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Why going (really) slowly during exercise is actually good for you

The question: My trainer makes me do things like pause at the bottom of an exercise and go really slowly. Why?

The answer: Your question made me smile (possibly a little mischievously). I also "torture" clients (in a friendly way of course) by making them go slowly or pause during certain movements.

Part of the joy of being a trainer is designing innovative yet effective routines. We may seem like we are simply being cruel, but there is method to our madness.

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The body needs to be challenged – that is, progressively overloaded – so it doesn't hit a fitness plateau. Progressive overload is the training theory that states that to continue to progress, you have to constantly challenge the body.

There are many ways to overload the body: You can try new exercises or change training styles. For example, try doing supersets where you don't rest in-between exercises. Or, you can manipulate the load, sets, rest periods or, as your trainer has been doing, vary the lifting tempo.

Taking a longer time to complete an exercise decreases the ability of your body to use momentum to complete the move, and increases the length of time your muscles have to control the weight – this is called "time under tension." Basically, you have to work harder!

In addition, varying your limiting tempo may be your trainer's attempt to keep you motivated. I know that when I get bored – even trainers suffer the workout blahs – I end up wanting to skip my workouts. Doing the same old routine time after time is a recipe for workout disaster. No trainer wants their client to give up out of boredom.

When I personally need an extra push to keep training, I give myself a weekly fitness challenge. Since I don't see clients on Wednesdays, I usually use that day for what I call a "Wedventure": I take a new fitness class, try a new sport or bike somewhere in the city and then try a new running route.

As long as you are doing tempo training safely, and it is appropriate for your fitness level, I encourage you to embrace the challenge. Frame it in a positive way, as your own personal Wedventure.

Trainer's tip: There are lots of other fun ways to manipulate your tempo. A personal favourite are eccentric push-ups and pull-ups: In either exercise, try lowering yourself to the ground extremely slowly (think 10-plus seconds).

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Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.

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