Fred Hahn is making a "Slow Burn" believer out of me
1. When you start talking about living a healthy lifestyle, generally the conversation begins with your diet and the kind of foods you put inside your body. While that is certainly the logical first step when it comes to losing weight and improving your health, most people tend to neglect another important factor in the weight and health equation: exercise. Ah yes, the dreaded “e” word!
But what if everything you think you know about exercise is just plain bogus? Have we been duped into thinking we need to spend hours running on a treadmill when actually that might cause your body more harm than good? YIKES!
Well, my special guest here today at the “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” blog knows a thing or two about this subject, so we’ll ask him what he thinks. He is professional exercise trainer Fred Hahn, owner of Serious Strength, Inc. and co-author of a fabulous book with Drs. Michael & Mary Dan Eades called The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution.
Welcome Fred! Tell us a little bit about why you got started working in the world of fitness and health and how you stumbled upon this whole “Slow Burn” concept to begin with.
Jimmy let me say first off that it’s an honor and a pleasure to be interviewed by you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity. Your web blog is first rate.
I started working in the fitness field in the 1980’s as a personal trainer at the New York Health and Racquet Club when it first opened. I worked there on and off for a few years interspersed with college studies and carpentry work. In 1993 I became certified as a personal trainer by the American Council on Exercise. At that time I was working as a physical therapy aide (not a physical therapist) at the newly built Hospital for Joint Diseases Sports Medicine Center. I administered much of the strength training and conditioning programs for the patients there. While there I also worked as a personal trainer at the original Equinox Fitness Club in NYC.
When I was hired by HJD, I was fascinated by how little the therapists did to strengthen the patients. Most of what the patients were asked to do was treadmill walking, bike riding, slip-slide boards, BAPS balance training, etc. These modalities did little to strengthen the patients’ muscles. The sparse amount of strength training they did advocate was very low in intensity and thus nearly useless. I wanted and needed to change this.
A funny story: One typical day, a dancer, who was recovering from knee ligament surgery, was surrounded by a posse of therapists who were scratching their heads as to why the woman could not stand and balance on her injured leg very well. She’d try and collapse - try again and falter. They had spent weeks on her rehab program placing her on the underwater treadmill, giving her BAPS balance drills, TENS units, heat, ice, ultrasound, etc. (This was a common scenario by the way.)
As they mused, mumbled and murmured over her malady, one therapist (the novice in the group) shot forth a possible answer. “Maybe she’s just weak?” she humbly heralded. Although they were surrounded by $50K worth of strength equipment, back to the BAPS board she went. Sad indeed.
So I started to use the strength training knowledge I had (which was mostly Nautilus high intensity strength training principles) to focus on strengthening and less on the passive modalities. The therapists seemed pleased that the patients were responding better and faster under my instruction.
But I swiftly realized that the faster paced Nautilus reps (2 seconds to lift the weight, 4 to lower) irritated many of the clients’ orthopedic issues. I remembered reading about slow reps in a strength and health magazine article from the 60’s that a friend sent to me which I initially ignored. I decided to revisit the idea of slow training and began reading about it in various venues and decided to give it a try with the patients at HJD. To make a long story short, the pain and irritation they had with the faster rep speed all but disappeared and the patients responded faster and better to the slow method. It was quite remarkable.
In the beginning, the PT’s would often silently watch me put a person through a fairly intense Slow Burn strength workout looking sort of bewildered. But they recognized that what I was doing was working incredibly well so they left me alone. The only thing that bothered them was when the patients would say “Can I have Fred instead?” upon being assigned to a PT.
One more funny story: One day a PT pulled me aside after putting a senior woman through an intense (for her) set of Slow Burn leg presses and said “What are you trying to do – make that old woman as strong as Arnold Schwarzenegger?” I paused for a second and answered “Yes, yes I am.” It is very odd to me that with senior health care costs skyrocketing, something as simple as strength training is hardly ever prescribed. We let our respected and beloved elders grow feeble and waste away for no reason whatsoever.
Back to the story. Unbeknownst to me, many of the patients loved how they felt so much that they were telling the head orthopedic surgeon about it. One day as I was training someone, the doctor appeared in front of the glass window and gestured to me to come hither. It seemed like I was in trouble or something.
I went outside of the clinic and he said “What are you doing with the patients?” “Making them strong,” I responded. “Yes you are!” he replied and then asked me to train him at his gym in his apartment complex. He was so pleased with the results that he and I decided to open a physical therapy clinic together which I ran for 3 years. We focused on slow speed strength training as the primary form of orthopedic rehab therapy and used passive modalities as a secondary measure. Patients loved it. We trained their entire body – not just their injured limb in less time than it took to train just their injured limb conventionally. There’s a lot more to this story but that is how I got started with slow training.
