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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