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"Doing more exercise with less intensity,"
Arthur Jones believes, "has all but
destroyed the actual great value
of weight training. Something
must be done . . . and quickly."
The New Bodybuilding for
Old-School Results supplies
MUCH of that "something."

 

This is one of 93 photos of Andy McCutcheon that are used in The New High-Intensity Training to illustrate the recommended exercises.

To find out more about McCutcheon and his training, click here.

 

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EXTREMELY S-L-O-W REPETITIONS
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Ellington Darden, Ph.D.

EXTREMELY S-L-O-W REPETITIONS:
An Advanced Technique Explained

If you’ve tried slow training in any fashion, then
this technique just may be the stimulation you need
to get fast results.


I’ve been good friends with Dr. Wayne Westcott for many years. He initially attended one of our Nautilus Fitness Seminars in the early 1980s, and we’ve 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, Wayne’s 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."


DR. WESTCOTT’S FINDINGS

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 don’t you next experiment with reducing the speed even more."

Wayne’s 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."

Wayne’s 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.


FROM SLOW TO SLOWER

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) They’re much safer than fast repetitions.

For more than two decades, I’ve 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 I’ll 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 weren’t 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.


POINTS TO PONDER

Here’s what I’ve concluded over the last seven years.

(1) There’s 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. It’s especially important that you don’t hold your breath.

(4) It’s 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.


SUGGESTED WORKOUTS

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.

Single-Joint Routine

(Two repetitions: 20-20-20, 10-10-10)

1. Leg curl

2. Leg extension

3. Lateral raise

4. Pullover

5. Arm cross

6. Biceps curl

7. Triceps extension

Multiple-Joint Routine

(Two repetitions: 20-20, 20-20)

1. Leg press

2. Overhead press

3. Behind neck pulldown

4. Bench press

5. Chin-up

6. Dip


SOONER THAN YOU THINK!

At your first and second workouts you’ll 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. Don’t worry, you’ll still feel an intense burn in the bellies of the involved muscles. Soon you’ll be using as much resistance in this extremely slow style as you used to lift when you were training faster.

It’s 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!

Discuss this article | Text Version

JonnieZ

I have been using 10/10 reps, with one set and 5 exercises (sit-ups, leg press, bench press, pull-downs, military press) for the last 6 weeks. I am finding my apparent rep rang is 4-6. Or, 80-120 seconds under load.

I am certainly getting stronger, and leaner (under 10% bf).

Good stuff.

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kimgunnar

im gonna try it tomorrow.
thanks dr.darden!
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Bubba Earl

Georgia, USA

Dr. D.

Please explain in more detail the benefits of alternating a single joint only workout and a multiple joint only workout. I have never heard of that and I find it intriguing. I have always done two different workouts, but those workouts always consisted of a combination of single and multiple joint exercises. Thank you

Brent
Gainesville GA
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Ellington Darden

Brent,

Good question. But I'd rather you try both routines twice a week for a couple of weeks and let me know your thoughts on why I organized it that way. Okay?

Ellington
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wonabbig

Ell,Mike Mentzer agreed with AJ and yourself about slow and deliberate reps.But he often told me,and in his books,that exercises like laterals and bent rows should be done with a slight 'hitch'(his word) because of "disadvantious leverage problems."What is your opinion on these 2 exercises?
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Ellington Darden

wonabbig,

I like the lateral raise and the bent-over row. I'm just not sure what you mean by doing the movements with a hitch. I describe both exercises in my new HIT book and they can certainly be done without cheating.

Ellington

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wonabbig

Mentzer said that laterals and bent rows were exercises that you shouldn't do in the 4/4 cadence.That the "HITCH" at the start of each movement(slight throw/cheat)was to overcome the hardest part(disadvantious leverage).I did buy your new book(simply the best bodybuilding book ever!)I never heard of laterals explained your way(arms very slightly to the rear)but even standing up to mimic this move with no weights I feel a very strong contraction in my side delts.One question though,when doing the different routines should we just go to failure or train like you describe the 'curl to induce vomiting'.(meaning beyond normal failure with cheating,forced reps,etc.Most(like me)have been training for years pretty hard and wonder if failure is good enough or should most sets go beyond?
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Ellington Darden

wonabbig,

You have to be the judge on how much you need to cheat during each exercise. But I'd keep it to the minimum amount. The story in chapter 1 on the barbell curl and vomiting is not a good example of how to train on each recommended exercise. I simply threw it in to get attention, primarily for people who have never tried HIT.

Reread Drew Baye's Part 1 Interview of me, especially the section on intensity and form, to learn my views of both.

Ellington
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PeteK

I like the way superslow feels. I am a bit worried that it might not target the type IIb muscle fibers very well due to the slow contractions. Is this fear justified or not? Either way I do like the method itself.

