Free Weights vs Machines

Free Weights vs Machines,
What’s Better?

Free Weights vs. Machines - members strength training

Free weights or machines?

This debate has existed in the fitness industry since the first strength training machines were invented in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as “____ is better.”

Machines and free weights both have benefits and drawbacks. Read below to learn which option is best for you.

Strength Training Basics

Strength training was created over 2,000 years ago with the Ancient Greeks (Feld, 2020). They would build strength and muscle by lifting rocks, bags of sand, and the original version of a medicine ball.

Thankfully, strength training equipment has evolved. In the 1860s, barbells and dumbbells were created (Soleyn, n.d.). They were followed by the creation of the kettlebells and resistance bands in the late 1800s, cable machines in the 1950s, and the first line of strength training machines in the 1970s (Feld, 2020).

While there’s consensus in the fitness and medical fields that strength training is good for overall health, there is much debate about what type of strength training equipment is most effective for strength gains or increasing muscle size.

The debate is usually simplified into two categories: free weights and machines.

Free weights are objects that are “free” of any attachment. You can move them anywhere. The most common free weights used are dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, and kettlebells.

Machines have a fixed path of motion and are often specialized for a specific movement. Most have weight stacks where the weight is selected by inserting a pin or flipping a switch.

Strength training with either type of equipment is effective for building strength, muscle, bone density, and for enhancing health. With that said, free weights and machines contrast in their strengths (no pun intended) and weaknesses.

Female strength training on a machine and male strength training with free weights

Free Weights vs Machines

Versatility

If you are looking to use one piece of equipment for as many exercises as possible, free weights are the best option.

A barbell (with a collection of weight plates), for example, can be used for a bench press, back squat, deadlift, curls, a shoulder press, and bent-over row. This one piece of equipment can be used to target all major muscle groups.

Dumbbells are also versatile, although a range of dumbbells are needed to account for the differing strength levels necessary for different exercises and to provide options for progressing resistance.

Machines are generally limited in their versatility. An example of this is the leg press. A leg press is generally only useful for two exercises: a leg press or calf raise.

Safety

Machines hold the advantage of providing a safer strength training workout. Machines offer more stability with most being seated and isolating movement in the targeted muscle groups.

There’s also no risk of dropping the weight on oneself. With a barbell bench press or a dumbbell shoulder press, a person could easily drop the weight onto their chest, head, or feet if losing control.

On a machine, dropping the weight translates to the weight plates simply dropping onto the weight stack… aka slamming the weights. While this causes a loud noise and should still be avoided for proper maintenance and courtesy, no weight actually lands on the lifter.

Free weights, in some cases, also place more force and compression on joints (Escamilla et al., 2001).

A research team in Australia tracked gym injuries over a 14-year period (Gray & Finch, 2015). Free-weight training was responsible for most of the cases, with 55% of the 3,000-plus injuries taking place during free-weight exercises. (Essentially all of the other injuries took place during non-strength training activities: group aerobics classes, boxing, treadmill running, and jumping exercises).

Muscle Growth & Strength

Traditionally, free weights are the go-to tool to maximize strength and muscle growth. But are they proven to be the most effective equipment for reaching these goals? The research isn’t clear.

One study found that the barbell bench press and its machine equivalent, the chest press, were equally effective in activating the muscle fibers in the chest, shoulders, and triceps (McCaw & Friday, 1994).

However, a study comparing a barbell squat with a leg press (on a leg press machine) showed that the squat was more effective for activating muscle fibers in the quadriceps and hamstrings (Escamilla et al., 2001), indicating that the squats might be more effective for producing muscle growth over time.

A recent study dove further into the question of which is best for muscle growth and strength (Schwanbeck et al., 2020). Men and women trained 2-3 times per week with either the free weight or machine version of the same basic movements.

At the end, the researchers measured both groups’ progress. Which type of equipment led to better “gains?” Neither. The free weight and machine groups had similar increases in both strength and muscle size.

Leg extension machine

So What’s Better, Free Weights or Machines?

Strength training with machines or free weights will enhance your health, bone density, strength, and muscle size. Your life will benefit from either approach.

If you seek versatility in being able to do the most with the least amount of equipment, if your space is limited, or if you want equipment that’s easier to transport, free weights are the best option.

On the other hand, machines are significantly safer. Free-weight exercises are responsible for the majority of injuries in gyms. Machines eliminate the possibility of injuries as a result of you or others dropping the weight.

Finally, when the workload is the same, machines and free weights produce similar levels of strength and muscle development.

If you would like to learn more about our method of strength training, read about our methodology. If you are new to The Perfect Workout, try a workout with us and start with a FREE Introductory Session.

  • Escamilla, R.F., Fleisig, G.S., Zheng, N., Lander, J.E., Barrentine, S.W., Andrews, J.R., … Moorman, C.T. (2001). Effects of technique variations on knee biomechanics during the squat and leg press. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(9), 1552-1566.
  • Feld, J. (2020). The constant evolution of fitness equipment. IHRSA. Retrieved from https://www.ihrsa.org/improve-your-club/the-constant-evolution-of-fitness-equipment/
  • Gray, S.E. & Finch, C.F. (2015). The causes of injuries sustained at fitness facilities presenting to Victorian emergency departments – identifying the main culprits. Injury Epidemiology, 2(1), 6.
  • McCaw, S.T. & Friday, J.J. (1994). A comparison of muscle activity between a free weight and machine bench press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 8(4), 259-264.
  • Schwanbeck, S.R., Cornish, S.M., Barss, T., & Chilibeck, P.D. (2020). Effects of training with free weights versus machines on muscle mass, strength, free testosterone, and free cortisol levels. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 34(7), 1851-1859.
  • Soleyn, N. (n.d.). Strength performers and early barbells. Barbell Logic. Retrieved from https://barbell-logic.com/early-barbell/

How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle?

How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle?

How long does it take to build muscle, before and after photo

“When will I see results?”

This is one of the most commonly-asked questions when someone starts The Perfect Workout. It’s also one of the most challenging questions to answer.

The answer is complex because it’s based on many factors. Also, “results” could mean many different things: fat loss, added strength, more energy, better sleep, or visible muscle growth.

It’s safe to say most people want to be able to see some muscle definition. So, in this article, we will discuss what the research says on when you should start noticing muscle growth, what are not signs of muscle growth, and how that timeline can be expedited.

Why We ALL Want Muscle

Before we deep dive into all things muscle growth, it’s important to keep this in mind – strength training is not just for growing bigger muscles. In fact, strength training does so much more for your overall health and longevity than simply looking toned and muscular.

  • Here are some good reasons to build muscle:
  • Avoid muscle loss
  • Avoid metabolic rate reduction
  • Increase muscle mass
  • Increase metabolic rate
  • Reduce body fat
  • Increase bone mineral density
  • Improve glucose metabolism
  • Increase gastrointestinal transit speed
  • Reduce resting blood pressure
  • Improve blood lipid levels
  • Reduce low back pain
  • Reduce arthritic pain
  • Reduce depression

As you can see from all those benefits, building muscle isn’t just for looks. But if you are concerned about getting “big and bulky” or want more information on how strength training affects men vs women, this might be the article for you.

Muscle soreness from muscle building on a woman's quads

Misleading Signs of Muscle Growth

Muscle growth starts almost immediately when strength training begins. However, gaining a noticeable amount of muscle takes a little longer. Before discussing a timeline, let’s talk about what are NOT indicators of growing muscles.

Muscle soreness

“I like being sore the next day because I know I did something.”

Most of us have said or felt this way after a workout.

Soreness, although gratifying for some, is not a sign of whether or not you stimulated your muscles to grow. Read that again.

Sore muscles simply indicate that you did something new or unusual for your muscles.

Walking 20 miles in a day would likely cause most of us to have sore leg muscles, but it won’t help to grow your muscles.

Early strength gains

Being able to lift increasingly heavy weights is typically a sign that your muscle cells are becoming larger. The exception to this is at the start of a new training program or regimen while your body learns to lift weights efficiently.

For the first few weeks, people gain strength due to neurological adaptations. In other words, the nervous system becomes more efficient and effective at stimulating coordinated movement on the exercises. This makes the movement [lifting heavy weights] more automatic and seemingly easier.

After a few weeks, gaining strength is primarily a result of muscle growth and less due to deceptive neurological adaptations.

The post-workout muscle “pump”

One of our favorite parts of the strength training experience is having swollen muscles following the workout.

Why?

It’s aesthetically pleasing (and we’re all a little guilty of checking ourselves out in the mirror once or twice after the workout). This effect, known as “transient hypertrophy,” is due to a short-term increase of blood plasma in and around muscle cells. It gives the muscles a temporary appearance of looking larger and more shapely … aka, the “pump.”

The pump only lasts a few hours and isn’t a direct indicator of muscle growth.

Before and after photos of muscle growth

How Long Does It Take to Build Muscle?

Now that we know muscle soreness and a post-workout mirror check aren’t reliable ways to gauge muscle growth, how do we know when we’re building muscle? And how long does it all take?

The muscle growth timeline was studied by researchers at the University of Oklahoma. CT scans were conducted weekly on men who started a strength training program. Similar to The Perfect Workout, the participants in this study trained twice a week.

After just one week, muscle fibers became 3.5% thicker.

  • Muscles grew steadily after that point:
  • 4.5% larger at the end of week 2
  • 6% at the end of week 3
  • 6.7% at the end of week 4
  • 8% at the end of week 5
    Finished at 9.6% larger at the end of the study (eight weeks)

The conclusions are that muscle growth starts immediately and steadily continues after that point.

You might be thinking, but when will I be able to see more muscle definition? When is it noticeable?

Researchers noted that about 7-8% growth is the point when this change can be seen. According to the study, this should take about 3-5 weeks to start noticing muscle growth. And according to exercise researcher Dr. Ellington Darden, “Genetically gifted men can probably reach their maximum size in 24 months.” (Read: not the norm.)

How can people notice initial changes in muscle size?

Common ways to see this is clothes fitting differently, pants feeling tighter in the thigh or hip area, or “new” muscle lines appearing in the thighs or arms.

How to Build Muscle Faster

The timeline of 3-5 weeks is when you could start to see muscle growth. That timeline could be longer. Part of that timeline and how much muscle you grow in general, is largely determined by your training habits, other complementary habits, and genetics.

Genetics and biology do play a role in your potential for muscle growth, as discussed in our article about the differences between male and female muscle growth. In Dr. Ellington Darden’s book, The New High Intensity Training, he discusses genetic potential for muscle growth.

In short, the length of major muscles determine genetic potential for muscle growth because longer muscles can be wider and wider muscles lead to more volume. So you can’t do much about those sorts of things. But there are three key things you can do.

Here are three factors in your control that impact how much muscle you grow and how quickly you notice it.

1. Exercise consistency and frequency

How much exercise you do is a big factor in determining the amount of muscle growth. Training three times per week will likely increase muscle growth quicker than training once or twice per week.

Of course, you can plan to train three times per week, but if you are frequently missing sessions, those plans won’t convert to actual results.

It’s also important to know that training three times a week would only be beneficial if you’re trying to get bigger-sized muscles and that strength for longevity and better health is separate and sufficient with 1-2 workouts a week.

2. Full range of motion exercises.

The most common strength training error we see in gyms is a lack of full movement. For example, you might see this in a dumbbell curl where the person only lowers the weight halfway down before starting the next rep.

The vast majority of studies comparing full movement to partial movement show that lifting the full movement enhances muscle growth.

3. Eating enough protein.

Protein is broken down by the body into amino acids, which are used to repair and rebuild muscle tissue following workouts. The amount of protein you consume is critical to your rate of muscle growth.

