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Lift Slow to Get Fit Fast?

Can you get results in 20 minutes a week? Here's what the experts say.

How It Works

The program is simple, says Zickerman, ACSM, owner of InForm Fitness, a center that specializes in slow-cadence strength training.

"It is lifting weights very slowly to maximize muscle fatigue, the goal being muscle failure. As we quip, 'Failure is success.' Muscle failure is the key to stimulating muscle growth."

Power of 10 is based on the premise that eliminating momentum from an exercise forces the muscle to do all the work. Because the muscle is never able to rest, fatigue comes faster. When muscles are brought to failure during strength training, tiny tears occur, creating blood flow to the site, which helps build the muscle.

The protocol is to lift the weight with a 10-second cadence -- 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down -- "until you hit that wall," says Zickerman. At this slow pace, muscles will "fail" somewhere between five and eight repetitions. When you cannot complete another repetition with perfect form, you're finished.

A Power of 10 workout lasts 20-25 minutes; includes five to seven exercises hitting all the major muscle groups; and can be done using free weights or machines.

Zickerman says you can do the program as much as twice a week, but only once a week is needed for results. For a time-starved society, this sounds like a fitness solution like no other.

A New Twist on an Old Idea

Power of 10 has been getting some press, with celebrity clients like newswomen Lesley Stahl and Barbara Walters, but the slow-weight-training concept is not new.

Orlando, Fla., trainer Ken Hutchins developed a method he called "SuperSlow" in 1982. He was leading a study with a group of elderly women with osteoporosis. When using his standard weightlifting protocol (two seconds up and four seconds down), Hutchins became concerned about the women's erratic form. He decided to change things, and eventually came up with the premise of SuperSlow. Using light weights, and slow, steady movements, the women made dramatic gains in strength.

Wayne L. Westcott, PhD, fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass., was intrigued. He studied two of Hutchins' groups. In each, 75 people tackled the SuperSlow program for eight weeks (in 1993) and 10 weeks (in 1999). Westcott compared the SuperSlow group with a group that did traditional weight training, lifting for two seconds and lowering for two. The SuperSlow group did only five repetitions, while the comparison group did 10. In both studies, the SuperSlow groups saw strength gains at least 50% greater than the group doing traditional weight training.


"There no research...that says one strength training workout a week will increase cardiovascular strength."

Still, Westcott, a former track coach and regular runner, says SuperSlow is no magic bullet. The workout, he says, is just too hard.

"I wasn't surprised because I had done this myself for nine months before we did the study so I knew it was very effective," says Westcott. "But I didn't like it; it didn't fit my personality. And I could tell throughout the study that (the subjects) absolutely hated it as well."

In both studies, he says, only one out of 75 participants actually stuck with the program after the study was over.

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