Trainers Weigh In
On Super Slow Lifting
When Randy Braith walks into a gym or health club,
he sees the same thing over and over.
"Most guys are in there doing too much and going
too fast with the weights," said Braith, director of the exercise
physiology program at the University of Florida. "Guys also tend
to go to the gym too frequently."
Nicki Anderson is a Naperville-based personal trainer
with a majority of female clients. She said her biggest challenge
as a trainer is "to get people to slow down when they lift weights."
The problem is, lifting too fast means that the weight is predominately
moved by momentum and not fully by a person's muscles.
So the newest trend in weight training - called
the Super Slow method - should be welcomed by exercise scientists
and trainers such as Braith and Anderson.
"Super Slow training has had devotees since the
days of Arthur Jones starting up the Nautilus company in 1970" Braith
explained. "It is a small, dedicated group."
Normal cadence is considered six to seven seconds
per repetition, typically a two-count up and four-count down (some
trainers suggest three up and three down). Super Slow is a technique
that calls for moderate weight amounts lifted at much slower tempo,
10 seconds on the lift or positive resistance and 10 seconds on
the return or negative resistance. You do each exercise to muscle
exhaustion. The entire workout shouldn't last more than 20 minutes.
Ken Hutchins, a Florida-based trainer who worked
at Nautilus for nearly a decade and has since trademarked the Super
Slow name, said too many people confuse intensity with duration.
"If an activity is adequately intense, then by its
very nature it can only be continued for a brief length of time,"
he said. "In our experience, performing a workout that exceeds 30
minutes is an indication that the intensity was too low."
Wayne Westcott, fitness director at the South Shore
YMCA in suburban Boston, has conducted two studies regarding Super
Slow. The findings among 147 participants showed significantly improved
strength in individuals who lifted with a 10-count up and four-count
down when compared to subjects following normal cadence.
Hutchins said higher intensity requires a longer
recovery period for muscles. He suggests one Super Slow workout
per week and further recommends that people not perform any hard
aerobic exercise such as running or a step class for fear of disrupting
the growth of new muscle fibers.
The timesaving feature is a major reason why Super
Slow has become a hot topic at big-city health clubs and in the
Anderson said, any qualified trainer knows that
clients need to go slow and exhaust the muscles. If Super Slow movement
prompts people to slow their herky-jerky or rushed lifting, then
it has potential to send a positive message.
"Exhausting the muscle means when you feel you can't
do one more repetition that you do one more," said Anderson, who
operates the Reality Fitness center in Naperville. "But there is
a big difference between fatigue and pain. If something hurts, you
stop doing it."
Braith explained that all muscle fibers should be
used during each exercise and that performing the repetitions to
exhaustion accomplishes that. But Braith, Hutchins or any expert
will agree that the key is always maintaining proper technique during
every lift, including the last one.
Said Braith: "For people who are beginners, I recommend
doing a single set of exercises at weight amounts that exhaust the
muscles somewhere between 8 and 12 reps."
Braith conceded that people who perform a single
Super Slow workout each week are certain to be more fit than if
they don't lift at all. It also is preferable to lifting too much
in any given week.
"Muscles need 48 hours to allow muscle tissues to
grow," Braith said. "The most important part of a weight-training
regimen is not the lifting but providing sufficient nutrition and
rest between workouts."
The various systems of the body that support
muscle tissue growth and regeneration require sufficient time for
replenishment, rest and recovery, which can be longer than the time
muscles themselves require. It's much healthier to wait a little
longer between intense workouts than working out again a little
too soon. -- Don
M. Doug McGuff, M.D.
theorist by the name of Ken Hutchins developed SuperSlow for use
in a research project on osteoporosis conducted by Nautilus Sports/Medical
Industries and the University of Florida. Since elderly women with
frail bones were the research subjects, special care had to be taken
to reduce the risk of injury. If not done cautiously, lifting weights
might cause fractures in the thinned bones of these women. Fractures
would occur if the weakened bones encountered any force that exceeded
their structural integrity. However, for reasons discussed in the
previous chapter, enough weight had to be used to produce a rate
of fatigue that would result in meaningful inroading. Mr. Hutchins
had to find a way to use enough weight to be meaningful, yet still
keep forces low enough to not cause injury to very frail subjects.