Cheers,
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hdled

Dr. Darden,

I've been doing something similar to this prior to finding this site--and buying your book. My goal has always been to reach concentric, isometric and eccentric failure in the fastest/safest way possible. stimulation in the shortest/safest is to reach concentric, isometric and eccentric failure as quickly as possible.I've been using Nautilus machines to do it.

Using a metronome, I lift the weight over a period of 25 to 35 seconds, come to the isometric position and contract the muscle/s as hard as possible, which lasts about 11 seconds for me, and then I am forced to lower the bar as slowly as possible. In reality, the bar is probably lowered in about 15 seconds.

I'm reaching failure of all three levels of strength in about one minute. I am unaware of any training system that has that much to offer.

For compound movements, the times are about the same. I raise the resistance in about 25 to 35 seconds, stop just short of lock out--about one inch on the bench press, and then am forced to lower it again in about 15 seconds. I find very little difference using this technique.s
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Ellington Darden

hdled,

Sounds like you're into a plan that will work for you.

Ellington
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Bronx Bomber

why would you recommend a technique that doesn't work?
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HSTMD

Did I understand this correctly? A total of TWO repetitions?
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2phat

That's correct, two reps totalling 90 seconds under load for the single-joint rotary machines and 80 seconds for mutiple-joint compound movements. As an experiment, I substituted a 20-20-20 and 10-10-10 protocol for my usual superslow (10-10) set of biceps curls on the Hammer selectorized. Even though I underestimated the resistance slightly, I feel a great deal of growth stimulation, as only slow training can provide. I will try this technique on other excercises as well, as Dr. Darden has never been known to give less than visionary advice...
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bemorecynical

If i do this routine, would it be overtraining if i do each exercise twice a week? So i do day 1 on monday and thursday, while day 2 on tuesday and thursday?

I find that the second day after the workout the soreness is gone.
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Ellington Darden

bemore,

Your idea looks like overtraining to me.

Ellington
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bemorecynical

Thanks for the quick response Ellington.

Here's another question:

According to Dr. Westcott's findings, you stated that after 10 weeks of working out, the strength gains had been about 50 percent per member.

You mentioned some modifications to the workout by separating multiple joint movements and single joint movements separately, etc. Were the strength gains practically the same as with Dr. Westcott's experiment? Or were they higher?
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bemorecynical

Dr. Darden,

Must multiple joint movements and single joint movements be done in separate workouts in your opinion?

Or can they be done in the same workout provided your recommendation is followed that the multiple joint movements are performed on a 20-20, 20-20 basis and the single joint movements in a 20-20-20, 10-10-10 basis?

Thanks
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The Phenom

What are bushings on machines? I am not sure if the machines at my gym have them or not.
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Bill Crawford

Arizona, USA

Phenom: I googled "bushing" and got the following good definition "A metal "donut" that supports a rotating shaft (like an axle). Most bushings are metal, with most metal bushings made out of something called Bronze Oilite. This is a metal that is permanently lubricated. "

More modern weight machines use bearings instead of bushings. Bearings have lower friction.

Thanks,

Mac
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mrpelota

California, USA

I'm faily new to HIT in practice, but I've been reading about it for a while now. The one area that I haven't found much discussion on is the inclusion of a cardio routine. I've articles discussing the sort of "built in" cardiovascular elements of an HIT routine but I'm wondering if that's really enough to build up endurance in your circulatory system. Does anyone have any thoughts on this or know of some good articles to read?

-Mike
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marcrph

Portugal

Dr. Darden:

I have become recently interested in these extremely s-l-o-w repetitions.
I've been experimenting with these primarily in the single joint mode.

My workout at home as follows:

Leg extension Nautilus
Leg curl prone Nautilus
Pullover Nautilus
Arm Cross Nautilus
Abdominal crunch Nautilus
calf raise Nautilus OME

...all single joint movements...

Salient points for myself:

1) The negative seems easily, especially on the Nautilus 1st gen arm cross when doing 20 seconds.
2) I must concentrate on breathing
3) The 2nd rep of 10 seconds duration seems almost impossible to do after the 1st rep.

Questions for you:

1) Would you recommend just doing 1 all out rep for single joint exercises instead of the prescribed 2 repetitions?
2) Would you recommend continuing on the extremely slow reps for several months?
3) Would you recommend shortening the negative time period on high friction machine such as the Nautilus arm cross? example: 20sec/20sec/5sec?

Marc
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COLE BALBOA

DR. DARDEN....

Have you used any type of super slow training with elderly clients, or those with joint problems, like arthritis ????

I am curious to see what type of effect it will have on the joints of such trainees, and it's pros or cons for them in the short term and long term.
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guyinmyst

Hello, I am 45 and just read Living Longer Stronger. I have a few questions. 1. Can I start the lifting routine before the dieting? If I wait on the diet until after the holidays and want to start the strength element now, should I make any adjustments? 2. I am 6'4" with a larger frame. Should I still reduce to 1500 calories, or should I increase some? Thanks. I am looking forward to the results. Mark
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