Your daily intake in grams should be equal to or greater than your weight (lbs.) multiplied by 0.75.

For example, if you weigh 150 lbs., you should eat at least 113 grams of protein each day (150 x 0.75 = 113). If you weigh 200 lbs, eat at least 150 grams per day (200 x 0.75 = 150).

Summary

You might start seeing changes in your muscles around one month in. To gain more muscle immediately and in general, train frequently, consistently, use a full range of movement, and eat ample amounts of protein daily.

Whether you see the muscle changes, know that your body is changing in a positive manner after just one week. Your muscles are growing, you are gaining strength, and your health is improving in several ways that you may or may not notice.

If you want more information on how to incorporate slow-motion strength training into your workout routine, we have a free introductory session. If you’d like to know more about how to work with a trainer online, get a free consultation call with a Personal Trainer.

DeFreitas, J.M., Beck, T.W., Stock, M.S., Dillon, M.A., & Kasishke, P.R. (2011). An examination of the time course of training-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy. European Journal of Applied Physiology. DOI 10.1007/s0042-011-1905-4.

Deldicque, L. (2020). Protein intake and exercise-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy: an update.

Lemon, P. W. (2000). Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 19(sup5), 513S-521S.

Schoenfeld, B.J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2018). Resistance training volume enhances muscle hypertrophy but not strength in trained men. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Schoenfeld, B.J. & Grgic, J. (2020). Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: a systematic review. SAGE Open. 

Schoenfeld, B.J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J.W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training in muscle mass: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 35(11), 1073-1082.

Campbell, W.,Crim, M., Young,V. and Evans,W. (1994). Increased energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training in older adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 60: 167-175. 

Evans, W. and Rosenberg, I. (1992) Biomarkers, New York: Simon and Schuster. Forbes, G. B. (1976). “The adult decline in lean body mass,” Human Biology, 48: 161-73. 

Harris, K. and Holly R. (1987). Physiological response to circuit weight training in borderline hypertensive subjects. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 19: 246-252. 

Hurley, B. (1994). Does strength training improve health status? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 16: 7-13. 

Hurley, B., Hagberg, J., Goldberg, A., et al. (1988). Resistance training can reduce coronary risk factors without altering VO2 max or percent body fat. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 20: 150-154. 

Keyes, A., Taylor, H.L. and Grande, F. (1973). “Basal Metabolism and Age of Adult Man,” Metabolism, 22: 579-87. 

Koffler, K., Menkes, A. Redmond, W. et al. (1992). Strength training accelerates gastrointestinal transit in middle-aged and older men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 24: 415-419. 

Menkes, A., Mazel, S., Redmond, R. et al. (1993). Strength training increases regional bone mineral density and bone remodeling in middle-aged and older men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 74: 2478-2484. 

Risch, S., Nowell, N. Pollock, M., et al. (1993). Lumbar strengthening in chronic low back pain patients. Spine, 18: 232-238. 

Singh, N., Clements, K. and Fiatarone, M. A randomized controlled trial of progressive resistance training in depressed elders. Journal of Gerontology, 52 A (1): M 27 – M 35. 

Stone, M., Blessing, D., Byrd, R., et al. (1982). Physiological effects of a short term resistive training program on middle-aged untrained men. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, 4: 16-20. 

Tufts University Diet and Nutrition Letter, (1994). Never too late to build up your muscle. 12: 6-7 (September). 

Westcott, W. and Guy, J. (1996). A physical evolution. Sedentary adults see marked improvements in as little as two days a week. IDEA Today, 14 (9): 58-65. 

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., C.S.C.S, is Fitness Research Director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, and editorial advisor for many publications, including Prevention, Shape, and Club Industry magazines. 

He is also author of 20 fitness books including the new releases, No More Cellulite, Building Strength and Stamina, Strength Training Past 50, Strength Training for Seniors, Complete Conditioning for Golf, and Strength and Power for Young Athletes

The Impact of Strength Training and Inflammation

the impact of strength training and inflammation

woman with her hand on her knee hurting from inflammation
woman with her hand on her knee hurting from inflammation

It’s the reason why omega-3 fatty acid supplements have become popular in recent years.

It’s one of the major reasons why we floss. It’s a big detriment of smoking.

It’s the target of medications taken for arthritis, headaches, and menstrual pain.

Inflammation is one of the major players in the development of heart disease (some medical professionals think it’s the primary cause).

It’s a sign of atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes developments.

The list goes on and on…

Related Post: Strength And Your Health

We use the term “inflammation” often, but what exactly is inflammation?

Inflammation is a sign that the body is trying to heal itself. When inflamed, our bodies are trying to remove or destroy an unwanted presence, such as foreign bacteria, or we are repairing damaged tissue.


Inflammation is good when the body attempts to heal itself and is successful…


However, it can become destructive when it’s not able to eliminate the cause of irritation and triggers disorders such as arthritis, autoimmune disorders or more serious illnesses like cancer.

Signs & Symptoms of Inflammation

Common signs of inflammation are swelling, redness, heat, and pain. But inflammation in the body can also show up in some unexpected ways. Below are some inflammatory responses to look out for:

Joint pain

The most common symptom people experience is sore joints, particularly in the knees, shoulders, and elbows. One easy way to understand if pain you’re experiencing is inflammatory is if it's been diagnosed with anything that ends in “itis.” Such as bursitis, arthritis, tendinitis, etc.

Headaches

If you're somebody who experiences headaches or migraines on a chronic or regular basis, that could be a result of inflammation in your body.

Skin breaking out

Breaking out with pimples on your face, or experiencing itchiness, eczema, and rashes are signs of inflammation.

Weight gain

Unexplained weight gain, puffiness or bloating can be responses, particularly to inflammatory foods.

Digestive issues

Gastrointestinal complications and chronic tummy troubles are signs of an inflamed gut.

Allergy-like symptoms

Runny nose, itchy eyes, coughing and sneezing may not be symptoms of an allergy, but inflammation.

Depression

Anxiety, mood disorders, and depression have been linked to chronic inflammation [2].

Fatigue

Feeling really tired or lethargic, experiencing insomnia, having trouble sleeping are common signs.

Frequent infections

Experiencing frequent infections can be a result of long-term inflammation.

Acute vs Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation can be acute or chronic, and the difference is critical. Examples of acute scenarios are sore throats, cuts on our skin, or irritated gums (which is why we floss, to prevent irritants). Acute inflammation is immediate but lasts for a few days or weeks.


Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is a major issue. This occurs when an acute situation lingers, an autoimmune problem exists, or when there is some other chronic irritant. Chronic is the type found with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.


Both acute and chronic can be localized in the body, but inflammation which affects the entire state of the body is known as systemic inflammation.


We measure inflammation by looking at cytokines.

What are cytokines?

Cytokines are proteins that influence the survival and proliferation of immune cells. They also have a key role in initiating the inflammatory response. Some cytokines are anti-inflammatory and some are pro-inflammatory.


Also, C-reactive protein (CRP) is another substance produced by the liver that indicates systemic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is considered as a sustained two-to-three fold increase in some cytokines and CRP.

Strength Training and Inflammation

Flossing, omega-3 fatty acid intake, and low-intensity physical activity help decrease systemic inflammation. However, strength training’s impact on inflammation isn’t as well known.


Researchers at the University of Connecticut recently analyzed the few studies that do exist on the relationship between the two [1].


Microscopic muscle damage occurs during strength training, especially during the lowering phase of a repetition. The researchers found a variety of results with strength training and inflammation….

Does Lifting Weights Cause Inflammation?

As a result of workout-induced muscle damage, inflammation rises in the short term, and the production of several cytokines increases (although not all are pro-inflammatory).


As a whole, the cytokines released right after strength training have two major responsibilities: repair the muscle damage and regulate new muscle growth. Both are positive responses.

Does Weight Training Reduce Inflammation?

Fortunately, strength training also actually improves chronic inflammation. A 12-month study using strength training with overweight women averaging 39 years old showed a decrease in CRP.


A nine-week study featuring young men and women training with heavier weight loads caused a decrease in one pro-inflammatory cytokine.


Strength training also improved CRP in a three-month study with old and young populations. These were just some of the positive results reported by the University of Connecticut researchers.


The researchers did note that intensity was a key factor. A seven-week study of young men showed that heavy resistance strength training improved two anti-inflammatory cytokines to a greater extent than lighter weight strength training. Another important factor was rest. According to one study, when adequate rest isn’t achieved, exercise can be pro-inflammatory.


What is the mechanism causing strength training to benefit chronic inflammation? The researchers stated that muscle gained from strength training increases the body’s daily energy expenditure (metabolism) and insulin sensitivity (a state key to preventing diabetes), and both of those results decrease the requirement for pro-inflammatory cytokines and CRP.

Should You Strength Train or Not With Inflammation?

Overall, strength training increases some acute inflammation markers by breaking down muscle tissue, but those markers lead to long term health benefits by rebuilding the muscle stronger.

Therefore, strength training’s positive effects on chronic inflammation levels are probably part of why it is shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

To maximize your health gains, eat well, train with a challenging strength training program (like slow-motion training!), and get adequate rest between your workouts.

If you want more information on how to incorporate slow-motion strength training into your workout routine, we have a free introductory session. If you’d like to know more about how to work with a trainer online, get a free consultation call with a Personal Trainer.

1. Calle, M. C., & Fernandez, M. L. (2010). Effects of resistance training on the inflammatory response. Nutrition research and practice, 4(4), 259-269.


2. Lee, C. H., & Giuliani, F. (2019). The Role of Inflammation in Depression and Fatigue. Frontiers in immunology, 10, 1696. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2019.01696

Best Exercises for Women over 60 + Workouts To Avoid

Best Exercises for Women over 60 and The Workouts To Avoid

Woman Running in athletic wear

One of the most common questions we get from someone beginning an exercise routine is “What are the best exercises for me?”

While there are tons of resources on the best exercises for losing weight or the best exercises for specific conditions, women in their 60s are in a unique time in their life. Not considered a young adult, but just barely considered a senior. This requires specific guidance.

So what are the best exercises for women over 60?

There are many factors to consider while answering this question: cardio vs. weight training, what to do and what not to do, how often to exercise, and what’s worked for real-life people.

In this article, we’ll cover it all.

If you’re a woman over 60 this is for you. If you’re not, well, stick around, you may be able to help someone who is.

Jump to a Topic:

woman over 60 lifting weights with a personal trainer

Should Women Over 60 Lift Weights?

Yes, women in their 60s (and all ages, really) should lift weights. Muscles aren’t a young man’s game. Men and women can gain both strength and muscle at all stages of life.

A big reason why this is so important is muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60. Muscle loss can also contribute to limited physical ability, low energy, and decreased metabolism.

Muscle Loss Over Time Infographic

Research shows there are enormous benefits of strength training for women 60 years or older such as:

  • stronger bones
  • improved balance
  • a lower fall risk
  • enhanced memory and focus
  • reduced blood pressure and blood glucose
  • increased protection against the development of many chronic diseases.

Should Women Over 60 Do Cardio?

The short answer – it depends on why you’re doing it. The long answer, we need to dive a little deeper…

Cardio is an aerobic activity that significantly increases the heart rate, thus conditioning the cardiovascular system. The most common cardio activities are walking, biking, running, and swimming.

Many people do cardio with the intent to achieve fat loss, which is not all that efficient. But many others do cardio to meet psychological and emotional needs.

Going for a walk or run can be a great way to decrease stress, clear your mind, enjoy nature and improve your overall feeling of well-being.

