Momentum is always a part of weight training. You cannot train with weights without the involvement of momentum. Momentum is mass times velocity.
So don’t think of momentum as only speed, which a lot of people do. It’s the product, or the end result, of an integration of speed (velocity) and mass (in this case, the weight load or resistance).
When used correctly, mass combined with velocity will build muscle. Some exercises require momentum; there’s no way around it.
These are the explosive style lifts, such as jerks and snatches. Though these build a lot of strength and power, they aren’t the first choice for building a lot of muscle size.
The best movements for hypertrophy do not require a lot of momentum or explosiveness. An example is the bench press.
Think of the last time you saw a man with really big muscles pressing a ton of weight for reps. Chances are, he was not exploding with the movement if this was his work set (sometimes, people do use high momentum when doing light, warm-up sets).
Though athletes who do sports-specific sets often use a lot of momentum, the bodybuilder or muscle builder tends to take things a little more slowly. This ensures that as many muscle fibers as possible get recruited, and that momentum doesn’t aid in the lift.
A classic example of an exercise in which too much momentum is often used, is the barbell biceps curl.
How many times have you seen some skinny guy swinging his entire body into the movement to get the bar up?
Another classic example of momentum misuse is the lat pull-down, in which the resistance will be set high, and a man will pull the bar down to his neck or chest, but then – all momentum now – will let it fly back up with so much speed that it lifts his butt off the seat.
He misses the negative (eccentric) phase of the lift, and thereby significantly shortchanges hypertrophy gains.
This misuse with the negative or release of the load also commonly occurs with the preacher curl, especially with a weight stack machine.
It’s clear that too much momentum will sabotage the trainee who wants to build rock-solid muscle.
Even if strength is a chief goal, too much momentum for traditional exercises will backfire, especially on the negative phase. Too much velocity with the resistance results in subtraction of the load from the targeted muscle group.
Other muscle groups pitch in as part of the excess momentum, and therefore take over some of the work. Or, the machine itself takes over, as in the lat pull bar flying back up virtually on its own. This uncontrolled release is also commonly seen in the negative of a hamstring curl.
Though the trainee may believe this fools other gym members into thinking he’s strong (since misuse of momentum allows a lot of weight to be moved), his muscle fibers won’t be deceived, since too much speed takes tension off the targeted fibers. Cutting corners adds up to stunted hypertrophy.
Solutions To The Problem Of Too Much Momentum
Again, unless a person wants to hone power lifting or Olympic lifting skills, moving too quickly through weight lifting routines will backfire and suppress hypertrophy.
Though some men lift quickly to stoke their ego by seeing how much metal they can get up in the air, many trainees fall victim to this habit for more innocent reasons:
- They’re unaware of it
- Going slower hurts
- The nature of the exercise promotes too much momentum
The first and third reason overlap. An example is the standing biceps curl with a barbell and dumbbells. A small, isolated movement is supported by the entire body standing.
This just begs for too much momentum; it’s just too easy and natural to get the whole body involved to swing those weights up quickly and release them quickly.
On the other hand, you won’t see this haphazard application in a free barbell squat. Thus, one way to kick the habit of excess momentum is to get away from isolation lifts and focus more on big compound lifts.
Though it’s possible to go too fast with even a compound lift such as a bench press and bent-over dumbbell row, it’s more difficult if you’re using heavy weight. This is especially true for squats (free or tracked barbell, dumbbell) and deadlifts (barbell, hex bar, dumbbell).
It’s also tricky to apply momentum to chin-ups and pull-ups when full range of motion is used. When one lowers to straight arms, using momentum to cheat through chin-ups or pull-ups is difficult to do.
However, if it’s possible, this means that the trainee is very strong with these movements and needs to add a weight belt.
For those who habitually release the resistance too quickly, enforce a rule of taking two or three seconds for the release. This includes exercises that hurt, such as leg extensions and shoulder presses.
If the lifting portion (concentric) of the exercise is where the momentum gets excessive, then make this phase last one or so seconds. An almost-two-second positive phase for heavy leg extensions isn’t practical, but it works for biceps curls and lat pull-downs.
If your hypertrophy has slowed or halted lately, see which areas of your regimen you can take the momentum down a notch or two. This should spark new muscle growth.
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