- P90X Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps Review
- P90X Chest Shoulders and Triceps
- The Exercises:
- Pike Press
- Side Tri-Rise
- Floor Fly
- Overhead Tricep Extensions
- 2-Twitch Speed Push-up
- Lying Tricep Extensions
- Side-to-Side Push-ups
- Side-Leaning Tricep Extensions
- One-Arm Push-up
- Weighted Circles
- Throw the Bomb
- Clap or Plyo Push-up
- Slow-Mo Throw
- Front to Back Tricep Extensions
- One-Arm Balance Push-ups
- Fly-Row Press
- Dumbbell Cross-Body Blow
- Super Slow High Intensity Training: Is 15 minutes of Strength Training A Week Enough?
- Slow it Down – Super Slow
- Targeting The Muscle – A Win for Machine Based Training
- 3 Fundamentals to HIT
- A Sample Workout
- Benefits of Super Slow / HIT
- The perfect Training protocol?
- Found This Interesting? Then You Might Like:
- Tip: Stop Training Slow
- What is Super Slow Training?
- But Where Are The Muscular Bodies?
- 1 – It doesn’t make you much stronger.
- 2 – It minimizes force production.
- 3 – It will deplete muscle glycogen more than other types of lifting.
- 4 – It’s a mental battle on every set.
- 5 – It’s not really doable on the big lifts.
- One Good Use for Super Slow
- How to Do Super Slow Resistance Training
- The Physiology
- Slow burn exercise produces results
- In Conversation with Adam Zickerman: What’s changed since Power of 10?
- Changing mindsets one client at a time
- Equipment choices
- Adam’s perspective on exercise today
- Advice for personal trainers
- Successes and failures
- Ten things we learned from Adam
- 1. Passion
- The most successful trainers eat, live and sleep this stuff (HIT).
- I was so obsessed with this paradigm shift that I became this crazy evangelical creature of this idea (HIT).
- 2. Ambition
- Personal training was always an idea for me, but I didn’t just want to be a personal trainer.
- 3. Luck
- My career has been a series of serendipitous experiences.
- 4. Location
- I opened my first place in a small basement in a very blue-collar area of Long Island. People were coming from all over Long Island to train with me. HIT was a real novelty at the time.
- 5. Can-do and will-do
- I had 120 names and I called everybody up and said ‘We are opening! We are opening!’ About 20-30 started with me, which was enough to pay the bills.
- 6. Evolution
- I’ve made the mistake of not thinking for myself in a way, just following a strict protocol. Now, I still believe in the principles of lifting weights slowly and safely and there has to be a certain level of intensity, but that’s where the rules end. I’ve introduced intervals, I am not just using these retro-fitted cam machines anymore, I am not so adamant about doing fused movement arms anymore, as opposed to independent and bilateral types of movement, when I feel it’s necessary. And why do I feel those things are necessary? The variables are un-ending, depending on a person’s genetics, lifestyle, age, psychological profile, so many things come into play. What good is putting someone through a very strict Ken Hutchins-like original protocol, when mentally they can’t handle it?
- 7. Trust
- They trust that me and the rest of my staff are doing all the work and research (in exercise). We are keeping our clients informed, they appreciate our feedback.
- 8. Hospitality
- There are some people that have it and there are people that don’t. The first thing I ask a personal trainer if they are thinking of getting into personal training is to be very honest with their self-assessment and ask themselves ‘do I naturally connect with people? ‘If you don’t have that innate ability to care, then this is probably not the best business for you.
- 9. Communication
- The ability to communicate is absolutely the most important thing for a trainer. Can you take an idea that’s kind of abstract and explain it to somebody in a way they will understand it? Carl Sagan can explain astronomy to the lay person. He’s the best example of someone can take really abstract ideas and have anybody understand what’s it about. I always say ‘can you Carl Sagan it?
- 10. Crisis and failures
- I have a lot more failures than I do successes.
- We’ve had our fair share of crises. I go with the flow, I take things as they come and I deal with them. I am a pretty even keel personality that way.
- I can crumble or I can move on. I don’t let it escalate to panic, I just deal with it as best as I can and hope for the best.
- Power of 10 Workout Program
P90X Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps Review
Tony says: The reason why chest, shoulders and triceps are in one workout together is because this is all about taking the energy and the resistance and pushing it all away from you. And that’s why it works. It’s just good old fashioned weight lifting 101, this stuff has been around a long time. But it’s kind of got lost out there in fancy gidgets and gadgets and stupid things that don’t work. If we neglect this, we can’t develop the shoulders and the chest as well. So it’s very important to work out the triceps as much or as hard as we do everything else.
Overview: This workout is extreme. If you’ve made it this far you should be in great shape and ready for it, or at least think you are. The challenges found within are enough to test anybody, even a fitness fanatic, so prepare to push yourself. My personal favorites are all the interesting variations on tricep exercises; from Throw The Bomb to Side Tri Rise, you’ll be pushing and punishing your triceps every which way.
However, the cake is clearly taken by Tony’s ridiculously challenging final exercises. If the thought of One Arm Push-Ups and Plyo Push-Ups doesn’t make you gulp, than you should be applying to be an Army Ranger already. These final exercises will allow anybody to push their limit, and the rest of us to struggle and strain and feel a sense of accomplishment for even just hanging in there.
So have fun! Enjoy this workout. It’s big, full of large muscle moves, and will leave you feeling jacked and pumped like nobody’s business at the end of it.
You know the drill by now. The warm up for this workout is about 8:45 minutes, and kicks off with high knees, and then transition into jogging on the spot. Then you jog with knees wide, then heels to butt. Finish up and do some jumping jacks, some running lunges and you’re done with the warm up.
The stretches begin with some head rolls of various kinds, and then some shoulder rolls, both forward and back. Interlace fingers before you and roll shoulders forward, and then behind your back and stretch our your shoulders and pec. Do some reach and chest stretches, and then segue into some arm rotations. Do some shakers, some huggers, some swimmers, and finish it off with some reachers.
Slow Motion 3 in 1 Push-Up : Start with 3 slow push-ups, hands wide, following Tony’s count, and then do another set with hands at regular width. Do a final 3 sets at military push-up width, still going slow. Then if you want bust out a ton of fast ones as a bonus with Tony.
In & Out Shoulder Flies : Stand straight and hold your weights by your side. Lift them stiff arm before you to shoulder height, then lower then. Lift them again out to the sides to shoulder height, and then lower them again.
Chair Dips : Place your hands behind you on a chair’s edge, and then lower yourself. To make it harder, raise a leg.
Plange Push-Ups : Get into the position for a military push-up, and then slide your hands down to your rib-cage. Do a push-up, and at the top arch your back for height. Don’t raise your hips, but focus on your back.
Pike Press : Go into downward dog, butt in the air, feet on tiptoes, and lower your head to the floor for a push-up.
Side Tri-Rise : Lie on your side, legs extended out at a 30 degree angle, and press your hand against the floor to raise your torso off the ground. Place your other hand on your shoulder.
Floor Flys : This push-up requires a sliding surface, either a piece of cardboard or a towel. When you go down into the push-up, slide a hand out to the side on the towel. Switch hands half way.
Scarecrows : Get some light weights, stand straight, and hold your arms out to your sides, forearms vertical so your hands are pointed at the ground. Then raise them so that the weights are up, but keep the elbows stationary.
Overhead Tricep Extension : Hold a heavy weight behind your head with both hands, and straighten your arms so that the weight is raised above your head.
Two Twitch Speed Push-Ups : Do 3 fast push-ups, and then 3 slow push-ups at Tony’s count.
Y-Press : Stand straight, hold the weights by your side, and then elevate them into a shoulder press, but push them out wider than shoulder height to simulate a capital Y.
Lying Tricep Extensions : Lie on your back, weights held above your head, and then lower them to the ground on each side of your head. Raise them back up to a straight arm, and keep your elbows in place.
Side to Side Push-Ups : These are traveling push-ups, where each time you go down you cross over to walk back and forth across the floor.
Pour Flys : Stand straight, raise your arms laterally till they are extended out horizontally, and then turn the weights as if pouring a jug of water onto the floor.
Side Leaning Tricep Extensions : Sit on a chair, lean to one side, and raise a weight so that it’s above your head. Bend your arm so that the weight is lowered behind your head. Be sure to point your elbow straight up at the ceiling.
