Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mindfulness Strength Training

I first heard about slow lifting protocols around 2007 or 2008. I was reading articles about muscle physiology by Doug McGuff. Those articles don't appear to exist anymore, perhaps superceded by his 2009 book, Body by Science. At the same time I had happened upon Adam Zickerman and Bill Schley's 2003 book, Power of 10. I quickly then found that Fred Hahn, and Michael and Mary Dan Eades had also written a 2003 book on this topic, The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution.

Here are the fundamental concepts behind this powerful paradigm.

  1. Strength training is the most effective and efficient exercise to improve the biomarkers of health that best represent youthfulness, including muscle mass, bone density, body fat percentage, cholesterol/lipid profiles, metabolism, and aerobic capacity.

  2. Slow speed strength training is safer, more effective, and more efficient than lifting faster. It's safer because it minimises the effects of momentum and gravity, and allows you to respond immediately to any signals of damage, rather than finding yourself having already pushed through to injury by the time you are aware it is happening. It's more effective and efficient, because it engages all muscle fiber types to their maximum.

    Following this protocol typically takes 15-30 minutes once or twice a week.

    In fact, it is so effective, that trying to workout more often would not allow sufficient rest.

Naturally, I was intrigued and excited by this idea, but at that time there were no facilities in or near Boulder offering this kind of training. I did start a slow lifting free weight routine at home, but what with the myriad things in my life, it was difficult to keep up.

Not to make excuses, but I do a lot better in the exercise department when I have scheduled commitments, especially with a social component. It's been easier for me to go to a group class of traditional lifting where I know I'll be missed if I don't show up, than to keep to a schedule just for myself in a busy place with constant distractions and demands.

I also tried doing it at the YMCA using their machines, which worked for a while. Even a schedule to go to the gym with no social component works better for me than staying in the house! Still, it was frustrating, because it took so much trial and error to get the appropriate weight on the machine, and if I got it wrong, I basically blew my chance for the whole week.

What I really needed was an expert to guide me, who knew how to tell what weight was right and when to increase it, to know which muscle groups to work, to take care of the timing, and to watch my form and focus.

Last September I decided on a whim to see if any local places had appeared since I last looked, and to my great delight, one had!

I've been working with Chuck Bystricky at Inform Fitness since October 2015, and I couldn't possibly praise him too highly. He is knowledgable, enthusiastic, and experienced. He has answered my every question about the protocol or my specific training with as much depth as I desired (and I'm quite the geek). His passion and sincerity are clear.

As to my "results", not only do I feel stronger, I have lost some 10 pounds, and am a smaller size than I was last time I was at this weight, a year and a half ago. I'm going to have to buy new pants, because my current pairs are too loose. Poor me.

Slow lifting is intense! That suits my personality just fine. This quality has led me to start calling it Mindfulness Strength Training.

Unlike regular lifting I've engaged in before, I can't start my reps and then daydream about something else. It takes a purity of focus to think of nothing except feeling your muscles. It also takes a willingness to keep engaging when the "burn" sets in. It's not exactly painful, but it's not comfortable, either.

You have to take every exercise of every workout to its fullest. You stretch your ability to its limit. To do otherwise would be a waste of effort. It reminds me of the concept of deliberate practice, a method for attaining excellence most studied in the area of music performance.

I love it. I always leave the studio feeling fantastic.

Thank you, Chuck.


  1. Mindfulness Strength Training, I love it! I just started the same thing. I always had a theory that short intense weight training a couple of times a week is all we need to be fit. Especially those of us on a carnivorous diet.

    I have been saying for years, that I want to be in the best shape of my life at 50. I have 10 months to prove I can do it only working-out 30-60 mins a week. ;)

  2. I'm also, doing this and I have been walking not running for some time. My joints feel better and I have almost no muscle soreness.

  3. Interesting: In "mindful geek", Michael Taft speaks of mindfulness as being like exercise: You have to do it at least five days a week to reap its benefits.
    Another concept of that bookt I found interesting: Mindfulnes is an ability which you can train.

