Slow Life Down for Bigger and Stronger Gains In the Gym

Modern life is fast-paced. It sometimes seems like a constant rush to do more, faster, and better, no matter whether you’re at work or in the gym! But oftentimes going slower is the smarter strategy, especially if you’re interested in long-term progress.

It’s the same idea as training a bit lighter if you’re feeling a bit worn out: You’ll get stronger for making that change. There are lots of opportunities to slow down your training to see faster gains, but many of those opportunities get lost in our hectic schedules. And that’s unfortunate.

Since I’ve started to deliberately slow down my training, I’ve noticed that my workouts tend to be more productive and more fun! Here, I’m sharing a few strategies explaining how I’ve done that, and how you can do the same.

Before Your Workout

I know I harp on it in almost everything I write, but I really can’t overstate the value of meditation for an excellent training session, and the few minutes before your workout are a great opportunity to let go of all the hectic things going on in your day and get in the zone.

It’s simple, too. Try this drill:

  • Find a place where you can sit undisturbed for a few minutes. Personally, I do this on the stationary cycle as part of my warm-up, but you can do it in the locker room or even in your car before you step into the gym.
  • Take a few deep breaths, breathing in through your nose for a count of five, and then out through your mouth for a count of five. Really focus on the feeling of the air in your lungs; try to let go of other thoughts.
  • Close your eyes, and let your breathing return to normal.
  • Take just a moment to check in with your body. Start at the top of your head and work your way all the way down to your toes, just noting anything that’s tight, sore, or tired. Don’t stress over any of those feelings — just observe them.

And that’s it. It’s quick, simple, but very effective. I can always count on this routine to help me get focus, feel a little more energized, and smoothly transition into my workout and away from anything I’ve been preoccupied with outside the gym.

During Your Workout

“Slowing down” during your workout might seem counterintuitive. After all, don’t you want to do everything faster to make your training more intense? Well, sometimes. There’s definitely a benefit to careful use of speed work and short rest times between sets. But, other times, the exact opposite is true.

In particular, I suggest that if you’re training for strength, you experiment with longer rest between sets. In my experience, the typical 2-3 minutes of rest in between heavy sets isn’t enough to perform at my best for the duration of a higher-volume workout, but if I take a little bit longer between sets, I can train pretty heavy the entire time. Of course, you don’t want to make huge changes here — that’s a quick way to derail your progress.

I recommend that if you’re currently resting 2-3 minutes between sets, that you start by increasing that to 3-4 minutes of rest, and see whether you benefit after two weeks or so. If you do, or if you’re not sure, then increase the rest to 4-5 minutes, or even 5-7 minutes. I wouldn’t go over 5-7 minutes max rest in between sets.

A post shared by Ben Pollack (@phdeadlift) on

On the other hand, if you increase your rest and find that your training progress slows, or you start to get cold between sets, then just revert to your old style. As with everything else, there’s no one right answer, so you shouldn’t feel compelled to stick with a training style that’s not productive for you!

After Your Workout

After you’re done training, it’s tempting to hop in the car and head home or hit the showers. I really suggest that instead, you set aside 5-10 minutes for a post workout cooldown. Cooldowns aren’t as important for lifters as they are for aerobic athletes, but the first few minutes after your “real” training are still a valuable time to get a little extra work in, and to smoothly transition back to whatever you’re doing next.

What you do with your cooldown time is up to you. It’s an excellent time to get in a little static stretching — something that you should avoid before training, but that can be really beneficial after you’ve trained and are still warm (never stretch while cold). If you’re a powerlifter, you don’t need extreme amounts of flexibility, but you might find that with looser hamstrings, your squat depth improves; or that with more flexible shoulders and lower back, you’re able to get a better arch on the bench press.

You might also do a little post-workout cardio. Because your glycogen stores are already depleted from training, your body is more likely to burn fat as fuel during this time. However, to avoid catabolism, I recommend that you keep post-workout cardio sessions pretty short, and fairly low-intensity.

Of course, after you’ve finished training, don’t forget to get in your post-workout nutrition. If you make this part of your cooldown, you’re less likely to overlook it!

These are by no means the only ways you can slow down your training, but they’re some of my favorites. Give them a try, but also, don’t be afraid to experiment!

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page. 

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