One Arm Push-Ups : Get really wide feet, go down on one arm, and switch every other push-up.
Weighted Circles : Stand straight, extend arms out laterally, and then do small circles with light weights in your hands.
Throw the Bomb : Stand in a boxer’s stance, hold a light weight in one hand overhead, and cock it back as if about to throw it. Extend the arm, then return it to the cocked position.
Clap or Plyo Push-Ups : Do a push-up with enough spring that you come off the ground and clap your hands, or come off the ground altogether.
Slow-Mo Throw : Sit in a chair, arms by your sides, raise them straight before you, and then bend at the elbows to bring the weights by your hears.
Front to Back Tricep Extensions : Stand straight, hip cocked out to one side, elbow pointing at the sky, and lift and lower a weight behind and before your head.
One Arm Balance Push-Up : Do a push-up then roll over to one side and lift a hand to the sky. Do a push-up, and do the other side.
Fly-Row-Press : Stand straight, raise the weights in a fly, elbows bent, then lower, bring the weights up to your ears and do a shoulder press. Reverse curl back down.
Dumbbell Cross Body Blows : Lie on your back and throw punches at the sky with weights in your hands. And you’re done!
Cool off with some ballistic stretching, shaking your arms out, followed by some huggers. Then do some pot stirrers, then rock like an elephant as your rise. Do some chest stretchers, some lateral arm extensions, and then just hang down, holding your elbows, hanging side to side.Then get on hands and knees to do a combination of cat/cow. Sit on your heels and finish of with your child’s pose.
Finally, a hard workout so far everything you may have heard about P90X Chest Shoulders and Triceps DELIVERS. I don’t know if I was just tired or what, but for whatever reason, this workout was the hardest for me by a long shot. This is probably because of my ectomorph upperbody. In earlier article I have mentioned my body is a endomorph / ectomorph split. Ectomorph meaning that I have a small frame and very lean muscle mass, basically a skinny guy in my upperbody.
P90X Chest Shoulders and Triceps
With all the other P90X workouts, they were decent, but I would not call any of them hard, where I actually had to dig down and apply some serious effort to complete the workout. But this one . . . this was THE one. I was already tired by the 4th exercise. I am going to do this workout again later in the week and confirm if it was just as hard.
For being so hard, I am giving it a preemptive 5 Face Charles Award. This one seriously kicked my ass.
As you will notice, a lot of the exercises are incorporated from some of the other P90X workouts. I will note where.
Slow-Motion 3-n-1 Push-ups
Here we start out with what I’m weakest at: Push-ups. I’m actually kinda grateful for that because it’s where I need the most help, and I know it.
You start out with a normal wide “grip” push-up, but as the exercise name states, you do it in slow motion. You go 4 seconds down, then 4 seconds back-up. Then you change your grip to a standard push-up when your hands are at shoulder width. Then you change that to military push-ups (your hands are close to your sides). You stop when you can’t do any more. So yeah! we start out with a bang.
In & Out (Not the hamburger) Shoulder Fly
This is just a straight up no-frills shoulder fly. After you come out of that, you do a side lateral raise. Here you pick your number and stick with it. If you want size, pick a heavier weight and do lower reps. If you want tone, pick a lower weight and do higher reps.
Julie and I outlined this in Bench Tricep Dips here. These are the exact same thing.
This was sort of the odd man out push-up. The only difference between this and a normal push-up is you have your hands next to your rib cage, versus higher up. The jury is in recess about this exercise.
I have never done push-ups this way but Julie teaches this in her boot camp classes. You get your body into a pike position, with your legs spread open, your butt high in the air and your hands spread out (mind out the gutter). Then you do a push-up so the crown of your head touches the floor then come back up. It’s a smoking shoulder workout.
This was also done in the Shoulders and Arms day. “Lose your weights because you don’t need these. Like the name states you are lying on your back. Use your arm that is off the ground to place is on the ground in front of your chest or wherever is comfortable, and then uses your arms that are already on the ground to grab your shoulder. Then using the arm that is in front of your chest push to rise up your body. This is a great bodyweight exercise. I love this!” – Charles Lloyd
Julie also uses this in her boot camp classes!! It’s VERY effective and one of her favorites as well.
This was a very cool exercise. I never thought about doing it. Here, you need a piece of cardboard or something that will slide easily on the floor. You start out with a normal push-up but with one hand on the piece of cardboard you slide out with your hand then push yourself up then slide back in. Do 4 of these with each hand then switch arm. It works out some serious pectoral muscles and triceps as auxiliary and practically killed me.
I think I may have done some of these in the past; I used this as a recovery from the Floor Flys. I am using the Bodylastics resistance bands. This exercise kicks serious ass with resistance bands.
With your weights or resistance bands, bring your arms out so they are parallel to the floor with your elbows in the up position. All you do here is move your forearm between the up and down position while keeping your arms parallel. If you choose the right weight, it will seriously burn after a few seconds. But a great exercise.
Overhead Tricep Extensions
This was also done on the Shoulder and Tricep Days, but were called Lying-down Tricep extensions. The only difference is you are standing up if you have dumbbells. If you have resistance bands they are exactly the same- “These are more commonly called “Skull Crushers.” If you’re using dumbbells while lying down you extend your arms straight up and only using your triceps you bring the weight down to the sides of your face and back up again. With the bands you stand up and do the same thing, except you are bringing the bands behind your head. I have done millions of these and this is one of the staples of my normal workouts.” – Charles (Julie’s too :))
2-Twitch Speed Push-up
They are called 2-twitch because you use your fast and slow twitch muscles for this exercise. The slow twitch is exactly the same as the slow-motion push-ups you did earlier.
You do 4 fast push-ups followed by 4 slow-motion push-ups. I was pretty much done after this exercise. I could have crawled into the fetal position and started sucking my thumb for comfort. This destroyed me! (Julie actually did these in her boot camp class last week and had a few people wanting to do the same thing!!)
This is basically the same as a standard military press or shoulder press, but when you press up you come up in a Y-position. I did like this exercise, but would have liked it better if the 2-Twitch Speed Push-up didn’t destroy me.
Lying Tricep Extensions
If you are using resistance bands, you just did these a minute ago. If you are using dumbbells, you’re doing the Skull Crushers I just mentioned.
Oh boy more Push-ups! Just as the name states, all you do is shuffle side to side on your hands and feet (or you knees, if you suck like me) and do regular push-ups. If I wasn’t done already then I didn’t express my tiredness in the 2-twitch push-up. (Again, one of Julie’s favorite bootcamp exercises. These rock!!)
Side-Leaning Tricep Extensions
These are just like normal tricep extensions…but, yep you’re leaning to the side.
Well um…yeah! One-Arm Push-ups!
This exercise really kicks ass with resistance bands. These are just like the scarecrows you did previously but your arms are parallel from shoulder to fingers. All you do here is arm circles with as much weight you can for the time allotted. I loved this exercise.
Throw the Bomb
Imagine you are a quarterback and are throwing a bomb (throwing a football as far as you can). The only difference is you’re not using a football – you are using a weight. This is where the resistance bands really show their superiority, the more you throw out the harder the resistance. Great, Great Exercise.
Clap or Plyo Push-up
I didn’t discuss 1 arm push-ups for a reason. The best part of P90X is this – here is where it just gets out of hand. I love workouts that are just absurd and I have found it. It’s so hard that even the 1 woman and 1 guy were doing push-ups on their knees at this point. Tony actually goes airborne for this exercise; very impressive.
The standard or Clap versions is you do a push-up but throw yourself up in the air and do a clap, come back down and do it again.
The Plyo version is doing a push-up but throwing yourself off the ground so you’re completely airborne. It’s very cool to watch Tony do his thang. I’m on my knees.
This is sort of like the Scarecrow and Throw the Bomb put together. When your arms are in front of you, bring your hands back to your ears then go back to the parallel position with your arms in front of you, then bring your arms back down to your sides.
Front to Back Tricep Extensions
These are just like standing tricep extensions but you are adding the Front part to the exercise. Meaning instead of only going back behind your head, you also go in front of your face. After killing myself with all the push-ups, I’m back in familiar territory.
One-Arm Balance Push-ups
These weren’t as hard as I thought they were going to be. All you do here is do a normal push-up. Then come up to a side plank as we see Julie here doing side planks.