    For me, even more traditional, Menno Henselmann inspired "train every muscle part as often and with as much volume as you can" (for me that means an upper-lower split with myo reps) results in mindfullness. I think this is due to two reasons: I train every day. which makes the motivation issue less, and which helps my brain to adapt.
    Secondly, I do myo reps, and you have to be very concentrated to go six sets in a row to near failure.

    What I would find interesting with going to full failure: Bodybuilders and trainers say, that it "frys your central nervous system", meaning your nervous system gets very taxed and needs rest afterwards. What I would speculate: This going to your limits will result in some adaption within your brain. Does it only result in you being more able to go to full failure at weight lifting or will you be able to go to full failure in other areas of life too?

    Would really appreaciate your opinion on it, and what your general view of mindfulness / meditation is.

    1. Hi, Christian.

      The question of how your brain might generalise from training to muscle failure is interesting. I'm not sure what to look for exactly, nor how to disentangle the act of doing it from the decision to do it, if you see what I mean. That is, if I've decided to experiment with full muscle failure training, and feel biased toward it, I might naturally be looking for and willing to try analogous things in my life, quite apart from the "result".

      As to mindfulness, absolutely it can be trained, and from a personal standpoint, I highly recommend it, specifically with respect to habits of thought, which take on their own momentum and life quite easily. Since the thoughts you spend time thinking have a profound affect on your experience, it's worthwhile to know what they are. The sooner you become aware of a train of thought taking off in a certain direction, the more easily you can intercept it and choose another thought if you prefer to.

  4. Hi Amber

    I heard your interview with the Dudes yesterday (Jan, 2018) and that led me to Ketotic and then to Empiri and finally to this article. I am so glad to have found someone who is also following this protocol. Have you continued to train this way since this post? Would really appreciate an update.

    I started my 285 lbs, 6'7" self on a ketogenic lifestyle in Mar 2017. Other than some cycling, I really didn't exercise. In Sep, 2017 I started training this way at a small gym that offers only this type of training. My trainer had me train twice a week during 2017 in order to get me acclimatized. Now I have switched to once in a week. The sessions are 18 minutes, intense, without any talk or 'Eye Of The Tiger' or jibber-jabber. I love the focus and feeling myself fatigue in a very conscious, deliberate way. Of course, it doesn't qualify as a pleasant experience but I actually look forward to it. And I am seeing results! I never ever thought that I'd start building biceps, or see veins or a V-shaped chest, but I see them and I'm pretty amazed. The combination of Keto and mindful strength training really seems to work! I am now 235 lbs and close to (I'm guessing since I have DEXA scan scheduled for Friday) 30% body fat (down from 40+%). And I feel GREAT! Loads of energy, most day to day chores are a breeze but most important, I have the confidence that probably for the first time in my 47 years, I have my s**t together when it comes to managing my weight, my relationship with food and fitness.

    I have actually dropped my carbs even lower in Jan after coming across multiple folks doing zero carb. I actually enjoy the variety of vegetables so I have limited my intake of carbs to under 10g/day. I was previously between 20 - 30g net carbs. You certainly have a lot of experience with this, so I have bookmarked your blogs in order to educate myself futher.

    Thanks for the post and I look forward to an update on your progress with this form of training. Good luck!


  5. I get my strength training from stacking bales of hay, straw, and 50lb. bags of grains for my ducks and chickens. I am 70 years old and still pretty strong. I will admit that I used a set of dumbbells to maintain fitness until reaching 50 or so but after 4 cervical fusions as a result of whiplash from an automobile accident my neurosurgeon said "no more iron pumping." So when I retired to this small farm I just kept on working hard just like most of my life. If your body is used to hard work stopping will end your life. I recently (3 months ago) gave up all vegetable material except for seasonings for my fatty meat. My dietary regimen had been high fat, moderate protein, very low carbs for a couple of decades. I gave up grains that long ago too. I was amazed how noticeable the improvement in my mobility became after giving up vegetables. Those little aches and pains that were always in the background were gone. Anyway, I have been a proponent of moderate resistance training for about 45 years. Keeps your skeletal structure strong.

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