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Most modern exercise circuits are meant to be done at top speed, in an excited blur of pain and sweat all in the name of burning more calories. But something is lost when you rush through a series of exercises as if you’re being chased by a bear.
“You get a completely different adaptation from a slow circuit than from a fast one, in terms of what kind of muscle fibers and energy systems you are hitting,” says Brian Richardson, MS, NASM-CPT, co-founder of Dynamic Fitness in Temecula, California. “Most traditional circuits go fast, but what we see in research is that a slow tempo is a great way to tax the whole system but not gain muscle size.”
Slow-twitch muscle fibers don’t have the potential for growth the way Type II fibers do, which are known as fast-twitch fibers and are responsible for explosive moves like throwing and jumping. That’s why Richardson likes using slow circuits for the lower body, an area many women want lean, hard and toned, without adding size. By increasing time under tension through three-second repetitions, the slow-twitch fibers of the legs and glutes get a workout that burns calories and improves muscular endurance without adding more mass.
Best of all, it doesn’t mean you’ll be in the gym for endless hours — this workout takes just 20 to 30 minutes.
Following a five- to 10-minute general warm-up, perform each exercise in consecutive fashion, allowing no more than 15 seconds of rest during transitions and one minute upon completion of the fourth exercise. Repeat the circuit three to four times. Every rep should be performed slowly, with a three-second eccentric (lengthening the muscle) motion, no pause at the top of the movement, and then a three-second concentric (shortening the muscle) motion.
Reps: 10 (5 each leg)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders square and hands on the hips. Step the right foot forward into a lunge until your thigh is parallel with the ground and your back knee is about an inch off the floor. Step back to the start and then step forward into a lunge with your left foot. Follow this right-left pattern, stepping at a 45-degree angle, then to the side, then backward at a 45-degree angle and then directly behind you.
Tip: If these lunges feel too easy, make sure you’re moving slowly enough. Each lunge should take three full seconds down and three seconds back up.
Single-Leg Toe Touch
Reps: 20 (10 each leg)
Stand on your left leg with the knee slightly bent and the right foot off the ground. Place the left hand on the hip and hold the opposite arm in a relaxed position. Slowly descend into a shallow squat while reaching across the midline of the body and touching the toes of the left foot with your right hand. Slowly return to the start position.
Lateral Tube Walk
Reps: 20 (10 each side)
With your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, place a resistance band around both ankles. It should feel relatively taut. Initiate the exercise by taking one slow lateral step to the left until the tension of the band is very tight. Follow with your right foot, but come no closer than shoulder-width apart. Do not allow the band to go slack at any point. Keep an even weight distribution at all times and do not rock from side to side.
Supine Lateral Ball Shuffle
Reps: 20 (10 each side)
Begin by lying faceup on an exercise ball, arms out to the sides and palms facing upward. Slowly shuffle your feet laterally until both the shoulder and hip migrate off of the ball. Pause for approximately three seconds, then repeat on the other side. Continue for the allotted repetitions.
Tip: If your neck gets tired during ball exercises, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. This helps activate extensor muscles and decreases fatigue.