Office workers have it rough in one way which matters quite a bit. Sitting in a chair for most of their waking hours often translates into carrying around more weight than is good for a person, physiologically or esthetically speaking.
As someone who sits in front of a computer all day, I've been fighting this reality for years by working out in various forms nearly every day. Well into mid-life, however, I feel a bit like I'm starting to lose the battle. First, every year I get older I am less inclined to kill myself at the gym--or anywhere else--in the spirit of a lean, mean me. Not that I don't appreciate being able to fit into my clothes, but, the idea of kickboxing, spinning or anything else that necessitates several hours a week of me becoming all red-faced--well, my 46-year-old self might rather get a bit fluffy.
But then my hair stylist--who looks amazing at nearly 50--told me one of her secrets. Twice a week she goes to a place where she's strapped into machines, wears regular clothes, doesn't sweat, and chalks up a full-body workout in 20 minutes.
I had to try it, and after doing 20 minutes a week for more than two months, I can attest it works.
What is it?
Kevin Ness, cofounder and owner of My Strength Studio, explained to me that it's high-intensity, slow-motion strength training. Imagine doing a leg press, but maybe nine reps over three minutes. After about a minute, your leg muscles are burning and you want to quit. But, the idea is to continue to the point of failure. So, it comes to the point where you've got a minute to go and someone is pushing you to keep going--even though you don't think you can. Once the trainer finally unstraps you, your legs feel like jelly. Same thing with arms and core, but different machines all located in a mirrorless, musicless and cooled room full of fans. The best part? A full-body workout only takes 20 minutes.
This "Super Slow" form of resistance training was popularized by inventor Ken Hutchins who conducted the "Nautilus Osteoporosis Study" and found the slow-moving controlled exercise approach to be effective in building bone density in elderly women with osteoporosis. From there, he developed a company called "SuperSlow", wrote a technical manual, created a rigorous certification process, and started building "SuperSlow Systems" exercise machines. Nearly a decade ago, Hutchins partnered with Josh Trentine, owner of Overload Fitness and competitive natural body builder, to form Renaissance Exercise, which sells the RenEx equipment used at Ness's studio, where I've been training.
Can you really gain muscle only lifting once a week?
According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, you can. And, training twice a week isn't any better than a once-a-week routine. This is fantastic news for people who hate exercising.
How can this short investment in time possibly work?
Ness says there's an inverse relationship between exercise duration and intensity. Meaning, if you run for a long time, it must be low intensity--you can't sprint for miles. If you do sprint--which is high intensity--it must be a short distance. It's the same with high-intensity strength training.
"You can train hard or you can train long. It's physically impossible to do both," he says. "Our focus is building strength, not demonstrating strength. When you move slowly, your muscles can't rely on momentum, so they are forced to work harder through the entire range of motion."
Can a person actually lose weight with this kind of training?
If you think about it, losing weight isn't what most people should be concerned with, but losing fat. Now consider there are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat and most people will only lose 100 calories by running a mile. In other words, you'd have to run 35 miles to burn a pound of fat. It follows, then, that losing fat is more about watching calories and eating the right things, and less about exerting yourself on the treadmill. But more muscles definitely help, considering that the amount of lean muscle mass a person has determines his or her basal metabolic rate.
"As you add muscle, the amount of calories you burn throughout the day increases," he says. "So, over time, all things being equal, a person will lose fat from this method of strength training. But, if you want to see quicker fat loss, then you need to dial-in lifestyle choices."
The bad news: You're going to need to do some research to find a trainer or facility.
There isn't a central online resource for finding trainers and facilities which use this kind of protocol. Ness suggests looking for ones familiar with the training philosophies of people including Hutchins and Trentine, as well as Dr. Doug McGuff and Drew Baye.
The good news: You can train this way at home.
You won't have a trainer pushing you to eek out every last amount of your effort, but doing the slow-motion method on your own still can be effective. According to Ness, you only need to perform three movements: a squat (or wall sit), a push up (standard or on the knees), and a pull up. Here are his instructions on how to do them properly to get the most benefit:
Use a door handle for balance, squat slowly until your thighs are parallel with the floor, pause for two seconds, then barely start moving upward. Change directions at about half-way up the repetition and slowly (in ten seconds) lower again to the squat position. Continue with good form and plenty of breathing until you cannot finish a repetition with good form. Alternately, sit against a wall and lower to a position where the thighs are parallel to the floor and hold that position for as long as possible. Record elapsed time and repetitions completed.
Follow a similar approach to the squats. Start with hands shoulder width apart and slightly turn hands inward. From the top (elbows extended) position, slowly lower (in ten seconds) until your chest and shoulders almost touch your hands, pause for two seconds, and slowly (in ten seconds) raise your body. Gradually change directions just before elbow lock and repeat. Continue in good form until completing a repetition is not possible. Record elapsed time and repetitions completed.
Similar principles apply. Use a chair if an assist from the legs is needed. Keeping your shoulder girdle down and back, slowly pull your body upward to where your chin passes the bar. Engage abdominals for two seconds and slowly (in ten seconds) return to the starting position. Without resting, gradually change direction and start another repetition. Continue in perfect form until you can no longer complete a repetition, using your legs only enough to keep moving if an assist is needed. Record elapsed time and number of repetitions.