Synapses At Play…


Slow Down…

“Slow down.”

“Take an extra breath in-between repetitions.”

“Eliminate the hurry in your head.”

These are just a few of the clichés Royisms that I repeat to clients all day in my studio.  Yesterday I even compared strength training to fly fishing…

“It’s a rhythm” I told a client, “but it’s a slow rhythm, just like fly fishing.”

And really, it is like fly fishing.  Strength training, practiced slowly, can be intimate and meditative.

One of the better aspects of strength training, and one that is underappreciated by most, is the opportunity one gets to develop a relationship with the individual muscles of the body, as well as the actions taken by those muscles.  Not just in realizing one’s potential for strength, but to know what meat we’re made of, and which meat does what.

Synapses, both electrical and chemical, develop quickly during the act of strength training.  Using a slower repetition speed helps better establish and reinforce those synapses.  These lines of communication between brain and meat are always active, whether one is pushing a leg press upward, or stepping onto golf cart.

synapse-group-1a.jpg

The inner universe.  Sensational synapse…

Sensational Sensations…

Increasingly, I have come to better appreciate the relationship my mind has with my skeletal-muscular structure.  Always bubbling under the surface is the tactile sensation I experience during every kind of physical exertion I may be involved in.  I can’t imagine not taking note of this, yet so many move about their whole lives never really knowing what they are made of.

Ten-thousand times per day I may strike my heels on the ground before me, subconsciously connecting the electrical dots from my feet, to my legs, to my lower back, and into my shoulders, as my well-oiled machine drives me forward.  When I push a door closed, lift a box, or pull a container from a shelf, I feel the muscular me in action.  When I press firmly on a large knife as I cut a cabbage in half, in my mind I am both feeling and thanking my triceps.  I love this, and it all starts in the weight room.

Not Widely Practiced…

The slower repetition speed I teach in strength training isn’t widely practiced.  If you were to walk into any commercial gym during peak hours, you might find one or two people lifting in this style, but you would more likely find none at all.  That’s too bad, and honestly, it haunts me. I know something wonderful and want to share it with the world, but the world — the weight room world anyway, is made up mostly of blind followers.

I am often questioned by students, fitness enthusiasts, and even fitness professionals alike as to why I place such an emphasis on form, and on slow speed in particular as a part of that form.

I don’t see too many people lifting weights as slowly as you have me do…  is an observation I have been confronted with time and again.

I try not to get too technical with my reply, and never preachy, most often just shrugging it off and saying it’s not for everyone.  I feel kind sorry for those who live physical lives, in or out of the gym, yet aren’t truly connected with their muscles in action.  They are missing one of the great dances in life.

Vacation Vindication…

Often times a student will take a break from training with me.  They may continue strength training on their own or take a break altogether.  When they come back to me, almost without exception, they will have a greater appreciation for the slower repetition speed I enforce.

I walked into a commercial gym once and saw a former student performing lunges.  Perfect, fluid lunges.  I could see people watching her and appreciating the mindful intensity she was engaged in.  I find that too; that when I work out in a commercial gym, people tend to watch me when I lift, knowing that they are seeing something different than anything else going on in the room.

Simple Execution…

It can be distilled to a simple explanation…

  • During the eccentric (negative) phase of an exercise, I typically use a 4 second count.
  • During the concentric (exertion) phase of an exercise, I typically use a 1-2 count.
  • After each completed repetition, I pause and take a secondary breath. This serves to better oxygenate the muscles, as well as supports my ability to concentrate on the muscles involved – to stay connected to them.

As I do this, I am concentrating only on the muscles involved – not on anything else.  This also helps that body awareness.

A Case For Slow…

If you strength train regularly, and you are not practicing slower repetition speed, I will encourage you to give it a try.  Be warned though, slow speed doesn’t make it easier, it makes it a little harder – the path of most resistance, so to say.  You make a lighter weight a whole lot heavier by slowing it down.

With slower repetitions, the TUT (time under tension) is greater.  You will require fewer sets since each set is going to be much longer than if you are mindlessly repping out.  A set of 10 repetitions should take between 50-65 seconds, depending on the exercise.

It’s good stuff – this slow strength training thing, and a great way to connect your mind with your meat.  Be well…  rc

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6 responses

  1. We need to slow down and enjoy life. And not rush to seek the next thing,,
    Thank you for the reminder to be mindful in all we do.
    “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” ~Gandhi

  2. Considering I can barely type my reply without wincing (I was pulled on a tube behind a boat two days ago for fun), I am mindful of the fact I need to pay ongoing attention to taking care of my muscles more!

  3. I pretty much lift slowly as you suggest most of the time I have a question. As a martial artist, I want speed in my performance of that skill. My understanding is that explosive concentric movements will help fast-twitch muscle so I do those when I’m doing drop sets at the lower weights. What do you think about this?

    From the movie, Kung Fu Hustle (a very strange movie), “In the world of kung fu, speed determines the winner!”

    • I loved Kung Fu Hustle! My only issue with explosive training is that it fosters momentum, and momentum is the midwife to injuries in the weight room. For competitive athletes at high levels the risk/reward ratio for explosive movements is negotiable. For old guys like me, I do almost no explosive movements because the risk/reward ratio is not favorable considering I make my living with my body.

      That is not me standing in judgment of those who include them, I know many who do. They just have no added value in my life so I would rather not risk it. The closest I come is doing occasional box jumps on 15″-20″ surfaces, but even those are few and far between.

      If I decide to go after that Olympic gold medal in the decathlon, I may change my mind 🙂

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