A potential problem is that cardio activities create more opportunities for getting injured. High-intensity cardio like running, sprinting, jumping, or anything that involves explosive movement involves high levels of force.

And we know that force is the leading cause of injury in exercise.

Force formula translated for exercise

Because women in their 60s are at higher risk of injury such as falling (WHO), some of these activities might want to be avoided.

Running, jumping or any high-impact activity can also be hard on the joints. Genetics and pre-existing conditions also play a part here. Some of us are blessed with knees that will never give out, making it possible to withstand activities like this, with little to no challenges.

While the rest of us experience joint issues, cartilage loss, or an injury that makes activities like this painful and unsustainable.

If you’re in the latter group, activities like walking and swimming might be ideal for you, especially in your 60s. Both create little to no impact on the joints – and they’re fun!

Slow-motion strength training (SMST) can produce cardiovascular conditioning, fat loss, and muscle strength gain. When doing SMST, there is no need to do cardio or aerobics. But if it's something you like to do, then choosing one that is most enjoyable and safest on the body is ideal.

To answer the question of whether or not women in their 60s should do cardio- here’s our answer:

  • If you’re doing it to lose weight, no. Focus on increasing lean muscle mass with effective strength training and nutrition. This is a much more efficient way to lose fat.
  • If you’re doing it to meet physiological or emotional needs and enjoy an activity that does not hurt or result in injury, then go for it!

As always, partner any aerobic activity with weight-bearing exercises to avoid accelerated muscle and bone loss.

Weekly exercise schedule Monday through Sunday

How Often Should a 60-Year Old Woman Exercise?

It is recommended for women over 60 to exercise twice a week.

When we say exercise, we specifically mean high-intensity strength training. Anything else is considered recreation… and it's important to have both. Read more about exercise vs. recreation to learn the distinction and why it's so important.

Because high-intensity exercise is so demanding on the body, it requires ample time to fully recover between training sessions. By taking more time than necessary to recover, you potentially miss out on time spent doing another results-producing training session!

Training once a week is a good option for some people. Compared to working out twice a week, once a week exercisers can expect to achieve approximately 70% of the results of those who train twice a week.

This may be ideal for someone who has extremely low energy levels, is battling multiple health issues, or has a budget best suited for once-a-week training.

Graph of the body's total recovery resources

On the days in between high-intensity workouts, it is okay to be active and move the body.

Remember when we talked about doing activities that meet psychological and emotional needs? Consider rest days a great opportunity to do those activities and avoid other high-intensity or strength training exercises.

In short, most women over 60 get the best results from working out twice a week, or once every 72-96 hours.

What Are The Best Exercises For Women Over 60?

The best exercises for women in their 60s are ones that are going to help build and maintain muscle mass. These exercises should also be safe on the joints and support bone strength.

Dr. Bocchicchio, a creator of slow resistance training, also states that exercise should be something we can retain throughout a lifetime.

The best exercises should be:

  • Safe: injury and pain-free
  • Efficient: can be achieved promptly, ideally 20 minutes, twice a week
  • Effective: achieve temporary muscle failure and produce measurable results
  • Sustainable: can be done for a lifetime

Several specific strength training exercises are beneficial for a 60-something woman, but we suggest focusing on these 5 impactful exercises: Leg Press, Chest Press, Lat Pulldown, Leg Curl & Abdominals.

Leg Press

The Leg Press Machine is an incredible piece of equipment because it allows you to fully target the biggest muscle groups in the body: the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves.

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine looked at bone density changes in women between 65 and 75 years old following a year of strength training.

During the study, the trend of bone loss that comes with age not only stopped but also reversed.

The leg press was the only major lower body exercise performed. In addition, it was credited with helping the lower back, as no direct exercise was performed for the lower back muscles. By improving bone density, the leg press reduces the risk of fractures in high-risk populations… that’s women over 60.

The leg press provides as much or more bang-for-the-buck as any one exercise does.

Chest Press

The chest press is a highly effective way to strengthen the pectorals (chest muscles), triceps, and anterior deltoids. These muscles are critical in lifting movements. Your anterior deltoids are responsible for lifting your arms in front of you.

Holding groceries, blow-drying your hair, lifting a suitcase into an overhead bin, or pushing a heavy door open are examples of activities that can become easier with stronger deltoids.

Chest Press Machine and Anatomy Graphic of muscles

Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown could be considered the “leg press” of the upper body.
This exercise targets the Latissimus Dorsi (the “lats” or wings of the back), Trapezius (“traps” or upper back), Pectoralis Major (chest), Posterior Deltoids (shoulders), Biceps brachii (front of the upper arm)

Training the lats improves the shape of your back. As lean muscle tissue is added to the lats, it gives a ‘V’ shape to your back. Gaining muscle in your lats might help make the appearance of “love handles” become less noticeable.

The pulldown also helps improve aesthetics with your arms. The biceps and shoulders are key players in this exercise and will help make your upper arm muscles more defined.

Leg Curl

The hamstrings are large muscles that make up the back of your thighs and are the primary movers worked in the Leg Curl. In addition to the hamstrings, this power exercise also targets the calves.

These main muscles targeted by the Leg Curl are largely responsible for the appearance of your thighs and lower legs and train the muscles that are partly responsible for walking, squatting and bending the knee.

The hamstrings contract to provide knee flexion, which is the technical name for the movement
performed during the Leg Curl. Each hamstring is a group of four muscles that start on your pelvis (around the bottom of your buttocks), cover the backs of your thighs, and attach to the lower leg, just below your knee. The hamstrings have two major functions: to flex your knee and pull your thigh backward (hip extension).

This exercise is crucial in maintaining overall leg strength and function.

Leg Curl Machine and anatomical graphic of muscles

Abdominal Machine

The Abdominal Machine works – you guessed it – the abdominals, specifically the rectus abdominis. Believe it or not, the rectus abdominis does not exist only to make you look good in a bathing suit. It is also functionally significant. The abs are critical muscles for respiration.

In addition, they are major stabilization muscles. Strong abdominals help with balance and stability in everyday activities, sports (like golf and tennis) and can help to prevent falls.

By consistently doing these big five exercises, you strengthen all the major muscles in the body, creating and maintaining a strong foundation for future workouts and everyday activities.

Exercises Women Over 60 Should Avoid

Are there any exercises that women over 60 should not do? This is not an easy answer, and here’s why…

We know women in their sixties who are thriving, have more energy than ever and are just as strong as they were in their 30s. We also know women in their sixties with decades of injuries, are caretakers for others or are in a fragile state.

A quick Google search will tell you to avoid all heavy lifting or to walk and do water aerobics. We’re not going to do that.

It would be crazy to say that all women 60 to 69 should never do one type of exercise. But for some of the most common injuries or limitations we see in 60-year-old women, there are some exercises to be careful with.

Joint Issues

If you’re someone who experiences joint issues such as osteoarthritis or experiences chronic inflammation, high-impact movements like running, jumping, and burpees are probably not for you.

Shoulder Injury

Postural issues, limited range of motion, rotator cuff injuries – these should all be exercised with care and adjusted to account for the specific injury. Some exercises to avoid or alter are overhead press, skull crushers, full range of motion on chest exercises, pushups, lat pulldown, chest fly, and lateral raises.

We have worked with clients with ALL of these injuries. Most are capable of doing all exercises with alterations. If possible, avoid NOT doing these and work with someone who can help you safely accomplish a workout with a shoulder injury.

Knee Injuries

Injured knees are unfortunately very common in women over 60. However, this does not mean avoiding leg exercises. Finding a way to safely exercise the lower body is extremely important because working the biggest muscles in the body has the greatest overall effect on gaining muscle and bone density… and losing fat.

With that being said, it's vital to know how to do leg exercises with proper form to avoid further injury.

Exercises such as squats and lunges require very specific mechanics to be effective and safe. We recommend only doing those exercises if you’re very familiar with how to do them, or are working with a trained professional.

What about the exercises that are painful, no matter what? We’ve had clients over the years experience discomfort on the leg extension, despite alterations made to their range of motion, seat settings, and amount of resistance. So, we don’t do those!

Pain is a helpful indicator. Anything that hurts, besides the burning of muscles hitting temporary muscle failure, is your body’s way of saying, “Hey, something isn’t right.”

Listen to your body, and remember this rule of thumb: If the exercise isn't safe, it's not worth doing.

Woman over 60 recovering from exercise

The Perfect Workout Case Studies: Exercise Routines for Workouts for Women Age 60-69

For over 20 years we’ve helped more than 40,000 people improve their health and fitness – many being women in their 60s. Each person who works with us has a different body with limitations, a history of injuries, different wants, needs, and goals to achieve. This creates a need for customization.

Below are case studies of real clients and their ideal workouts based on their age, goals, limitations, and preferences. Identifying information has not been included to maintain client privacy.

Woman over 60 exercising with a personal trainer

Client A: Busy 64 Year Old Nurse With Multiple Injuries

64-year-old woman, from Orange County, CA
Works part-time-two 12 hours shifts as a nurse in addiction and psychiatric units. Also cares for her ill mother.

Goals:

  • Increase strength, lean muscle mass, endurance, flexibility, and improve posture
  • Strengthening of the upper body, lower body, strengthen around hips and knees.
  • Wants to be able to do everyday daily activities again without having to compensate for her injuries, ie. squat down, lift to a cabinet for a jar, reach under her sink.
  • Wants to be able to garden again.

Medical:

  • Arthritis/Joint Degeneration – neck, R-hip capsule
  • High Blood Pressure – well managed with medication
  • Joint injury – L-knee ligament, R-hip labrum tear
  • Spinal Injury – C-spine fused C3-6, surrounding discs herniated
  • Thyroid Condition – Hashimoto's thyroiditis
  • Surgeries – L-foot, hysterectomy
  • Low back pain

Customized Workout:

This Client trains 20 minutes, twice a week for maximum results in the shortest possible time.

Compound Row: Targets upper back muscles. Client performs an isometric hold, contracting the primary muscles and holding for approximately 2 minutes. This allows her to focus on working the major muscles without straining the neck, a common side effect of this exercise.

Chest Press (vertical grip): Targets chest and back of arms. Avoided for a long time due to spinal injury (neck). Recently introduced with very lightweight to gradual work on range of motion and resistance increase.

Hip Abduction: Targets outer gluteal muscles. Client performs the exercise for approximately 2 minutes, at a slightly lower intensity level to account for labrum tear and arthritis. Back support is included to adjust for spinal injuries.

Hip Adduction: Targets the inner thigh muscles. Client performs an isometric hold, contracting the primary muscles and holding for approximately 2 minutes. This allows her to maintain strength without moving the affected joint (hip)

Preacher Curl: Targets the upper arms and forearms. Client performs the exercise with a decreased range of motion (3-hole gap ~ 3-inch decrease).

Abdominal Machine: Targets abdominals. Client performs an isometric hold, contracting the abdominals for approximately 1:30-2 minutes. This helps her to engage and fatigue the muscles without overextension or flexion of the spine.

Leg Extension: Targets quadriceps and muscles surround the knee. Client performs this exercise about every 4-8 workouts adjusting for left knee ligament injury.

Leg Curl: Targets hamstrings. Client performs this exercise about every 4-8 workouts adjusting for left knee ligament injury.

Leg Press: Targets all major muscles in the lower body: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves. Client performs the exercise with a limited range of motion (sitting further away from the footplate) to account for spinal injuries and knee injuries. Lumbar support is used.

Client B: Very Active Before Injuries

A 63-year-old woman from Chicago, IL
This client used to live a very active lifestyle: walked 20-25 miles a week, did yoga, weightlifting, and pilates.

