Can You Bulk Up by Slowing Down?

You may have heard about the people who combine cardio with their strength training, racing through their weight lifting in an attempt to keep their heart rates up (and, presumably, save some time at the gym). But there is a type of strength training at the polar opposite end of the speed spectrum which is starting to catch on. Called “SuperSlow,” its adherents believe they they can get stronger – with lighter weights – than through conventional weight training.

SuperSlow was invented in 1982 by Ken Hutchins and was the off-shoot of an osteoporosis study with older women. Hutchins needed a regimen of exercise that would strengthen the women but wouldn't pose any danger to their frail bones.

Beginning a decade or so later, Wayne L. Westcott, PhD, fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusettsstaged two informal studies. 75 people were trained in each, across 8 and 10 week periods. Those test subjects who engaged in the SuperSlowregimen experienced a greater than 50 percent gain in strength over the control groups.

In a standard weight training routine, 8 to 12 repetitions are performed. Each repetition represents a two-second concentric action, a one-second pause, followed by a four-second eccentric action. The total time for the “set” requires about 55 to 85 seconds to complete.

With SuperSlow training, 4 to 6 repetitions consisting of a 10-second concentric phase followed by a four-second eccentric phase are performed. The whole set still takes 55 to 85 seconds to complete.

What's the science? By decreasing the speed of movement, SuperSlow resistance training is designed to create more tension in a muscle for a given workload. The amount of force or tension a muscle can develop during a muscle action is substantially affected by the rate of muscle shortening (concentric phase) or lengthening (eccentric phase). The amount of tension generated in a muscle is related to the number of contracting fibers.

Ironically, SuperSlow training was developed as a way to bring strength training to fragile old ladies, and now it is often regarded as too tedious and tough for the average weekend Hercules.

Not every researcher is a fan, however. A study done at the University of Alabama in Birmingham found that “aerobic and traditional resistance training may be more beneficial for burning calories and for cardiovascular fitness.”