Slow and steady wins the race, right?
Ok, I admit, this is probably not a title you would expect for a post on a blog having to do with fitness and health. Especially today. We live in a society that has a go go go mentality. Fast food, fast internet, texting. We live in a society where we want results now! People get impatient when a web page takes more than a couple of seconds to load, or someone will send a text and wonder why they haven’t had a reply, you know, it’s already been a minute!
Along with all this comes our expectations with fitness, and health to a lesser degree. A lot of people want fast results. Although it took them 1, 2, 5 years or longer to get to where they are today, they expect to be back to perfect health, or have that killer body within a few weeks. It just isn’t reasonable to think these things, especially if you are looking for results that will stay with you a year, 2, or 3 or a lifetime from now. In fact it can be dangerous. If you are looking for fast results, that can lead to people making dangerous decisions, such as drastic calorie reduction changes to their diet that can have long term negative impact. People will get hooked on the latest exercise regimen; Palates, Zumba, px90, etc. By no means am I disparaging these programs. If they work for you, then great! My point is people will look to these programs to get fast results, not always realizing that they are made up of techniques, methods that have been around a long time. Yes, there are methods to exercising that can increase positive results sooner, but you still need to put in the time, and work. I am a strong proponent of exercising smartly, and along with that comes putting in the hard work.
That’s one point I wanted to make about how ‘fast’ is not always the best approach to your health and fitness. The other point is how speed plays a role in our actual workout. I want to talk about how this applies to resistance training, and cardio training.
Lets look at common goals and benefits of resistance training; increased strength, increased muscle size, improved coordination, increased bone strength, increased resting metabolic rate. There are more, but lets stick with these ones. Excellent goals. So in the spirit of this post, how do we get there sooner? Let’s start by not getting caught up in numbers. Getting stuck on numbers when resistance training will impede us reaching our goals, and can also be dangerous. By getting stuck on numbers I am referring to how much can I bench press/squat/etc? How many pushups can I do? Why is my friend using more weight that I am? Why am I always the last in my class to finish the pushup challenge?
Why do we do this? Because we are human! By nature we are competitive. No one wants to be last. We all grew up being told not to be last whether in sports, class, etc. Let’s look at a quote from a famous football coach:
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
To me, this quote means something different than how it has been used over the years to motivate people, teams. I’ll tell you what it mean to me at the end of this post. But, back to the whole speed thing.
Why is getting caught up in numbers bad? Because most times it means we sacrifice technique, because to get those numbers we end up rushing through our pushups, not using full technique, we add more weight to the bar, speeding up and sometimes swinging the bar to pull in other muscle groups to help with the lift (this is the dangerous part). Ultimately we end up increasing the time it will take to reach our goals. Unbelievable isn’t it, we end up sabotaging ourselves, not even realizing it.
Instead of worrying about numbers, let’s slow down and use proper technique. If you aren’t sure or have questions about technique for any exercise, talk to a personal trainer. A great way of slowing down is to adopt a cadence when doing your exercise. I recommend the following cadence: 2:1:4:0. I’ll explain this using pushups. Let’s start our pushups with our body on the ground. Now slowly raise your body using the first number of our cadence 2, for the count to reach the top of the movement. This is the concentric movement of the exercise. Hold for one second (2nd number), then lower for 4 seconds (the third number) being sure to lower until your arms are bent at 90 degrees. This is the eccentric movement of the push up. Now, do not rest, that’s why the last number is 0. Right back into your next push up.
A lot tougher isn’t it! I have no doubt that you will find your pushups much harder to do, and you will not be able to do as many. But that’s awesome! That’s why you do resistance training. You are training smart, and enabling yourself to get to your goal sooner! The slower pace is working your muscles harder, and it is much easier to execute proper technique, and not get injured. Try this with other exercise such as squats, lat pull downs. Remember the formula though, and which number is for the concentric and eccentric part of the exercise. If you aren’t sure which is the concentric movement, and which is the eccentric, consult with a personal trainer, and they can help you.
The same principle can be applied to cardio training, such as running, cycling, etc. As I mentioned in another article, you don’t want to train cardio at the same pace, all the time. You need to mix it up. HIITS, slow long runs, tempo runs, hills, etc. But, keeping in mind that speed can be bad, when doing faster runs as an example, do not sacrifice technique for speed! You may get injured immediately, or even worse is ending up with an injury down the road due to repetitive strain because of improper technique. When you are not able to perform the proper technique, other muscles will be recruited to meet the demand, muscles that typically are not used for this purpose, thus risking injury. Posture will get compromised, excessive loads can be placed on your joints. All bad things.
When speed is ok
I love talking about training smart. The more we understand about training, the better we become, and we win! Less injuries, obtaining our goals, feeling better. Let me use my own experience as an example on when speed is ok. If you have read my bio, you know I spend time studying and practicing Karate. One of the kicks we work on is called a round house kick. A very common kick, but like anything, it can take a long time to get it to work well. A technical kick that a lot of things have to work together to perform it well. So we spend a lot of time focusing on the technique of the kick. Breaking it down into individual elements. When practicing this kick for technique, it’s a slower kick.
In my Saturday combat fitness class, we will take that kick and speed it up and get probably 3 to 4 times as many kicks on the heavy bag than when I practice this kick as a Karate student. Why? In this example from my Saturday’s class, it’s more a cardio drill than a technique drill. The purpose is to exhaust you, to get you to that point that you are so tired you may only be able to get in one more kick. So as a student in both classes, I have to understand the purpose of the drill, or exercise. This is training smart. It’s understanding the goal of the exercise.
Be slow, be smart
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” I said earlier that I would explain what this means to me. To me, winning isn’t how I do compared to others, it’s how I do compared to the Darryl from the last workout. Did I do the best I can do? It doesn’t mean I had to perform more pushups, or do more superman squats, or more round house kicks. It’s did I do the best I can do.
You can’t expect to always do better number wise (remember, don’t get hung up on numbers) because your body just doesn’t work that way. You may not have enough energy stores in your body for this workout, you may be having a stressful day, and you may not have had adequate sleep. But what you can do is do your best, everytime!
I think that’s a fair thing to ask of yourself, don’t you? You know why? Because you owe it to yourself, and don’t let anyone tell you different!
Yours in health,