Goals:

  • Reverse Osteoporosis
  • Be able to go on walks again
  • Build bone density and muscle in thighs and legs
  • Regain strength and fitness level she had before.
  • Improve muscle tone – shoulders, arms, thighs, calves. No timeline. Exercise pain-free!

Medical:

  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Osteoporosis/ Osteopenia
  • Tear in the labrum, where the biceps tendon connects. Doctor says to work on pulling motions*
    • the neck does not have complete ROM in her neck
    • pain when pressing or reaching right shoulder rotated forward

Customized Workout:

This Client trains 20 minutes, twice a week for maximum results in the shortest possible time.

Compound Row: Targets upper back muscles and arms and helps with *pulling motion. Client performs with palms facing toward each other to keep shoulder joints closed, decreased range of motion (5-hole gap ~ 5-inch decrease).

Hip Adduction: Targets the inner thigh muscles. Client performs an isometric hold, contracting the primary muscles and holding for approximately 1-2 minutes. This allows her to maintain strength without moving the affected joint (hip).

Time Static Crunch: Targets abdominals. Client performs isometric bodyweight exercise alternative to the machine that requires overhead positioning of the arms (shoulder injury).

Leg Press: Targets all major muscles in the lower body: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves. Client performs exercise normally, along with lumbar support.

Client also does the following exercises with no major adjustments: Hip Abduction, Tricep Extension, Leg Extension, and Leg Curl.

Client C: New to Strength Training & Ready to Enjoy Retirement

A 63-year-old woman from Dallas, TX
Recently retired and wants to be able to enjoy vacationing and everyday activities without worrying about getting injured or not being able to “keep up.”

Goals:

  • Lose 50 pounds
  • Wants to be much healthier. Strengthen and tone all over. Get back into shape.
  • Be more active. Have the energy to do her daily activities without feeling winded or like she can't do it
  • She would love to enjoy an upcoming trip by walking everywhere (many steps)
  • Strengthening up legs, toning the upper and lower body
  • Wants to feel more confident and stronger to be able to enjoy life without worrying about hurting

Medical:

  • Two knee replacements
  • Scope on Left knee: scar tissue removed a bundle of nerve fibers located directly below patella
  • Occasional right shoulder pain

Customized Workout:

This Client trains 20 minutes, twice a week for maximum results in the shortest possible time.

Chest Press (Vertical Grip): Targets chest and back of arms. Client performs the exercise with a 4-hole gap, which decreases the range of motion and helps prevent additional shoulder pain. This exercise is performed each workout to help aid her goal of overall strengthening and fat loss.

Abdominal Machine: Targets abdominals. Client performs the exercise with legs out from behind the stabilizing pads and lifts knees slightly up toward the chest. This helps to prevent any additional strain on the knee and can help achieve better muscle-mind connection.

Leg Extension: Targets thighs and muscles surrounding the knee. Client performs exercise normally but does so with caution to avoid any knee pain. This exercise is particularly important to help strengthen her legs for walking and maintain strength around the knee.

Leg Press: Targets all major muscles in the lower body: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves. Feet are placed higher up on the footplate, creating a more open and easier angle on the knee joints. Client occasionally performs an isometric hold toward the lower turnaround of the exercise when experiencing pain or pulling sensations in the knee. This exercise is performed each workout to help aid her goal of overall strengthening and fat loss.

Tricep Rope Pulldown: Targets triceps. Client often performs this exercise instead of Tricep Extension due to shoulder pain in a raised position.

Client also does the following exercises with no major adjustments: Lat Pulldown, Leg Curl Hip Abduction, Hip Adduction, Preacher Curl, and Compound Row.

Summary

You might be thinking, all the roads we’ve taken in this article have led to slow-motion strength training. And while that might be mostly true, it's not the only thing a woman over 60 should ever do to move her body or achieve overall wellness.

Women over 60 can and should be exercising. For the purpose of exercise, high-intensity weight training is recommended. It's safe, effective, efficient, and sustainable for just about every age and injury.

Women over 60 should do cardio activities that bring them joy, stress relief, and socialization. These activities should be safe for the body and not interfere with the true purpose of exercise.

Exercising twice a week is recommended to get maximum strength training results. All other recreation should be done on a desired basis.

The best exercises for women over 60 are compound movements that target the biggest muscle groups in the body, such as leg press and lat pulldown. These help to build and maintain muscle mass, increase bone density, and help with fat loss.

Injuries and limitations should be considered when exercising. Working with a trained professional like a Certified Personal Trainer is ideal when working out around injuries. However, pain is a key indicator of when NOT to do a certain exercise or movement. So, use your best judgement.

The Perfect Workout team with in studio and virtual personal training

If you want more information on how to incorporate slow-motion strength training into your workout routine, we have a free introductory session. If you’d like to know more about how to work with a trainer online, get a free consultation call with a Personal Trainer.

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  1. Rhodes, E. C., Martin, A. D., Taunton, J. E., Donnelly, M., Warren, J., & Elliot, J. (2000). Effects of one year of resistance training on the relation between muscular strength and bone density in elderly women. British journal of sports medicine, 34(1), 18-22.
  2. Paw, M.J., Chin, A., Van Uffelen, J.G., Riphagen, I., & Van Mechelen, W. (2008). The functional effects of physical exercise training in frail older people: a systematic review. Sports Medicine, 38(9), 781-793.
  3. Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. (and others) Effects of Regular and Slow Speed Resistance Training on Muscle Strength, Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 2001, Vol 41, Iss 2. Pp 154-158
  4. The Nautilus Book, Ellington Darden, Ph.D., Copyright 1990 Contemporary Books, Chicago, IL, P. 85
  5. Body Defining, Ellington Darden, Ph.D., Copyright 1996 Contemporary Books, Chicago, IL, Pp 19,34,35 4 Peterson JA. Total Conditioning: A Case Study. Athletic Journal. Vol. 56: 40-55, 1975

Full Range of Motion While Strength Training

Full Range of Motion While Strength Training

Female Lifting weights with full range of motion

Strength training isn’t simply “lifting things.” In fact, there’s a science to strength training. When that scientific approach is used, great results are achieved.

One of the pillars of exercise is effectiveness – and one science-backed way to ensure exercise is effective is to lift challenging weights using full range of motion movements. (Pushing or pulling a weight as far as you can possibly go on an exercise.)

Unfortunately when many people do lift challenging weights, they sacrifice range of motion.

  • Examples of shortcutting range of motion include:
  • Leg Press: Beginning with the thighs far away from the body instead of closely, leaving very little room for movement.
  • Leg Curl: Not pulling the heels all the way back on the leg curl, past 90 degrees.
    Biceps: Curling the weight 90 degrees or less before lowering the weight.

This is concerning as full movement is key to achieving the benefits of strength training!

Full and Partial Range of Motion
Source: Health Fitness Club Connect

Why Do People Lift With Limited Range Of Motion?

Before we get into the benefits of full movement, why do people lift with partial ranges of motion? There are a few reasons:

  • Lack of awareness of good form. We’re not all exercise professionals. Many people we’ve seen in public gyms simply might not know what full range of motion is, or they don’t know it’s value.
  • Strengthening a part of a movement. Our muscle strength varies in an exercise. On the leg press, we are weakest at the start and strongest when our knees are almost straight. Some use partial reps in the weakest part of the movement to gain more strength. Your personal trainer might recommend this if they feel it’s the best course of action to modify an exercise and help reach your goals.
  • Limited joint movement. For older adults, people with arthritis, or people who had periods of severe inactivity (i.e. bed rest), joints may be very stiff. Thankfully, for those of you who fall into this group, strength training will help you increase range of motion by lengthening muscle fibers and reduce stiffness by producing synovial fluid, an oily substance made by the body to lubricate joints (Interdisciplinary Toxicology). In fact, a research article featuring 11 studies and over 450 people concluded that strength training is just as effective as stretching for improving joint movement.
  • Injury/pain. If you have a joint which was previously injured, has pain, or is arthritic, it’s possible that you are performing a partial range of motion in some exercises. This is a wise approach as it’s better to move in a limited but pain-free range of motion than to avoid the exercise entirely. Your personal trainer might recommend this if they feel it’s the best course of action to personalize the exercise to your body’s needs.
Partial Range of Motion Infographic

Benefits of Training With Full Range of Motion

Unless pain, injury, or joint stiffness limits movement, The Perfect Workout’s trainers coach lifting through a full range of motion on each exercise. This is intentional and one of the important ingredients in The Perfect Workout formula.

There are a few benefits to training with a full range of motion:

  1. More strength gained. People who train with a full range of motion gain more overall strength than those who train in a partial movement.

  2. More strength at all angles. If you only perform only half of the leg press movement, your thighs and butt will only become stronger in that half of the movement. Therefore, training through a full movement leads to greater muscle strength at all angles of a joint’s movement.

  3. Additional muscle size growth. In almost every study comparing full versus partial movements, using a full range of motion led to superior muscle gains.

  4. Increased flexibility and reduced stiffness. Using as much range of motion as possible in a strength training exercise will help lengthen muscle fibers and reduce stiffness by producing natural joint-lubricating synovial fluid in the body (Interdisciplinary Toxicology).
Benefits of Strength Training with Full Range of Motion

How to Find Your Ideal Range

Not everyone’s range of motion is going to be the same. Finding your ideal range of motion on an exercise may require a little bit of trial and error in the beginning. Your trainer will adjust every exercise to your body’s needs, including range of motion, using a combination of “adjustment points,” “axis points,” “hole gaps,” and other seat settings.

Adjustment Points

Adjustment points help to… that’s right, adjust parts of the machine to properly fit your body. Whether you are long in the torso or short in the legs, your trainer will use adjustment points to align your joints to the right place and help find your perfect seat setting and range of motion.

Most adjustment points are easy to find on machines because they are often brightly colored handles or pins. Look for yellow dots or handles on our Nautilus machines.

Axis Points

Some machines also have what we call axis points, or axis of rotation. These are typically seen on isolation exercises where one muscle group is targeted and one joint is used, like on our Preacher Curl machine.

Think of these axis points as guides to be lined up with the joint used during the exercise. On our Preacher Curl there is a red dot that serves as an axis point for the elbows. Ideally, you want the elbow joint lined up with this point the entire exercise to allow for proper extension and flexion during the range of motion.

Most adjustment points are also brightly colored and just as easy to find on machines. Look for red axis points on our Nautilus machines.

Axis points for finding your range

Hole Gaps

Hole gaps help increase or decrease the distance of an exercise’s starting point (and therefore the total distance traveled in an exercise) by inserting a pin to hold a gap between a weight plate or set of plates in a weight stack. For instance, someone with shorter arms using a Compound Row machine would want to increase the hole gap to bring the handles closer to them so that they can reach the handles at the beginning of the exercise.

Your trainer may also increase a hole gap to create an easier range of motion at the beginning of an exercise, or decrease a hole gap to make the exercise more challenging.

It may feel a little bit like musical chairs when trying to figure out your ideal range of motion and seat settings. Get in the machine. Get out. Make an adjustment. Repeat until you find your sweet spot. Luckily, all trainers at The Perfect Workout are experts and finding this for you and can do so quickly.

Hole Gaps for finding your range

If you are reading this but use partial movements due to past injuries or pain, don’t stress. You can still gain strength and muscle in a partial range of motion.

Ideally, your joints will become stronger and healthier over time. As this happens, you and your trainer will increase the range of motion until eventually reaching a full movement.

Client Testimonial from The Perfect Workout

Training through a full movement leads to better results. The Perfect Workout’s trainers will ensure that you are safely lifting as far as you can during each exercise. As a result, you’ll become the strongest and fittest “you” possible.

