Friday, December 13, 2013

Strength Training Sanity: Slow down, man.

I've had a Bowflex for more than ten years and have loved it ever since I bought it and put it together back in 2002. As far as strength training goes, it feels more natural to me than free weights or a universal gym. This is because working out on it is more like pulling a very large rubber band than lifting heavy steel things.

I think I spent a couple hours putting it together, with a little bit of anxiety I might have to ship it back, but I never did ship it back. Once I had it assembled, I flipped through the user guide and found a circuit that I liked and started working it. I started with low resistance to get the feel of it. Over the next several weeks, I developed a routine that worked for me and I found that I could do the routine in about 30-40 minutes depending on how many reps I was doing for each exercise.

Over the years of use, I experimented with different approaches to bending the Bowflex rods on the Bowflex. I found myself trying to achieve a number, working to increase the resistance for each exercise over time. Well, there are limits to what I can do, and I recently found what I can pull or push without strain or injury. But I wasn't feeling the burn anymore. I guess this is what happens to older men, right?

So in the last few weeks, I've decided to take a different tack. Instead of the usual 2-3 second rep, each rep is more like 7-10 seconds each way, with dramatically reduced resistance. Take for example the bench press. I was doing this with 90 units of resistance before with 2-3 seconds for each way on each rep. Now I use 60 units of resistance for 10 seconds each way and I feel the burn by the end of the set.

Yes, this does make for a much longer workout, extending my circuit time by 20 minutes to an hour or so. But it makes a big difference in how I think and feel about my workout. Now, instead of gathering every ounce of my strength to push more resistance, I focus more on steady, slow movements against resistance.

For each exercise, I start with a level of resistance that would normally be easy for 5 reps. But since I'm doing each rep slowly, I'm working the muscle far longer than before, and breathing harder by the end of the exercise than with the old way. I'm also breaking a sweat much sooner, even in cold weather.

For me, working out has always been a meditation. I sit at a desk all day, so I need a release, especially during cold weather. This is where I get my release.

During each set, I'm focused on the movement of my body and push out all other thoughts in the process. Then when I am done with a set, I rest for a minute and have some water. Sometimes great ideas for articles pop out and I make a few notes. Then I return to the next set. There is no hurry here.This is about self-care, not impressing someone else or reaching some arbitrary goal in my mind.

Since I've started working out this way, the super slow way, I've relaxed a great deal about my schedule and have much greater anticipation for the next time I get to workout. It's more fun now because I'm more focused on the slow steady movements rather than gathering up all my strength to move a greater resistance. Even though I'm using much less resistance, I can tell you that by the tenth rep, I'm sore and tired. But I'm not injured.

Taking this approach has a side benefit. My workout is more aerobic now. What that means is that I'm breathing more, exchanging more oxygen for each rep. This is where the fat is burned. If you really want to lose weight, do something that makes you breath and breath hard. Oxygen exchange is the start of metabolism, and when you're breathing hard, your body is going to look for any fuel it can find to burn. This includes anything that just happens to be resting on your mid-drift or hips.

I believe that this method applies to almost any strength training routine. It does not matter whether you're using free weights, a universal gym or a Bowflex. The body sees work against resistance the same way, breathe, burn, exert, repeat.

This exercise technique may or may not work for you, but this is what works for me, so I thought I'd share it with you. I hope you find this article helpful.
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