The fast growth of CrossFit coupled with the rise of high intensity interval training helped to popularize the acronym AMRAP—as many reps as possible. It's self-explanatory: The idea is to get in as many of one exercise in a given time. And while that idea has trickled in to the general fitness culture, more and more trainers are urging clients to actually slow down instead.
"AMRAP-style training is good because it combines strength and resistance training with metabolic conditioning," explains Equinox Tier 4 trainer Justin Jacobs, "but you you won't be able to move near your max loads quickly or for multiple repetitions." On the flip side, you can load up on resistance when you're doing slower movements, and you can focus more on correct form and technique, he says.
"Slow movement works because it's easier to be specific with placement of weight and positioning," adds Javier Perez, an instructor at modelFIT in New York City. Toning exercise should be focused if you want to reach specific muscles that may be neglected during other workouts, like running or cycling, explains Perez. (Want to try modelFIT? Check out the Victoria's Secret Legs Workout.)
Think about it like this, says Perez. "If I'm trying to attack the right glute on all fours, I can totally kick my leg back 40 times and feel a burn. The burn will not just be concentrated on that glute though—it will be more generally spread out around the leg. But if I took that straight leg back and lifted, not kicked, by only using my glute, you'll feel more of a concentrated burn after 15 or 20 reps."
Try it out with an eccentric push-up. From a regular push-up position, lower yourself down slowly as you count to four, then press back up quickly. The slow descent works your arms, back, and chest, and it's way harder than a regularly paced push-up, right?
Taking it slow can also help you form the mind-body connection that could actually help you to work the correct muscles. (Try this Mental Trick to Make Exercise More Comfortable.) Just how important is that mind-body link? When scientists immobilized the hand and wrist of a group of participants for four weeks and asked them to imagine working out their wrist and hand five times a week, they were twice as strong as participants who had not done the mental exercises, found research published in the Journal of Neurophysiology
When you're thinking about the muscles you're working, you're sculpting your muscles more specifically as opposed to generally, which will help you target problem areas and achieve the body you want. So although it's not possible to spot reduce certain areas, you can tone them. "That focus gives you more control over your results," says Perez.
Slow movement is also all about quality over quantity, says Amy Jordan, founder and CEO of WundaBar Pilates and an ACE-certified group fitness instructor. "When you move slowly, you're better able to access deep stabilizing muscles called 'local' muscles, like your transverse abdominis, rather than moving only from big movers that are called 'global' muscles like your quadriceps," she explains. "This provides for better joint stability and, in turn, better long-term health and functionality."
The other physiological benefit to moving slowly is that it gives you a better opportunity to recruit your slow-twitch muscle fibers, explains Jordan. "Slow-twitch muscle fibers are utilized primarily for endurance work; brief maximum exertion recruits from fast twitch muscle fibers, which tend to be longer, leaner." (Related: Can You Really Lengthen Your Muscles?)
That doesn't mean you should give up your speedy workouts completely! If you can maintain your alignment and form easily during slow movements, try picking up the pace, suggests Jordan. When you're moving at a quicker pace, you'll also get your heart rate up, helping you to burn more calories during your workout.
Slow movement training is actually a great way to build up to AMRAP training, explains Jacobs, though he advises against only training in an AMRAP style. If a move is new to you, it's actually always best to perfect it at a slower pace before performing the movement in an AMRAP to avoid risk of injury.
And keep in mind you've got options, says Jacobs. "You can still train fast without an AMRAP structure," he says. So if you like working out without being pressured to move quickly from rep to rep, move as quickly as you can within a rep, but take the time to recover in between reps at your own pace.
Don't you just love options?