In my last article I discussed the book “The 4 Hour Body.” Today I’m going to talk about the biggest lesson I pulled from it concerning exercise and fitness. This lesson falls in line with Tim’s motto of “everything popular is wrong.” Though this quote originates with the noted poet Oscar Wilde it is still as relevant today as it was in his time. The majority of fitness magazines and websites out there today promote volume based training and intervals. The standard 3 sets for 10 reps routine has officially been with us since the 60’s and even though our knowledge of biomechanics, lifting, and muscle synthesis has changed dramatically since then; a majority of weightlifters continue to hold onto this routine. It’s time to change.
The first change is that we as lifters need to slow down. Go to any gym today and you will notice that most people using free weights lift quickly and explosively with less than ideal weight. It’s a fact that the best muscle growth stimulus comes from lifting at least 70% of your one rep max or more for a rep range around 5-8. At this load; speed becomes somewhat impossible. Form becomes paramount and the muscles remain under maximum tension throughout the whole lifting range if a slow count of 3-5 seconds up, and 3-5 seconds down is maintained.Another benefit of slowing down your lifts is that it requires less volume to completely torch the muscles. I challenge you to load a barbell with 75-85% of your one rep max on the bench. Have a spotter stand behind you and press the weight as you usually would but take at least three whole seconds to lower it, pause at your chest then slowly clench your pectoral muscles forcefully, and raise the weight.
Most bodybuilders following the Arthur Jones guidelines for training perform only one lift per muscle group to complete failure during training, or they keep their sets and reps to a range of 3-5 sets for 3-5 reps and no more. Instead of 3 or even 4 different exercises for the chest, they may do just a machine press, but they do it with as heavy a load as they can push for 5 reps failing on the last one. These kinds of sets leave you sweating, gasping for air, and unable to move for several minutes. That’s a workout. As Arthur Jones said “if you’ve never felt like puking after one set of curls, you don’t know what work is.”
I quote Arthur Jones frequently because like Tim Ferriss he liked to buck conventional wisdom for dramatic results. He didn’t do what everyone else did, he looked at a problem found the simplest solution and shortest route to results and followed it faithfully. Even today people question his methods, yet no man in history has trained more bodybuilding champions. Even if you’re not a body builder or aiming to add mass the formula still works. Less Volume with heavier weights with maximum intensity and complete form equals the fastest results.
Many people fear that lifting slow will slow them down in sports but it’s just not true. Muscles are much like a spring and when compressed slowly they build up enormous energy. Sprinters frequently slow themselves down in training by dragging small parachutes behind them or sand bags. This resistance training teaches their muscles to unload tension explosively and with maximal force. Slower lifting has actually been shown to increase speed and power output in sprinter, hurdlers, swimmers, and Olympic lifters.
The same rules apply to the core region. Too many people try to rush through their crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts and side bends as fast as possible for max reps. Slow Down and contract your core for each and every rep, pausing at the bottom and again at the top for at least 3 seconds. This eliminates momentum and forces total contraction of the abdominals and keeps them under tension longer. 15 Myo Crunches done at a pace of 3 up, 3 down, pause for 3 at the top will shred your six-pack more than 50 crunches any day. On the other side of this is the plank an exercise that not about speed or moving at all but not moving. Try holding a plank for two minutes and see what hurts more, that or 20 crunches. You can do the same with a hanging leg-lift, bring your legs up and straight out in front of you and hold them there as long as you can. See how much your abs enjoys that one.
More often than not we lift fast because that’s what we’ve been taught to do, but it’s time to change things up. Learn to slow down and revel in that uncomfortable state of muscle contraction and pain. The pump is the point, too often we rush through the very moment that triggers the most muscle growth because it stings or hurts. Working out is about work and getting the maximum result with the least amount of movement. For building endurance there’s nothing wrong with dozens and dozens of reps but for the fastest results in size and total strength less is more and will get you further. Work smarter people not longer. Do what you need to trigger muscle growth and hormone production then get out of the gym, fuel with protein and healthy foods and rest. Muscle grows when it’s not being hammered. Killing yourself everyday for hours at a time leaves little opportunity for your muscles to repair and rebuild.