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Super slow strength training


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I have heard about this, and am yet to try it (do a lift over 10 seconds in either direction). It sounds brutal (a word in vogue at the moment) but sounds as if it should be highly effective. This topic is not directly related to stretching, but as well as using it for strength training I'm aiming to use it to prepare muscles for stretching, so it's indirecly relevant. I wont be able to get to the gym for quite a few days yet so am satisfying my curiosity by asking here first.

I wonder has anyone here tried it, and what are your experiences?

Ta, Jim.

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I am in the middle of the ultimate form of this training, which is holding isometric positions for time. I will write about this on my blog later, but I use two different combinations of exercises on successive days, then have one (sometimes two) off. And as the horse stance is one of the positions, there is a direct effect on flexibility, too.

I have done the 10" approach, but find it a bit hard to time while doing the lift, and hence the progressions are prone to cheating! (how human). There is another similar approach that uses 30", which is even harder (very strong sensations coming back from the body).

To circumvent this, I use held positions instead, and a free 'tabata'-style timer. By programming in 5" to prepare, I can get into position, and use the timer to make sure I hold the position for the full minute. Do let us know how you go.

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First attempts at 10 seconds lifts/releases today. The machines I was using had a timer, so seeing the time was easy, though it needed a lot of concentration at first not to go too fast. I just did leg presses and chest presses (for reasons mentioned below). Observations:

1. I could lift just the same weights as when using my faster natural speed.

2. The slow movements meant that there was much more concentration on form - if something wasn't quite right, I couldn't just skip over it and hope like I usually would.

3. I spent much more time and care at the extremes of movement, especially at the starts (when the muscles are at maximum length) which is the part I find most difficult, and previously tended to try to get through as quickly as possible.

4. It was (clearly) much more fatiguing. I only did one set of 8 reps, rather than 3 sets of 8. Though I was in total working for longer, I was more fatigued than I would have been working faster for the same amount of time. I used longer (2 min rests) between reps, instead of 1 min.

5. It is clear that there is much more emphasis on the eccentric phase of contractions, where previously I tended to go too fast.

I did only a small amount today, because I've something happening tomorrow and dont want any DOMS.

Conclusions: Excellent for ensuring good form. Excellent for ensuring equal attention to all phases of the lift. Excellent for emphasising the eccentric phase of contraction (therefore probably for preparing the muscles for stretching).

Next time I'll try it with my full routine, but probably keep to single sets, at least at first.

I dont know much about strength training, so please let me know if I'm making any bloopers or missing anything.

Thanks, Jim.

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That all sounds very promising for workout #1. Likely you will have some DOMS tomorrow; do let us know! And as a life-long strength training person, your insights seem spot in to me. You may care to look up Time Under Tension (TUT) for an additional perspective; 

On 12/9/2023 at 1:36 AM, Jim Pickles said:

Though I was in total working for longer, I was more fatigued than I would have been working faster for the same amount of time. I used longer (2 min rests) between reps, instead of 1 min.

That's the key. And as you get stronger, try even longer rest periods. When guys are doing really heavy deadlifts of squats, five minute rest periods are normal.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Update - following a conversation over Christmas, hearing that even the intention to move fast can activate the fast twitch fibres more (even if you dont manage to move fast; maybe due to targeted neural input) and realising that the main change I noticed with the super slow method was in the eccentric phase (and in concordance with all the information that the eccentric phase is most critical for muscle remodelling) I changed to a fast contraction, and a longer slow eccentric phase (15 secs). This also speeds things up so I can get through more in the time.

After a preliminary day when I tried it out, today I went for fast contraction, 15 sec eccentric phase, 8 reps/set with only short rests, 3 sets (with 1 min recoveries). Using the same weights as were maximal when doing it my normal way. I managed this with the lower body - with the upper body I didnt always manage 3 sets (and the last exercise, the pec fly) only 7 reps in the first set.

Then followed it up with 12x stair jumps, and powerful leg stretches (splits, oversplits, CR while in what I call a "suspended split" - the feet supported off the ground, with legs and body in the air, pancake etc). Then a bike ride.

Wow! Exhausted! Even without the later bits, the weights regime was exhausting, and much more so than my normal routine. Clearly, its doing something (something good, I hope).

I am using much shorter recoveries than @Kit_L mentioned in his posting. The reason is that this is a shared gym, and I dont want to hog the machines more than minimally. And especially let the "chatterers" (two ladies who come and sit on machines side by side for ages, not doing much, and chattering) get in front of me.

And, yes, I had a good Christmas. This more punishing regime is not a response to that, in case you are wondering.

Cheers,

Jim.

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Great work, Jim. Re. the chatterers: just ask to work in (I have done this hundreds of times) and they are always happy to do this, in my experience.

