The purpose of this article is not to expose "one weird trick" that you currently aren't and by incorporating it you will magically sky rocket your gains. Given that everyone in the world can lift things up and put them down again, it seems like a dumb topic to cover.
But often times in lifting, and in life, we have to take a step back and really reflect on if we are doing the basics correctly. They set the foundation for all the success in a program, so if you are doing them wrong your results are going to be sub-par at best, and nonexistent at worst.
It seems like a trivial question... But many lifters never really consider how to lift weights. Of course there is the obvious Lift-Weight-Up and Put-Weight-Down mechanics of lifting, but there is actually more going on inside than meets the eye, and I actually find that most guys (yes I am singling out guys here) think that they know how to lift weights from day one, when it fact they really don't.
The often used phrase "Mind Muscle Connection" comes to mind, and it means to really concentrate on the muscle you are lifting, to squeeze it against the resistance of the weight, to make sure the muscle is really working instead of the weight simply moving through space. If you are unfamiliar with the idea try this.
Try This Right Now
Stand up and, without any weight in your hand, do a bicep curls where you simply bring your hand up to your shoulder and back down.
Now I want you to do the same thing except imagine there is a 100 pound weight in your hand. DON'T focus on simply moving your hand, rather focus on squeezing your bicep as hard as possible, almost an isometric contraction but just one step shy of it... And your hand will almost "move on its own" as your bicep shortens.
You should be able to feel an immediate and vast difference in the effects those two types of curls produce. The first one is almost zero, while the second almost feels like you could fry your biceps without any weight at all.
You can see that to the untrained eye or observer all that is happening is your hand is arching through space... but INSIDE there is a vastly different process happening
How To Lift (and Lower) Weights
Since most people who are doing this are doing it to basically be big and strong, we will focus on our attention on the style of lifting that best accomplishes that. People specializing in Power Lifting and Olympic Lifting may want to train a bit differently, but for the general purposes of most people the following is basically the best advice
Lift Fast, Lower Under Control
For our chosen population of lifters as described above, the point of any given set is to both recruit the most amount of muscle possible, and then to work those muscle fibers enough to require a growth response. This is best achieved by lifting a weight fast, but then lowering it quite a bit slower.
The Lift Fast portion of the rep can be confusing to some people. When I have taught this advice to others they get confused because a fast rep seems easier than doing a rep more slowly and deliberately... The fast rep just flies right up to the top, but you can really strain against a slower rep... And isn't harder better?
It usually is that way, yes... But the reason the fast rep is "easier" is because more and more of your muscle fibers are being called to work. So in a very real way you are literally working harder and more efficiently at the same time by lifting the weight fast.
As the weight gets heavier and heavier you obviously will not be launching the weight off your chest like a slingshot, but the intent to move the weight as fast as possible does the same thing for us... Which is to get as many muscle fibers involved as possible.
In what seems at first an ironic twist, you should do almost the exact opposite while lowering the weight. If you think about it for a moment it makes sense though... If you let your muscle go limp the weight will fall to your chest quite fast, but even adding a small amount of resistance will slow that down.
In order to get the most muscle fibers involved in the lowering process you should find that happy medium between letting the weight free fall and doing the rep so slowly as to exhaust yourself after the first rep.
Remember our example above with the bicep curls... That is the kind of mental effort and mentality you should be using when you lower the weight. FIGHT THE WEIGHT DOWN, don't just let it drop. You don't need to do it quite as intensely as in the example above, but that is the basic idea behind it.
Pick It Up, Put It Down
Going beyond this basic advice would defeat the point of this article, so we are going to stop here. There are a lot of words here... but they really can be summed up quite nicely in the "Lift Fast, Lower Slowly" mantra.
Think about this next time you are in the gym and make sure you are not just mindlessly lifting and lowering the weight.