Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lift Slower to be Stronger

What would you do if you were told to do your bicep curls-or any other move for that matter-with excruciatingly slow reps? Well, according to Ken Hutchins, these slower repetitions put muscles under more stress than conventional weight-lifting does, producing greater strength and size.

Hutchins is founder and president of the Super Slow Exercise Guild, a group of fitness trainers devoted to a unique and controversial weight-training method he designed and developed himself. Unlike traditional weightlifting programmes, Hutchins' Super Slow regimen requires you to do the move with 10 seconds up and five seconds down.

He also insists that the quick pace of the workouts- users must move quickly from one exercise to the next, completing a gym session in 20 minutes-conditions the cardiovascular system, eliminating the need for what Hutchins calls 'dangerous' aerobic exercise.

The theory behind it
Super Slow standards dictate that your workout area should be dimly lit and chilly to reduce sweating, because Hutchins says, "Heat is a major enemy of performance."

Hutchins studied the theory of slow weight-training in the 1970s, becoming an expert at engineering weights machines using cams and chains. Over the next 15 years he honed his exercise ideas and gained converts to what he calls his 'protocol'. Super Slow took off in the early 1990s.

Dr Chandra S Siddaiah, consultant and head, sports and exercise medicine, Manipal Hospital, Bangalore, says, "The Super Slow method helps to recruit larger muscle groups. If you have a good build, then you can tolerate the pressure and it'll be effective."

What the experts think
Super Slow's promise is clear: toned muscles, greater strength, increased flexibility and improved stamina in just one or two 15 to 20-minute workouts a week... less time than it takes to shower and shave. Its popularity has also been bolstered by the findings of studies showing that beginners who used Super Slow gained 50 per cent more strength than those who used a standard programme.

Hutchins lacks formal training in exercise or physiology, but he is an outspoken critic of the fitness establishment, particularly aerobic exercise. Cycling, running and jumping are inefficient ways of training and can't qualify as exercise, he says, calling them 'recreation'. He says they deplete the body's vital reserves, leading to illness and injury.

Of course, the Super Slow method isn't without detractors. "It's a strange way to train," says David Pearson, an exercise physiologist at Ball State University in Indiana. "Beginners may see some gains because they're putting their muscles under stress for a longer time, but that type of training has no practical application. It won't help in explosive athletic movements, and it will limit your size gains. It's a gimmick."

Dr Saranjit Singh, Lucknow based fitness consultant and founder of Bodyline gym, feels the same way. He says, "The hypothesis behind this method is that it increases the myoglobin content in the muscles. The only way to check muscle mass is weight training and exercise."

That's not to say there's no place for this in your own workouts. While a combination of aerobic/anaerobic workout increases flexibility, agility, balance, coordination and stabliity, the Super Slow method can be a useful tool when you hit a fitness plateau. "It's certainly worth trying," says Jon Bowskill, a UK-based fitness consultant. He offers a balanced opinion. "The principle of Super Slow training may work for a while. It will train you to lift largely in one plane of movement (on machines), and you'll get better at doing exactly this for the period of time you spend in the gym. The difficulty arises when you leave the gym and expect your gains in strength to improve your functional ability. With this type of training they largely won't-as a species, we simply haven't evolved to move excessively slowly."

Use Super Slow to get super fit
You don't have to follow the Super Slow completely to benefit from it. By applying a few of its tenets to your current workout, you can reap more benefits from your gym time. Follow these five strategies:
1. Take your time
Slower repetitions help, but you don't have to endure gruelling 15-second reps to see results. Recent research suggests that eight-second repetitions- four up, four down-are slow enough to spur an increase in strength.

2. Smooth your style

If you jerk a lot on every lift, you're not getting the most from the move. Try smooth movements, with only a slight hesitation at the end of the contraction. This will put more stress on the muscles and decrease chances of injury.

3. Stop chatting

Super Slow isn't slow between exercises. You move quickly from one exercise to the next, with no banter time. This fires up your metabolism and conditions your cardio system better.

4. Ditch the free weights

Using weight machines instead forces you to focus more on form and less on how much weight you're using-a good thing-while protecting you from injury.

5. Take time to recover

Make sure your muscles have 48 hours rest between strenuous workouts. And if you reach a plateau, try doing less work, not more.

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