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The Ins and Outs of Slow-Motion Strength Training

You know you should be strength training — at least you do if you’ve been reading The Fine Line. But have you heard about slow-motion strength training? It’s a high-intensity, low-impact workout that moves like molasses. It’s hard. It’s effective. And it’s efficient: The goal is to fatigue your muscles enough in 20 minutes twice a week to get some nice results.

Ken Hutchins is the pioneer of the slow-motion protocol. He originally designed the exercises for an osteoporosis study at the University of Florida Medical School in 1982. That work led to a resistance-training technique that developed a favorable following over the years.

The benefits of slow-motion strength training are many. Like all weight-bearing exercises, when performed correctly and consistently over time, they strengthen bones and add calorie-burning lean muscle to your body. Cardiovascular conditioning happens because you are pushing muscles to fatigue without resting between exercises.

As a slow-motion strength trainer, I get to witness my clients — predominantly women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s — achieve new strength, build muscle and bone, and lose weight (especially when the regimen is combined with a solid nutritional plan). I’ve found that it’s great both for someone new to the world of weightlifting and experienced weightlifters alike. It works for the former because it’s not intimidating, and it can be a challenging change of pace or a solution to breaking out of an exercise plateau for the latter.


The fundamental idea of slow-motion strength training seems almost counterintuitive to conventional weightlifting.


The fundamental idea of slow-motion strength training seems almost counterintuitive to conventional weightlifting. Whereas standard weightlifting usually dictates three to four sets of the same exercise, slow-motion strength training requires just one set with substantial weight and no fixed number of repetitions.

Here’s how it works: A standard workout includes nine exercises, each one focusing on a different body part. For all of the exercises, you use heavy weights, taking 10 seconds to lift and 10 seconds to lower. The movements eliminate momentum and induce muscle failure (you can no longer push or pull the weight no matter how hard you try) within two minutes. And then it’s on to the next. The workout typically uses weight machines, though there are times when you could use free weights.

When you first start out with this type of strength training, your trainer will review your health history, discuss your injuries and/or limitations, and define your goals. Your first workout is limited to five exercises (still equaling a full-body workout) in order to demonstrate the process without overload.

Typical slow-motion studios are controlled environments free of the typical trappings of a gym (i.e., no blaring music, no juice bar, etc.). This lets both you and your trainer to pay attention to proper form and breathing, helping prevent injury and maximize results.

In our fast-paced world, it’s nice to know that doing something slow is good for you.

Rachel Packer is a trainer with The Perfect Workout and a nutritional consultant. 

Photo: Bill Noll

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