The Low-Down on Slowing Down for Better Results

I’m sorry that I’ve been MIA for a while. I was going through some transitions – all good ones – and as I worked steadily to get my shiznits back together, just didn’t feel like I had many helpful things to say. I’m happy to say that I’ve worked out the kinks, and I’m back!

It’s been just over 6 months since I competed in my first bikini contest. After returning to “real life”, and real eating (which somehow isn’t what most people consider “real,” even though we rarely eat processed food…but I digress), I’ve been working with Nate on finding a way to maintain a lean body going forward. It’s an ongoing process, but I’ve learned a lot and feel confident about the path I am on.

While the importance of diet has been emphasized over and over on this site, that doesn’t mean that you can “phone it in” with your workouts. If only 20% of your results will come from the time you spend in the gym, you better make that time worth something! One thing that I’ve learned over the past 6 months as I have been working to increase my lean muscle mass (something I’ve not really done in the past) is the importance of taking your time and being patient.  This has been discussed ad nauseum in terms of your diet plan (you need to lose weight slowly, no extreme/crash diets, nothing happens overnight, etc), but is equally significant when working out.

Have you ever rushed through your workout because you were short on time? Or thought that if you pushed your reps out faster it meant you were stronger, or you were building your endurance because you were breathing harder? Not so fast (heh)! Unless you are an athlete whose sport requires explosive strength or quick movements, you could be doing yourself a disservice by speeding through your workout.

Here are some common reasons people rush, and suggested solutions:

1. You are short on time.

This is probably the most common culprit. Everyone has so much on their plate these days, and when in a hurry, cutting your workout short is often the easiest way to find some “extra” time. You may race through your sets, or do supersets to double up on exercises and save a few minutes. Maybe you even think that going faster could actually have the benefit of raising your heart rate, thereby burning more calories. Bonus!

Slow down, tiger. You’re not doing yourself any good by rushing. In fact, without keeping enough tension on your muscles, you’re not doing much of anything, and you might as well have skipped your workout entirely. In addition, by whipping through your reps, it’s likely that your form is suffering as well, which puts you at a greater risk for injury. Get injured, and that’s THAT MUCH MORE TIME that you won’t be working out. Instead, keep your reps slow, steady, and under control. Make the motions deliberate, and pay attention to what you’re doing.

Yeah, yeah, I get that you’ve got things to do. Here are some ways to make your workout more efficient:

If it’s just this one time that you need to get in and out, instead of rushing through your reps, shorten the amount of time you are resting between sets. Break out your stopwatch (there is one on your iPhone; I use mine all the time), rest for just 30-40 seconds, then get back to it. This will keep things moving along and will keep you from dilly-dallying.

If you find that your workouts take longer than you have time for on a regular basis – even after timing your between-set rest periods – then you may need to adjust your routine.

Exercises that work one arm/leg at a time (unilateral sets) will take longer, since you need to do both sides, so either swap those out for bilateral sets (working both sides together), or do the unilateral sets on days that you have more time to spend at the gym.

If you can add a day to your schedule (and still allow for adequate rest), try that.  Go from a 3-day to a 4-day split, and each workout will have fewer exercises, and thus will take less time.

Make sure your workouts are at a time that works for you. For example, while I mentally prefer to work out in the morning (to get it over with), I’m not yet awake (and thus unable to focus), AND I’m worried about getting to the office on time (which makes me rush). Instead, I head to the gym after work two days a week, and then two more days on the weekend. This schedule does require discipline on my part to get out of the office on time those days, but it then allows me to take my time with my workout with no other obligations weighing on my mind (other than getting home to my hubby…and he can wait!)

2.  You start of slow and steady, but speed up as your muscles fatigue.

Perhaps you’ve got plenty of time to get your workout done. You start out with a good, steady pace, using proper form and cadence. Imagine this: Set 1: You take your time and move the weights at a steady pace. You’re feeling good at the end of the set. Rest. Set 2: A steady start and you get through the first half of the set. It’s a little harder, and you speed up a little to help you push through it. You get through all the reps, and then Rest. You’re breathing a little heavier. Okay, one more, you can do it. Set 3: You get through a few reps and you’re already tired. The weight feels heavy, but you don’t want to wuss out and not get through them all, so you move the weight up and down as fast as you can, just so you can finish. Whew! Made it! You rock! But wait, what exactly did you make it through, and was it worth the effort?

I’ll admit that I’ve done this in the past. It’s easy. Lately though, I have tried to really focus during my workout, and am deliberate about every movement I make. In doing this one simple thing, I have made greater strides in the past 6 weeks than I did in the 3 months of bikini contest prep last fall. I maintain good form and a steady pace (pausing if and when appropriate), and whether I finish all reps in the last set doesn’t matter as much to me as whether or not I maintained good form and tension on the muscles during each rep. As I get fatigued, I often slow down a little and make sure I’m (a) not speeding up, and (b) paying attention to what I’m doing so that I don’t hurt myself. And funny, as a result I’m breathing harder at the end, not because I was rushing, but because I’m so tired.

3. You’re bored or not really that into it.

I’m not really sure what to say about this one.  There must be a reason that you have weight training in your exercise program, and you won’t get any decent results unless you put in the work.

I’ll confess that while I have never disliked weight training, it wasn’t my favorite thing in the world. To be honest, I would often still prefer to go for a run outside and let my mind wander freely than be cooped up in a gym surrounded by stinky meatheads who either stare at me or cut me off at machines.

BUT, I am committed to improving body and health. I have seen the results attained by men and women – like me! – who dedicate time to “pumping iron,” and know that I can make the changes I desire if I stick to this program. By experiencing the benefits of training with weights (and training well) first-hand, I see what’s in it for me, and enjoy it more than I used to. I get excited thinking about how I can continue to change my body and get stronger than I was before. That, and I’ve always hated being bad at things (“Anything worth doing is worth doing well” – Barbara Ehrenreich).

Practically speaking, I use music during my gym time that gets me pumped up, excited, and happy to be working out, even after an otherwise awful day. My playlist contains a variety of genres, from hardcore rap, to bubblegum pop, to 80’s hair bands, and even a rockin’ song by Nate and his band Shed 7. The variety in music mirrors that of my moods when I’m in the gym…sometimes badass, sometimes silly, but always engaged and moving. Oh, and headphones are a handy, unspoken “Do Not Disturb” sign.

When it comes to building a healthy and fit body, there are no shortcuts. You must put in the (smart) time, every time, and be patient. Change will come, and when it does, you will know that it was time well-spent.

Don't rush those crunches! (Try not to get stuck either)