by Mike Stagg
I would like to introduce you to a style of training known as “Super Slow” as well as its cousin “Static Training”. I was introduced to this training by my mentor, Dick Connors back in the 1990s. In short, it reduces the amount of time in the gym, reduces injury and provides you with a more intense workout than doing more conventional training. Super slow training does have its naysayers, however, in my experience, it has more to do with the naysayers just not liking it versus its effectiveness. IT IS HARD!!
The basic premise of super slow training is that you move the weight at a steady pace taking 10 seconds in both the positive and negative phase of the lift. So, each repetition will take you 20 seconds. The second premise is that you do not rest in the lockout phase of the lift. You immediately change direction. This keeps the muscle under load for the entire set. The set should last from about 1:30 to two minutes. Over time, you will find the optimal time for yourself, but 2 minutes is a good starting point. You will need to use a very light weight and check your ego at the door. Two minutes is an eternity under muscle load and you better have a strong mental constitution to train this way.
Static training is very similar, but it involves holding the weight in the most difficult part of the repetition for two minutes. For a leg press, this would mean to lower the weight about halfway down, stop and hold it there for two minutes. Sound like fun yet?
Let’s start by talking about injury. Injury happens because of power. Specifically, power transferred to a muscle or joint. Power is related to the amount of work done over time. You may put your body in a bad position or any number of other things but at the end of the day, it is the transfer of power to your body that causes the injury. I understand we want to generate maximum power on a maximum attempt during the “money” lift. However, we should minimize injury risk in all other aspects of training.
Okay, now the biggest complaint I hear. “I came to the gym to work; how can I do that with such light weight?” So, you wanna work huh? Let’s consider the time the muscle is under contraction. The goal in training is to push the muscle to the point of failure so the body will adapt and get stronger. If you do a set of 10 reps, the first 7 or 8 reps are just to wear you out, so you are close to the point of failure and the final reps increase your strength. You can generally do several sets as your muscles have not really failed, and they will recover quickly. Let’s say you do 10 leg presses. Each leg repetition takes about 1 to 1.5 seconds, maybe 2 seconds if you are really struggling. Then, almost all lifters stop and rest for a few seconds at the top of the leg press while your knees are locked, thus allowing your legs to recover a little between each rep. So the total time that the muscle is under contraction in that set is ~15 to 20 seconds. In addition, you generated very little force in the negative part of the lift. In other words, you allowed gravity to bring the weight down, thus not generating any force with your legs. Now consider the same set with super slow (or static). It takes 10 seconds to lower the weight. This requires that you generate enough force to counteract gravity (something you did not do previously). Once you slowly press back to the top of the lift you DO NOT lock your knees and immediately start the negative portion of the lift again. One cycle has now had the same time under load as your entire 10 rep set, and you are going to continue this until you fail, targeting ~2 minutes of set time!
Those who practice super slow or static training will always have a stopwatch (on their neck or smartphone) and be sure that they are strictly adhering to a 10 second positive and negative motion while maintaining a steady pace. This is because it is hard and you have to be strict learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Personally, I use static or super slow training in almost all of my accessory work. I tell my lifters, that powerlifting does have an element of injury risk associated with it. Why risk injury on an accessory lift? I mean, if I am going to risk injury, I would rather risk it on a lift that counts. I have seen many people injure their legs or back while doing a leg press. I mean I get it; you look like super stud doing 600lb leg presses. Great except for one minor detail. You are a powerlifter and the goal is to do a maximum lift in a competition. Why injure yourself trying to impress your gym bros with how much you can leg press or overhead press…etc… If you drive a race car and you drive it around town at the same RPM level that you do on race day then when and where do you believe the engine is most likely to blow? You spend a lot more time in training than you ever will in a meet and your chances of injury are higher in training. How many lifters do you hear say “I was a little off today because I hurt myself training”. Let’s avoid that!
You cannot hold your breath with this method like you do in a normal repetition. Breathing is critical when doing super slow training. Your tendency will be to hold your breath as we have trained in conventional training methods. You will need to breathe continuously. As the time goes, you will find yourself breathing much like a woman giving birth. I know it sounds silly, but it is true. I witnessed all four of my children being born and the breathing is very similar. On a side note: women usually handle super slow training much better than men….just saying…..
Obviously, this article is just an introduction to this style of training and there have been volumes of books and medical studies on it. I can personally attest to its effectiveness. As I train mostly wrestlers, they not only get strong, but they also develop a mental strength that is difficult to quantify. Two minutes under load (muscle contraction) is a long time and you will find that you will not be in the gym very long training. This has allowed me to dedicate more of my training on my main lifts as the accessory work usually only consists of three additional super slow exercises.
I would challenge you to try this and would appreciate your feedback. I can also answer any specific questions you may have. It is more effective to have a trainer time you to make sure you do not cheat, encourage you and remind you to breathe.