All You Need to Upgrade Your Strength Training Workout Is to Slow the Eff Down

Photo: Getty Images/Artem Varnitsin
When you think of a typical strength training routine, you probably envision a long list of exercises to get through—and a time-consuming one at that. But what if I told you there's a method that only requires a couple 20-minute sessions a week? The only catch: Everything is done at a snail-like speed.

Lifting weights—or doing bodyweight exercises—in slow motion might seem odd, but the technique is a fitness go-to for actress Jane Seymour (who you probably remember from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, or her more recent guest appearances on Jane the Virgin). "It's very, very slow weight lifting," she said in a recent interview with Closer Weekly. "You only do 20 minutes twice a week. I notice a huge difference when I do it. Each exercise you do, you do it to fatigue so your whole body starts shaking," she added, per Fox News.

This form of training isn't anything new. It's actually been around since the early '80s when it was developed by researcher Ken Hutchins. What started as something safe and effective for women with osteoporosis quickly turned into a more mindful way of working out everyone can enjoy: Since you're moving at a slower speed, you're able to put more focus on your form and control. In turn, all that extra tension in the muscles could be an effective method of toning and building strength.

Don't be fooled, though: Just because you're moving slower and exercising for a shorter period of time doesn't mean it isn't just as—if not more—challenging than typical weight lifting. "With slower lifting, the body's muscles do all the work without the help from momentum—it's a more intense experience. The results are usually better due to a greater reduction in a chance for injury," says Adam Zickerman, founder of InForm Fitness.

Despite the slow pace, the workout is still considered high-intensity. So if you're already thinking about swapping all those fast-paced burpees you do for this, same.

"Slow-motion strength training involves a lifting phase that's executed in 10 seconds, and a lowering phase that's executed in 10 seconds. You continue in this fashion until you can no longer complete a repetition with proper form," says Kevin Ness, co-founder of My Strength Studio. "One of the key aspects of the protocol is intensity. Exercise that's brief and demanding, causing a failure of the involved musculature in 1 to 4 minutes, is considered 'high-intensity.' Generally, this is what's desired in slow-motion strength training session."

That's exactly why you can get away with only one or two 20-minute sessions a week: Once you're done, your entire body will feel like Jell-O and you have to let your body recover before going at it again. A workout that's safer, focuses on correct form, quick, and super effective? Yeah, I'm sold.

3 slow-motion weight-lifting exercises to try at home

For an effective at-home workout, Ness says you really only need three basic moves. "Between a squat, push-up, and pull-up, you can stimulate improvements in all the major muscle structures," he explains. "If you use slow movement, allow no periods of rest, and continue until you can literally no longer complete a repetition, you can get a very effective, efficient, and safe workout in at home."

Then the next time you go to the gym to use actual weights, Zickerman says to "stick to multi-muscle groups—aka compound movement—exercises, including leg presses, chest presses, pull downs, and rows. Avoid single joint movements, like knee extensions, curls, flys, and lateral raises."

Lace up your sneakers and use Ness' guidance to get through these moves:

1. Squats

Using a door handle for balance, squat slowly (taking 10 seconds) until your thighs are parallel with the floor, pause for two seconds, then barely start moving upward. Push through your heels and take a full 10 seconds to reach the halfway position. Slowly but immediately change directions, then slowly (in ten seconds) lower yourself again to the deep squat position. Continue in this manner with good form—and plenty of breathing—until you can't finish a repetition with good form.

Note: The feeling of your thighs burning isn't an indicator that you’ve reached muscle failure; they merely burn. Be honest with yourself and truly push until you can't even stand anymore. You could also sit against a wall and lower to a position where your thighs are parallel to the floor and hold that position for as long as possible.

2. Push-ups

Start with your hands shoulder-width apart and slightly turn them inward. From the top (elbows extended) position, slowly lower (in 10 seconds) until your chest and shoulders almost touch your hands, pause for two seconds, and slowly (in 10 seconds) raise your body. Gradually change directions just before your elbows lock and repeat another repetition. Continue in good form until completing a repetition isn't possible. Record elapsed time and repetitions completed.

3. Pull-ups

Keeping your shoulder girdle down and back, slowly pull your body upward to where your chin passes the bar. Engage abdominals for two seconds and slowly (in 10 seconds) return to the starting position. Without resting, gradually change direction and start another repetition. Continue in perfect form until you can no longer complete a repetition. Use a chair if an assist from the legs is needed.

Here's how to get an effective workout in only five minutes. Or, try these three moves from a Victoria's Secret trainer.

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