On Tuesdays, I wake up early, have breakfast and tea, and ride my bicycle along the Embarcadero before work. From my apartment on the south/east side of the Mission District, I ride the down the hill through Potrero, hang a left on 3rd Street, smile at the pups playing in the dog park before zagging between tree-lined tennis and basketball courts opening to Mission Creek, where it’s a quick straight ahead until AT&T Park and finally the Embarcadero. I make a conscious decision to take things slow and enjoy this weekly ride, this quiet moment of my day. Hipster cyclists with Timbuk2 bags perched high on their backs race by me. I observe the morning joggers, weary car commuters, peek into the fire station #35, garage, imagine oysters at “Waterbar,” gawk at the bay bridge. As I approach the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building, I look to the clock tower and know that I have 5 more minutes to enjoy being on the bike. If I find that I’m running a few minutes late, I try and avoid the urge to speed up (I hate being late). I’ve made the decision to enjoy myself, after all. I make my turn onto Lombard street.
I’ve arrived at Desisto Strength Training, and for the next 20 minutes I am consumed by pain and intense focus.
Most of what I know about SuperSlow (now RenEx), I’ve learned from 30 years of peripheral absorption… ie – my dad has been a trainer for many years. The “protocol,” as they refer to it, was progressive when he started, and it remains so today. Without getting technical, here is essentially how it goes down:
1) 4-6 exercises, completed using specialized machines engineered for “no-momentum” training.
2) Heavy weights, executed to muscular failure (So when you’re pushing your hardest, and the machine isn’t moving – your trainer counts down from 10 and then the exercise is over. It’s kind of a scary feeling. You’re essentially pushing beyond your comfort zone, or at least trying to).
3) Reaching failure takes 2-3 minutes, and the complete workout lasts just about 20 minutes start to finish.
4) Although extremely intense, safety and proper form are crucial, integral parts of the workout.
Beyond the basics are a multitude of other specifics and philosophies, the most controversial of which is the attitude towards “cardio” activities. According to Ken Hutchins, Founder of SuperSlow and subsequently RenEx, aerobics are AT BEST INEFFICIENT AND AT WORST DANGEROUS AND COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE TO OVERALL FITNESS.
The below quote is maybe the “at best” scenario.
“We accept that both exercise and recreation are important in the overall scheme of fitness, and they overlap to a great degree. But to reap maximum benefits of both or either they must first be well-defined and then be segregated in practice.”
Still, pretty progressive stuff at its core. Make no mistake – when Hutchins talks about “exercise,” he refers to SuperSlow and SuperSlow alone. Now, I’m not a SuperSlow authority by any means, so I’ll stop here before I find myself in over my head. Let’s get back to mindfulness.
Enjoyable or not (emphasis on the not), it would seem as though SuperSlow/RenEx is a more mindful approach to lifting than any alternative out there. The protocol in fact fosters mindfulness by asking trainers to enforce no music, no mirrors, and no distractions in their studios. When we train, we focus on proper form, the muscles engaged in the exercise, and efficient breathing. None of this screaming and yelling, slamming weights on the floor, passing out, puke bucket stuff. All in all we’re talking about a pretty low ego, self-serious take on fitness. Perhaps this is part of what’s kept it fairly under the radar in terms of popularity. There’s no funny business, and it’s not a heck of a lot of fun either. “Do not try to make exercise enjoyable,” Remember?
I myself have been regularly working with my SuperSlow trainer since 2011. It was around the time that I started increasing my running mileage, training for longer races and aiming to improve some of my finish times. The idea was that lifting weights might be a good way to avoid getting hurt. Though I do experience injuries from time to time, my overall stamina and power have improved. Even more apparently, strength training has made a huge impact on my abilities and confidence in yoga, especially arm balances, chaturangas, and other poses requiring upper-body strength.
My slow workout is nowhere near as enjoyable as the ride I take to get there, but it’s certainly one of the most meaningful parts of my week.