Julie Side Plank Photo #1
This is just a fancy name for doing 4 different exercises and combining them into one. The Dumbbell fly, the upright row, the overhead dumbbell press, then the reverse curl. You have done all these before; you are just combining them.
Dumbbell Cross-Body Blow
It’s finally over! This is the first workout of this program that I’m glad to see it’s over. If you’re using dumbbells, this is just like throwing Cross-Body punches with dumbbells. I believe this works better with resistance bands because the resistance increases as you go up.
By far the best workout of the P90X series. I would give it 6 Charles Faces but due to company policy that is not allowed. :p
Interested? Go get it in my Beachbody web store. If you want a 25% discount sign-up as a “Coach” and spread the word!
This concludes my review on P90X Chest Shoulders and Triceps.
A lot of my personal training clients start out thinking that training faster means training better. But working out like The Flash won’t make you superhuman if you are bobbing your head for apples with your elbows flared out over your shoulders instead of actually doing push-ups. Poor form at a super-fast pace is not only allowing momentum to carry you through part of the range of motion, but it’s also potentially causing unnecessary strain on tendons and ligaments, as the muscles that should be doing the work aren’t activated properly.
My first rule for my clients is to focus on proper form. I created the phrase “AF3” which stands for Absolute Form Fit Function. The intention is to master the form, which improves fitness and ultimately, overall function. One antidote toward improper form is slowing down the rep speed. Let’s continue to look at the push-up as an example.
As you probably know, the push-up is essentially a traveling plank. It is a total body exercise and not just for building big pecs. Now do me a favor and go try an extremely slow push-up with full range of motion. Start in a plank with fully extended arms and lower down very gradually, touching your chest to the floor, then push back to fully extended arms.
You might have had some form breaks or even lacked strength to complete the rep. You should have definitely experienced the feeling of total body activation needed to maintain the straight body alignment in the absence of momentum. If you couldn’t do the full range-of-motion, consider modifying the exercise. For example, try placing your knees on the floor. This will shorten your body length (lever) so you will have to push less percentage of your bodyweight. Yes, the regression of an exercise can be an important part of progressing. It’s important to not let your ego deter you from modifications. You can often foster quicker progressions by perfecting “easier” versions of an exercise.
There are numerous ways you can manipulate your rep speed in order to develop better body control. The following is one example of a set of 7 push-ups stretched out over 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
Rep 1- 10 second rep (5 seconds down/negative and 5 seconds up/positive)
Rep 2- 20 second rep (10 seconds down/negative and 10 seconds up/ positive)
Rep 3- 30 second rep (15 seconds down/negative and 15 seconds up/positive)
Rep 4- 40 second rep (20 seconds down/negative and 20 seconds up /positive)
Rep 5- 30 second rep (15 seconds down/negative and 15 seconds up/positive)
Rep 6- 20 second rep (10 seconds down/negative and 10 seconds up positive)
Rep 7- 10 second rep (5 seconds down/negative and 5 seconds up/positive)
Notice how the set starts by climbing up the ladder in 10 second increments for each push-up from rep 1 (10 second rep) through rep 4 (40 second rep). Then at rep 5, it goes back down the ladder by decreasing the time in 10 second increments until you reach rep number 7 (10 second rep). The times listed aren’t absolute, so feel free to experiment with them. The important thing is to move evenly and controlled throughout the range-of-motion. Avoid fast jerky movements or hitting and holding positions.
To keep a solid pace, I recommend either using a stopwatch or a metronome (a device that musicians use to keep a specific tempo). Personally, I prefer the sound of the metronome. There are now free metronome apps available that you can download to your smartphone. Be sure to set the beats per minute to 60 (that equals one beat per second). It takes some concentration when counting to avoid rushing where you should be within a specific rep, which adds another layer and takes this challenge to the next level. It is mind over matter.
Though we’ve been using the push-up as our main example, remember that you can use this method with just about any exercise: pull-ups, squats (even pistols!), skin the cats…the list goes on.
Of course, you will move slowly if you only train slowly. So yes, performing fast reps is important. The point is to move fast well. In order to incorporate faster reps, you could use this structure by using the same 60 beats per minute with one set of 7 push-ups and adjusting the times as follows:
Rep 1- 2 second rep (1 seconds down/negative and 1 seconds up/positive)
Rep 2- 4 second rep (2 seconds down/negative and 2 seconds up positive)
Rep 3- 8 second rep (4 seconds down/negative and 4 seconds up/positive)
Rep 4- 16 second rep (8 seconds down/negative and 8 seconds up /positive)
Rep 5- 8 second rep (4 seconds down/negative and 4 seconds up/positive)
Rep 6- 4 second rep (2 seconds down/negative and 2 seconds up positive)
Rep 7- 2 second rep (1 seconds down/negative and 1 seconds up/positive)
Since the first rep and seventh rep are quick, you can even consider making them plyometric to build explosive power. Notice that shorter rep times will inherently eliminate some exercises. For example, it might not be the best idea to do a two second skin the cat.
Experiment with your rep speed but don’t let your ego get in the way. If you need to regress an exercise in order to maintain good quality of movement, then do so. Soon enough, you’ll gain the strength you desire to control any rep at any speed through it’s entire range-of-motion.
Benji Williford, PCC, RYT, CF-L1 is a Personal Fitness Trainer located out of Eau Claire, WI. Benji believes that, “A successful fitness program is based on positive dialogue between the mind and body.” He can be reached through his website: http://www.benjiwilliford.com, or by email: [email protected]
Super Slow High Intensity Training: Is 15 minutes of Strength Training A Week Enough?
No? Well you should.
This isn’t a sales pitch for a new exercise machine, nor is it a sales page with a ‘buy now’ button at the bottom. Instead it’s a closer look a very unique type of strength training. Something that goes against conventional wisdom and everything that I had learnt as a Personal Trainer and athlete.
What is this training system? It’s called High Intensity Training or HIT (note, this is different to High Intensity Interval Training training aka HIIT). Superslow training is another term used for the HIT modality of training.
HIT is a very short, very intense, 1 set to failure resistance training protocol. A typical session lasts 10-20minutes, and typically involves 3-5 sets. That’s it.
Oh, and you only perform it once a week, at most once every 5 days.
Again, I’m not making this up, it’s a short sharp strength training protocol that you do once a week.
The particular program that I followed in my 9-month experiment based on the book ‘Body By Science’ authored by the very knowledgeable Dr Doug McGuff. Note – if you already know all about HIT training and just want to see my results from this 9 month period, be sure to check out this article – Body By Science High Intensity Training Review: My 9 Month Experiment.
HIT was popularised in the 1970s by Arthur Jones, the founder of Nautilus and MedX. Wikipedia defines HIT as:
The training focuses on performing quality weight training repetitions to the point of momentary muscular failure. The training takes into account the number of repetitions, the amount of weight, and the amount of time the muscle is exposed to tension in order to maximize the amount of muscle fiber recruitment.
So what makes the HIT/Superslow/Body By Science protocol so effective yet so different to conventional strength training? Well just like your standard strength training, you load a muscle with resistance (weight) and work that muscle until failure.
However, one key point of difference with HIT training is constant tension. You see, you take the muscle to failure by not letting the muscle rest during the set. What do I mean exactly by this? Well think of a pushup. When doing a conventional push up you start with your arms straight, the joints locked out, bone on bone. You move your chest down to the floor by bending the elbows and rotating the shoulders and then return back to that starting position.
That is one rep.
However, in HIT training you remove the ‘arms locked’ component of lifting. This means that when you ‘push up’ from the ground rather than locking out your arms completely at the top, you would stop short of straightening the arms and instead turn around and start heading down again.
Any bodybuilder who has done time under tension training or non-lockout type training would be familiar with this type of training.
Constant tension on the muscle. And yes – it hurts.
Note – I should mention that pushups aren’t the best exercise for HIT training due to the resistance load on the primary movers not being constant throughout the lift. But more on this later.
Slow it Down – Super Slow
Constant tension isn’t the only difference between HIT training and conventional training. You see a key fundamental to the effectiveness of HIT training is the ‘super slow’ lifting.
So rather than a 2 second concentric phase (I.e. muscle contracting to lift the bar), and a few seconds on the eccentric phase (negative), HIT slows things right down… you’re aiming for around 6-10 seconds on BOTH the concentric and eccentric phase….