2. Your philosophy regarding building muscles and increasing strength is indeed one of the most revolutionary methods I have ever heard about. You claim that in just 30 minutes a week anyone can achieve amazing results by implementing the strategies you outline in your “Slow Burn” method. This runs directly counter to the conventional wisdom that you need to spend hours upon hours in the gym pumping iron, doing abdominal crunches, and getting in lots of reps to help sculpt your body the way you would like it to look. Come on, are you serious? Just 30 minutes a week is all it takes? What’s the catch, Fred?
There’s really no catch Jimmy except perhaps the degree of effort. A lot of people want their exercise programs to be fun, enjoyable and easy. These types of activities are what I refer to as ‘pastime activities’ – not formal exercise since ideally, exercise is supposed to create a positive physical adaptation. Pastime activities rarely do so. Easy efforts when exercising simply cannot cause the kind of positive adaptation people so desperately want and need. This is not my opinion, it is fact.
Slow Burn training is challenging and takes a lot of concentration and focus. But so does anything that provides exceptional benefits. Truth be told, it’s not really my philosophy – what I advocate is rooted in exercise science. It’s just not very flashy or sexy nor does it make the industry billions of dollars as do so many exercise fads and gadgets that don’t work. Research indicates that two, twenty minute strength training sessions a week provide all of the benefits strength training can bestow.
Further, the benefits that you get from two, twenty minute strength training sessions are everything you need to become and stay healthy and strong and this includes the heart. This is a very freeing and exciting reality that people desperately need to know about. The experts who tell you that you need to do weights at least 3 times a week, aerobics almost everyday and stretching everyday in order to be fit and healthy are innocently ignorant of the facts.
3. I recently started lifting weights for the first time in my life beginning in December 2007. I hired a personal trainer to work with me so I can learn the proper form and technique for working the various muscle groups on my body. As a newbie to this kind of thing, I can tell you how utterly clueless I am about what I’m doing and am relying heavily on my trainer to show me the ropes so to speak. After one month, my results have been okay.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling and it’s something that scares away a lot of people from even trying to implement a resistance training program into their own life. Am I being counterproductive to the “Slow Burn” program by having a personal trainer help me in a more traditional manner? Or is there any benefit to being trained by someone who may not be familiar with the “Slow Burn” concepts?
Good for you Jimmy for starting! Strength training is by far the single best exercise modality a person can engage in to better his or her entire body.
Here’s the down and dirty truth – many different types of strength training programs will work. Having said that, other strength training programs may not work as well or be as safe as or efficient as Slow Burn. For example, Pilates is a form of resistance training - nothing more, nothing less. But the kind of resistance used is springs on a reformer or body weight on the floor and very often this is an inefficient and less effective way to strengthen muscles. (And NO – Pilates cannot make muscles long and lean like a dancers. This is a little white lie Pilates practitioners tell their clients.)
The real question is this - what is your safety and time worth to you? A trainer who is worth his salt can easily read my book and be able to implement a Slow Burn workout. As for people who can’t afford a personal trainer, my book The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution and Slow Burn Workout DVD provide what anyone needs to implement a Slow Burn program. In fact, I’ll be creating more DVD’s and online programs for using Slow Burn with many other exercise devices.
4. My understanding of the “Slow Burn” strategy is this: lifting as much as you can possibly stand in a slow and deliberate manner so you force your muscles to work as hard as they can to produce maximum strength gains in a shorter period of time. I gotta tell you, this sounds intimidating to someone who has only just begun lifting for the first time. Reassure me and anyone else who may be skeptical of the “Slow Burn” plan that this is much better than the moderate weight, high repetition that is commonplace among most personal trainers. What are the benefits of doing it your way compared with typical resistance training?
Whoa there Jimmy - the way you’re saying it DOES make it sound intimidating, but this isn’t exactly what Slow Burn is.
Typical resistance training programs usually have the trainee tossing and dropping the weight which causes unnecessary stresses on the joints and connective tissues – even with a light weight. By moving slowly with the correct weight, you minimize momentum and maximize muscular tension when performing the exercises. This decreases the forces and reduces the risk of injury. If anything, people should fear conventional training!
With Slow Burn you’re essentially asking your muscles to do all of the work all of the time. This constant muscular tension without the sudden impact forces allows a trainee to remain injury free and produces a very strong and enduring body. Slow Burn is about building yourself up without beating yourself up. I often refer to Slow Burn as the ‘Tai Chi of weight lifting.’ We train every sort of person from 7 year old kids to people in their mid eighties. They all do the program without any problems.