Re. No-action recruitment of the fast-twitch fibres, simply via intention: this fact is the core concept behind visualisation. Quick recap:

Back in the dark ages (probably 25 years ago!), there was an experiment where half a basketball team were given an extra hour's practice of shooting baskets, the rest of the team were divided in half, and the first half of this group did visualisation exercises (lying down, relaxation practise first, then visualisations of successfully getting the ball into the basket), and half an hour of practice, and the third group only did the relaxation exercises (like self-hypnosis) and practiced the visualisations for an hour. In this experiment and the similar ones like it have been done, the group that spent a hundred percent of the extra time doing visualisations of the skill needing to be refined was the most effective. Electromyographs showed that all the pathways needed to execute the skill were activated, but at level below the threshold needed to create movement (although some people twitched regularly!). 

I am doing similar kinds of training to you, but all bodyweight exercises where the leverages are adjusted to make them difficult enough to provide real resistance. I do intend to make a program on this some time this year – the effects that I've been getting in my legs and glutes in particular are as good as what I used to get when I was training heavy back squats. It could just be because I'm really old though! 🙂 

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Well well, thank you @Kit_L for describing that classic piece of research. Because in spite of all the information I've been getting on body science for over a few decades now, I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT IT! I might have come across similar ideas vaguely put years ago when I was doing ballet, and have often found mental rehearsal beneficial, but did not know it was a well known result. Thank you so much for enlightening me!

I look forward to hearing about your strength exercises, because bodyweight exercises have the advantage that they free you from the tyrrany of the gym and (I hope) equipment - besides, I like bodywork that is as down to earth and as natural as possible.

All the best,  Jim.

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A pleasure. I think the key to finding the original work is the keyword, "visualization". I am pretty sure it was research done with college basketball teams; which ones I can't remember. I do recall that people were really surprised at the time, but as a pistol shooter (years later) it made perfect sense to me.

And I will deliver on the strengthening exercises, too. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Update. What seems to be working best for me is weekly 1 set 8 reps, with 30 seconds rest in between reps (I'm trying to make this shorter so as to reduce the times on the machines). I'm using the weights that were maximal with moving quickly, but with a fast contraction phase and with a slow (12-15 sec) eccentric phase. Legs and upper body. Afterwards I do maximal leg stretches.

I know the total number of reps is low compared with what most people would suggest for most training. but this (technical term here) buggers me. I also take nearly a week to fully recover, so if I go harder its going to interfere with other activities. If total time under tension positively affects strength, then this way I actually have more total time under tension than with my usual routine of fast 8x3.  I havent upped my weights yet to see if my maximal strength has changed, as I want to settle into the routine before making any changes. I hope the maximal stretches after each session will take advantage of any possible increase in flexibility. As before, I am particularly making sure my form is correct, and that I dont collapse during the final moments of the eccentric phase (before, I was just going back to the start as fast as possible).

No DOMS, but some muscle weakness in recovery.

Any comments appreciated. The long recovery times (nearly a week) may suggest I'm going too hard, but if I used lighter weights I'd have to go more often, so I'd still be recovering most of the time. Besides, often I cant go to the gym more often.

@Kit_L re "the ultimate form of this training" and static stretches - as I understand it, the critical point about eccentric contractions is how the myofibrils "let go" of the contraction during the eccentric phase, and this is what causes the muscle damage (and, hopefully, the signal to remodel). Any comment?

Many thanks,

Jim.

Update this week: getting easier, so I'm getting stronger, but I'm not increasing the weights yet.

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  • 1 month later...

I’ve really enjoyed reading this thread, thanks both. Oddly I stumbled across just as I have been experimenting with similar since January, funny how that happens. I have been experimenting  with both yielding isometrics and overcoming isometrics, using exercises and routines from the venerable Steve Maxwell. These use the concept of Time Under Tension as Kit mentions. Yielding isometrics uses fixed positions until absolute muscular failure (such as top position of a pull up, bottom position of a push up) whilst overcoming isometrics uses force against an immovable object, in Steve’s routine a ‘forklift moving strap’ (such as horizontal row, glute bridge) and these are done for time. Typically 90s total with increasing effort per 30s (30s at 50% effort, 30s at 75% effort, 30s all out effort). 
 

The routines from Steve Maxwell are great, incorporating push/pull/hinge/squat. They are exhausting and demanding and really get the heart rate going. There is some technique to learn around breathing, avoid holding your breath, aim for controlled breathing. It takes time to develop a sense of 75% effort versus all out 100%, those numbers are obviously guides but it does take practice to appreciate what all out effort feels like. The exercises are supposedly safer with less risk of injury - there is far less movement of the joints. Really recommend giving this a try. I will try to add a recent logbook tomorrow so you can see what a workout looks like

 

 

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