(From Classic X, May 5, 1999)
If youve tried slow training in any fashion, then
this technique just may be the stimulation you need
to get fast results.
by Ellington Darden, Ph.D.
Ive been good friends with Dr. Wayne Westcott for many years. He initially attended one of our Nautilus Fitness Seminars in the early 1980s, and weve kept in touch ever since.
Dr. Westcott is director of a well-equipped, exercise-physiology laboratory at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts. Over the last 15 years, Waynes publications have made a major impact on getting Americans to incorporate strength training into their weekly lifestyles.
Recently (April 16, 1999), Wayne sent me a copy of his latest research, "Effects of Regular and Slow Speed Training on Muscle Strength."
In this study, he divided 73 subjects into two groups. The first group performed their strength-training workouts in a regular manner: one set of each exercise for 8 to 12 repetitions, using a speed count of 2 seconds up and 4 seconds down. The second group applied a slower speed: one set of each exercise for 4 to 6 repetitions, using a cadence of 10 seconds up and 4 seconds down.
Both groups were trained on 13 Nautilus exercises, two or three times per week, for 10 weeks. Both groups were tested for strength during the second and tenth week of the training program.
The results revealed that the slower-speed trainees experienced 50 percent greater strength gains than did the regular-speed participants.
Interestingly, this 50 percent greater strength gain was consistent with a project Dr. Westcott reported on five years earlier. In an almost identically designed study, with 74 subjects divided into two groups, he found the same 50 percent better gains in favor of the slower-speed group.
After Wayne shared with me the results of each of these studies, my response to him in both situations was as follows:
"If doing the repetitons half as fast produced 50 percent better results then why dont you next experiment with reducing the speed even more."
Waynes answer was something to the effect: "Ten up and 4 down is tough and tedious for our subjects. Moving even slower? That would be impossibly hard for them to tolerate."
Waynes right. Slow training is tough and tedious. But it is not impossibly hard. In fact, once you get the hang of it, the results are so outstanding that they far exceed the tough, tedious downside.
The primary architect behind slow training is Ken Hutchins, a long-time friend of mine. In fact, we grew up in the same town: Conroe, Texas.
According to Ken, and his SuperSlow organization, a correct repetition should take 10 seconds on the positive and 4 to 10 seconds on the negative or from 14 to 20 seconds for the entire repetition.
Slow training is increasing in popularity, primarily because of three reasons: (1) Slow repetitions are harder to perform at least they are once you master the correct form and you need harder repetitions for better growth stimulation; (2) They work your muscles more thoroughly; and (3) Theyre much safer than fast repetitions.
For more than two decades, Ive experimented with doing repetitions even slower than the recommended 14 to 20 second protocol. In 1978 at Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries, for example, we tried working up to 60 seconds on the positive and 60 seconds on the negative in two exercises: the chin and the dip.
You may have tried some of my advanced arm routines that involved this extremely slow style. If you did, then you probably were awed at the effects of a very slow chin and dip. They definitely work.
But the question is . . . Can this very slow positive and very slow negative be applied on other exercises?
Generally, no. But in some specific exercises, which Ill describe, yes.
Twenty years ago, all the Nautilus machines as well as those of other manufacturers contained too much internal friction to be used productively in such an extremely slow style. Furthermore, because of their disproportionate strength curves and natural sticking points, most barbell and dumbbell movements werent well suited to slow training. The chin and the dip both have a long range of motion, and they both allow you to change your leg position to help you perform the movement. At that time, they were the best exercises to use for extremely slow training.
In 1992, however, MedX Corporation introduced a line of strength-training machines that removed almost all of the internal friction from the basic movements. In addition, many of the MedX machines employed cams and resistance curves that were much more conducive to slow training than earlier machines. As a result, I began training research subjects with very slow repetitions.
There were other trainers around the country who did the same thing. Stacey Ferrari of Orlando, Florida, Steve Maxwell of Philadelphia, and Bob Sikora of Cleveland, Ohio, found that certain machines such as the leg extension, leg curl, pullover, and row could be adapted for extremely slow training.
Heres what Ive concluded over the last seven years.
(1) Theres a performance difference between single-joint and multiple-joint movements. A single-joint exercise divides best into three parts: positive, full contraction, and negative. Ideally, you should take 20 seconds to do the positive phase, hold statically in the most contracted position for 20 seconds, and perform the negative phase for another 20 seconds.
Since multiple-joint exercises involve a lockout, which makes the movement much easier, they separate most productively into two parts: positive and negative. Take 20 seconds to do the positive portion, avoid locking out, then smoothly turnaround the repetition and perform the negative phase in 20 seconds.
(2) Two repetitions work better than one. The best goal for a single-joint exercise is 20-20-20, or 60 seconds, on the first repetition, and 10-10-10, or 30 seconds, on the second repetition. For a multiple-joint movement the guideline is 20-20 for both repetitions. Thus, the maximum time for a single-joint exercise is 90 seconds and the maximum time for a multiple-joint movement is slightly less, at 80 seconds.
Note: you need an assistant to keep track of the time as you perform these extremely slow repetitions. He or she should have a watch with a second hand and continually callout the progression of seconds. When you can do the required number of seconds, increase the resistance by 5 percent at the next workout.
(3) Proper breathing is essential for success with slow repetitions. The key to proper breathing is to take short, shallow breaths. You should emphasize exhalation more than inhalation, especially during the final repetition. Its especially important that you dont hold your breath.
(4) Its more appropriate to apply very slow repetitions to machine exercises than it is to barbell exercises. As mentioned previously, most barbell and dumbbell exercises have sticking points that make it very difficult to move slowly through certain portions of the repetition. A properly designed exercise machine can compensate for the sticking point by smoothing out the resistance curve, and MedX machines provide the best resistance curves for the application of slow training.
(5) Machines with bearings at the pivot points work better than machines with bushings. Bearings generate less friction than do bushings. Thus, the resistance in the machine is smoother and more exact. Most of the current heavy-duty strength-training machines such as Nautilus, MedX, Cybex, Hammer, and Body Masters have bearings in all the important pivot points. Many of the popular machines prior to 1988, however, contain bushings and are less applicable.
Below are two recommended routines, one for single-joint exercises and the other for multiple-joint movements. Perform them at alternate workouts for the next month. For example, on Monday or Tuesday, do the Single-Joint Routine, and on Thursday or Friday, perform the Multiple-Joint Routine.
(Two repetitions: 20-20-20, 10-10-10)
1. Leg curl
2. Leg extension
3. Lateral raise
5. Arm cross
6. Biceps curl
7. Triceps extension
(Two repetitions: 20-20, 20-20)
1. Leg press
2. Overhead press
3. Behind neck pulldown
4. Bench press
At your first and second workouts youll have to reduce the resistance on each exercise by 25 percent of what you normally do for 10 repetitions so you can better learn the correct form. Dont worry, youll still feel an intense burn in the bellies of the involved muscles. Soon youll be using as much resistance in this extremely slow style as you used to lift when you were training faster.
Its to your advantage, also, to hook up with a good training partner. Just as Dr. Wayne Westcott observed earlier, slower training can become tough and tedious especially so, in my opinion, if you try to work through some of the difficulties by yourself. A training partner can usually talk you through the downside.
But best of all, with extremely slow repetitions, your muscles will grow significantly larger and stronger. And soon sooner than you think!