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Resistance Training: Super Slow or No?

Monday, January 18th, 2010

When it comes to resistance training, is “super slow” an effective way to build muscle?

A popular movement within the weight training world today is “super slow” style weight training. The idea is that by slowing the kinetics of weight training activity, you can utilize a lighter weight and make up the difference in the intensity provided by a sustained grip on the muscle.

This slow down does allow you to challenge the muscles as effectively as with a heavier resistance – it’s all in the technique.  And it allows you to more prudently address the safety and integrity of your joints .  This is paramount when it comes to resistance training.

Actually, joint safety is an essential consideration with any kind of training and exercise, but the stakes are higher when it comes to weight training.  This is because  of the potential for loading the joints in an  injurious fashion.

Recall that resistance training comes in many flavors:  isometrics, dynamic tension (single or multi-joint exercises) as well as that which comes most often to mind when we hear “resistance”:  training with weights.   Isometrics and dynamic tension are for the most part gentler on the joints.  The super-slow strategy promises to create a greater safety net when using weights for resistance as well.

Not all “Super Slow” is created the same

Recent research provides some specific guidelines about how to implement “super slow” technique with weight training  most effectively.

“Research published in the November 2008 issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research shows that low-intensity resistance training (RT) can produce the same muscle strength, size and tone gains as traditional high-intensity RT (Tanimoto et al., 2008). RT intensity is determined by a percent of one-repetition maximum (1RM). High-intensity RT is defined as a load or weight that exceeds 80 percent of 1RM, while low-intensity RT is defined as a load or weight that represents 65 percent or less of 1RM.”


OK, translation please.  Give me something I can use!

Can do.

The effects of using a lighter weight for same strength results in this research pointed to a small window of opportunity for same.  Timing looked like this:

  • Concentric phase (shortening of muscle, as when you train biceps with bicep curls it is the phase of  bending the elbow) AND
  • Eccentric phase (lengthening of the muscle, or lowering of the weight) should each be 3 seconds. Slowing it down even more, say to 5 seconds, did not enhance the effect, as a matter of fact it reduced the effect.  Diminishing returns.

Here’s more good news:

Intensity: RT intensities as low as 40 percent of 1RM have been shown to cause several similar physiological responses as high-intensity RT and can thus be assumed to be as effective as 80 percent 1RM training (Koba et al., 2004). However, an intensity that represents 65 percent 1RM is recommended where appropriate.

In English? Even if you only lift 40% of your one-repetition maximum – one rep maximum meaning the most you could lift for one time only – with this strategy, you’re there!  This is very important for orthopedic concerns, or joint safety.   Upping it a little toward the 60% is beneficial,  If not contraindicated by your orthopedic concerns.

One element to add to this research study, that was not addressed in the literature, is the absolute importance of correct anatomical alignment and positioning when it comes to resistance training.  This has already been noted, but bears repeating.

It is very easy for us to “take the path of least resistance”, take the workload OUT of the muscle, and sit in the joints, compromising them.

As it turns out, correct positioning and safety result in more challenge because it takes the work out of the joint and into the muscle, where it should be.  Which ALSO translates to using lighter resistance.

This is important because of its implications for safety AND effectiveness, and is one of the foundations of  Fit Quickies™.

This information can be translated to all kinds of resistance training.  Remember, resistance means just that – resistance.  You can use weights, or your body’s weight, or isometrics…it’s all about muscle activation.  There are ingenious, simple yet effective ways to position the body so that you get an isolated muscle workload that is very effective at targeting specific muscles.  Combining isolated resistance training along with functional fitness is a dynamite package for overall health and beauty.

Stretch the muscle you just worked

Another note: be sure to  stretch those muscles after resistance training of any type.  Keep up with the flexibility training you mention, very important!

Have you tried Super Slow?  Tell about it in comments below.



© Lani Muelrath, 2010

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Responses

  • Karen says:

    Lani,

    I get the “slo-mo” benefits. But I’d love to hear your take on utilizing the fast-twitch and slo-twitch muscle fibers. From my reading, you need to speed it up to engage and build from fast-twitch.

    What do you think?

    Karen

    • Lani says:

      @Karen: Overload and challenge to the muscle against resistance builds fast-twitch fibers. There are actually two sub types of Type2 fibers, and training causes some conversion.

      It is the overload of the muscle that is key. It can become quite an involved science of continually analyzing what your fiber types are and what has been converted to what. It’s important to find out what you are looking for with the answers to building fiber types.

