As America struggles with the cost of health care, some are taking their health into their own hands. Health professionals agree, practicing a healthy lifestyle is the most effective way to reduce your reliance on expensive medical care. One of the most promising advances in the field of lifestyle medicine is the development of evidence-based strength training programs. Numerous agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend strength training as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Despite growing interest in strength training, the average workout still leaves a lot to be desired. Many things can and do go wrong along the way. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to improve the safety and effectiveness of your next workout. Slowing down your repetition speed (the rate at which you lift and lower the weight) can make your workouts safer and more effective.
In the early 40’s, when modern strength training was in its’ infancy, no one was talking about repetition speed. At that time, getting health professionals to recognize the benefits of strength training was a major challenge. As the acceptance of strength training grew, scientists began experimenting with different training programs.
It wasn’t until the early 70’s that repetition speed gained the attention of fitness professionals; the late Arthur Jones, founder of Nautilus Sports Medical Industries, is credited with advancing this movement. In the early 80’s, a research project at the University of Florida Medical School further advanced interest in repetition speed. The Nautilus Osteoporosis Project led to the development of the first standardized training protocol addressing repetition speed (Protocol for Super Slow Training). Today, thousands of fitness professionals and millions of Americans use this training protocol, or a version of it, to build stronger, healthier bodies.
Slow strength training works because it safely overloads the muscular system. Overloading the muscular system involves exposing your muscles to a stress greater than they are accustomed to, such as lifting a heavy weight.
A 2010 review of 49 studies published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that strength training programs utilizing a progressive overload approach (gradually progressing to heavier weights) produced the greatest improvements in health. Sports medicine organizations including the American College of Sports Medicine, recommend progressive overload programs to optimize improvements in health and fitness.
The secret sauce with slow strength training is the decrease in momentum. Decreasing momentum, increases muscle tension and exercise intensity. Intensity is important because it increases the magnitude of the training stimulus.
According to exercise scientist, Dr. William Evans at Duke University Medical Center, the intensity of an exercise is the single most important factor influencing results. In other words, the more challenging the workout, the greater the benefits.
Another benefit of slow strength training is the reduced risk of injury. Decreasing momentum allows you to stimulate your muscles without exposing your joints to dangerous forces. Slow strength training also keeps workouts safe by reducing training volume. Brief, infrequent workouts (25 minutes, twice a week) reduce the risk of overuse injuries associated with higher volume training (i.e., 3 or more workouts per week). These are important benefits given the incidence of workout injuries. Many people that injure themselves while strength training never return to it. This is unfortunate given the enormous health benefits strength training has to offer.
The safety and effectiveness of slow strength training has led numerous health agencies to recommend it. In their most current edition of Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends the lifting and lowering portion of each exercise be performed in a controlled manner. The National Institutes on Aging, with the National Institutes of Health, also make specific recommendations for strength training that includes slow, controlled repetitions.
Any decrease in repetition speed, can contribute to workout quality! When working out on conventional strength training machines, or using free weights, a five by five speed works well: lifting the weight in five seconds and lowering the weigh in five seconds. However, if you have access to specialized, low-friction, strength training equipment, such as MEDX Rehabilitative Exercise Machines, going slower than five by five can also produce excellent benefits.
The MEDFITNESS Workout utilizes ten by ten speed to maximize benefits while keeping the workout safe and efficient. Safe, efficient workouts, contribute to long term health benefits, by preventing injuries and burnout. The best way to apply ten by ten speed to your workouts is to use the MEDFITNESS Clock on every exercise. This customized clock is specifically designed to keep you on track as you become fatigued! To get the most out of every exercise, begin and end each repetition on an even number (i.e., 2, 4, 6, etc.). At MEDFITNESS, we call this beginning on time!
Richard J. Wolff, RD, LDN
1. “Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription.” American College of Sports Medicine., Ninth Edition 2014
2. Weights Help Seniors Stay Independent Longer, Athletic Business Newswire, Tuesday, February 01, 2011
3. Nutrition and Exercise Workshop. William J. Evans, Ph.D., FACSM, Adjunct Professor of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center. 2012 Rush University, Chicago, IL.
4. Hutchins, K. 1992. Super Slow Technical Manual