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A brief introduction and physiology of Super Slow Resistance Training,
by: 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 given workload.
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, 1996).