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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 media.

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


Why SuperSlow?

By M. Doug McGuff, M.D.

An exercise 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.

Exactly how 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.

Another reason 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.

The process 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.

Returning again 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.


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