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Slow Lifting (2 of 4): Exercise Protocol


Read Part 1 for more context on what slow lifting is and why you might want to use this exercise protocol.

Read the Sample Workouts below for what I used when Slow Lifting or substitute your own exercises. Read the Warm-Up and Main Exercise Set sections for how to perform your workout once you’ve selected your exercise.  Read the Logistics section for details on scheduling your workouts, rest days, choosing starting weights, and when to increase weight.

Sample Workouts

These are the exercises I used for my Slow Lift exercise protocol.  They focus on major muscle groups including legs and an upper body pushing and pulling movement in each workout.  Workout 1 has horizontal push/pull exercises.  Workout 2 has vertical push/pull exercises.  Substitute your own exercises as needed.  If these exercises are too difficult, I’d recommend using bodyweight, modified bodyweight style (ex. push-ups on knees), or exercise bands.  If you want more customization, email me. 

Note – None of these videos show Slow Squats.  Watch the video below in the Main Exercise Set section for an example of a Slow Lift and apply that slow rep cadence to these exercises.  These videos are included to show a technique for each of these lifts at a normal pace.


  • 10-15 Glute Activation Raises
  • 1 set of 3 reps at 50% of Working Set weight for each exercise
    • These warm-up sets are to diagnose any issues you have with performing the exercise before you lift a heavier weight.  If something feels off during the warm-up (pain, bad form, etc), do not perform the lift with heavier weight until you’ve resolved the issue.
    • Working Sets are explained below, but they’re the main sets for the Slow Lift workout.
    • Example Working Set Exercise = Squat @185 lbs and Bench Press @155 lbs
    • Example Warm-up Set Weights = Squat @95 lbs and Bench Press @80 lbs
  • Person-Specific Warm-Up
    • Warning – If you have mobility issues (rounded shoulders, tight hips or hamstrings, lower back pain, etc), you should assess whether you can perform a workout at this intensity level.
    • If you believe you can perform this workout safely, add any additional warm-up you need based on your specific issue.

Main Exercise Set

Rep Cadence

  • All reps use a 5/5 cadence.  For example on a Squat, you lower yourself to the bottom position while counting to 5 and raise up to the standing position while counting to 5.  Don’t pause at the bottom or the top of the exercise.
  • This rep cadence is designed so that your muscles are under constant tension.  From the time you start your first rep until the time you finish your last rep, there’s no break.  This is why you can get an effective muscle-building workout in minimal time.  If you don’t learn this rep cadence and follow it strictly, your results will suffer.
  • If you want to learn more, read about TUT (Time Under Tension).  This study explains benefits like increased muscle protein synthesis compared to a faster 1/1 rep cadence with a relatively light weight.

Slow Lift Video

  • Check out this Slow Squat video at 135 lbs with 4-5 seconds lowering into the Squat and 4-5 seconds rising from the bottom.  Counting seconds and reps was hard, so I did one bonus rep for eleven total 😃.  My legs were fried like Roasted Chicken Thighs afterward.  
  • If you want an example of how hard this workout can be or just want to laugh at my failure, check out this Slow Squat Failure Video of a set at 235 lbs.  I learned my count of “1 Mississippi” is only 1/2 second.  Get a timer app if you’re not certain you’re counting slow enough.  Even with “not so slow form”, I could only complete 3 reps, which was my worst result since I started this program.  Don’t beat yourself up over the bad results.  Sickness, travel and life throw curveballs sometimes.  Keep calm and lift on.

Failure at End of Set

  • When you can’t complete all reps, try as hard as possible to move the weight an inch at a time with good form until it won’t move at all.  Then lower the weight slowly as you count to 5.
  • You don’t trigger muscle growth on the first few reps of a set.  You trigger muscle growth on the last few hard reps and when you fail.  If you fail with good form, you will build more muscle in less time.
  • Warning – Skip failure when you don’t have a spotter or can’t comfortably drop the weight from any position in the lift (ex. Barbell Bench Press, possibly Squats).

Rest Between Sets

  • If you’re performing multiple exercises in one workout, take 2-3 minutes between exercises to recover.  You can load your weight for your next exercise during this break and capture your lifting results if you keep a log, which I recommend.
This is a diagram of the rep timing for a Slow Lift.
This shows how long you perform a single Slow Lift set with 10 reps for Leg exercises. Perform 7 reps for Upper Body exercises.



When should I add another day between workouts?

  • Add an extra rest day once you do not increase the number of reps for more than one exercise between two workouts, assuming you’re eating enough calories and protein and sleeping adequately.
  • Here’s an example.  You’re currently completing the Slow Lift workout every three days.  You’re eating more than enough calories to add muscle (i.e. in a caloric surplus) and you’re eating one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight (180 g of protein for 180 pound male).  You’re sleeping over 7 hours per day.  In your last two workouts, you completed 5 reps of Squats and 5 reps of Bench Press.  You’ve stalled.  Take an extra day off before your next workout.  Your new standard is four days off between workouts.
  • Besides lifting weights, your primary drivers for adding muscle are adequate rest and nutrition.  Weightlifting breaks down muscle.  That’s the signal to your body that you need to get stronger.  Adequate rest and high-quality fuel enable your body to heal muscle and build your muscles into a stronger state. Inadequate rest and low-quality fuel delays or even reverse this process (i.e. makes you weaker).


What weight should I use to start?  

  • For your first few weeks performing the Slow Lift workout, you may need to experiment by adding or removing more weight depending on how easy or hard the reps are.  
  • Your ideal weight when you’re starting is whatever weight causes you to struggle around rep 5 for Upper Body exercises and around rep 7 for Lower Body exercises.  
  • If you’ve never lifted before, this isn’t the best workout to use to start lifting.  
  • For everyone else, use a weight that’s 30-50% of your 1 Rep Max for that lift or a weight that you could comfortably complete ~20 repetitions at a normal lifting pace (2 seconds down/2 seconds up).

When should I add weight for each lift?  

  • When you complete the prescribed number of reps for Upper Body exercises (7 reps for Bench Press, Row, Overhead Press, Pull-Up) or Lower Body exercises (10 reps for Squat, DeadLift) with perfect form, add 5-10 pounds of weight to the exercise for your next workout.  
  • Add 5 pounds if you expect to struggle mightily the next workout if you add 10 pounds.  This is more likely if you’re lifting under 135 pounds on the exercise.

Read Part 1 for what slow lifting is, Part 3 for how I ate to support muscle growth and fat burning, and Part 4 for results, analysis, and who I believe would or wouldn’t benefit from this workout.