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Slow it down to make big gains

There’s all sorts of ways to mix up a workout. You might change the weights you’re lifting – dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells or perhaps even your own body. You might change the number of reps or sets that you do. You might change the exercise that you use to work a particular muscle group. Or you might even change something less obvious like the amount of rest you take between sets. When we’re talking about variables in a workout, it’s a helluva list.

Since becoming a Dad and starting my own business, I’ve found it harder to get into a routine with my training such as I had before. Over the past two years (yep, Lucas is almost two!), I’ve stuck to the big lifts whenever I had the chance to workout, and snuck in some Pilates, mobility work and sprints on the odd occasion. But re-reading Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Body for the hundredth time as I looked for a little motivation, made me decide to try the Geek to Freak experiment.

Now, Tim won’t be very happy with me, as I haven’t exactly done what he said. “Treat it as a laboratory experiment”, he tells his readers. Well, that hasn’t been quite possible for me, but I have given it a good go. The workouts are split into an A workout and a B workout. This is essentially what I’ve been doing:

Workout A: Chin Ups. Military Press. A variety of ab moves.

Workout B: Incline Barbell Bench Press. Squat. 35+ Kettlebell swings (increasing every time)

On workout day, I’ve been doing my regular mobility warmup, then warming up using the same weight as I’m going to use for the set. How can you warm up on the same weight as you’re going to use for your actual session? Well, that’s because the main variable we’re changing here is tempo.

So what do we mean by tempo? Well, in the fitness world, tempo relates to how fast you’re doing a particular move. In my case, while I’ve been using the tried and tested strength moves that I’ve had as my staples for years, I’ve been doing the moves at a much slower tempo – to dramatic effect.

Slow it down
You see, slowing down a move makes it considerably harder. On my bench press for example, whereas I can quite comfortably lift 80KG for five repetitions at a normal speed, slowing it down (in this case, counting five seconds to lower the bar and then five seconds to raise it), I am failing after six reps at 62KG. In fact, had it not been for the safety bars on the power rack at Live Simple HQ, I may well have had to dictate this blog via my phone to Angie, as I would still have been pinned beneath the bar, unable to wriggle out!

So why is it so much harder? Well, when you slow things down, your muscles lose all the momentum and recoil that can help you when you’re lifting something heavy, and you have to rely on brute strength. And that means more parts of your muscle are engaged, you’re working harder even though the weight is the same, and you’re making more ‘microtears’ in your muscles – which all leads to big gains.

More to consider
Working to absolute failure to spark muscle growth, which is what we’re doing here, is only useful if you’re eating a lot. And I mean a lot. You should probably never be hungry. This has occasionally been a challenge for me, although I have added a protein shake at least once a day which has helped.

Secondly, and very interestingly, the programme requires you to increase your rest period between workouts. Why’s that? Well, because as your muscles grow in size, they need more time to recover. It’s something that appears to go against what you’ve been told about training, but is entirely logical when you really think about it. In this case, less really is more. The challenge is actually to do nothing else at all. Forget about any cardio, or supplementary exercises, or anything. All that will do is take protein away from your muscles, which you’re feeding so that they grow.

The results?
Cue before and after pics! Well, if I was super organised, this is where you’d find those. As I’m not, you’ll just have to let me try and explain it. So, to recap, here’s what I’ve done:

  • Performed Workout A and B alternately, using a slow tempo as I’ve outlined above, with the rest between workout days increasing as I progressed.
  • Ensured I’ve pushed myself to failure every single workout.
  • Eaten a lot.

And guess what? I’ve noticed a really, really big difference. From feeling like I’ve been at a plateau for months on end, I have noticed my shirts and jeans are a lot tighter, my posture has improved, and I’ve been able to lift more and more as the weeks have gone on. There has, in short, been a huge impact.

So should you try it?
That depends. If you’ve never squatted a barbell before, jumping straight into a programme where you squat to failure is a recipe for disaster, and a one way ticket to Injury City. If you are a beginner, do what I wish I’d done and get a good Personal Trainer to show you the ropes right at the start of your fitness journey.

Now, if you’re a relatively experienced trainer – you’re barbell squatting around your own bodyweight and are familiar with the big barbell moves, then this is definitely worth your time. Grab hold of Body by Science
by Doug McGuff and The 4-Hour Body, as these are two resources that will fill in the blanks from my article – more of the science, more of the minutia behind the programme, and more of the structure.

If you’re interested in Personal Training in our private studio away from the hustle and bustle of a gym, drop me a line at keith@liveasimplelife.co.uk.

Good luck!

Photo Credit: hisham_hm via Compfight cc

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