Ken and his
co-researcher/wife Brenda turned to simple physics for the answer
to their problem. The formula which describes force is F=M x A.
Which means force equals Mass times Acceleration. Since the mass
used could only be reduced so much without compromising inroading,
force would have to be decreased by reducing acceleration. Acceleration
is defined as the change in speed per unit of time. When you move
a weight quickly, you go from a dead stop, to a given speed in a
short period of time...i.e. you accelerate. When you change directions,
you must stop and begin movement in the opposite direction, which
again is acceleration. If you move more slowly the difference in
speed from a dead stop to any point in the range of motion is less,
therefore the change in speed per unit of time is less, and therefore,
acceleration is decreased.
slow to go becomes important. The average person can only move a
weight so slow and be able to do it smoothly. If you lift the weight
over 6-12 seconds, most people can produce smooth movement. If you
try to lift it over 15-20 seconds, the weight cannot be moved smoothly.
At this speed of movement, you actually have a series of stops and
starts. When you stop and start like this, you simply have multiple
little accelerations. So you want to use the slowest speed that
produces the smoothest movement possible, because smooth movement
indicates a constant speed. At a constant speed, there is no change
in speed over a given unit of time, and thus acceleration is close
to eliminated. With acceleration greatly reduced in the equation
F=M x A, we can see that force will be greatly reduced. Furthermore,
at this speed, changes in direction can occur smoothly and continuously
which almost eliminates the acceleration at the point where you
change direction from lifting to lowering and lowering to lifting.
You can now
see one of the major reasons why I recommend Mr. Hutchins' SuperSlow
protocol. It makes exercise safer. Stimulating physical improvements
would not be worthwhile if you got hurt in the process.
I recommend SuperSlow is because it makes exercise harder. This
was noted serendipitously in the osteoporosis study. The subjects
seemed to gain strength faster than had previously been seen. The
answer as to why became evident when they looked at the protocol
in the context of inroading.
of inroading is not just dependent on correct resistance selection.
For inroading to occur, the muscle must be continuously exposed
to the resistance. If the muscle gets a respite from the resistance,
then some of the slow twitch motor units can recover and thwart
the inroading process. If you watch most people working out in a
commercial gym, you will see that they are not lifting weights,
they are throwing weights. We have a natural tendency to accelerate
when we lift weights. The reason we accelerate is because we are
trying to use momentum to make the task easier. Momentum is defined
by the tendency of any object that is put into motion to remain
in motion. An object is put into motion by an acceleration force.
If the weight you are using to work out with is moving under its
own momentum, then it is not loading the muscle. We instinctually
accelerate the weight because the resultant momentum spares us of
muscular loading and the consequent muscular fatigue. The less we
use acceleration, the less the weight can move under its own momentum,
and therefore the muscle is more continuously loaded. When the muscle
is continuously loaded, inroading is increased.
to our safety discussion, we should note that we also decrease force
by decreasing mass in our equation, F=M x A. The amount of weight
we can use when we can't invoke acceleration and momentum to help
us out is decreased. You simply can't lift as much weight as you
can throw. So by using the SuperSlow protocol, you decrease force
by decreasing both mass and acceleration.
So you can see
why I recommend SuperSlow. It makes the exercise both harder and
safer. Most importantly, it makes exercise harder and safer at the
same time. While it may seem trivial at first glance, this characteristic
is revolutionary in the field of exercise. In any other form of
exercise, as you increase the difficulty of the exercise, you must
also increase the forces involved. In order to make other forms
of exercise more challenging, you have to make them more dangerous.
When you start an aerobics class, you will usually begin in the
low impact class. When you get in better shape and need more challenge,
you graduate to the high impact class. Finally, when you are really
moving up, you graduate to the step class. By the time you make
it to this level, you may have to drop out because your knees, hips
and back are hurting. How many times have you seen a substitute
instructor in an aerobics class because the regular instructor is
out with an overuse injury? If you go from walking, to jogging,
to running wind sprints, the forces go up with the intensity...
and disproportionately so. SuperSlow exercise will get you in great
shape, and it won't get you hurt in the process.
to Articles page