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How to Do Super Slow Resistance Training

Have you heard of super slow resistance training? The idea is that if you exercise in a very slow and controlled fashion, you get stronger and avoid injury while spending less time in the gym. Sounds intriguing? Get-Fit Guy explains. Plus, get an exclusive super slow workout!

By
Brock Armstrong,
Episode #430
Photo of a woman doing a super slow lift

Although this training style has been popping up more and more over the last few years, super slow resistance training was actually originally used by bodybuilders back in the 1960s. In fact, the benefits of performing an exercise with an extremely slow tempo can be traced to a Strength and Health magazine article written in 1962 by the late Bob Hoffman. The article stated that slow tempo movements were being used by the weightlifters of the York Barbell Club, a weightlifting team that won many international competitions and were breaking world records.

Back then, it was referred to as “muscle contraction with measured movement,” and involved lifting 10-seconds up and 10-seconds back down. Now, if you have ever tried to do a squat, a push-up, or an overhead press for 10 seconds in each direction, you know that this can require some pretty high levels of patience and mindfulness. It's also darn hard!

This can require some pretty high levels of patience and mindfulness and it's also darn hard!

As a matter of comparison, a traditional resistance training routine would typically take about 1-2 seconds to lift a weight, and perhaps slightly longer than that to lower that weight.

In a standard Nautilus training protocol, an athlete will perform eight to twelve repetitions (Westcott, 1999) with each repetition having a two-second concentric action, a one-second pause, and then a four-second eccentric action. So, the total time for this type of set would take about 55-85 seconds to complete. But, with the super slow protocol, doing only four to six repetitions, with a 10-second concentric phase followed by a 10-second eccentric phase, it would take only slightly longer for fewer reps.

In a paper from the early 1980s, researcher Ken Hutchins wrote about the super slow technique while he was leading a study that involved a group of elderly women who had osteoporosis. He believed this technique was safer for the participants than a regular lifting style. When they used the standard weightlifting protocol (two seconds up and four seconds down), Hutchins was concerned about the women's “erratic form” so he implemented the super slow lifting and the women in the study made dramatic gains in strength.

An interesting part of the newer versions of super slow resistance workouts is that rather than doing multiple sets for each body part, you just do one long set for each exercise. Each set is performed until muscle failure or until your form degrades to the point of being dangerous. At this point, you move on to another body part.

But don’t be fooled—just because elderly ladies did it and it involves moving slower and exercising for an overall shorter amount of time doesn’t mean it is easy!

The Physiology

One of the main objectives of super slow resistance training is to create more tension in a muscle for a given workload. This is done by decreasing the speed of movement. The amount of tension that is generated in a muscle is directly related to the number of contracting fibers. Each muscle fiber (or cell) contains several hundred to several thousand myofibrils, which are composed of myosin (thick fibers) and actin (thin fibers) protein filaments.

Inside those muscle fibers, the slower the rate at which the actin and myosin filaments slide past each other, the larger the number of links or cross-bridges that form between them. The more cross-bridges there are at a given time, the more tension is created in the muscle. So when you are moving your muscles very slowly, a higher number of cross-bridges can be formed, which should lead to a maximum amount of tension being created during a workout. This tension provides a boost in the stimulation of muscle strength development.

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