Pros and Cons of "Super Slow" Training

This came in from a reader via email two weeks ago: "Newsweek carries a story on a new exercise program called "Super Slow". It sounds very exciting:only 20 minutes once a week. I'm sure many of your readers will want to hear your comments about it."

The story that the reader is talking about was published in the February 12, 2001 issue of Newsweek (the one with the cover on drug addiction). For those of you who didn’t read the article, "Super Slow" is weight lifting done in slow motion: ten seconds to lift the weight and four seconds to lower it. Ken Hutchins, the inventor of the technique, believes that you only need to do a 20-minute session consisting of six exercises (10 repetitions each) once a week. Hutchins also believes that this is all the exercise you need to stay fit for good. That claim is highly controversial and was, in fact, discussed during the 2000 AsiaFit Convention last November. Exercise expert Robbie Parker opened his seminar on "Controversies in Resistance Training" by challenging that claim. Parker stressed that while the concept is intriguing there is no research to back it up.

Current research indicates that a complete fitness program includes aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training. That translates into walking/running/cycling/etc. plus weight lifting plus stretching.

What is Super Slow Training?
According to Dr. Wayne Westcott, author of the article "The Scoop on Super Slow Training" (Idea Personal Trainer Magazine, December 1999), it was invented by Hutchins in 1982 while working with female osteoporosis patients in the University of Florida. Since he was working with such frail patients, he decided that the traditional speeds of lifting were too fast (an average of two seconds lifting, one-second pause, and four seconds lowering). He was so encouraged by the progress of his patients using the Super Slow method that he began using it with men and women of all ages and abilities. By the early 1990’s, the method had spread and became especially popular in the East, South and Midwest United States.

Studies done on Super Slow Training.
Westcott, is also the author of the three scientific studies mentioned in the Newsweek article. He is the Fitness Research Director for the YMCA. He did a study on beginner exercisers in 1993 and again in 1999. In both studies, he found that the super slow group increased their strength by fifty percent more than the regular speed group. A good thing to keep in mind though is that unlike the once-a-week claim of Hutchins, Westcott’s studies involved three-times-a-week sessions.

Westcott also did a study using advanced participants in 1999. The study involved nine men and six women who had reached strength plateaus. This means that they were not increasing in strength anymore with the existing programs they had. Westcott found that the super slow group experienced twice as much strength increases compared to the regular speed group. However, as exciting as those findings are, you need to keep in mind that the study group was very small. More studies with greater numbers of participants are needed to validate this conclusion. Take note that this study also involved three-times-a-week sessions.

A big advantage is the smaller risk of injury compared to other methods of lifting because of the slow speed. Many joint injuries occur from lifting weights too fast. This is assuming, of course, that you are lifting with good technique. Poor execution, even if done slowly, will eventually hurt you (but you will get hurt a lot faster if you lift with a lot of momentum).

Another advantage of Super Slow Training is that it can be used to "wake" up muscles that have gotten used to traditional methods. You see, the body is so marvelous at adapting to almost anything you give it, that it needs variety about every four to six weeks if you want to continue to see results. Westcott calls Super Slow Training an important tool in your strength training toolbox. Just like you cannot build a house with only a saw, you cannot build the best body you can possibly have with only one method (this is a far cry from Hutchins’ claim of being the only form of exercise you need).

One more advantage is the amount of time that the muscle is placed under tension. This could be a key factor in why the participants who did the Super Slow method experienced greater gains in strength.

The biggest disadvantage is that Super Slow Training is physically and mentally demanding. That’s why even though it would be a safe method to use with beginners, Westcott recommends a more traditional approach for people who are just starting to lift weights.

I did a lecture on Super Slow training exactly one year ago at a fitness seminar for the Association of Fitness Professionals of the Philippines but I have not really experimented with the method myself. The few times that I did try it, I was bored to death and I found it very difficult to keep track of the repetitions. I challenged my audience of fitness trainers to try the method for themselves. To this date, very few have tried it and those who did reported to me that it was difficult to stay motivated.

Robbie Parker feels that Super Slow Training is not appropriate for athletes involved in power events. With good reason since the principle of specificity of training states that your body adapts specifically to the kind of training you give it.

Practical applications.
If you are going to try this method, you need to lower the weight that you are used to lifting by at least 30 percent. Do only one set of ten repetitions (trust me, you won’t want to do more) per muscle group.

Trainers familiar with the method recommend counting the seconds and not the repetitions (again, trust me, you will lose count). You should take two-and-a-half to three minutes per set. You could set a timer and just focus on counting the ten seconds lifting and four seconds lowering. Well, at least, it will stop you from talking to your gym classmate and not concentrating on your form.

Super Slow Training separates the boys from the men, so to speak, when it comes to strength machines. Since you are lifting so slowly, you will soon discover whether your gym has quality machines or not. Poor quality machines are not as smooth and have more friction compared to top-of-the-line equipment.

Westcott recommends trying Super Slow Training when you can’t break through your strength plateau. Do it for four to six weeks, then switch back to your regular routine.

As for me, I am tempted to give the method a try again as a variation in my program. I just have to get over that boredom thing. Of course, if future research does prove Ken Hutchins to be right and once a week is all you need to keep fit, I would be more than willing to be bored for twenty minutes.

The Yoga Foundation of the Philippines will hold a Master Class for fitness instructors on March 4, Sunday, 2001 at the Hyatt Hotel. New York instructors David Life and Sharon Gannon will introduce Jivamukti Yoga. For more details, call Sandy Arando at 515-1268.

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