Superslow Strength Training For Great Results
There is nothing more impressive to the casual observer than watching someone push, pull or hoist significant amounts of weight.
If you were a betting person, you could challenge that same person to try and duplicate the same feat 10 times slower and still achieve the same number of repetitions. My guess is that you would probably win the bet.
This method of training is not a gimmick. In fact, it is a style of lifting that significantly decreases the chance for injury, keeps the muscle under contraction for a longer period of time, and has a name – “Superslow Strength Training” or SST.
SST was a technique that was brought to the public front in 1982 by Ken Hutchins. It was a result of a study Hutchins performed on older women to determine the best resistance training methods of increasing bone density as a result of osteoporosis without the concern for momentum-based heavier lifting. Its benefits were realized unilaterally as it also played a role for significant strength gains for individuals who were unaffected by bone density issues as well.
The premise of the technique focuses on performing the first phase of the weight movement where the muscle is shortening (concentric) over a ten-second effort. This is followed by a one-second pause, and then a 4 second return as the muscle lengthens (eccentric) back to its original position.
The original Nautilus training protocol (remember those royal blue machines with chains?) focused on 8-12 repetitions focusing on a cadence of 2-1-4. Translated, this simply meant that the muscle shortening phase or load-moving phase should last 2 seconds, with a one second pause mid-movement and a 4-second return (eccentric) phase to return to the starting position. This method of lifting lasted 55-85 seconds to complete one set of repetitions.
SST has many positive benefits and does not require expensive equipment to perform. It can also be done using resistance-type calisthenics. From a scientific perspective, the only difficulty is the discovery effort of finding out the correct weight to use so that intended failure (inability to move the weight beyond the target repetitions) will occur at the completion of the 6th repetition.
Since less momentum is used, this method of lifting is not only safer but also applies a more even distribution of force throughout the working muscles. The total time the muscles are under contraction (which also includes the eccentric or lengthening phase if done properly) is extremely long which means the muscle is working much longer per repetition.
While SST has no “bad” aspect to it, the extent to how it replicates functional (real-life) situations is questionable. Lifelike situations often require the use of power, or the ability to exert maximal force to move a given amount of work in the shortest time possible. SST does not utilize recruitment of force in the same manner as a momentum or power-based movements so may not be equally effective in some situations.
SST is not for wimps. It is not defined by the amount of weight lifted, but more so by the most weight an individual can lift over the 10-1-4 second cadence without failing until the end of the 6th repetition. This method of lifting is tedious and tough.
Practicing complete candor, I would be remiss by saying that while we adhere to this method frequently at our gym, it can be extremely boring for the client. It is best inserted into a time-based curriculum where SST is only one portion of the clients overall fitness curriculum. Naturally, the training style should correspond to the needs of the individual , however improved strength is the common denominator that applies to all.
The Bottom Line
One of the best ways to maintain one’s enthusiasm for fitness training, is to change it up. While the SST method is a fantastic “tool” in your training kit, the more varied physical movements are and the manner in which they are negotiated (slowly, with and without momentum, quickly, heavier and lighter weights and reps, and from multiple angles) the more capable the body becomes in a variety of health and life situations. SST is brutally tough, which also makes it brutally good, but should not be the only method of improving ones overall fitness.