5. I can tell you from personal experience during these first few weeks of beginning my weight training that I have had some pretty intense muscle aches and pains that have literally wiped me out for days. Some mornings I could barely roll out of bed because my biceps were so sore from the rigorous training from the day before (and the day before and the day before that!). What can be done to prevent that from happening? Is it better to sit out a day or two from even working other muscle groups when other muscles on your body hurt that much after a workout like that? Does the “Slow Burn” method provide any relief from such excruciating pain?
What can you do about this Jimmy? Switch to Slow Burn! (Shameless aren’t I?).
One of the benefits of Slow Burn is that the type of post exercise pain (delayed onset muscle soreness) you experience is almost non existent. This is not to say you don’t feel sore and tired a day or two later from a Slow Burn workout – you do. But the feeling is very different – sort of like the difference between a deep massage and a kick boxing class. The feeling is milder, gentler, more like you did something great for your body than hurt yourself as you describe. The workout itself is far more exhilarating than exasperating and, man, do you ever sleep well after a Slow Burn session!
And one very important thing to know is this – you receive the physiological benefits from exercise while you rest, not while you exercise. Research indicates that the human body typically requires a couple of days of rest and recovery before productively exercise happens again. Some people might require 3-4 days of recovery between strength training sessions. It depends on age, how active you are outside of your strength training, and a few other things that a good instructor should know. Arthur Jones, the inventor of Nautilus is credited with saying “We’re trying to discover how little exercise you need, not how much you can withstand.”
6. One excellent benefit of the “Slow Burn” technique is that it helps to change the body metabolically in addition to the increases in strength and muscles. In other words, there are cardiovascular benefits that come from training this way that makes walking on the treadmill, using the Stairmaster, riding a stationary bike, or stepping on an elliptical machine obsolete. Convince me and anyone else who still feels cardio exercise is important to our health why we should give it all up in favor of the “Slow Burn” program instead. Are all of us simply running ourselves ragged increasing our heart rate and sweatin’ like a dog for nothing?
Strength training is cardiovascular Jimmy – it’s simply a different road to Rome. You stimulate the heart and lungs very powerfully by strength training properly.
As for running yourself ragged and sweating doing aerobics, if your doing it because you think you have to in order to keep your heart healthy and/or to lose fat you’re pretty much wasting your time. Most of the aerobic training programs that people do cause them more long-term harm than good. The orthopedic issues are a no-brainer – everyone knows that aerobics can cause a host of orthopedic maladies (in fact the aerobics boom of the 70’s, started by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, was the reason sports rehab became a huge money-making industry!).
But what people don’t know (and pay for later) is the accelerated aging that comes with performing continuous long term aerobic activity. Steady state aerobic activity damages hormonal tone by using up resources at an accelerated rate. ‘A sun that burns twice as hot burns half as long.’ Aerobics to better your body is a sham.
What people also don’t realize is that aerobics do not strengthen the heart and lungs. In fact, chronic long term aerobic activity can damages the heart. (I go over this in great detail in my book.) The few benefits one receives from aerobics are mainly muscular in nature. Strength training provides you all of the same benefits that aerobics does and much more all without the damage – if you strength train properly.
I challenge anyone to tell me what aerobics can do for a person health-wise that properly performed strength training cannot that a physician considers important upon a thorough physical exam. Even Dr. Cooper, the father of aerobics, now advocates strength training as the focus of an adult person’s exercise program. Jimmy, I could go on and on for pages and pages, on this issue. A good book to read on this issue is Making Waves by Roger Lewin, the story of Irving Dardik, MD.
7. The thing that attracted me to your book is the fact that Drs. Mike & Mary Dan Eades from Protein Power fame co-wrote it with you which means a very solid message of livin’ la vida low-carb is a major part of your plan. Discuss why carbohydrates are not a necessary for energy on a strength-building program like “Slow Burn” and share where the body gets its energy to perform the physical tasks you require as part of your program. How does dietary fat and to a lesser degree protein become the primary fuel source for the “Slow Burn” workouts? Speaking of protein, how much of it do you need to consume before and after your workouts?
Well, the answer to that can be a book in and of itself! Here’s how it works – dietary carbohydrates are not necessary because of a process called gluconeogenesis. As any good low-carber knows, this is the synthesis of protein to glucose from non carbohydrate sources, like meat, fish, eggs, and other protein sources. Sufficient fat is necessary for the best utilization of protein so I suggest fattier grass-fed meats over lean cuts of meat. Saturated fat is good for you, not bad as many would have us believe.
