Nobody wants to spend hours and hours working out. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to spend less time in the gym, get better results, and do so with even less risk of injuring yourself?
There is a way, and it was taught to me by my friend and personal trainer Bill Quick.
It involves slowing down the pace of each weight training repetition, whether it is with a barbell, dumbbell, weight training machine, or even calisthenics (e.g., pushups, sit-ups). By moving the weight much more slowly, exercise intensity is increased dramatically, which allows you to get a better workout in less time. Rather than performing countless sets of an exercise to exhaust a muscle, a few slow, high-intensity sets are all you need.
It will be helpful to first define a couple of terms. I’ll use the example of a simple dumbbell curl. First, I want to explain what is meant by a single “repetition,” and break it down into its component parts. In the start position for a dumbbell curl, you stand with your arms hanging at your sides, grasping a dumbbell in each hand. The first half of a dumbbell curl consists of lifting the weight up in a circular motion, using your biceps, to about shoulder height. This part of the movement is called “contraction” of the muscle (also referred to as “flexion”). You finish the curl by lowering the weight back down, referred to as “extension” of the muscle. A single combined contraction and extension of a muscle is referred to as one repetition, or “rep.”
One “set” consists of 6 – 12 consecutive reps of an exercise. It is recommended that most people take 60 seconds or so of rest between sets, and perform 2 – 5 sets of a given exercise.
The standard way to perform a weight training repetition is in a medium-paced and controlled manner. Both the contraction and extension of the muscle are orderly and controlled. You can get good results training this way and it is quite safe. Unfortunately, many people in the gym perform their repetitions using a lot of momentum, by incorporating muscles other than the one that is targeted in the exercise, and by swinging the weight sort of wildly. In my example of a dumbbell curl, some people will arch their back as they curl the weight, swinging it rapidly up to shoulder height, and then let the weight quickly drop back down. You can probably already imagine that this is dangerous and results in very little bicep development. A lot of men tend to do this, usually in an effort to lift heavier and heavier weights, but it is a mistake.
Bill’s novel approach involves just the opposite of wildly swinging the weight. It consists of very slow-paced and highly-controlled repetitions, which are highly effective for muscle development and very safe for your muscles and joints. This technique also has the benefit of being so intense that you don’t need to perform as many sets or reps to exhaust a muscle, thereby shortening your workout time.
Bill teaches three different methods for incorporating slower-paced repetitions into a weight training program:
- Slow, slow – Perform a 4 second contraction, followed by a 4 second extension. The way to make sure you are getting the full effect is to count “one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four-one thousand” during each contraction and each extension. Also, just a brief pause before you begin each contraction and extension will ensure you are not incorporating any momentum into the movement at all.
- Power up ¾, slow down – This consists of an aggressively-paced contraction (but still controlled) to a ¾ contraction of the muscle, and then a 4 second extension. This causes engagement of both “fast twitch” and “slow twitch” muscle fibers for maximum results. The reason not to do a full contraction is because you want to protect the muscle joint from any possibility of injury during the accelerated contraction movement.
- Rest – pause – Use a normal (medium-speed and controlled) pace for both the contraction and extension movements, with the added twist of holding the weight still for a 3 second count after the extension movement and prior to the contraction movement, for every rep. So with dumbbell curls, for instance, every time you curl the weight down (extension), hold the dumbbells in that position for three seconds before you curl them back up again (contraction).
When you use these methods, you should use less weight than you normally use for a given exercise, since very slowly moving the weight in this fashion is very taxing. You should still try to do enough reps, staying in the 6 – 12 reps per set range.
You might be nodding your head right now, “Wow, this sounds easy! It isn’t much different from what I am doing now in the gym. I can use lighter weights, and ‘rest – pause’ even gives me a chance to rest between each rep! This is great!”
You might not be able to hear us, but Bill and I are laughing right now, because this way of weight training is anything but easy.
Give one of Bill’s slower-paced repetition methods a try with one of your exercises the next time you are in the gym, at least for a couple of sets. It definitely takes some getting used to. If you do it exactly as Bill instructs, you will find it is an extremely intense way to train. The good news is that incorporating this technique will produce much better results, keep you safer from injury, and shorten your workout sessions. So if you are up to the challenge, it’s a pretty cool concept!