The general recommendation among trainers on how to perform your sets is to lower the weight under control--usually for a count of two--and then lift it as fast as you can. But once most guys realize that they can lower a heavier load than they can lift, they like to go to extremes by doing heavy negative sets (in which you perform just the lowering phase, or "negative" part of the lift, with more weight than you can handle for a normal rep). They feel incredibly sore the next day, and they figure they had a good workout. Trouble is, they can't repeat their performance the next week, let alone improve on it, and they end up burning out or injuring themselves.
CJ Murphy (or "Murph" to his friends) e-mailed me today with a couple words about this, and a new strategy you ought to try (whether you're one of the above-mentioned guys or not). Before I get into it, I should tell you that CJ has a wealth of experience,
and he's one of the fitness industry's most respected figures. (He's
also a complete bad ass, and you should check out his site here to see him lifting insanely heavy weights.)
"The negative phase does little to improve strength and growth and everything to damage tissue," says Murph. "Slow negatives guarantee soreness with no promise of results." Instead, Murph recommends doing the complete opposite, de-emphasizing the negative portion of the lift almost entirely. Simply lower the weight as quickly as you can WITH GOOD FORM (this does not mean relax at the top of the lift and let your arms or legs go), pause, and then lift the weight at your normal speed. "Soreness is not an indicator of a productive training session," says Murph. So if you're not crippled the next day, don't think you wasted your time. If anything, you should be better prepared than ever to train the next time, because you may not be sore at all.
Note that if you're a beginner (a few months of experience or fewer), you need to improve your coordination and get used to handling weights, so you should lift a little slower (the two-second negative that is generally prescribed is probably fine). But for anybody else, give it a try.