From HIIT sessions to CrossFit, it seems like the hottest strength workouts have a need for speed. They’re all about cranking out as many reps as possible in little time. Though these high-energy, fast-paced workouts have their place, super-slow lifting is a technique trainers use to work muscles in a whole new way. “As a general rule, day to day, we tend to move quick, quick, quick,” says Aaptiv trainer Ceasar Barajas. “If you take a moment to slow and control your movements, you’re going to work harder and really think about how you’re moving and what you’re doing.”
While the movements themselves will be slowing down, you may build strength faster than you would with traditional lifting. Keep reading to learn exactly how it can pay off to slow your roll.
Why lift slowly?
You can try slow training a couple different ways, says Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., a trainer in Los Angeles. For a general approach, use a weight that’s challenging but that you can lower and lift yourself. Rather than take a second or two to lower it before you lift, take at least five seconds each way. You can also pause for a few seconds at the bottom of the move, Barajas says.
Another approach: Use really heavy weight, and focus on lowering the weight down slowly but have spotters bring the weight back up for you. That lowering part of the move is called the eccentric phase. You’re stronger during that than the lifting, or concentric, phase. So you can handle heavier weight on the lowering portion. Focusing on that part of the movement can help increase your strength gains faster.
Slow lifting is a great technique to employ with moves such as overhead presses, squats, split squats, and deadlifts, Barajas says. Whichever exercises you include, the motions should be very slow and controlled, he notes. He recommends doing the moves in front of a mirror to keep your form in check.
You may get stronger. Research has shown it can lead to bigger strength gains than traditional lifting. Here’s why: Momentum isn’t helping you out, as it can with faster movements, so your muscles really have to fire up to complete each rep. And the slow motions test your balance a lot more than quick-paced strength moves, Barajas says. That balance challenge fires up your core and stabilizing muscles throughout your body, which leads to stronger, more toned muscles.
You may also get stronger than you would with fast lifting because your body can handle a bigger load at a slower pace. “Studies show that when lifting at a slower pace, people can handle up to 50 percent above their standard one-rep max,” Donavanik says.
Plus, you won’t have the aid of gravity. “Most people rely on gravity to help them get through certain movements. But oftentimes lifting slower is going to work you harder against the gravitational pull,” Barajas says. “You’re having to work twice as hard without its help.”
Slow lifting can also be a good thing from a mental perspective, Donavanik says. “A lot of people aren’t 100 percent tuned in when working out. This forces them to pay more attention to what they’re doing.”
You may burn fewer calories—but there’s a catch. “Calories burned in the session may not be as high as a HIIT session. But you’ve broken down way more muscle,” Donavanik says. The process of repairing those muscles blasts more calories after the workout, and that increased muscle mass will lead to even more calories burned at rest.
Slow lifting may seem a little boring compared with workouts that move you much more rapidly, which can make it difficult to stay focused and motivated, Donavanik says. Barajas adds, “If you don’t have a background in proper lifting, it’s easy to come out of a proper form. Form is important no matter the workout, but with slow lifting in particular, you always want to be mindful.”
The Bottom Line
You need to mix things up. “You shouldn’t be lifting slow all the time, but it’s a great tool to have in your fitness kit,” Donavanik says. “It shouldn’t be your only form of training, just like HIIT shouldn’t be your only form of training. You should be incorporating different kinds of workouts into your routine.” Doing so will keep your muscles guessing and getting stronger—and keep you interested, too.