Yes that means 1 single repetition may take 20 seconds (or even longer).
Think about how many rep’s you would usually do in a 20second period.
So now you have a SUPER slow tempo, combined with constant tension (no rest or pausing during the lift). But that’s not all, there is one final component to a successful HIT workout, and that is isolating the muscle.
Targeting The Muscle – A Win for Machine Based Training
Anyone that has worked with me in the gym will know how I prefer big compound movements over machine/isolated exercises. Even as a bodybuilder the bulk of my training was done using compound lifts like rows, squats and deadlifts. This helped create muscle thickness and density that machine based training couldn’t produce (especially as an all natural lifter).
Quads of Your’s Truley – The Product of LOTS of heavy squats!
So to find that a true HIT protocol involves primarily using machines irked me a little at first. But after learning the reasons behind it I was soon converted.
The idea behind HIT training is to take a particular muscle and stress it to the point of absolute failure – so that every muscle fibre within the muscle has been recruited and then fatigued. As you avoid lock out and keep constant tension on the muscle the fibre is ‘always on’, and has no time to rest (even a brief second rest period at lockout may be enough time for some slow twitch muscle fibres to recover).
Combine this with the ‘super slow tempo’ and you now have muscle fibres that are not only actively recruited, but that are recruited at all parts of the lift. There is no ‘bounce’, no speed to help push through weak points, instead is it a slow grind where the fibres have to work at all points of the lift. You cannot cheat a lift if you’re lifting it with a tempo of 6-10 seconds. Nor can you use momentum to push through a weak point.
Now this is all well and good, and the idea behind taking to the muscle to absolute failure should hopefully now make sense.
Quick sidenote – initially when you lift a weight you will recruit your slow twitch muscle fibres, when they fatigue then you recruit your intermediate & some fast fibres, when they fatigue – and only under extreme circumstances – your body will then recruit the remaining fibres in the muscle, at which point when THEY fatigue then there is literally nothing else the body can do to move the weight. Now in contrast, if you were doing a standard set of 12 reps of pushups, every time you lock out your slow twitch muscle fibres get a brief opportunity to recover. Sure you will still hit a fatigue point, but that fatigue may not come as a result of total muscle fibre fatigue.
But this is where machine isolation training trumps compound free weight training.
With a compound movement like a squat, sure you’re working the quads to move the weight, but you’re also recruiting your glutes, hamstrings, calves and torso. And there are parts of the lift where the load on the quads is high, and parts where it’s lower. This is all well and good for overall strength, but if you’re trying to fatigue every single muscle fibre in the quad, you soon realise that a compound lift isn’t such as the squat, may not be the best tool for the job if you want to apply the HIT method of training. Again, any experienced bodybuilder will understand this.
You can see in this EMG activity report how the Quad & Hamstring activation varies at different angles during a squat. Source – www.mikereinold.com
For this reason, a machine that has been designed to target one specific muscle for the entire lift is the perfect way to ensure that you’re keeping constant tension (and constant recruitment) on all the targeted muscle.
If all this seems to confusing, think of it this way – the idea is to fatigue a particular muscle. Machine based training allows you to work a particular muscle through the full joint range, minimising other muscles that could potentially act as support.
3 Fundamentals to HIT
So there we go – we now know the 3 fundamentals to HIT training:
- Constant Tension – don’t let the muscle rest at any time during the set.
- Super slow – slow tempo (6-10 seconds) means there is even force applied without relying on speed/momentum
- Machine training – to allow a targeted approach, keeping constant tension on the muscle.
Note: For more of the science behind the science behind the why and the how as Doug McGuff has done an amazing job of detailing it all in his book Body By Science. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in exercise training.
A Sample Workout
So what would a sample workout look like? Simple, here is a full (yes the entire) full body routine by the man himself – Doug McGuff.
The idea behind the routine is to keep load on the muscle of 90secs- 3 minutes. Finding the right weight can be tricky on your first session, but you know you hit the sweet spot when you’re failing in that 90sec-3minute window. If you’re going beyond 3 minutes, no worries, take the muscle to failure and next time increase the weight.
If you’re falling short of 90secs before failing, the weight is probably too heavy.
Remember, you only do 1 set to failure. So even if you get the weight wrong the first time, there is no point doing another set a few minutes (or even a few days) later. This type of training requires a decent amount of recovery (for the muscle itself, but also for the CNS that controls the motor units). Doug McGuff recommends only do this workout once every 7 days – sometimes with a greater gap between sessions if you are not recovering adequately (you can measure this by simply tracking your performance, if it’s not improving then you’re not recovered).
Benefits of Super Slow / HIT
Now that you have an idea as to how this type of training works, you may want to learn about the benefits of HIT training, and also – how effective it really is?
The first key benefit is time. An entire workout lasts only 10-20minutes. You typically only do 3-5 exercises, each one (ideally) lasting 90seconds – 3minutes. And you don’t rest between exercises, you need to move straight to the next exercise. Warmups are not required as they are built into the lift. You can be in and out of the gym in 30minutes.
HIT Training is great for rehab or even as a tool for injury prevention. Using machines that target a particular muscle means we can still load a muscle whilst avoiding an injured muscle for instance.
HIT training also reaps all the benefits of strength training that is accessible to anyone who can get to a gym. This means the elderly can now load a joint effectively that they may not be able to do otherwise.
Finally, and this is a huge benefit to HIT training, it’s a rather injury proof type of training. To fatigue the muscle with conventional training you often require a huge load. With higher loads there are increased forces and stresses on the body – greater chance of something going wrong. However, with HIT training the loads are a lot less, and due to the super slow speed of the lift, there is no sudden directional change under load. Plus, the more fatigued you become, the safer the lift gets (as you can’t apply the same amount of force on the load).
3. Ease of Use
It is a really simple way to train. You don’t need to learn complex lifts. As you are using machines most of the technique side of lifting is taken care of. It’s not perfect, and yes you still need to pay attention to your technique, but if you keep the force on the target muscle then you’re most likely lifting with solid technique. This makes it an appealing way to train for those who cannot afford a coach or PT.
4. Cardio Benefits
In the book Body By Science, Doug does an amazing job of explaining how strength training down properly has a cardiovascular benefit on the body. By doing a 100% effort HIT session, you are improving your cardio function.
It’s important to note, that ‘cardio failure’ is often not because of a limitation in the heart or the lungs, instead it’s the muscle itself that cannot continue under the load. Through HIT strength training you not only increase the power output of a muscle, but you significantly boost your cardio function. Sure, you may not be able to go and race in the Tour De France, but you will still have a solid fitness baseline. And for individuals who simply want to look and feeling amazing, this may be sufficient.
The most important benefit of all – does this style of training – all 15minutes a week – actually work?
If you look at the scientific evidence you will see that there is a lot of proof to the efficacy of the HIT / Super slow / Body By science style of training. Not only that, many top bodybuilders utilised a similar style of training with amazing results. Mike Mentzer and Dorian Yates have both called their training system HIT. Mentzer even believed that no more than one set to muscular failure per body part was all that was required. And finally, I have my own n=1 success story which can be read in this article – Less Is More: How Slowly Down Improved Health & Performance. Also, have a read of my article Body By Science High Intensity Training Review: My 9 Month Experiment.
The perfect Training protocol?
Like everything in the health and fitness world – the answer is ‘It Depends’. If you are a time poor individual who wants to reap the health and aesthetic benefits of strength training then yes it very well maybe.
The science is strong, my n=1 experiment produced amazing results, my coaching clients who utilize this protocol also achieve great results and there are a ton of individuals on the interweb who report similar stories.
Sure there are issues and limitations with HIT – all of which I cover in my 9 month HIT review post, and whether it’s the ‘best’ way to train or just a ‘fad’, I think that’s up to you to decide. But like many things in life, don’t bag it until you’ve tried it.
On that note, hopefully I have provided enough information so that you can give HIT a session a go, even if it’s just for one session. Just remember – 6-10 second tempos, non-lock out, 1 set to failure using isolation exercises.
If you have any questions please leave them below, alternatively if you really want to dig into this type of training please check out the Body By Science book, or visit Doug McGuffs website or check out the amazing content and courses over at HITUni.com
And if you’d rather follow a more conventional training plan, be sure to check out my Size & Strength training program.
- Body By Science’
- HITUni.com – content and courses
- Size & Strength training program
Found This Interesting? Then You Might Like:
- How To Beat World Class Athletes With 15-Minutes Training Per Week with Alex Fergus
- Body By Science High Intensity Training Review: My 9 Month Experiment
- 11 Reasons Why You Need To Lift Heavy For Fat Loss
- 29 Proven and Effective Ways to Boost Testosterone Naturally
- Less Is More – The Key To Health and Performance
Super Slow Resistance Training
Jeff Nelson, M.Ed. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
There are many different methods of resistance training. One form of resistance exercise that has drawn attention is superslow resistance training. Evidence of increasing interest is becoming more apparent with the rise of internet references and the availability of superslow certifications. This form of training has been presented as a safe and effective means of building strength in both beginning and advanced weight training (Westcott, 1999). Superslow training, originated in 1982 by Ken Hutchins, was developed in an osteoporosis study with older women because of the need to utilize a safer speed for subjects to perform the resistance exercises. The result was the beginning of a new resistance training technique, which became known as superslow strength training.
In a standard Nautilus training protocol, 8-12 repetitions are performed (Westcott, 1999). 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 approximately 55-85 seconds for completion. The superslow protocol represents 4-6 repetitions consisting of a 10-second concentric phase followed by a four-second eccentric phase. This protocol also requires about 55-85 seconds for completion. One possible advantage of superslow training is that it involves less momentum, resulting in a more evenly applied muscle force throughout the range of motion. A potential disadvantage of this training is that it is characterized as tedious and tough.
Physiology of Superslow Training
An objective of superslow resistance training is to create more tension in a muscle for a given workload. This is accomplished by decreasing the speed of movement. 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) (Smith, Weiss, and Lehmkuhl, 1995). The amount of tension generated in a muscle is related to the number of contracting fibers. Each muscle fiber (or muscle cell) contains up to several hundred to several thousand myofibrils, which are composed of myosin (thick) and actin (thin) protein filaments (Guyton and Hall, 1996). The repeating units of thick and thin filaments within each myofibril comprise the basic contractile unit, the sarcomere. In a muscle fiber, the slower the rate at which the actin and myosin filaments slide past each other, the greater the number of links or cross-bridges that can be formed between the filaments (Smith, Weiss, and Lehmkuhl, 1995). The more cross-bridges there are per unit of time, the more tension created. Thus at slow muscle action speeds, a higher number of cross-bridges can be formed, which leads to a maximum amount of tension for a given workload.
The tension in a muscle is related to the number of motor units firing and to the frequency with which impulses are conveyed to the motor neurons (Berger, 1982). Physiologically, using a slower speed protocol requires the activation of more muscle fibers and an increase in the frequency of firing in order to maintain a force necessary to lift a given workload (Smith, Weiss, and Lehmkuhl, 1995). This provides stimulation for muscle strength development. The initial strength development involves neurological adaptations (stimulation of muscle fibers through increased firing and recruitment) followed by muscle hypertrophy (Enoka, 1986). In muscle hypertrophy, an increase in protein synthesis results in a multiplication of myofibrils within muscle fibers leading to an enlargement of the cross-sectional area of the muscle (Berger, 1982). There is also a corresponding increase in the number of actin and myosin filaments, which subsequently increases the capacity for cross-bridge formation (Guyton and Hall, 1996).
Superslow Resistance Training Research
Although superslow resistance training has been around for a while, only two peer-reviewed manuscripts have been written. The first manuscript describes two studies by Westcott et al. (2001). The first Wescott et al. study was conducted in 1993 and consisted of 74 previously sedentary men and women with an average age of 56 years. The subjects were placed in groups of six and closely supervised for eight weeks. All of the subjects performed one set of 13 exercises (Nautilus equipment) three days per week. These exercises consisted of the leg extension, leg curl, leg press, neck flexion, neck extension, pullover, chest press, chest cross, lateral raise, bicep curl, triceps extension, abdominal crunch, and low back. Of the 74 subjects, 39 (10 males and 29 females) trained at a regular speed and 35 (13 males and 22 females) trained at the slow speed. Although both groups differed in the time spent in concentric phase, both groups had a 4-second eccentric phase. Each of the subjects was tested using either a 10-RM weight load (regular speed group) or a 5-RM weight load (slow speed group) at weeks 2 and 8 in the study for the determination of pre- and post-test strength assessments. The results indicated that the slow speed group attained superior strength gains, gaining an average of 26 lbs in strength for the 13 exercises combined, compared to an average of 18 lbs for the regular speed group.
The second study of the first manuscript was conducted in 1999 and consisted of 73 previously sedentary men and women with an average age of 53 years. This study was similar to the 1993 study except that it was a 10-week study and the pre- and post-test strength assessments were based on 10-RM weight load (regular speed group) and a 5-RM weight load (slow speed group) of the chest press only at weeks 2 and 10 in the study. Of the 73 subjects, 43 (13 males and 30 females) trained at a regular speed and 30 (10 males and 20 females) trained at the slow speed. This study supported the 1993 study conclusions in that the slow speed group achieved higher results that the regular speed group, gaining an average of 24 lbs in strength for the chest press, compared to an average of 16 lbs for the regular speed group.
The other recent peer-reviewed manuscript describes a study by Keeler et al. (2001). This study consisted of 14 sedentary women with an average age of 32.8 ± 8.9 years. The subjects were randomly assigned to either a superslow group (6 subjects) or a traditional training group (8 subjects). Strength was assessed for both pre- and post-test using a 1-RM on 8 strength exercises: leg extension, leg curl, leg press, bench press, compound row, biceps curl, triceps extension, and torso arm (anterior lateral pull-down). The subjects trained three times per week for 10 weeks. For this study, the superslow protocol was defined as a 10-second concentric muscle action, followed by a 5-second eccentric muscle action. The traditional protocol consisted of a 2-second concentric phase, followed by a 4-second eccentric phase. Both groups performed one set of each of the eight exercises reaching momentary muscular fatigue between 8-12 repetitions. The traditional and the superslow groups began the exercises using 80% and 50% of the 1RM, respectively, until muscular fatigue was reached. The weight was then increased in increments of 5% when the maximum repetitions could be completed in good form. Increments of 2.5% were used for the leg press exercise only. The results indicated that both groups had a significant training effect for the 8 exercises. Further, the traditional group improved significantly more than the superslow group in total weight lifted for the leg press, leg curl, leg extension, torso arm, and the chest press. The results for the chest press indicated that the traditional group improved by an average of 26 lbs compared to the superslow group improving by an average of 9 lbs. It was concluded that traditional training is superior to that of superslow strength training for improving strength as assessed with the 1-RM for the initial phase of strength training in sedentary women.
The Westcott et al. (2001) manuscript describes two studies (1993 and 1999 studies) that report the superslow resistance training resulting in superior strength gains than a traditional strength training method. In contrast, the Keeler et al. (2001) study indicates that the traditional strength training group improved better than the superslow group for 5 of the 8 exercises. The different outcomes between studies may be due to different subject populations, training methodologies, and testing procedures. Westcott et al. recruited sedentary men and women with an average age in both studies of 54.5 yrs., where as the Keeler et al. study had sedentary women whose average age was 32.8 yrs. Very little is documented how various age populations may be differentially affected by the training regimen (superslow versus traditional speed), although this factor certainly needs further elucidation.
The Keeler et al. (2001) study trained the traditional resistance exercise group using 80% of 1RM while the superslow group trained at 50% of 1RM. Both groups performed 8 to 12 repetitions to muscular fatigue. The authors said it was recommended that the superslow training group weight load be reduced 30% from what is normally used (however, the source for this recommendation was not cited in the study). Contrariwise, in the Westcott et al. (2001) studies, the traditional training group performed 8 to 12 repetitions to fatigue where as the superslow training group performed 4 to 6 repetitions to fatigue. Given that resistance load intensity has a direct association with muscle force production, this is a major difference noted in training methodologies of these investigations, and certainly warrants further investigation.
