Three fitness authors that I respect are supporters of slow weightlifting. I personally have yet to be convinced, but I wanted to challenge my beliefs. This book failed to do so.
The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution: The Slow Motion Exercise That Will Change Your Body in 30 Minutes a Week by Fredrick Hahn can best be described as the opposite method to everything that has worked for me over the past 15 years. That is OK. I’ll keep an open mind and expose myself once again to the logic of the slow movement.
Slow-motion weight lifting has the person exercising doing their repetitions, as you may have guessed, very slowly. The goal is to remove momentum and take the muscles to failure in an isolated manner. The book states that “studies” show one can get 50 to 100 percent greater strength gains using slow-speed strength training versus traditional weight-lifting. Really? It would have been nice had the author included references to those studies, but I’m a decent researcher. I found one.
Effects of regular and slow speed resistance training on muscle strength. (PDF abstract)
Two studies were done with untrained men (N=65) and women (N=82), (mean age=53.6) who trained two to three times per week for eight to 10 weeks on a 13 exercise Nautilus circuit performing one set of each exercise. Participants exclusively trained using regular speed repetitions for 8 to 12 repetitions per set at 7 sec each (2 sec lifting, 1 sec pause, 4 sec lowering) or a Super Slow training protocol where they completed 4 to 6 repetitions per set at 14 sec each (10 sec lifting, 4 sec lowering). All of the participants were tested for either the 10 repetition-maximum (RM) weightload (regular-speed group) or the 5-RM weightload (slow-speed group). RESULTS: In both studies, Super-Slow training resulted in about a 50% greater increase (p<0.001) in strength for both men and women than regular speed training.
Did you see what I found? They had a regular speed group doing higher reps (8-12). I seriously doubt the slow-moving group would have 50% strength gains if the control group was allowed to focus on strength gains at the same lower repetition range. In other words, use a higher weight at a normal speed. I’ve said it before and I say it again, high-reps is not the way to get strong. Note that I’m not dismissing slow-motion training, I’m dismissing the claim that this study proves a 50% strength gain. I’d like to see them redo that study where the control group is using a higher weight, equal reps, and a normal (not slow) movement. My guess is the 50% advantage would disappear.
Before I say some nice things about this book, I want to explain my fundamental disagreement with the author. He takes this position that humans are fragile and we need to exercise in a controlled isolated manner lest our poorly designed bodies will succumb to injuries. I suppose if your target audience is a 50+ year old that is experiencing pain and is out of shape, this message will sell a product.
I believe the exact opposite. Humans evolved over 2.5 million years to perform a wide range of physical activities. We are fully capable of a lot more than we think we are. He refers to activities like aerobics and roller-blading as having “an almost harrowing amount of risk“. Really? I agree that aerobics are ineffective, but I remain unconvinced that our bodies need to be babied in a super controlled exercise method or we break down. In the exercise myth chapter, he trashes just about every physical activity as being either ineffective or injury-prone. He goes as far as to state that basketball isn’t really exercise, because it doesn’t make you stronger. Pure nonsense.
Now for the positive side. This book does have a weight lifting plan that stresses heavier weights and low reps. The slow movements are all done on machines for safety. The exercises and plan is a better starting point for gym newbies than the high-rep unsafe exercises I see personal trainers peddling these days. You can do the Super-Slow workout on your own. I also agree with his stance against cardio, but for mostly different reasons.
For me, this book failed to make the case that slow motion weight lifting is superior to normal or explosive lifting. Mathew Perryman in the book Maximum Muscle picks apart the failed logic that regular speed weightlifting doesn’t create the same tension as slow motion (page 94). But, I’m still keeping an open mind. I plan to read Body By Science by Doug McGuff soon. McGuff is respected in the evolutionary fitness community and is also a slow-motion proponent, so it should be interesting.
UPDATE MARCH 2011: Since this post, I have started training using a slow rep protocol. I’m enjoying it and think it has merit. It wasn’t this book that convinced me. It was the much better Body By Science by McGuff and Little. So a year later I can say that Hahn’s protocol has merit, I just didn’t find the writing held the voice of authority I needed. If a quick easy read on slow-training is what you want, read The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution. If you are more like me and want to understand the details better, read Body By Science.