The amount of protein you need differs depending on your size. To gain muscle size and strength, eat about a gram of protein for every pound of lean body weight over the course of a day. This might be a smidge too much but you’re better off eating a touch more protein than a too little. A 150 pound lean man should eat 150 grams of protein per day. For a man lean is 15% body fat or less, for a woman 20% or less.
Stay on the low carb/Slow Burn training course and the body will, slowly but surely, shift from being a sugar burner to a fat burner and unwanted body fat will fly off of you faster than you can say Jackie Robinson (or Dr. Michael and Mary Dan Eades). At the same time, you’ll spare or even build muscle mass to boot. Veggies are the go-to choice for carbs as well as some seasonal fruits.
I suggest a good meal 30 minutes after your Slow Burn session. What’s a good post-exercise meal? A juicy bacon cheeseburger (no bun) with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and avocado, or steak and eggs with sliced tomatoes. Eating low-carb the possibilities are endless – and tasty!
8. Is it important to supplement your “Slow Burn” plan with any specific vitamins or other minerals and nutrients so that you maximize your body’s ability to repair itself and get stronger? If so, then what would you recommend? What do you think about the use of creatine for someone new to weight lifting?
If you’re eating low-carb, meaning plenty of protein, you’re getting all the creatine you need. I’ve experimented with creatine and it has done absolutely nothing for me since creatine is found in ample amounts in fish and meats and I eat ample amounts of fish and meats. Creatine supplements are expensive (less so now) and can cause bloating and loose bowels.
As for dietary supplements, I bow to the Eades on this issue and I personally follow their recommendations especially the krill oil for omega 3’s. But if you don’t supplement and eat healthfully, you’ll get great results from Slow Burn.
9. My favorite part of your book is in the back where you provide a pictorial demonstration along with preparation instructions for doing a variety of exercises whether you have access to a gym or not. It helps to have a visual demonstration when you are going it alone, but there’s always some nagging doubt that creeps into the back of your mind about whether you are doing it right or not.
What do you suggest to someone who needs some reassurance that they are following the “Slow Burn” methods properly? Can a traditional personal trainer provide any assistance with this or will a specialized personal trainer educated in the “Slow Burn” techniques be required to help? How can people find an approved “Slow Burn” trainer in their area?
Well just like talking to the Eades directly as opposed to reading their book, it’s better to have a qualified instructor well versed in Slow Burn for best results. On my web site there are some affiliates listed in the Friends and Partners page.
But my book is pretty thorough (I like to think) and I also answer ALL emails personally. I even have an at home DVD workout where you follow along with me doing the exercises. My website also has a free online discussion board where people share ideas and help others learn. But just to warn folks - my message board can get a touch huffy at times. I monitor it frequently and if things get to messy, I clean it up pretty quick. Most of the people there are real good at sharing and helping.
I get dozens, even hundreds of emails from people telling me how much they love the book and DVD and how easy it is to follow, not to mention the great results they are getting.
10. THANK YOU for being with us today, Fred. It’s always inspiring to hear from real health and fitness experts who actually know what they are talking about because they live by the very principles they espouse. I’m excited about my own journey to get bigger and stronger this year, especially in my upper body, and can’t wait to see the results I have been longing for ever since I lost 180 pounds in 2004.
One last question for you: is the “Slow Burn” technique permissible for virtually anyone, including the morbidly obese, the elderly, and even children? Are there any modifications that need to be done to the program to tailor it to these various groups of people?
In sum Jimmy, Slow Burn is safe and effective for anyone, seniors and juniors alike. In fact, I have a new book coming out this year on strength training and low-carbing for children. My mission is to get teachers, parents, doctors, coaches and caregivers to understand the tremendous benefits strength training has on kids, especially obese kids. Strength training in combination with a low-carb diet would virtually eliminate adolescent obesity and type II diabetes.
I hope people can have an open mind and embrace science over convention on this issue. It’s one thing to dupe adults – it’s entirely another matter to do so to children. Unfortunately, even some of the most prominent and well meaning advocates of curing adolescent obesity like Oprah and President Bill Clinton are innocently ignorant of the real cause and cure for this growing problem. I urge everyone to make strength training a part of their lives. It will improve so many health parameters and de-age you in ways no other exercise program can.
Lastly, may I say thank you Jimmy for the praise of my work and for the opportunity to be featured by your first rate blog. Keep up the great work!
THANKS again, Fred, for an awesome interview! I am going to commit to implementing slow burn techniques into my own workout routine and can't wait to see the results. To learn more about Fred Hahn's "Slow Burn" techniques, visit his web site SeriousStrength.com, his "Slow Burn" blog, and pick up a copy of his The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution book co-written by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades.