Super-Slow Weight Training Increases Strength

3 Fundamentals to HIT

So there we go – we now know the 3 fundamentals to HIT training: 

  1. Constant Tension – don’t let the muscle rest at any time during the set.
  2. Super slow – slow tempo (6-10 seconds) means there is even force applied without relying on speed/momentum
  3. 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.

When you think of a typical strength training routine, you probably envision a long list of exercises to get through—and a time-consuming one at that. But what if I told you there’s a method that only requires a couple 20-minute sessions a week? The only catch: Everything is done at a snail-like speed.

Lifting weights—or doing bodyweight exercises—in slow motion might seem odd, but the technique is a fitness go-to for actress Jane Seymour (who you probably remember from Dr. Quinn, MedicineWoman, or her more recent guest appearances on Jane the Virgin). “It’s very, very slow weight lifting,” she said in a recent interview with Closer Weekly. “You only do 20 minutes twice a week. I notice a huge difference when I do it. Each exercise you do, you do it to fatigue so your whole body starts shaking,” she added, per Fox News.

This form of training isn’t anything new. It’s actually been around since the early ’80s when it was developed by researcher Ken Hutchins. What started as something safe and effective for women with osteoporosis quickly turned into a more mindful way of working out everyone can enjoy: Since you’re moving at a slower speed, you’re able to put more focus on your form and control. In turn, all that extra tension in the muscles could be an effective method of toning and building strength.

Don’t be fooled, though: Just because you’re moving slower and exercising for a shorter period of time doesn’t mean it isn’t just as—if not more—challenging than typical weight lifting. “With slower lifting, the body’s muscles do all the work without the help from momentum—it’s a more intense experience. The results are usually better due to a greater reduction in a chance for injury,” says Adam Zickerman, founder of InForm Fitness.

Despite the slow pace, the workout is still considered high-intensity. So if you’re already thinking about swapping all those fast-paced burpees you do for this, same.

“Slow-motion strength training involves a lifting phase that’s executed in 10 seconds, and a lowering phase that’s executed in 10 seconds. You continue in this fashion until you can no longer complete a repetition with proper form,” says Kevin Ness, co-founder of My Strength Studio. “One of the key aspects of the protocol is intensity. Exercise that’s brief and demanding, causing a failure of the involved musculature in 1 to 4 minutes, is considered ‘high-intensity.’ Generally, this is what’s desired in slow-motion strength training session.”

That’s exactly why you can get away with only one or two 20-minute sessions a week: Once you’re done, your entire body will feel like Jell-O and you have to let your body recover before going at it again. A workout that’s safer, focuses on correct form, quick, and super effective? Yeah, I’m sold.

For an effective at-home workout, Ness says you really only need three basic moves. “Between a squat, push-up, and pull-up, you can stimulate improvements in all the major muscle structures,” he explains. “If you use slow movement, allow no periods of rest, and continue until you can literally no longer complete a repetition, you can get a very effective, efficient, and safe workout in at home.”

Then the next time you go to the gym to use actual weights, Zickerman says to “stick to multi-muscle groups—aka compound movement—exercises, including leg presses, chest presses, pull downs, and rows. Avoid single joint movements, like knee extensions, curls, flys, and lateral raises.”

Lace up your sneakers and use Ness’ guidance to get through these moves:

1. Squats

Using a door handle for balance, squat slowly (taking 10 seconds) until your thighs are parallel with the floor, pause for two seconds, then barely start moving upward. Push through your heels and take a full 10 seconds to reach the halfway position. Slowly but immediately change directions, then slowly (in ten seconds) lower yourself again to the deep squat position. Continue in this manner with good form—and plenty of breathing—until you can’t finish a repetition with good form.

Note: The feeling of your thighs burning isn’t an indicator that you’ve reached muscle failure; they merely burn. Be honest with yourself and truly push until you can’t even stand anymore. You could also sit against a wall and lower to a position where your thighs are parallel to the floor and hold that position for as long as possible.

2. Push-ups

Start with your hands shoulder-width apart and slightly turn them inward. From the top (elbows extended) position, slowly lower (in 10 seconds) until your chest and shoulders almost touch your hands, pause for two seconds, and slowly (in 10 seconds) raise your body. Gradually change directions just before your elbows lock and repeat another repetition. Continue in good form until completing a repetition isn’t possible. Record elapsed time and repetitions completed.

3. Pull-ups

Keeping your shoulder girdle down and back, slowly pull your body upward to where your chin passes the bar. Engage abdominals for two seconds and slowly (in 10 seconds) return to the starting position. Without resting, gradually change direction and start another repetition. Continue in perfect form until you can no longer complete a repetition. Use a chair if an assist from the legs is needed.

Here’s how to get an effective workout in only five minutes. Or, try these three moves from a Victoria’s Secret trainer.

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.

Benefits of Super Slow / HIT

McGuff and Westcott both say it’s OK to do other forms of exercise during the week. «I make a distinction between exercise and recreation,» McGuff says. «Distilled, pure exercise like SuperSlow does not provide much stress relief and socialization.»

Hutchins, however, is pretty down on so-called «aerobics» and has written several books on the subject, including Aerobics Is Dead. (He also disdains the term «cardio.») He relies on biochemistry to explain the cardiovascular benefits of SuperSlow. «People who push so-called aerobics,» he scoffs, «think you can cut the heart out and put it on a treadmill. The heart is an involuntary muscle: It will pump harder when there is more blood to pump, and some informal studies have shown that SuperSlow returns more blood to the heart.»

Another benefit, according to Hutchins, involves cholesterol. «When you stop to think about it — what tissue has the most cells, blood, nerves, and chemistry? Skeletal muscles.» When you stress the muscle to the point of failure, it brings on a growth mechanism to build more muscle, he says. But that isn’t all. He claims that a doctor in Texas is finding that the metabolics of muscle failure are raising HDL, the «good» cholesterol, and may lower the bad stuff, LDL, somewhat. Another researcher, Hutchins says, finds that SuperSlow increases bone density 1% a month: No other exercise is known to come close to this result.

«None of this is really tested,» concedes Hutchins. Many people find SuperSlow too challenging. Others say it’s not only difficult, but boring. «It’s boring? It’s boring?» exclaims Hutchins. «That’s like saying you don’t want to brush and floss because it’s not fun.»

«It’s intense, but not horrible,» McGuff says. «Some eat it up. Others I think could go further, but they shut down.» In Westcott’s trials, only one of his 150 participants stuck with it. He himself quit, saying he was not motivated. «I talked to some Army drill sergeants about it last week,» Westcott says. «Maybe they would be able to take it. You need to be pretty tough.»

There’s a pretty genius technique you’re likely not using that could really help you power up without having to lift heavier weights or do more reps and sets. «When you play with an exercise’s tempo to extend the time your muscles are working during a single rep, you can build strength, burn fat, and develop lean muscle faster than going at a standard pace,» says trainer and exercise scientist Dasha Libin, the co-owner of Anderson Martial Arts and creator of Kettlebell Kickboxing in New York City.

The idea is to squeeze more muscle-making out of each rep’s three phases—positive, static, and negative—by doing them in slow motion. Quick example: The positive phase of a push-up is the work, or actual pushing, part; the static phase is the peak contraction point where your chest grazes the floor; the negative phase is the lowering part. «Increasing your time under tension in the negative part of an exercise, for instance, can help you grow your positive strength,» Libin explains. (Here: more weight training tips for beginners.)

Libin created this total-body routine to give every major muscle a fresh challenge from seven go-to exercises. No matter how fit you are, you’ll come away stronger and more carved, she promises: «If you can only string together four or five push-ups right now, after just a couple of weeks of doing push-ups under tension, you’ll be able to double your count.» Like those odds? Ready, set…slow.

How it works: Warm up with 1 minute each of alternating straight-leg kicks, plank walk-outs, air jump rope, and air squat with overhead reach; then 30-second forward fold (palms on floor) standing on left leg, then right. Next, do each exercise as indicated. Complete this routine 2 or 3 days a week on alternate days.

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.

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