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One of the great ongoing debates among bodybuilders, and especially in high-intensity training circles, revolves around repetition speed. One of the most controversial topics in this area is the performance of VERY slow, or “super slow,” reps to help you get bigger and stronger.
Some argue that slow reps are the safest and most intense form of training you can do, while opponents swear that it’s all bunk.
So who’s right? Can super slow reps help you get bigger, or will they cause you to LOSE muscle size.
Let’s take a quick look at the protocol and then dive into those specific questions.
Super slow training is technically “ SuperSlow” training, as the method was codified and trademarked by renowned HIT trainer Ken Hutchins several years back. In general, the method calls for performing one set of each of a handful of exercises. Each repetition is performed very slowly, taking 10 seconds to lift (concentric, or positive) and 5-10 seconds to lower (eccentric, or negative).
As Drew Baye, another HIT trainer, points out, this entails sets that last anywhere from 1-3 minutes and can leave you using very light loads.
Because the weights you use will be relatively light and since you’ll be moving very slowly, super slow training is a perfect fit in some scenarios. Among these are:
Rehabbing from Injury
When you are battling an injury, lifting very heavy weights can aggravate the area or even make the injury worse. Using light weights with slow repetitions can help you hone in on form that doesn’t hurt, while still drawing healing blood to the injured area.
Older trainees, especially those who have not trained before, are more susceptible to injury AND need more of a break-in period to get accustomed to how their muscles react to weights. Super slow reps are nearly ideal in this situation.
“Feeling” a Muscle
If you’ve ever done an exercise with a conventional pace but not felt much stimulation in the target muscle, then super slow reps might help you get more out of the movement. By slowing way down, you get the chance to really concentrate on which muscles are performing the lift.
Change of Pace
You can’t do the same routine all the time and hope to make continual gains. If you’ve been lifting hard and heavy for a long while, switching into super slow mode for a stretch can help you correct form problems. You’ll probably also stimulate new growth as the slow reps will be “new” to you, and they can be brutally hard.
Lifters tend to get locked in to their methods, especially when they find something they like. Super slow training “feels” very intense because your muscles burn with lactic acid during the long sets and you huff and puff to finish each movement.
As Baye points out, though, the extended set times move you closer to aerobic training than anaerobic muscle stimulation, where growth happens. To make matters worse, the loads you use need to be reduced significantly in order to accommodate the slow speeds and long sets.
So, while super slow repetitions are great for the situations listed above and any time you need a “break,” they are probably not your best tool for long-term muscle growth.