed (2 seconds on the positive and 4 seconds on the negative), and many of the old guard at Nautilus moved even faster than that during their workouts. In addition, the cams were often backward, with the resistance being too heavy in the most contracted position and too light in the start position. Utilizing a 10/10 speed also allows the instructor to recognize and correct form discrepancies during each exercise; only a standardized and creepy slow movement makes this possible.
But what about pacing? How important is it, and how do we define it? Acceleration is defined as the rate of change of velocity of an object with respect to time. The Khan Academy says that, "Velocity describes how position changes; acceleration describes how velocity changes." This gives us some perspective. I would use the word pace to describe how consistent one's speed of movement is during an exercise, and I believe that pacing is an incredibly important factor in obtaining an optimal exercise stimulus. When judging pace, you want to determine if there is a uniformly smooth movement or if there are significant jumps in the movement, whether it speeds up or slows down. Certainly, we have an ideal standard in mind that we measure against, and not all ten second excursions are created equal. For example, you could take two seconds to perform the first half of the positive phase, and the second half in eight. In theory, your speed would be acceptable but your pace would not. In my judgment as an instructor, that repetition would be counted, but would probably not qualify for a graduation to a higher weight for the next workout. By the same token, you could take six seconds to complete the negative with a relatively consistent pace, but your speed would be too fast. Form discrepancies such as segmentation (which is often due to less than optimal neurological efficiency and motor control), off/oning, and ratcheting will have an impact on both speed and pace, but more often poor pacing is a result of a lack of concentration and spatial awareness.
If you struggle with proper pace and speed, what can you do to improve it? The first key is to focus! Shut everything else out of your mind for the twenty minutes of your workout and think about the task at hand. If your mind is allowed to drift elsewhere, it will be difficult to have good speed of movement and pace. Second, be an active listener! Intellectually process the instructions you are given. Your instructor will periodically utilize a cadence count to give you a reference point for speed and pace; use that to help develop a better feel for the stroke (distance from start point to end point) of each exercise. Some exercises have a greater range of motion than others, but ten seconds works well on all of them. Finally, you can silently count to yourself now and again as you go through the positive and negative excursions of the repetitions. For many years I discouraged clients from this practice, as I thought it led to segmentation of the movement, but I no longer believe that is the case. In fact, we have timers on many of our machines that clients can see in order to help pace themselves. One of the most important factors in motor learning is knowledge of results, and this practice of counting (or seeing the seconds tick off) provides immediate feedback of performance.
A slow speed of movement is a critical factor in exercise, but as we can see, pace is very important as well. Certainly, intensity of effort and getting to muscular failure are essential for spurring the body to make improvements, but just getting there isn't enough. It's how you get there that makes all the difference in the world. In reality, speed and pace go hand in hand, and a proper command of both are needed to achieve optimal form, and in turn, a quality exercise stimulus.