  • Afonso, J., Ramirez-Campillo, R., Moscao, J., Rocha, T., Zacca, R., Martins, A. … Clemente, F.M. (2021). Strength training is as effective as stretching for improving range of motion: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
  • Pinto, R.S., Gomes, N., Radaelli, R., Botton, C.E., Brown, L.E. & Bottaro, M.J. (2012). Effect of range of motion on muscle strength and thickness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2140-2145.
  • McMahon, G.E., Morse, C.I., Burden, A., Winwood, K., & Onambele, G.L. (2014). Impact of range of motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1), 245-255.
  • Schoenfeld, B.J. & Grgic, J. (2020). Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: a systematic review. SAGE Open.

Decreased Risk For Fall: Improving Balance for Seniors

Decreased Risk For Fall: Improving Balance for Seniors

The Perfect Workout Client happy that she improved her balance

How Beth Decreased her Risk For Fall in 6 months

A progressive neurological condition that affected Beth Johns’ coordination and balance was slowly increasing her risk for a harmful fall.

As she approached her 60s, Beth stopped trying to manage her health and fitness alone and sought out an exercise program at The Perfect Workout.

Beth lives with a condition called Ataxia.

What is Ataxia?

“Ataxia describes a lack of muscle control or coordination of voluntary movements, such as walking or picking up objects.” (Mayo Clinic)

This condition can cause:

  • Poor coordination
  • Balance problems
  • Unsteady walk and a tendency to stumble
  • Difficulty walking in a straight line
  • Difficulty with fine motor tasks, such as eating, writing or buttoning a shirt
  • Change in speech
  • Involuntary back-and-forth eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Difficulty swallowing

Beth in particular, would often feel unsteady on her feet and easily lose her balance. 

“I've fallen a few times and was really worried and discouraged that my condition was progressing much faster than I had expected it to. The more I worried about it, the less I felt like doing.”

Beth was approaching her 60th birthday and knew she needed to take a different course of action. 

She tried doing strength and balance DVDs on her own but found it was hard to stay motivated. 

Beth knew that joining a gym wouldn't work for her because she really needed the one-on-one support. She needed someone there to guide her, teach her how to exercise correctly, and keep her accountable.

Woman Celebrating International Ataxia Awareness Day

After doing her research, Beth found The Perfect workout. She felt reassured when she saw people her age improving some of her same areas of concern, like falling

The idea of being able to see results in 20 minutes, twice a week without having to be in a public setting was very appealing. 

In November, 2020 Beth joined the Southwest San Jose studio and began her training program.

Beth’s goal was to strengthen her core and increase her overall strength to decrease her risk of falling. She had also recently had been diagnosed with osteopenia and knew it was important to do weight-bearing exercise to improve her bone density

Within 7 months, Beth has noticed significant improvements.

  • Gained strength
  • Back isn’t stiff in the morning anymore
  • Improved her posture and has good balance on her feet
  • Can squat down and stand up without falling over
  • Physical therapist says she’s improved a lot in the past year.
Testimonial Improved Balance From Wife with Husband

“All of the trainers I've worked with have been wonderful. Patient and encouraging. They've pushed me to do much more than I thought I was capable of. Candice got me started. Maria and Kylie have definitely kept me going!”

 

Feeling physically stronger and steadier makes Beth feel like she’s taken charge of her Ataxia and has greatly improved her mental wellbeing. She now sees that Investing in her physical health is an investment in her future, especially as she gets older, and encourages others to do the same.

 

“Friends that I haven't seen in a while say that I really look great! I definitely feel more confident. I know that it's only going to get better.”

 

The Perfect Workout is for regular people, just like Beth. It's not intimidating. It's a personalized experience and the trainers are there to help support your success. And it’s possible to see results in just 20 minutes, twice a week.

The Secret to A Successful Workout

The Secret To a Successful workout

Woman experiencing muscle failure

The secret to a successful workout is…

NOT the equipment.
NOT the cold water in between exercises.
NOT even the incredible Trainers. 😲

Though all of those things can vastly improve the quality of your workout, the true secret to getting everything you want out of a training session is this-

Muscle Success.

In this article we discuss the necessity of achieving temporary muscle failure in your workouts and why it's the ultimate goal of every exercise you ever do.

“Muscle Success” should be your goal every time you workout.

By muscle success you might think I mean better tone, firmer muscles, greater strength, or more lean muscle tissue that burns extra calories. Each of those certainly represents a type of success, but I'm referring to something else by the term “muscle success.”

So what do I mean by “muscle success”?

You're pushing or pulling as hard as you can, and the weight refuses to budge even a fraction of an inch because your muscles have become so fatigued. You're attempting to make the weight move, but it's momentarily impossible for you to do so.

If you continue maximally pushing or pulling for several more seconds to make sure you're really at this point of muscle success, you'll have achieved deep momentary fatigue in the targeted muscles. 

Play Video

Why is Muscle Success Important?

It’s when the greatest benefits for your body are stimulated. This deep momentary fatigue in the muscle sends a strong signal to your body that it needs to get stronger, improve muscle tone, and increase your metabolism.

Within certain limits, the deeper you momentarily fatigue your muscles, the greater the changes you stimulate in your body.

But this isn’t exactly easy to achieve on your own. It's certainly a lot easier to quit each set of repetitions before you reach muscle success. Which is why working with a Personal Trainer is so beneficial.

Fatiguing down to this success point during a set of repetitions is not fun while you're actually doing it. It's uncomfortable. Your muscles often vibrate and burn. But it's the best thing you can do to generate results from your training.

The fun part is that each full body workout is only 20 minutes and results that are stimulated from achieving muscle success on each exercise are enormous: 

  1. Greater strength 
  2. More endurance 
  3. Additional calorie-burning lean muscle tissue 
  4. Reversing age related muscle loss (sarcopenia) 
  5. Increased metabolism for how many calories 
  6. Improved fat loss 
  7. Stronger bones 
  8. Reversing aging of muscle cells (express younger DNA in the nuclei) 
  9. Improved cardiovascular fitness 
  10. Improved cholesterol levels 
  11. Lower blood pressure 
  12. Improved low back pain
  13. Better blood sugar control you burn even while you're resting 
  14. Improved immune system 
  15. A number of other benefits 
reasons why muscle success, Man experiencing muscle failure

Even more benefits

I’d like to discuss two benefits of muscle success which aren’t talked about as often: cardiovascular health and an objective way to track your progress. 

The Journal of Exercise Physiology examined the same topic which looked at 157 studies, focused on the cardiovascular benefits provided by strength training to muscle success. 

While strength training in general provides several improvements to the cardiovascular system, the authors noted that many benefits are received or amplified only when training to muscle success. 

For example, after three months of training, men and women of various ages had enduring improvements in overall blood flow due to muscle success. Training to complete exhaustion increased artery size in another study. This is positive as larger arteries are less likely to experience a heart attack-causing blockage in the same way that adding lanes to a highway reduces the chances of having a traffic jam. 

Pushing to muscle success also increases the ability of arteries to expand when blood flow increases, which reduces the stress experienced by artery walls. 

Training to muscle success benefits your health in ways that may not occur if you train with lower intensity and don’t reach that point. 

Muscle Failure infographic

performance tracking

Also, you gain the benefit of an objective assessment of your performance. 

If you reach muscle success when lifting 200 pounds in 60 seconds on the leg press, we have measures of your current ability in regards to your leg and hip strength. 

If you arbitrarily stopped at 60 seconds (sick of feeling “the burn,” bored, etc.), the time you lifted for doesn’t provide us with any objective information. 

Who knows how much longer you could have performed the set for? 

If you train for 70 seconds the following session, we cannot say it’s an improvement – you may have been capable of that performance during your previous visit.

As you see, in addition to improvements in strength and appearance, muscle success stimulates greater changes in your cardiovascular system and gives you a way to objectively measure your progress. Therefore, the next time you encounter the discomfort of the last few reps, keep pushing. I promise: the extra effort is worth it. 

Muscle failure workout data
muscle failure graph for chest press

the magic happens at fatigue

I've experienced firsthand the difference that achieving muscle success can make. Prior to stumbling upon slow-motion strength training in 1992, I used to exercise with traditional methods of weight training for 2 hours a day, 6 days a week – 12 total hours of exercise per week. 

I would rarely (if ever) fatigue to the point of muscle success on any of my exercises -lengthy workouts require pacing yourself with a lower level of effort, which reduces how intensely you're able to train. 

When I tried slow-motion strength training I learned to fatigue all the way to muscle success on every set of each workout, and my results improved dramatically as a result. 

Muscle Failure-Matt Hedman Founder

My superior results were because I'd learned to make my muscles work harder. The higher intensity-pushing harder at the end of each exercise stimulated much better improvements in my body. And because my effort and intensity were significantly higher than before, by necessity my workouts had to be shorter. 

I advocate moving very slowly during every weight training repetition (approximately 10 seconds to lift the weight on each rep). But for results, fatiguing to the point of muscle success is actually more important than how slowly you move. 

Moving slowly during strength training is beneficial for great results too. It's just that reaching muscle success plays an even bigger role for results. Ideally you want to both achieve muscle success and move very slowly on every exercise. 

On each of your exercises as you near muscle success and your repetitions start to get challenging, try to cultivate a mindset of looking forward to the burning and shaking sensations you're experiencing. It’s where the magic happens!

Reference 

Steele, J., Fisher, J., McGuff, D., Bruce-Low, S., & Smith, D. (2012). Resistance training to momentary muscular failure improves cardiovascular fitness in humans: a review of acute physiological responses and chronic physiological adaptations. J Exerc Physiol15, 53-80.

7 EXERCISE MYTHS + (the solution to them all)

7 Exercise Myths: How Slow-Motion Strength Training Is The Solution To Them All

Exercise Myths Female exercising

You could be sabotaging your workouts with 7 exercise myths.

Today we will identify those myths and prove that Slow-Motion Strength Training is the best possible form of exercise you can do to get the results you want.

One of the most common things we hear after someone tries our method for the first time is,
“I’ve been exercising the wrong way my entire life.”

And chances are, you might be too!

In this article, we are going to dive deep into the exercise methodology that has helped us provide the perfect workout to over 40,000 people in the last 20 years and all the reasons why you won’t want to exercise any other way.

Exercise Myths Chart

We know there are a million workout options out there to choose from and although we’d love to show you how our method beats them all, for the sake of this article we will be comparing Slow Motion-Strength Training to two of the most common ways in which people exercise: The Traditional Method and Aerobic-only method.

LET’S DEFINE EACH METHOD:

Slow Motion Strength Training (SMST):

Each exercise is performed by lifting weights or added resistance for approximately 10 seconds and lowering the weight for another 10 seconds with correct form and proper resistance. The ultimate goal is to achieve momentary muscular failure (aka. muscle success) within 1 to 2 minutes. Then on to the next exercise!

Slowing the lifting speed reduces momentum on each repetition and activates the muscles instantly and more effectively. As a result, more muscle fibers are used and ultimately strengthened. One session consists of anywhere between 5-9 exercises and is generally performed 1-2 times a week.

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Aerobic Only Method

According to Health.com, Aerobic exercise is defined as moving “your large muscle groups (think legs, glutes, and core) at the same time, usually in a rhythmic way, and for an extended period of time.”

This includes activities like running, walking, biking, and swimming, and they range from low to high intensity and can be performed anywhere from 30-90 minutes, 2-7 days a week typically.

Exercise Myth Woman Riding Bike

The Traditional Method:

We call this “traditional” because we believe it's the most widely practiced approach to exercise. This method is a combination of both strength training and aerobic exercises.

