There’s no denying that HIIT is a great way to train and improve your health and fitness. But HIIT-mania has many of us in the mindset that more is more and faster is better. After all, that’s the goal of all those AMRAP exercises and ladder workouts — as many as possible, as fast as possible.
However, that’s not the only way to build muscle. “If you want to improve muscle definition and see muscle growth, you have to induce muscle fatigue, which will stimulate repair,” explains Pete McCall, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and host of the podcast All About Fitness.
HIIT, which is considered explosive exercise, is one way to do that. But “at some point, you need a new stimulus to the body,” McCall says. And one new stimulus is to slow down.
THE BENEFITS OF SLOWING DOWN
You may roll your eyes at the idea of slowing down, especially if you’ve been told to do this in other areas of your life (work, dating, life overall). But just as completing a work project with haste or starting to plan a wedding after a good first date can lead to bad results, working out too quickly can lead to poor form, which can then lead to injuries.
It’s especially important for beginners to perform strength exercises slowly. “Your joints, ligaments and tendons haven’t become acclimated to so much stress,” explains Noam Tamir, founder of TS Fitness in New York City. Moving slowly allows your body and brain to learn how your muscles should move and feel during an exercise so you can perform it safely and effectively.
But experienced exercisers also benefit from slowing down. It’s a principle called time under tension, which refers to how long your muscles are under tension during an exercise. The slower you move, the harder your muscle fibers have to work to control the motion, which leads to muscle growth, McCall explains.
For example, 10 squats at a speed of 1 second down and 1 second up will take you 20 seconds. If you slow down and take 4 seconds to lower and 2 seconds to lift, it’ll take 60 seconds. That’s three times more time under tension.
Now, that doesn’t mean three times the muscle growth. It’s simply a different way of training and can help you grow stronger in different areas. “If you are constantly training fast, you’re not teaching yourself to decelerate, which minimizes the potential for strength gains,” says Tamir. “We’re stronger in our negative movements than our positive ones.”
Translation: You are stronger when you are moving against gravity (lowering into a squat, lowering dumbbells to your chest in a bench press) than you are powering up (rising to stand, pushing the dumbbells up). So don’t ignore working on that strength.
HOW SLOW SHOULD YOU GO?
McCall recommends weight training slowly one day a week. There is no one-set protocol for slow training. He suggests moving at a pace of 4–6 seconds down and 4–6 seconds up. You only need to do two sets of 10–12 reps really slowly to have it be effective.
If that sounds like it’ll take decades to complete your workout, consider Tamir’s paces. He has beginners start at 4 seconds down, 2 seconds hold, 2 seconds up, then transition to something like 3 seconds down, 1 second hold, 2 seconds up.
Whatever pace you choose, remember to breathe. “Inhale during the negative phase and exhale during the positive phase or at the top,” Tamir recommends. “This will eliminate creating too much extra tension in your body.”
Be warned: You will be sore the next day since your muscles aren’t used to being under tension for so long. Foam roll or do other recovery work, and you’ll feel better and be prepared for your next workout.