Centr trainer Bobby Holland Hanton performs a bicep curl against a black background in a gym.
Centr Team

Slow fitness: Get more from your strength training

Centr Team

If it didn’t get your heart pumping, did you even work out? Go easy on yourself – it turns out you were just getting in early on a growing trend: slow fitness.

It may not deliver the sweatiest workout, but slowing down and taking a gentler approach to your training can have benefits for your body and your mind.

Slow fitness takes in training styles such as low-intensity steady-state cardio (LISS) and yin yoga. But because it’s largely about taking a mindful approach to movement, it can also be applied to other workout styles you may already be doing, like strength training.

Let’s dial down the intensity and investigate.

What is slow fitness?

At its core, slow fitness is about taking a more mindful and deliberate approach to exercise. Rather than squeezing as much as you can into a certain amount of time, the focus is on technique, consistency and maximizing the mind-body connection.

It’s a lower-intensity, less strenuous approach to exercise that will keep your heart rate relatively low, similar to steady state cardio.

By their very nature, workout styles such as LISS, Pilates and yin yoga, as well as common forms of exercise such as swimming and walking, and even stretching for active recovery, fall under the slow fitness umbrella.

But what if you’re on a mission to build muscle? Although weight training doesn’t seem particularly gentle, the central elements of slow fitness can support your goals, too.

Can slow fitness deliver faster strength gains?

Slowing down your strength training is good advice whether you’re an absolute beginner or an advanced lifter looking for an edge. Here’s how going slow can benefit your muscle gains.

It builds foundational strength: If you’re new to strength training or returning to exercise after injury, you need to build a solid base of strength before you level up or start zeroing in on certain target areas.

This stage of building muscle requires a mindful focus on perfecting technique and listening to your body. When you’re rushing through reps, your form is more likely to be sloppy, and you’re more likely to get injured and wind up back where you began. A focus on good form and tempo will help you start layering up gains.

If you’re older, slow and mindful strength training can also help maintain bone density, protect joints (while also ensuring you don’t put too much stress on any troublesome joints), and help you maintain balance and coordination.

It’s quality over quantity: Ever hit a plateau with your muscle gains? One of the best things intermediate and advanced lifters can do to upsize muscles is slow down and focus on the eccentric movement of a lift which is better at building muscle strength than concentric movement.

Let’s consider a bicep curl. The classic 3-0-1-0 tempo puts the emphasis on the eccentric movement, when you lower the dumbbell down at a count of three. The priority here is the time your muscles spend under tension, and the quality of each rep (feeling the squeeze in your muscle and performing the movement with full control), so even training with lighter weights can result in a seriously intense workout and gains.

It’s active recovery: You’ll get more from your rest days by continuing to move than you will by doing absolutely nothing. Slow and low-impact movement such as stretching, yoga, Pilates or LISS (like walking or swimming) will help to ease muscle soreness, maintain mobility and flexibility. It’ll also get you prepped for your next lifting session.

It complements your regular training: The benefits of going slow doesn’t mean you need to ditch your regular strength training routine. If you’re working up to performing a clean and jerk at maximum load, you’re still going to need speed and power in your movement.

The slow fitness approach is simply a way to complement and support your strength training gains.

Can slow fitness reduce stress?

Slow fitness training styles can help tackle stress on multiple fronts.

Hormones: Both slow and high-intensity exercise promote the release of feel-good endorphins. But there’s another hormone that circulates at differing levels depending on the intensity of exercise we do: the stress hormone, cortisol.

Research has shown that while moderate to high-intensity exercise can increase the levels of cortisol circulating around our bodies, low-intensity exercise can reduce cortisol levels.

Public service announcement: This doesn’t mean you need to give up your favorite HIIT workouts (cortisol production is higher with prolonged periods of high-intensity exercise), but it is a good reason to regularly mix up your higher-intensity training with slow fitness.

Mindfulness and breathwork: Training styles such as yoga and Pilates emphasize controlled movements and breathwork, increasing the mind-body connection and helping you to be present in the moment (rather than worrying about your to-do list).

Controlled breathing also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing your heart rate and spreading calm throughout your body.

Better sleep: A gentle yoga or stretching session before bed can release muscle tension and improve blood flow, helping to promote better quality sleep.

Ready to try slow fitness?

To start banking the benefits of slow and mindful movement, try these workouts with our Centr experts.

Centr trainer Sylvia Roberts sits on a yoga mat, knees bent and with her arms draped around her knees, smiling at the camera.

Stretching: The Three R’s

Sometimes an intense workout will leave you sore in places you didn’t even know existed. This stretching session with our Pilates expert Sylvia Roberts is not just a chance to release that soreness, but to really tune into all these different areas of your body. And the ultimate goal is restoring mobility – so you can return to your training ready to perform at full capacity. Breathe through it!

Centr trainer Tahl Rinksi performs a yoga pose

Dynamic Yoga: No Judgment

Starting a yoga session (or any workout) with breathwork is a great way to unlock the mind-body connection, helping you to feel your way through a flow – using movement as a way to be present in the moment. Our expert Tahl Rinsky has incorporated the classic chair pose into this flow, where staying balanced on your tippy toes requires a strong awareness of every muscle twitch from your ankles to your core.

Centr trainer Bobby Holland Hanton stands in a dark gym with his arms crossed, looking at the camera.

Centr Power in Gym: Day 1

Want to build serious muscle? Take it slow. When you hit play on this upper-body workout with Bobby, rather than racing to get through your reps, stay focused on three things: control, tempo and your mind-muscle connection.

For instance, when you push your arms down in a banded rope pushdown, you want to feel the squeeze in your triceps – that’s the mind-muscle connection. When performing a bench press, lower your arm at a count of three, then press back up in 1 – this 3-0-1-0 tempo will maximize the time your muscles spend under tension. And by controlling each movement, you’ll ensure you’re working the correct muscles and avoiding injury. That’s how you get results.

Centr trainer Sylvia Roberts sits on a yoga mat with one knee bent and holding that knee, smiling at the camera.

Pilates: Feel Stronger, Move Better

If you’re looking for mindful movement, look no further. While Pilates may appear gentle, movements can be a lot tougher than they look – engaging often neglected muscles like the deep core and smaller stabilizers – so you’ll need to stay focused. Move with purpose and control and every exercise in this session will contribute to a stronger, more functional body. Don’t forget to breathe – Sylvia will coach you through it.

Keep the slow fitness benefits coming

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