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Lifting Weights the Super-Slow Way

Workout Technique May Bring Desired Results
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Dominique Walton, MD

May 14, 2001 -- For the better part of 20 years, Philip Alexander, MD, was a dedicated runner. By some measures he was a fanatic. The Texas native pounded out an average of 60 miles a week.

And if that weren't obsessive enough, he would add another 35 miles riding his bicycle.

"I was nuts," says Alexander, 57, an internist who practices medicine in College Station, Texas. "I would do 50 full runs up and down the football stands. Every joint hurt. The next day I felt like I had been run over by a truck."

The worst part about it, Alexander says, is that his grueling workout not only left him feeling physically beat but he also wasn't seeing any improvement in his cardiac results. His "good" cholesterol -- the HDL-- wouldn't move above a 42 reading.

"I didn't know how to get a more cardiovascular workout," he says. "I knew what I was doing wasn't working, and it was tearing my body apart."

Then five years ago, Alexander came across a new workout called super-slow weightlifting. It was developed by Ken Hutchins, who happened to grow up in the same small Texas town as Alexander. So the physician called the trainer. It was the beginning of a beautiful and healthy relationship.

Slow Movements, Quick Results

Alexander still occasionally runs with his dog. But the days of 20-mile runs are long gone. He gets all the cardiovascular and strength training he needs with a couple of super-slow sessions each week.

"I have yet to see a downside in it," says Alexander, who has seen his HDL shoot up to 62. "The thing that hooks everybody by the neck are the results."

Hutchins developed the super-slow method in 1982. He was working with a group of elderly women who were part of an osteoporosis study being conducted at the University of Florida. As Hutchins describes it, the women were delicate and he was worried about someone getting hurt. The protocol he was using had the women lifting their weights in two seconds and lowering them in four seconds. But their unsteady and erratic form concerned the trainer.

"Rather than get someone hurt I went back to the drawing board," says Hutchins, who holds four American patents on exercise equipment design.

Off the drawing board came the first draft of what would eventually become the super-slow workout. Hutchins knew from experience that there were benefits to the slow, methodical lifting and lowering of weights. But the common belief was that slow lifting could only be applied to rotary movements. That meant it couldn't be used for things like leg or chest presses or pull-downs.

Hutchins circumvented that problem by designing a turn-around technique. Instead of stopping just before the movement got easy, he kept going and slowly changed the direction.

"The women got incredible results," he says. "Super-slow developed into full blossom from that one study."

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