How Slow Weight Lifting Builds Muscle and Burns Calories

Try fewer and slower reps to challenge your body

Weight Training

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Could a simple change in weight training technique have dramatic effects on building muscle in older adults who don't work out regularly? Some research suggests that super slow weight lifting can. It is different from other lifting techniques in that the muscles are exhausted (brought to momentary muscle failure) in fewer repetitions—as few as five per set.

The super slow method of weightlifting is to lift weights steadily under constant tension for 10 to 14 seconds, then release them slowly for five to 10 seconds. This varies from the usual method of lifting for five to seven seconds. You can use it for any exercise that uses weights, or even slow down bodyweight exercises such as push-ups.

Evidence for Super Slow Weight Lifting

An older study concluded that lifting slowly resulted in 50% more muscle strength in eight to 10 weeks for untrained, middle-aged men and women. A later study of older adults further supported this finding.

Another review found that the amount of load placed on the muscle (how hard it worked) with fewer reps at slow speed was equal to or exceeded the load placed by more reps at a moderate pace. This research supports the theory that you can get the same or better results by lifting slowly. The risk of injury is also far less than in fast lifting methods.

Note that authorities such as the American College of Sports Medicine remain unconvinced that there is enough evidence that this technique is any better than other weight lifting techniques.

Burning Calories With Weight Lifting

A session of weight lifting burns about the same number of calories as many moderate-intensity aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking, but less than high-intensity cardio exercises such as running. While it depends on your weight and the intensity of your training session, you can burn 112 to 250 calories in 30 minutes of strength training.

But working your muscles with slow weight lifting brings them to momentary muscle failure, which induces the body to build more muscle. Muscle burns calories even at rest, such as while you sleep. A pound of muscle burns an estimated three times more calories per day than a pound of fat.

Because the slow lifting method may put on more muscle, more quickly than traditional weight lifting techniques, it might help you burn more calories (if weight loss or maintenance is your goal). People who have difficulty adding and preserving muscle, including women and older adults, could benefit from slow lifting.

Even if the slow technique doesn't put on muscle faster, it is still an effective way to build muscle. Muscle-strengthening exercise is recommended twice weekly for adults, especially older adults, to maintain muscle mass for health.

Converting to Slow Weight Lifting

It is easy to modify free weight or resistance band exercises to the slow method—just go slower. It is still important to keep the action moving rather than going in segments. It may take a couple of weeks to slow your motion while keeping it from being jerky.

Start with light weights—even if you have been doing weightlifting exercises. See the difference that going slow produces. You will feel the burn and be amazed that you just can't lift any more at the fifth or eighth rep.

Stop then and go on to the next exercise in your routine. If you want to repeat each exercise for a second set, do so, although it is not thought to be necessary because, in the first set, you worked your muscles to fatigue, which then induces them to build more muscle.

To build muscle, do your weight lifting workouts every other day or every third day. Rest and recovery helps your body repair and build new muscle. Walking is an excellent warm-up exercise to get your body moving. After your walk, spend 20 minutes on an upper body weight lifting routine three times a week.

A Word From Verywell

Lifting weights slowly is one weight training method that may provide benefits for building muscle, especially for older adults. This doesn't mean all your training sessions need to use a slow approach, but adding slower tempos to your routine can provide a specific stimulus that may boost results.

If you are unsure how to get started or whether slow weight lifting is appropriate for you, discuss the method with a personal trainer who can design a program to help you learn proper techniques.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Westcott WL, Winett RA, Anderson ES, et al. Effects of regular and slow speed resistance training on muscle strengthJ Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2001;41(2):154-158.

  2. Fisher J, Steele J, McKinnon P, McKinnon S. Strength gains as a result of brief, infrequent resistance exercise in older adults. J Sports Med. 2014;2014:1-7. doi:10.1155/2014/731890

  3. Wilk M, Golas A, Stastny P, Nawrocka M, Krzysztofik M, Zajac A. Does tempo of resistance exercise impact training volume?. J Hum Kinet. 2018;62(1):241-250. doi:10.2478/hukin-2018-0034

  4. American College of Sports Medicine. Position Stand: Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):687–708. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e3181915670

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.