Finally, in the Keeler et al. (2001) study, strength measurements were quantified with 1-RM assessments of strength for the superslow and the traditional strength training groups. Conversely, in the Westcott et al. (2001) investigations the traditional strength training group was assessed with a 10-RM while the superslow was measured with a 5-RM. Certainly, the differences across the board in strength assessments may also be contributing factors to the varying results observed in these investigations.
Although a final conclusion of the efficacy of superslow training versus traditional strength training warrants further research, some strong applications can be ascertained. Both training methods demonstrated significant increases in strength from pre- to post-testing. Since variety of resistance training stimulus is an important aspect of training design, perhaps incorporating both of these methods is a viable option for many clients. While some clients may find the superslow method somewhat tedious and challenging, other clients may relish in this type of challenge. Therefore, the personal trainer is reminded of the importance of individualizing the workout scheme to keep the client motivated, as well as challenged. Future randomized studies are needed to establish whether a true difference does exist between superslow and traditional protocols in developing strength in men and women (of all ages).
Berger, R. A. (1982). Applied Exercise Physiology. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lea & Febiger.
Berne, R. M., & Levy, M. N. (1998). Physiology (4th ed.). St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby, Inc.
Enoka, R. M. (1988). Muscle strength and its development New perspectives. Sports Medicine, 6, 146-168.
Guyton, A. C., & Hall, J. E. (1996). Textbook of Medical Physiology (9th ed.). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: W. B Saunders Company.
Keeler, L. K., Finkelstein, L. H., Miller, W., & Fernhall, B. (2001). Early-phase adaptations of traditional-speed vs. superslow resistance training on strength and aerobic capacity in sedentary individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15(3), 309-314.
Smith, L. K., Weiss, E. L., & Lehmkuhl, L. D. (1996). Brunnstroms Clinical Kinesiology (5th ed.). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: F. A. Davis Company.
Westcott, W. (1999). The scoop on super slow strength training. Idea Personal Trainer, Nov-Dec, 37-42.
Westcott, W. L., Winett, R. A., Anderson, E. S., Wojcik, J. R., Loud, R. L. R., Cleggett, E., & Glover, S. (2001). Effects of regular and slow speed resistance training on muscle strength. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 41, 154-158.
Tip: Stop Training Slow
Slow lifting methods have been around since the early 1980’s. Even today people are “rediscovering” the idea or trying to reinvent it using a slightly different format. But for the most part, this training strategy sucks. It sucked in 1983 and it sucks now.
What is Super Slow Training?
Super slow training means performing a lift using a very slow movement speed on both the concentric and eccentric phase. Proponents generally recommend a tempo of 5 seconds for the concentric (lifting) and 5 seconds for the eccentric (lowering) phase, but some super slow coaches even recommend taking as much as 10 seconds to complete a single phase of the movement on each rep. And they recommend using this speed to take each set to failure.
Now, this training method has major drawbacks and I do NOT recommend it. But here’s what fans of this method will tell you:
- When going to failure it doesn’t matter what weight you’re using. Even if you’re using baby weights it doesn’t matter since loading is irrelevant as long as you go to failure using the super-slow lifting speed.
- When lifting slowly during the concentric phase, you’re minimizing momentum or even negating it completely. So muscle contraction must do all the work on every inch of every rep. Whereas when you try to accelerate the weight, momentum can reduce the muscle activity in later portions of the range of motion (since the load has momentum you don’t need as much force to keep it moving up).
- When lowering the weight slowly, you activate mTor to a greater extent, which can be a potent activator of protein synthesis (muscle building).
- Very slow movements are safer because there’s less force produced.
But Where Are The Muscular Bodies?
If the super slow method was effective, we’d see the results. By now it would’ve produced numbers of muscular and strong people. But we haven’t heard from any of them because they don’t exist. We simply don’t see any very muscular or strong people who built their physique only using super slow training – at least nothing compared to what more traditional methods have produced. That said, in theory and if you look at lab studies, super slow training sounds promising. Yet it doesn’t pan out in the real world.
1 – It doesn’t make you much stronger.
The same study showing that going to failure led to the same muscle mass increase regardless of the load also showed that strength gains with the lighter load were much lower. Now, call me old school but to become a lot bigger you need to also become a lot stronger. Of course, people on the low end of the muscular development scale might not need to increase strength a lot to gain some muscle, but to get really big you will have to move big weights.
I don’t know any very muscular person who’s not also strong. They might not be powerlifting strong, but they can move a good amount of weight. Once you already have a lot of muscle you might not need to keep training as heavy, but to go from small muscle mass to large muscle mass you will have to get a lot stronger.
Even when big strong guys back off the weight and opt for higher reps and more isolation work, their “lighter” weights are still pretty damn heavy. Recently, Paul Carter said he was doing just that. His definition of lighter weights? Over 400 pounds for barbell rows and 585 on the deadlift for fairly high reps.
Super slow proponents say that when you reach failure, regardless of the load used or speed of movement, you end up recruiting the fast-twitch (stronger) fibers too. So they argue that heavy lifting isn’t more effective at making a muscle stronger since it doesn’t recruit more muscle fibers.
In reality, fiber recruitment is only half of the battle, if that. The firing rate of muscle fibers is actually more important when trying to produce force. Firing rate means how frequently a muscle fiber “twitches” or contracts to produce force in a specific timeframe. And to train the capacity to have a high firing rate, you need to lift heavy or explosively – two things you don’t find in slow training.
2 – It minimizes force production.
Super slow means making acceleration as low as possible. And because you’re moving so slowly, you’re prevented from using heavy weights, which means low mass factor. So both the mass and acceleration factors are low, giving you quite possibly the lowest force output possible when lifting weights. It could be called “low force training” instead of super slow training.
What’s the problem with low force? It means not recruiting the fast twitch, growth-prone fibers. But wait a minute. The super slow proponents say that when you reach failure you have full muscle fiber recruitment at the end of the set because your body must recruit more muscle fibers to compensate for the fatigued ones. And this is true. But for most of the set, until you’ve fatigued the fibers enough to be forced to recruit the fast-twitch fibers, you won’t recruit these motor units that are the most prone to hypertrophy and getting you stronger.
Doing super slow reps to failure might allow you to recruit the fast twitch fibers for 1 or 2 reps out of your set, but when you’re lifting heavier weights and focusing more on acceleration you’re producing a lot more force, and will thus recruit those fast twitch fibers on pretty much all the reps.
And again, super slow will not improve firing rate. It might actually train you to use a low firing rate to do the job, which could make you weaker when trying to lift maximal weights or move explosively.
3 – It will deplete muscle glycogen more than other types of lifting.
Glycogen begins to be used after about 12 seconds of intense effort. The longer a muscle must produce force, the more glycogen you use up. A slow set to failure might take you as much as two minutes to complete (although most of the time it is about 75-90 seconds). This will burn a boatload more glycogen than regular lifting.
Why is that important? Glycogen use and depletion raises AMPK which itself can inhibit mTor activation. MTor is basically the light switch that turns on protein synthesis. The more you deplete muscle glycogen, the more you risk inhibiting protein synthesis.
4 – It’s a mental battle on every set.
This form of training is hard to sustain in the long run. I like hard work as much as the next guy, but super slow reps to failure are excruciating. Trying to tolerate that pain can actually make you hate training. Loving your training and being motivated to do it is very important to get maximum results.
Many will fake themselves into hitting failure after a few weeks of super slow training, neglecting any results this method might give. Listen, a training session is not a test of mental toughness. There aren’t points awarded for enduring the most discomfort. Only results matter. And it’s hard to maintain a good focus for 90 seconds (or more) when doing one set of an exercise.
5 – It’s not really doable on the big lifts.
In fact, it’s not doable on most free-weight movements. (It was originally designed to be used on machines.) Doing a super slow set of leg extensions to failure is one thing. It’s uncomfortable but it’s doable. Doing a super slow set of squats or deadlift to failure, well, that’s not only two or three notches higher on the pain scale, it can actually be dangerous.
On these big lifts your posture is likely to fail way before the prime movers. You’ll begin to lose body tightness and proper form on squats and deadlifts many reps before the legs and glutes are approaching failure.
This both makes these movements less effective because now you’re forced to use light weights, but when you hit failure it’s not even the failure of the muscles you’re trying to build. So you have all the drawbacks with none of the theoretical benefits. And the fact that you’re losing your tightness or proper lifting form can obviously lead to injuries.
One Good Use for Super Slow
Here’s one instance in which you can use slow training effectively: when trying to improve mind-muscle connection with one specific muscle on an isolation exercise. In this case, it would be a temporary use because once you can feel the muscle working it wouldn’t be necessary anymore.
It’s dumb to purposefully try to lift weights while minimizing force production. There’s no doubt that you can build a strong case for super slow training by quoting certain studies. But I trust real-world results more than isolated studies.
Related: 3 Reasons to Lift Explosively
Related: 4 Myths Many Lifters Actually Believe
How to Do Super Slow Resistance Training
Although this training style has been popping up more and more over the last few years, super slow resistance training was actually originally used by bodybuilders back in the 1960s. In fact, the benefits of performing an exercise with an extremely slow tempo can be traced to a Strength and Health magazine article written in 1962 by the late Bob Hoffman. The article stated that slow tempo movements were being used by the weightlifters of the York Barbell Club, a weightlifting team that won many international competitions and were breaking world records.
Back then, it was referred to as “muscle contraction with measured movement,” and involved lifting 10-seconds up and 10-seconds back down. Now, if you have ever tried to do a squat, a push-up, or an overhead press for 10 seconds in each direction, you know that this can require some pretty high levels of patience and mindfulness. It’s also darn hard!
This can require some pretty high levels of patience and mindfulness and it’s also darn hard!
As a matter of comparison, a traditional resistance training routine would typically take about 1-2 seconds to lift a weight, and perhaps slightly longer than that to lower that weight.
In a standard Nautilus training protocol, an athlete will perform eight to twelve repetitions (Westcott, 1999) with each repetition having a two-second concentric action, a one-second pause, and then a four-second eccentric action. So, the total time for this type of set would take about 55-85 seconds to complete. But, with the super slow protocol, doing only four to six repetitions, with a 10-second concentric phase followed by a 10-second eccentric phase, it would take only slightly longer for fewer reps.
In a paper from the early 1980s, researcher Ken Hutchins wrote about the super slow technique while he was leading a study that involved a group of elderly women who had osteoporosis. He believed this technique was safer for the participants than a regular lifting style. When they used the standard weightlifting protocol (two seconds up and four seconds down), Hutchins was concerned about the women’s “erratic form” so he implemented the super slow lifting and the women in the study made dramatic gains in strength.
An interesting part of the newer versions of super slow resistance workouts is that rather than doing multiple sets for each body part, you just do one long set for each exercise. Each set is performed until muscle failure or until your form degrades to the point of being dangerous. At this point, you move on to another body part.
But don’t be fooled—just because elderly ladies did it and it involves moving slower and exercising for an overall shorter amount of time doesn’t mean it is easy!
One of the main objectives of super slow resistance training is to create more tension in a muscle for a given workload. This is done by decreasing the speed of movement. The amount of tension that is generated in a muscle is directly related to the number of contracting fibers. Each muscle fiber (or cell) contains several hundred to several thousand myofibrils, which are composed of myosin (thick fibers) and actin (thin fibers) protein filaments.
Inside those muscle fibers, the slower the rate at which the actin and myosin filaments slide past each other, the larger the number of links or cross-bridges that form between them. The more cross-bridges there are at a given time, the more tension is created in the muscle. So when you are moving your muscles very slowly, a higher number of cross-bridges can be formed, which should lead to a maximum amount of tension being created during a workout. This tension provides a boost in the stimulation of muscle strength development.
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Some say that super slow training is the fastest, most effective way to make your muscles bigger and stronger.
In a traditional weight training routine, you normally take 1-2 seconds to lift a weight and a little longer than that to lower it.
With super slow training, each rep lasts somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds. One set of each exercise, and you’re done.
Fans of super slow training claim that because it puts your muscles under constant tension, you don’t need much of it to see results.
A typical workout lasts less than 30 minutes, and you do just one or two each week.
This, apparently, is all the stimulus your muscles need to grow.
It all sounds too good true, and that’s mainly because it is.
Super Slow Training: The Research
The idea that very slow lifting speeds will help you get faster results in less time than regular training seems to go in and out of fashion every few years.
And there was one paper, published back in 2001, that reports greater gains in strength with super slow compared to regular speed training .
In both studies described in the paper, subjects trained on a 13-exercise Nautilus machine circuit, which involved one set of 8-12 repetitions. Each rep lasted seven seconds. A second group did half as many reps, but spent twice as long on each one.
SEE ALSO: The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet. This is a “no waffle” PDF, written in plain English, that shows you exactly how to go about building muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet emailed to you, .
In both studies, super slow training led to a 50 percent greater increase in strength compared to regular training speeds.
However, drawing conclusions about anything based on the results of one or two studies is never a good idea, especially when most of the research out there shows that super slow training is no better than regular speed training when it comes to making your muscles bigger and stronger.
In many cases, it’s performed substantially worse.
When researchers from George Washington University Medical Center compared slow speed with traditional speed training, they found significantly greater strength gains with the latter .
In fact, trials conducted at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse , Ohio University and the University of Oklahoma all show that super slow training fails to deliver faster strength gains than regular training speeds.
Super Slow Training and Muscle Growth
If you could take a closer look at a slice of muscle tissue, you’d see that it’s made up of many smaller muscle fibers.
Your muscles get bigger when those individual fibers become thicker, a process called hypertrophy.
In order for that to happen, your muscle fibers need to be both activated and stimulated for a sufficient period of time when you train.
However, research shows that muscle activation is reduced rather than increased with slow (10 seconds per rep) training speeds , which has a knock-on effect on muscle growth.
In one University of New England study, researchers compared traditional (1-2 seconds to lift and lower the weight) with slow speed training (10 seconds to lift the weight and 4 seconds to lower it) .
In the traditional speed group, muscle fiber size increased by an average of 39%, compared to an increase of just 11% in the slow speed group.
In other words, despite the big difference in time under tension, the slow speed group gained less muscle than the group using a traditional lifting speed.
A follow-up study also shows that satellite cell and myonuclear domain adaptations – both of which play a key role in muscle growth – were substantially greater with traditional compared to slow speed training .
In 2015, a team of US scientists published a meta-analysis on the subject of rep speed and muscle growth .
A meta-analysis involves pooling the results from multiple trials on the same subject. Instead of lots of small experiments, you end up with one big experiment, conducted on lots of people.
As a result, you’re left with a conclusion that’s more reliable than anything that could have been drawn from each of the smaller studies.
The researchers found no evidence to support the idea that slower reps will improve your results, concluding that “training at very slow speeds is suboptimal for maximizing gains in muscle hypertrophy.”
Research carried in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research also shows that super slow training has a smaller metabolic cost than traditional lifting speeds .
Subjects completed two workouts designed to train all the major muscle groups, one using a traditional training speed and the second using the super slow method.
The super slow workout involved one set of eight reps of each exercise, with each rep lasting 15 seconds (10 seconds to lift the weight and 5 seconds to lower it).
In the traditional workout, subjects took about two seconds to complete each rep. Both workouts lasted 29 minutes.
During and immediately after the super slow workout, subjects burned an average of 116 calories. That’s 56 calories less than they burned during the traditional workout.
When it was measured almost a day later, resting metabolic rate was no higher following the super slow workout than it was after the traditional workout.
In short, most research shows that super slow training fails to deliver superior gains in muscle size or strength compared to regular training speeds.
Taking 10-20 seconds to complete a rep may very well make your workout feel a lot harder. But it’s not going to help you get in shape any faster.
SEE ALSO: THE MUSCLE BUILDING CHEAT SHEET
If you’re fed up spending hours in the gym with nothing to show for it, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
It’s a “cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF that tells you exactly how to go about building muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, .
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former “trainer to the trainers,” he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.
Slow burn exercise produces results
In the last decade, more research has been published which has shown that low- to moderate-intensity resistance exercise performed to significant fatigue can lead to gains in muscle mass and strength comparable to those seen after conventional heavy-resistance training. As a result, a form of “slow burn” exercise has become popular in the fitness arena.
When a resistive exercise is performed very slowly and completely without rest for at least 45 to 60 seconds, the continuous muscle contraction puts pressure on the blood vessels, shutting off the blood flow and oxygen to the muscle. This produces a burning sensation in the muscle. When this occurs, all types of muscle fibers are called into action, even fast-twitch muscle fibers responsible for strength. Therefore, even with lighter resistance, the muscle bulk can increase essentially equal to that following conventional heavy-resistance exercise.
One advantage with such exercise is that less resistance produces less compression on joints, which may be helpful as we get older. It also typically takes less time to perform these exercises. Burning muscle discomfort can effectively be utilized in the exercise routine for the moderately fit person.
Since motions are performed very slowly and with few repetitions, they do not promote coordination required during faster normal daily activities, and especially during sports activities, so performance during such activities will not improve much. Light resistance produces less increase in bone mineral density than higher intensity strength training, and is therefore not the best form of exercise to prevent or treat osteoporosis or osteopenia. These exercises furthermore cannot significantly help heal tissues such as tendons, fascia and ligaments, which would require more frequent, higher repetition, higher intensity and faster exercise. This is important to prevent or treat conditions such as tendinitis and sprains.
For “slow burn” exercises to produce measurable increase in muscle size and strength, they need to be painful, which requires a high level of motivation to sustain such an exercise routine long-term.
In Conversation with Adam Zickerman: What’s changed since Power of 10?
Everyone else’s enthusiasm eventually won out and The Power of 10 was published in 2002.
Changing mindsets one client at a time
Adam wants to help shift the popular mindset away from the notion that you need to exercise a lot to be fit and healthy. He wants people to see HIT as the norm, the foundation of fitness routines. He has made it his mission to change minds about exercise one at a time. He believes that by acting locally individuals in the HIT community can help to create a positive momentum and ultimately a shift in the collective understanding of exercise.
There is of course billions of dollars at stake and many vested interests to overcome for a HIT approach to become dominant once again in the fitness industry. Adam sees glimmers of hope in the current popularity of more “intense” approaches to exercise. Whilst high intensity interval training, Crossfit and 30 minute fitness fixes may not quite be HIT they have created some momentum in highlighting the value of intensity in exercise to the general public.
Adam’s Manhattan facility is full of Nautilus, MedX and Super Slow equipment, machines that were designed or have been retrofitted to provide a resistance that matches the strength curves of different muscles.
He acknowledges that these high-tech machines are just tools to fatigue muscle- ones that help to successfully and safely exercise whilst avoiding injury and irritating joints. As Adam points out life is tough enough as it is without adding unnecessary stress to the body over the long term through poorly applied exercise.
Adam points out that even some of the best machines in the world may not quite work or gel for particular individuals. In scenarios like this he encourages his trainers to get creative with other tools when appropriate, for instance Inform Manhattan has a collection TRX, free weights, resistance bands, balls and even an exercise bike.
Adam’s perspective on exercise today
I was interested to find out from Adam what if anything, had changed in his perspective on exercise and its practical application since the publication of the Power of 10. He feels that he almost knows less about exercise now referring to advancements in genetic science and a greater appreciation of individualism, seemingly questioning whether a one-size fits all approach is appropriate. In the past, Adam used to insist on set workouts for all, a specific order of exercises and workout pace, rules passed down from his mentors. There is a maturity in his questioning of his younger self’s following of a strict exercise protocol and whether he was thinking things out enough for himself at the time. What has remained is a belief in the principles of lifting weights slowly, safely and intensely, but he now feels that is where the “rules” end. Today, he considers his perspective to be more flexible and adaptable.
He no longer restricts workouts to exercise machines only, he now see’s a value in unilateral training and even includes interval training in his own routine. The role of an individual’s genetics, psychology, age, motor skills and ability to tolerate intensity all factor in to adapting the protocol for a particular client. Longer time under loads are applied with certain people providing a better stimulus and psychological satisfaction. Total momentary muscular failure may not be essential so long as the client is approaching failure in their exercises and is progressing over time.
Most of Adam’s clients train at Inform once or twice a week, a handful come three times a week and workouts are tailored to the preferences and natural strengths of the individual. Working larger muscles groups first is still the norm, but for some this order is altered, upper body first or alternating upper and lower exercises throughout the workout. Those who come twice a week may perform the Big 5 on one day and then a more single-joint based routine on the other. Some who train twice a week may do an upper/lower split.
Adam believes that the most important aspect of personal training is motivating the client and ensuring that they exercise hard consistently over the long-term. It is perhaps the appreciation of individualism and a blending of physiological and psychological considerations that marks
Advice for personal trainers
The role of personal trainer is customer facing, requiring listening skills, care and compassion, and an ability to adapt to different personality types. Adam refers to Setting the Table by restaurateur Danny Myers, a book about customer service and hospitality in which the author discusses hiring service staff: the bottom line is that some people have the natural ability to be good hosts and some don’t. The same is true for personal training.
Adam believes that the basics of business are learnable or can be outsourced, the critical questions for the aspiring trainer are:
- Do you have the passion for it?
- Are you good at it?
- Can you communicate complex concepts easily? (Be like Carl Sagan).
- Are you naturally good at connecting with people?
Successes and failures
Adam started his fitness business by himself in a basement and now has multiple locations and scores of staff. It is those who have gone on this journey with him as Inform has grown that he is most proud of.
He is also honoured to have been able to help so many people get and stay fit. Perhaps no one represents this better than 94 year-old, Betty. She is practically blind, hard of hearing and travels a long distance to Inform every week to train to momentary muscular failure. Betty only really started exercising in her 80’s: a shining example that you are never too old. Sessions at Inform keep her walking, give her functional ability and muscular strength. She is an inspiration to all Inform clients and Adam reckons everyone should do HIT because Betty does.
Adam has stacked up more failures than successes, but he believes that his successes have probably come out of his failures. He has dealt with ex-employees setting up shop on his own doorstep and faced criticism from colleagues for his role in popularizing this approach to exercise. He chooses to focus on the positive when dealing with the fires that pop up and sees them as an inevitable part of being in business. It is all worth it because ultimately he loves what he does for a living!
Ten things we learned from Adam
It is important to be truly passionate about what you do.
The most successful trainers eat, live and sleep this stuff (HIT).
Personal training was always an idea for me, but I didn’t just want to be a personal trainer.
Be open to opportunities and ready to run with it.
My career has been a series of serendipitous experiences.
It’s very important to be at the right place at the right time.
5. Can-do and will-do
Go out there and make it happen.
Keep learning and evolving your thinking and approach to exercise.
Build trust with clients.
Care and compassion are keys to success.
Learn to communicate complex exercise concepts simply, to your clients.
10. Crisis and failures
Learn to deal with difficult situations calmly and confidently and develop a thick skin.
I have a lot more failures than I do successes.
This is a blog post in a series featuring outstanding individuals from the HIT community, who we spent some time with on our trip to the US earlier this year.
In Conversation with Bill DeSimone: The Story Behind Bill DeSimone’s Course on Integrating Functional Training with HIT
In Conversation with Fred Hahn: 20 Years of HIT, the Golden Age of Nautilus and Intermittent Fasting
Power of 10 Workout Program
Over the next few weeks I am going to introduce and discuss new workouts that may help change up your routine a little bit. This will “shock” the body and will also help keep your workouts from getting boring and monotonous.
The “Power Of 10” workout, created by Adam Zickerman, focuses on building lean muscle mass as well as muscular strength and endurance. The goal of this workout is to find a weight that you are able to perform 8 to 10 repetitions with at a very slow rate of movement. This workout consists of a ten second cadence; ten seconds out and ten seconds back all while keeping the muscle contracted the entire time. Try to focus on not stopping at either the top of the exercise or the bottom as well.
According to Zickerman, there are 10 commandments to this workout:
1. Speed: 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down
2. Breathing: Freely and evenly
3. Motion: Weights up and down should be smooth and constant
4. Number of Reps: Do number of reps it takes to run out of gas, until you can’t do another (then try to push for 10 more seconds)
5. Number of Exercises Per Workout: About 6 different exercises or sets
6. Correct Weight: Choose a weight where you reach your limit at about 6 to 8 reps
7. No Stopping: Move from exercise to exercise until the workout is done
8. Focus: Concentrate on form, motion and speed
9. Number of Workouts Per Week: One or two if you feel like it
10. Equipment: Machines and/or at home
Below is a list of exercises that you can try with this “Power Of 10” workout. Remember to count to ten on the way out as well as in and concentrate on breathing, too. Try one or two sets of 10 for each exercise. Good Luck!!