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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
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,
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
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 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:
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). Brunnstrom???s 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,
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