A common traditional exercise program consists of lower body strength training, upper body strength training, abdominal exercises and aerobic activity such as running or cycling. Most of the time, the training days are broken up into what is commonly referred to as ‘splits” where one day is focused on one area of the body, and the other day is focused on another, and so on.

Depending on the person, they may spend anywhere from 3-6 days a week in the gym for 1-2 hours. So for this example we will use a 4 day a week, 1 hour a day program.

Exercise myth woman traditional training battle ropes

Why do we exercise in the first place?

It’s important to outline why we exercise, identify the benefits of exercise and to make the distinction between exercise and recreation.

Exercise gives us physical benefits whereas recreation fulfills our psychological and emotional needs. According to High Intensity Exercise philosophy: exercise is performing a demanding and meaningful activity, anatomically and safely, of a sufficient intensity to stimulate the body to make anatomic and metabolic adaptive growth changes within a minimum period of time.

Anything else is considered recreation.

Exercise Vs Recreation compared

It is possible to experience all three types of benefits from exercise, but the reason why we make this clear distinction that exercise is high-intensity strength training, and anything else is recreation. So, we want to prioritize exercise first.

Why?

The benefits of exercise largely outweigh the benefits of recreation, and enhance your recreation. The benefits of slow-motion strength training will have an overall effect on your life: such as helping you become a better runner, giving you more energy to play with the grandkids, and improving your golf game by increasing your strength to hit the ball further. 

So by prioritizing exercise over recreation, you get a trickle-down effect that makes your recreational activities easier and more enjoyable.

So many of us end up confusing actual benefits with assumed benefits when it comes to exercise. I could probably wager that 90% of you reading this article have done activities like running, burpees, stair climbers and other things you absolutely hated doing, because you thought it was the thing you needed to do to reach your goal or to achieve a specific benefit.

So in order to prove to you that SMST is the best exercise method out there, we’d like to debunk some myths about exercise while simultaneously illustrating how SMST is the solution for you.

MYTH 1: I need to do “cardio” to get any cardiovascular benefits.

Many people will exercise to improve their Cardiovascular system. When you exercise the muscles in your body, particularly the larger muscles, it increases blood flow. This increase in heart rate and blood flow stimulates the capillaries in the bloodstream to expand. This expansion allows for more oxygen to enter the blood making your heart more effective in removing waste and toxins from the system.

Why is this a benefit?

By supplying the heart with exercise, you reap the Cardiovascular benefits such as:

Exercise Myths Cardiovascular benefits of strength training

(Read more about Cardio Benefits from Strength Training Here)


Who wouldn’t want that?

The common approach to getting these benefits is doing aerobic activity– also known as “cardio.”

Think about your own experiences. Think about how running a mile, hiking a steep hill, or even just tackling the flight of stairs at the end of the day makes your heart feel like it’s going to beat out of your chest.

Can you achieve them by doing the Traditional Method or Aerobics only? Yes.

However, with SMST you do it faster, more efficiently and it’s definitely safer on your body.

Aerobics, particularly high impact aerobics like running or plyometrics can be hard on the joints

Your genetics play a significant part in determining whether or not you will run into joint issues such as arthritis or osteoarthritis, and activities like aerobics can worsen the issue. The downside to that is most people have to find out the hard way by either getting injured or suffering from chronic knee or other joint pain from years of aerobics, and they had no idea it was hurting them.

One of the things that makes SMST so exceptional is that there is virtually no stress or strain put on the joints when performed correctly. In fact, the muscles are primarily under the load of the weight the entire exercise, making it both safe and effective. So, it is safe for everyone– joint issues or not– and you don’t have to find out the hard way!

Exercise Myths Full Range of Motion

Let’s Talk a Little Bit More About Strength Training and the Cardiovascular System.

Remember how in the beginning of this article we specified that the goal of SMST is to achieve muscle failure?

Lifting weights to momentary muscle failure has been proven to be a successful factor in improving the Cardiovascular system.

Studies have found that “Resistance training performed to failure can induce acute and chronic physiological effects which appear to be similar to aerobic endurance training, which in turn produces similar enhancements in CV fitness. “ (from: Resistance Training to MMF)

While strength training in general provides several improvements to the cardiovascular system, many benefits are received or amplified only when training to muscle success.

For example, after three months of training, men and women of various ages had enduring improvements in overall blood flow due to muscle success training. Training to complete exhaustion increased artery size in another study.

This is a good thing because larger arteries are less likely to experience a heart attack-causing blockage in the same way that adding lanes to a highway reduces the chances of having a traffic jam. Finally, pushing to muscle success also increases the ability of arteries to expand when blood flow increases, which reduces the stress experienced by artery walls.

SMST has a positive effect on your cardiovascular system, without the danger of affecting your joints, as it does with aerobic exercise.

MYTH 2: I need to do “cardio” to lose weight.

Just doing cardio? Oh, you’ll lose weight alright. By just doing aerobic activities like walking, running, elliptical, etc. you lose overall body weight– not just fat.

Along with fat, you lose muscle, bone, and tissue that support your ability to walk, run, balance and perform daily functions with ease and strength.

A 2007 study put overweight and obese women through 25 weeks of a restricted diet that was complimented with either “aerobic” activity, or strength training, or no exercise at all. Both the strength training and “aerobic” groups lost 26 lbs. of fat, slightly more than the women who only dieted.

Exercise myths The Formula for Weight Loss

However, here’s the difference: the strength training group not only maintained their lean mass (muscle, bone, water, and other organs), but actually gained a little. The “aerobic” and diet-only groups lost two and three pounds of lean mass. (Read more about this study- Losing Fat and Fat ONLY)

There is really no evidence that aerobic exercise or cardio is required for fat loss. In addition, simply increasing your activity level to burn extra calories is not efficient for fat loss. The single most effective method for fat loss is proper nutrition.

Ever heard the saying, “You can't out-exercise a bad diet.” There’s some truth to that!

Fat loss programs work best when you combine proper nutrition, slow motion strength training, and drinking water. Aerobics isn’t not needed to lose fat.

See image below for a study comparing fat loss results between methods:

Exercise myths Darden diet comparison

MYTH 3: More Repetitions, More Exercises, the Better.

The saying, more is NOT better absolutely applies here.

Weights are generally lifted for sets of multiple repetitions. Each time you lift and lower a weight, it is one repetition. Multiple repetitions makes up a set, and once you have stopped or taken a break from lifting the set is over.

The most common way to lift is used in the Traditional Method where you lift for 3 sets of 10 repetitions, whether you hit muscle failure or not. Lifting speeds vary but on average let’s assume the traditional speed is 2 seconds lifting, 1 second pausing, and  4 seconds lowering.

The Slow-Motion Method we use at The Perfect Workout uses lifting for 1 set until muscle failure. If the exercise is performed for 1-2 minutes, which is the recommended length of time to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness, then that generally ends up being 3-6 repetitions. The lifting speed used is 10 seconds lifting, 0-3 seconds pausing, and 10 seconds lowering.

Exercise Myths Slow motion vs traditional

Multiple studies have shown that doing extra work– multiple sets vs. one set– does not produce greater results. In fact, studies have shown that SMST can produce about a 50% greater increase in strength for both men and women than regular speed training.

Another important and sometimes overlooked factor is the amount of time spent recovering. SMST is only performed 1-2 times a week in comparison to the Traditional Method of 4 times a week.

There’s a reason for that!

The body needs enough time to rest, recover, and grow stronger. When doing high intensity exercise like SMST, we found that most people get best results from working out every 72-96 hours.

Exercise myths recovery resources

We want just the right amount of exercise stress in a given period of time, and no more. Working out again before the body has made changes may hamper results.

So, more is not better. 

MYTH 4: Lifting Heavy Weights is Not Safe.

Picture a bodybuilder, lifting a barbell with massive weighted plates above his head while he grunts, holds his breath and veins start popping out of his reddening forehead.

Of course that looks unsafe… and unless you’re a trained Olympic Lifter, it is.

First let’s see if we can reframe the mindset here and replace the idea of “lifting heavy weights” with lifting with “enough resistance.”

What’s heavy to me may be light for you, or vice versa.

Finding enough resistance is a crucial part of achieving muscle failure in a timeframe that is going to be effective…. And that is unique to the individual.

In one study, participants performed a routine with light weights and high reps or a routine with heavier weights that limited them to fewer reps. Both routines were similar in that all sets were performed to the fatigue point of “Muscle Success.” The training lasted six weeks.

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(Read More about Recovery & High Intensity Exercise)


The light-weight group performed about three-times as many reps…and gained less strength and muscle! In fact, the heavier-weight group gained about three-times the amount of strength.

Electromyography tests showed the heavier-weight, low-rep routine stimulated progressively more muscle fiber usage throughout the study. This was not the case for the low-weight group.

This result is important for a few reasons. It means heavier weight is needed to perpetually challenge muscles. It also explains why the heavier weight group gained more strength and muscle (more fibers trained means more fibers were improved). (Read More about this study- Enough Resistance is Critical)

As long as you maintain good, proper form, the exercise becomes safer as the muscles become more deeply fatigued. In fact, the last reps are the most productive reps performed, and they are also the safest since they are physically unable to produce enough force to strain (assuming form is not broken).

The rep in which muscle success is achieved is potentially the most productive rep. Don’t cheat yourself out of the last “impossible” rep; embrace it. 

MYTH 5: If I lift weights, I’ll get big & bulky

We hear this mostly from the ladies, and you’ll be happy to know that it's actually really hard to get big and bulky, especially if you are a female.

Strength Training in general creates lean muscle mass, and the keyword there is lean (not mass). Muscle takes up less space in the body than fat does.

Muscle

  • More Dense
  • Takes up Less Space
  • Burns More Calories
  • Improves Bone Mass
  • Reduces Injury Risk
  • Increase Definition

Fat

  • Takes Up More Space
  • Can Lead To Obesity
  • Increased Risk Of: Disease,
    Diabetes, High Blood Pressure,
    Kidney Disease, Stroke,
    And Other Diseases

MYTH 6: I need to do fast repetitions

It makes the most sense to compare SMST with the Traditional Method here, considering Aerobic-Only does not include lifting weights whatsoever.

SMST uses the 10-10 approach to lifting speeds, meaning you lift the weight for 10 seconds and lower it for another 10 seconds.

In addition, there is no rest between each repetition. The muscles stay fully loaded (working at all times) until the point of muscle failure is achieved.

Why do we go so slow?

By slowing down the lifting speed we reduce the chance of injury during the exercise. Most injuries come from excessive force and momentum.

Imagine running as fast as you can at a wall– there’s a lot of acceleration behind you. That collision will surely hurt and result in injury.

Now imagine placing your hands on the wall and pushing against it with 25% strength, then 50% strength, then 100% strength. There’s practically no acceleration and the force against the wall can be controlled and abandoned at any time.

There is no collision, and certainly no injury.

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MYTH 7: High Intensity isn’t Safe. Low Intensity is safer.

Workouts must be brief if they are going to be effective. You can either work out hard or you can work out for a long period of time, but you cannot do both. We want just the right amount of exercise stress in a workout and no more.

Evidence has shown that one slow motion set per exercise yields the best results when you work hard for a short period of time and achieve muscle failure.

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?

blue heart icon

Cardiovascular benefits can be achieved through all 3 methods we outlined today. SMST is the best solution because these benefits can be achieved faster, more efficiently and is safer on joints. The Traditional Method uses force and momentum, which are injury-causing movements. Aerobics can be hard on the joints, particularly for those prone to cartilage degeneration and arthritis.