      Yes, explosive resistance – as in plyometrics – is a specific for Type II – or fast twitch – building. But again, it is the resistance that is of primary importance, though there are some variations on the theme.

      Note: Type 2B fibers are built for explosive, very short-duration activity such as Olympic lifts. Type 2A fibers are designed for short-to-moderate duration, moderate-to-high intensity work, as is seen in most weight training activities.

      But they are both Type 2, fast twitch.

      When training with weights, the goal is to work as many muscle fibers as possible. And as our muscles are a mix of twitch types, varying style in speed, reps, and load is your best bet for overall challenge and making muscle.

      Thanks Karen!

      Lani

  • Suzi McKee says:

    I have done Super Slow but only one time. The info they put out is pretty convincing, plus people spend a lot less time doing RT than with regular training. The photos & testimonials were quite good.

    I actually loved it & would have continued it if I could have found anyone near me to teach me. It was very meditative as well as leaving you feeling really good & hardly breaking a sweat.

    That’s my 2 cents,
    Suzi

    • Lani says:

      @Suzi McKee: Hi Suzi! Thanks for the input. Did you feel that the materials you can get without a personal trainer needed more to get you to continue?

      I understand the meditative – that’s what I get out of the deep muscle challenge from isolation work, whether with weights or barre work. Feeds you on many levels.

      Lani

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  • Suzi McKee says:

    Well, I tried it by myself & perhaps I was doing too much but I hurt my shoulders a little bit. I now have my PT certification so I do know what I am doing, though I could have bitten off a bit more than I expected…also I was 63 at that time so probably needed to take it more slowly especially on the shoulders which are my weakness. So I was just wanting a bit more instruction (I had about 20 minutes previously) before delving into it again. I still really like the idea & the time saving.
    Best,
    Suzi

  • Mark says:

    I have been doing Super-Slow for about 2 and a half years consistently. This is what I can say: Prone to exercise related injury, prior to SuperSlow it was rare that I would go two or three months without hurting myself. Mind you I was mostly self-trained and had much better results working with a trainer. Since beginning SuperSlow, my trainer McKerrin (www.mckerrinkellyfitness.com) has helped me make consistent gains, while avoiding injury. I’ve had a few flare ups, mostly lower back, but nothing we haven’t been able to work through. My trainer has been awesome providing supplemental stretches to help correct imbalances that contribute to injury. My level of fitness has improved such that I am able to be much more active, doing things and keeping up a pace that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. Also, a lifelong Tai Chi Chuan practitioner, SuperSlow feels like a perfect fit for me. There is obviously a correlation between the speed of the workout and my martial arts practice, but also there is an element of mindfulness that I absolutely appreciate. Finally, the most important element for me has been time. I started SuperSlow after getting accepted to an entertainment industry training program for Assistant Directors. Very few are selected for this program and the work load is incredibly demanding. Working 5 days a week, upwards of 16+ hours a day, there was very little time for a fitness routine. SuperSlow was my saving grace. One 30-45 min workout on Sundays helped keep me fit for the duration of my training. I don’t know how I would have been able to work-out otherwise. SuperSlow really is a perfect fit for someone who has major time constraints! Well there you go. Hope that feedback helps anyone considering SuperSlow!

  • Jon says:

    I am arriving at this discussion a bit late. But, I would like to add, I have tried a variety of training methods for strength over the last 35 years. Some have been absolutley idiotic, some have been quite excellent.

    Almost 50, I just found out, through Xrays and CAT scans that I probably have Cuadal Regression Disorder. There should have been a big clue when I arrived without a completely developed GI track. In the last month it was also discovered my spinal column, ribs and pelvis were under developed as well. The medical expenses were incurred while I was doing Ashtanga Yoga and started having incredible back pains. Research showed…Caudal Regression Disorder was actually suggested by my wife and who is a pediatric nurse and took care of a toddler who has it, and she put the dots together with the Orthopedist.

    So, at the PT’s studio, he has a fairly full compliment of Nautilus Nitro equipment. I started Super Slow about a month ago. I focus on my midsection and lower body. I also do a
    set of rows and overhead presses. I use a metronome to count my time. It works, I workout on Thursday, and usually Saturday is my really sore day.

    More information concerning Super Slow can be found by reading Body by Science (McGuff/Little), Power of 10 (Zickerman), and Slow Burn (Hahn).

    Enjoy

  • John says:

    It seems as your page has been compromised!

    The link ‘Next: Diet for the new decade: Engine 2′, I’m certain, is not going to the intended URL.

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