Blue icon of a waist

You do not need to do aerobics to lose weight. You can achieve fat loss with any of the three methods compared in this article, but a proper diet will yield the best results and SMST will aid in efficiently helping you gain fat-burning muscle.

Exercise Myths more is better

More is not better when it comes to exercise. This applies to the amount of repetitions you do as well as the number of workouts per week. The body best responds to short, brief and intense strength training exercises and needs ample time to rest, recover and grow in between sessions. Anything beyond that can hamper results, which is why doing SMST 2 times a week is all you need.

Blue muscle arm icon

Lifting heavy weights or strength training with enough resistance is safe when done correctly. In fact, it gets safer with every repetition when using our slow lifting speeds. Exercising with enough resistance will use more (and deeper) muscle fibers that stimulate growth in the body. 

Exercise Myths faster is better

Exercising with slow speeds (when lifting weights) also prevents common injuries that result from using excessive force or momentum. Making the exercise safer and more challenging which contributes to it being an extremely effective method.

Exercise Myths lifting weights makes you bulk

Lifting weights does not make you big and bulky. It adds lean muscle mass to your body which helps to burn fat. Aerobic only exercises don't build muscle, yet often accelerate the loss of muscle, bone and tissue. So don’t waste away with aerobic only, and make time for strength training!

We exercise for a number of reasons, goals and benefits.

With that being said–
If you love to run, please by all means RUN!
If you love to swim, swim your hearts out!
If you love the high you get from a spin class or a bike ride in the mountains, do what makes your soul happy!

We’re not interested in getting on a soapbox and saying slow-motion strength training is the only thing you should ever do to move your body.

Not one bit.

What we want you to take away from this article is that slow-motion strength training is truly the best possible thing you could be doing for your health and fitness and will help to enhance all other areas of your life including the activities you love to do and how you feel about yourself.

Family at beach

Remember, Exercise by our definition can get you these benefits:

  • Decreased Body Fat*
  • Increased Basal Metabolic Rate*
  • Increased Strength*
  • Increased Bone Density*
  • Increased Cardiovascular Efficiency*
  • Increased Glucose Tolerance*
  • Increased HDL Cholesterol*
  • Decreased Blood Pressure*
  • Increased Resistance to Injury
  • Improved Flexibility
  • Improved Immune System

**Biomarkers of Aging
(From Dr. Alexander's High Intensity Exercise)

Exercise Myths Chart

Can you achieve all of these benefits with Aerobics only?

No. The Aerobic-Only won’t increase your strength, bone density, resistance to injury or necessarily help you lose fat.

Can you achieve all of these benefits with the Traditional Method?

Possibly. The Strength training aspect alone will provide you with more life changing benefits than anything, but again you run the risk of sacrificing three very important pillars to exercise: safety, efficiency and effectiveness. The areas to be concerned about with this method is not gaining strength (if strength training is not efficient) and getting injured (if workouts are not performed safely).

Can you achieve all these benefits with Slow-Motion Strength Training?

Yes. But you knew that by now right?

And the best part is you can do it in 20 minutes, twice a week.

Our trainers are waiting to help you get started.

Information used in this article derived from the following sources:

Muscle Success-Why to do it

Losing Fat and Fat ONLY

Enough Resistance is Critical

When Strength Training Becomes Cardio

Is One Set Enough?

Resistance Training to MMF

Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. (and others) Effects of Regular and Slow Speed Resistance Training on Muscle Strength, Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 2001, Vol 41, Iss 2. Pp 154-158

The Nautilus Book, Ellington Darden, Ph.D., Copyright 1990 Contemporary Books, Chicago, IL, P. 85

Total Conditioning: A Case Study. Athletic Journal. Vol. 56: 40-55, 1975

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11447355

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/epub/10.1161/01.CIR.0000048890.59383.8D

The Science Behind Slow-Motion Strength Training

The Science Behind Slow-Motion Strength Training and Why It's Perfect For You

science behind strength training with trainers

“For years I spent hours in the gym, 5 days a week, not getting the results I wanted. It felt like a waste of time.”

 

But what if there’s a way to workout more efficiently?

 

“I’ve been a runner, tried all the bootcamps, and even spent my precious Sunday mornings slowly dying alongside all the millennials in spin class. I’m no stronger, no thinner, and now my knees constantly ache. I don’t want to keep exercising if I just end up getting hurt.”

 

But what if those weren’t the right exercise methods?

 

“I invested time and money to work with a Personal Trainer and never saw any results. I felt like they didn’t understand my needs. Personal Training is NOT for me. “

 

Maybe your workouts just weren’t customized to your goals and abilities?

 

Sound familiar?

 

Well we’re excited to share with you that there IS a more effective approach to exercise!

The Solution is Slow-Motion Strength Training.

It's the science-backed method The Perfect Workout has used for over 20 years to help more than 30,000 people change their bodies and redefine the way they exercise.

In this article, we dive deep into the methodology used, why it's the safest, most effective and efficient way to exercise, and all the reasons you’d be crazy not to do it.

For years we’ve been handing our clients a little book called High Intensity Exercise by Dr. Philip Alexander and it might be one of the best tools that explains why we do what we do.

Dr. Alexander didn’t discover High Intensity Exercise but after doing slow-motion strength training for some time he condensed the concepts of the methodology for others to easily understand and implement in their own lives.

We had the chance to sit down with CEO of ARX Mark Alexander, Dr. Alexander’s son to discuss High Intensity Exercise. 

Mark Alexander Quote about Slow Motion High Intensity Strength Training

For the full discussion on High-Intensity Exercise, what it is and why everyone (and we mean everyone) should do it, watch the video below:

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We at The Perfect Workout, Mark, and his father Dr. Alexander are all passionate about the method we use and teach to others, and we want to give you the tools you need to really understand exercise and use it to your advantage.

Whether you’ve been a long-time client of ours, or are brand new to The Perfect Workout, this article will provide you with the main concepts of High-Intensity Exercise outlined in our interview with Mark Alexander and the book High-Intensity Exercise by Dr. Philip Alexander.

Dr Philip Alexander, Flexing his muscles from high intensity exercise
Dr. Philip Alexander

What is High Intensity Exercise?

The first thing to know about exercise is that it is not any type of movement or activity that increases your heart rate or makes you sweat. Exercise is a stimulus that causes a response from the body, and a certain amount of time and recovery is needed for the body to benefit from the stimulus.

High-intensity exercise in particular, is brief, focused, and intentional.

Over the years, we’ve discovered that short, brief and intense exercise actually has more power and more positive effects on the body than any kind of prolonged exercise does.

This often brings up the questions– when do you actually get stronger? Where do you grow muscle?

The assumed answer– during the workout.

When actually, it happens afterward. The time spent working out was just the time that you needed to trigger that stimulus. Your body also needs to eat, sleep and rest in order to recover. You actually get stronger during that recovery period.

So in short, high-intensity exercise (HIE) is short, brief & intense, requires ample recovery and has more positive effects on the body than prolonged or low-intensity exercises.

What is exercise and slow motion strength training

What is Exercise, and what isn’t:

“Brief, intense, effective stimulus done through resistance training is essentially one way to define exercise and then everything else that you do for fun or for socialization or for sport or for competition, you would call that recreation,” Mark explained.

Exercise Vs Recreation compared

Mark made an interesting analogy between exercise and brushing your teeth. “It's just something you do, maybe it's not super fun. But if you don't do it, eventually, things will rot and decay. It's the same thing with your body, if you're not paying attention to it and doing high-intensity exercise, your muscles will decay, your bones will decay, things start to happen and you start to fall apart quite literally, it's not fun.”

What we’d like to reiterate is that exercise is truly for the purpose of improving…

But that doesn’t mean stop doing the things that you love to do! Keep playing tennis if you love the sport. Head to the golf course if it's your Saturday ritual. The exercises that we're doing together are going to actually enhance the things that you love to do outside of the workouts. It's going to make you stronger, better, more athletic and help you move easier.

What is absolutely necessary for exercise to be effective?

How to make an already effective exercise even more effective:

  • Always have to have these three things: safety, effectiveness, efficiency. 
  • Never want to sacrifice either of those.

 

What you want to do is eliminate momentum, be slow and methodical. The movement of each exercise should be extremely slow- 10 seconds to move the resistance, and 10 seconds to resist it.

You want to avoid locking out your joints- keep them bent so the muscles stay loaded (working at all times). And you’re doing it in a manner to which your muscles will fatigue. That's the stimulus we talked about just a minute ago. Fatiguing the muscles is the ultimate goal of each exercise and really what you're after.

 

Some good rules of thumb:

  • Go slow
  • Avoid momentum
  • Avoid locking out joints
  • Avoid resting in between repetitions
  • Hit muscle fatigue.


Another factor you don't want to overlook is the length of time you exercise. You don’t want to go for too long or too short.

Performing any exercise for too long is likely more cardiometabolic and a whole lot less strength and power than you wanted from the set.

You also don't want to go too short because if you perform the exercise for too little time, it's possible you just never really activate some of those cardiometabolic effects.

The ideal length of time needed for each exercise is 60 seconds to 120 seconds (1-2 minutes), or somewhere in that range.

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The Purpose of Every Exercise: Muscle Success.

Muscle success is our term for the point in each exercise when you can no longer move the resistance. Your muscles are momentarily exhausted and no longer strong enough to push even a fraction of an inch further. This is also commonly known as muscle failure.

Reaching muscle success provides a number of benefits, including stimulating stronger muscles, greater muscle tone, improvements in metabolism, increased cardiovascular health and an objective way to track your progress. 

In short, an exercise needs to be intense enough to achieve muscle success. And muscle success is the ultimate goal of each exercise and the solution to ensuring you’ve gotten the most out of your workout.

An Example of an EFFECTIVE Exercise.

The most effective exercises are going to be compound exercises where you work larger muscle groups. You’re going to get the most bang for your effort. You can absolutely do more isolated movement-type exercises like bicep curls, and tricep extensions (they just get a more finite amount of muscle and fibers involved).

The Leg Press is a great example of an effective exercise (when done safely & effectively of course).

Leg Press Slow Motion Strength Training

What you’re doing on the Leg Press is activating the glutes, the quadriceps and the calves– incorporating the large muscle groups in the lower body to work methodically.

To accomplish an ideal and effective full-body workout, you’d want to go through a series of compound exercises like the leg press, chest press, compound row, lat pulldown or pullover, or overhead press. By doing those antagonist-type movements- a muscle whose action counteracts that of another specified muscle- you’re not neglecting any body parts.

As mentioned before, you can absolutely include isolated exercises that target specific smaller muscles like the biceps and triceps to completely target and fatigue all desired muscles.

Slow Motion Strength Training at home or on machines

This full-body high-intensity workout generally includes anywhere from four to eight exercises, taking approximately one to two minutes each.

20 minutes is usually about all that you really need.

An Example of INEFFECTIVE Exercise:

Use these three principles to guide or ideals of what is HIE and what is not: 

  • Safe
  • Effective
  • Efficient


So anything that's sacrificed in any one of those, would generally fall in line with what we would classify as 
ineffective.

But let’s talk about one of the most common activities people do and challenges this concept of exercise- running.

For the record, there is nothing inherently wrong with running. But it’s not effective exercise. However, many people will run because they believe it is the thing they should be doing to achieve their health and fitness goals.

Mark says, if the reason for running is for stress relief, “Well, why don't you just go on a walk with your dog? That's probably a better stress relief, and it won't be isn't harmful on your joints!”

The most common reason for running-  “Well, I want to run because I want to lose weight.”

Again, that's an ineffective way to lose weight, and Mark explained it beautifully, “All running does is expense calories, expense your energy stores and then it makes you hungry. So, then you want to go and you want to eat. And so, you've just eradicated your run by going to Krispy Kreme and getting a couple donuts, or whatever your body was craving that you really needed at that time. And it's because your energy stores are being used in inefficient manner when you're running. And again, if you're running for sport, and you're running for social and, again, I don't want to say never run but just understand what the benefits are and why you're doing it.”

From an exercise perspective, that approach is not effective for what people think they are getting from it.

Ultimately, an exercise, like low-intensity activities do not stimulate the body to grow, therefore making them not effective.

Avoiding TOO Much High Intensity Exercise- Overtraining.

Can you overtrain?

The short answer is yes.

The long and more detailed answer is it depends on recovery. “What I've found in the high-intensity exercise world is that it's often less from the gym and more from outside stressors.”

Overtraining is when progress and getting results from your workouts stops, slows down, or even regresses because the body is not able to recover from exercise.

Factors that may contribute to the body’s inability to recover include: not sleeping well, eating a poor diet, going through a divorce, a big move, the loss of a loved one, sheltering at home amidst the coronavirus pandemic…

Any of those outside stressors will definitely impact the work that you are doing in your training sessions.

We tend to look at components of your lifestyle like recovery, sleep, diet and stress levels as being a deterrent of progress, more than overtraining.

According to Mark, about 80% of the time outside stressors are what contributes to overtraining. In addition, High-Intensity Exercise by Dr. Philip Alexander outlines a few other resources that affect the body’s ability to recover:

Recovery Ability Graph for Slow Motion Strength Training

“Yes, you can overtrain but I feel like most people in the way that they're thinking about it, it's being overly cautious on how much resistance training they're doing versus can you pay attention more to what life is doing outside of the weight room and can you mitigate stress, can you do things better in terms of what you're eating and managing relationships. Those things to me open up more doors to making overtraining not a thing.” – Mark

Avoiding TOO Little High-Intensity Exercise- Not training Enough.

Considering the mentality many of us have to overcome of “more is better” when it comes to exercise, I wouldn’t be too concerned with this.

However, it is possible to not train enough, or give enough effort.

Workouts must be brief if they are going to be effective. You can either work out hard or you can work out for a long period of time, but you cannot do both. We want just the right amount of exercise stress in a workout and no more. But that means making sure you give enough effort until the point of muscle success.

It's not easy to do, but we see many people giving up or quitting just before hitting muscle success. That’s like leaving all of your money on the table just before hitting the jackpot. You wouldn’t want to do that would you?

If exercise is not intense enough, and not performed to the point of muscle success, then it can be considered too little and possibly not high-intensity at all.

We have found that most people get best results from working out twice a week, or once every 72-96 hours. By taking more time than necessary to recover, you potentially miss out on time spent incorporating another growth-producing training session!

Not All Bodies Are Created Equal. What You Should Pay Attention to Maximize Your Recovery Process so You Get the Most Out of Your Training Sessions:

Self-awareness is key here. Look back on those outside stressors that we mentioned- Are your relationships suffering? Are you stress eating? Are you eating a lot of sugar? Are you battling a medical issue? What are those triggers that you see are happening or not?

Those are the things to start paying attention to to maximize your recovery period in between training sessions.

Sleep is another important factor (Read more about Sleep Deprivation and Exercise)

There’s power in knowing yourself, paying attention to your lifestyle and also not getting obsessed with diet and exercise.

The recovery period (time in between training sessions) allows you to take a holistic approach to your health, and exercise is just one piece of the pie. Everything else plays a really big part in it too. And doing it twice a week kind of prevents you from being obsessed about how much exercise you're doing.

It's definitely a paradigm shift that many of us have had to go through to accept the idea that more is not better. 

“It's Not How Much Exercise Your Body Can Withstand, It's How Little It Actually Requires.” 

Mark called this concept, “minimum effective dose,” and used drug companies as an example to explain it. “It's not like if there's an effective dose of 50 milligrams, it's not that taking 200 milligrams is necessarily better. It's the same with exercise. It needs to be the right dose, and there can be too much.”

Based on our earlier definition of exercise, too much activity, too much recreation, just too much of any movement can impact your body and its performance during your workouts.

You want to strive to give your body that minimum effective dose. “The more is better mentality is one we've been taught in terms of exercise. More is not better. Quality over quantity is really what I always try to push.”

Matt Hedman Founder and CEO of the Perfect Workout

It's Not the Calories Burned DURING Exercise, It's the Calories Burned AS A RESULT OF Exercise. 

Let's say you burn 600 calories while running because you think that’s what you need to do to lose weight. It’s ineffective because it's still relatively little compared to what you're in taking every day and you’re only burning calories in the moment, not after.

Instead of looking at calories lost, look at the amount of strength  and muscle mass gained. High-intensity exercise will help you gain muscle mass, and so that muscle mass is metabolic currency (as Mark calls it).

By simply adding another pound of muscle mass, your “fuel” required to simply maintain bodily functions is higher than before, and your fuel expenditure is higher, meaning you burn more calories.

Muscle mass works for you all the time. It's not just during exercise, it's all the other time that that muscle is now working for you.

In addition, activities like running where you are not building muscle mass, and even dieting with the absence of strength training leads to indiscriminate weight loss: fat, muscle, bone, water…it all goes.

What are Some of the Benefits of HIE?

HIE positively impacts our health in many ways. These are some of the common benefits our clients experience:

Common benefits of slow motion strength training

One of the intangible benefits is the time efficiency. By only needing 20 minutes, twice a week to reap the benefits above and work towards your fitness goals, you gain precious time to focus on things that you want to do!

There’s Something Else You Should Know About Exercise:

There's no magic pill, but HIE is close to it.

The Perfect Workout, Mark Alexander, and many in our community want you to start questioning traditional exercise. Ask yourself, “Well, if I don't have three hours to spend in the gym, what do I do?”

Look at the research, look at the data, and look at all the people whose lives and bodies have been changed by HIE and Slow-motion strength training.

High-intensity exercise method is a pretty straight shot. And yes, it might be a climb. We're not saying it's not, but it's worth the climb.” – Mark

When incorporating HIE into your life be sure to remember these important components:

  • Exercise must be brief, short and intense.
  • Never sacrifice safety, effectiveness or efficiency
  • Exercise should be intense enough to hit muscle success around 1-2 minutes
  • Go slow with no rest in between repetitions, approximately 20 seconds per rep
  • Recovery is an important part of achieving results
  • More is not better
  • 20 minutes, twice a week is all you need

The best way to ensure you are performing HIE correctly and reaping the benefits is to work with a Certified Personal Trainer. Each of our trainers is accredited in Slow-Motion Strength Training, and our certification is extensive, hands-on and specialized in safety and efficiency.

Already training with us? Share this article with someone who needs to know about slow-motion strength training!

Can Strength Training Help Multiple Sclerosis?

Can Strength Training Help Multiple Sclerosis?

Can Strength Training Help Multiple Sclerosis

With multiple sclerosis (MS), it can feel like your life is out of your control. People with chronic diseases like MS are two-to-three times more likely to suffer from depression. And although feeling discouraged when dealing with a chronic health issue is understandable, studies show that mindset can play a powerful part in the journey to managing a disease like MS. 

Those who feel like they have control over their health often have better health outcomes. This isn’t just a testament to the power of positive thinking; people who believe they have control are more likely to regularly participate in healthy behaviors. Those behaviors can influence factors such as lifespan, quality of life, and whether the condition progresses.

Multiple sclerosis is no exception. While it can be a daunting condition, health habits have a large impact on how – and if – the condition progresses. One of these health habits is strength training.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Before getting into the benefits of strength training, let’s talk about Multiple Sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune disease that affects about a million Americans and over 2.3 million people worldwide. 

The affected population is growing too, with an increase over 300% since the 1990s. There is no known cause of MS. Genetics and environment both play a role in the risk of developing the disease, with family members and those in locations with less sunlight seeming to be at the greatest risk. Women are also at a greater risk, with diagnosis most commonly occurring between 20 and 50 years old.

MS features lesions on the myelin sheath, which is a tissue that covers nerves. The sheath helps with delivering messages quickly to other parts of the body. When it’s damaged, the ability of the central nervous system to communicate with other parts of the body is affected. 

 

People with MS experience a number of potential challenges as a result: 

  • Difficulty with walking
  • Fatigue
  • Strength loss
  • Heat intolerance
  • Dizziness
  • Balance issues
  • Difficulty with precise movements and other symptoms.
How can Strength Training help Multiple Sclerosis Diagram
mage source: Healthline

Strength Training and MS

The symptoms and MS’s progression are not guaranteed, though. An article authored by researchers in Denmark detailed the results of 16 strength training research programs for those who are living with MS. A number of benefits were observed. 

Strength training leads to a reduction in fatigue, one of the most common MS symptoms. Strength training enhances overall mood, lower body strength, and balance. Perhaps stemming from the increase in strength and balance, training led to more ease with daily activities. These activities include walking long distances, standing from chairs, and stair-climbing. The majority of studies showed these benefits were obtained from training twice per week.

All of the above benefits are meaningful contributions to quality of life. There might be a more important benefit, though. Strength training might stop MS progression. Those who strength trained for six months experienced a lack of lesion growth during that time. The researchers also observed that strength training might even help the brain tissue regrow!

Is Strength Training Safe for Those With MS?

These benefits all sound promising, but there’s an important question to ask: Is strength training safe for those with multiple sclerosis? 

In the 16 studies discussed in the Danish research article, workout session attendance ranged from 90-100%. Drop-out rates ranged from 0-13%. No major injuries or side effects were reported in any study. In short, people with MS made almost all of their workouts, the vast majority of people finished their workout program obligations, and no major issues occurred. 

The Perfect Workout is uniquely advantageous for people with MS. As noted before, those with MS often have an intolerance for heat. The Perfect Workout studios are clinically controlled environments, keeping the temperature between 65-68 degrees and fans that can be used upon request. All studios have water coolers with available cold water. (Even if you’re Virtually Training, the brief nature of the 20-minute workout leaves little time to work up a sweat.) In addition, every client has a dedicated Personal Trainer who tailors the workout to the client’s needs and challenges.

If you have MS, don’t let the disease control your future. Control your own future. Strength train twice per week to reduce fatigue, enhance strength and balance, make daily activities easier, and possibly halt the progression of MS.

  1. Helgeson, V.S. & Zajdel, M. (2017). Adjusting to chronic health conditions. Annual Review of Psychology, 68(1), 545-571. 
  2. Kjolhede, T., Vissing, & Dalgas, U. (2011). Multiple sclerosis and progressive resistance training: a systematic review. Multiple Sclerosis Journal, 0(0), 1-14. 
  3. Kjolhede, T., Siemonsen, S., Wenzel, D., Stellmann, J.P., Ringgaard, S., Pedersen, B.G., …Dalgas, U. (2017). Can resistance training impact MRI outcomes in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis? Multiple Sclerosis Journal, DOI: 10/1177/1352458517722645.
  4. Cobb-Clark, D.A., de New, S.C., & Schurer, S. (2014). Healthy habits: the connection between diet, exercise, and locus of control. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 98, 1-28.   Link: https://www.iza.org/publications/dp/6789/healthy-habits-the-connection-between-diet-exercise-and-locus-of-control
  5. Berglund, E., Lystsy, P., & Westerling, R. (2014). The influence of locus of control on self-rated health in context of chronic disease: a structural modeling approach in a cross sectional study. BMC Public Health, 14, 492.      Link: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-14-492

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