SuperSlow Training, Ken Hutchins and the SuperSlow Zone
I still receive questions on a weekly basis from people about Ken Hutchins, SuperSlow training, and the SuperSlow Zone personal training franchise. I am writing this post to save myself time responding to e-mails and to clear up any confusion people may have over my position on these things. If you have been referred to this post after sending me a question regarding any of the above and have further questions, please post them in the comments section.
To put this in context for those unaware of my involvement with SuperSlow training and association with it’s founder and the SuperSlow Zone personal training franchise a little background info is in order.
In 1994 while attending college in Green Bay, WI, I worked as a personal trainer at a gym where SuperSlow was used. I had previously been using Mike Mentzer’s Heavy Duty training, so the transition to SuperSlow was easy since the protocols were similar, both being based on Arthur Jones Nautilus training principles. In spring 1995 I became certified as a SuperSlow instructor and joined the SuperSlow Exercise Guild, an organization that promoted the protocol and provided educational materials and resources for instructors and facility owners. As a member I contributed several articles to the organization’s quarterly publication, The Exercise Standard, including several reviews of other personal trainer certification programs.
In February of 1996 I moved to Florida to work as a personal trainer for SuperSlow founder Ken Hutchins, both for the learning opportunity and a change of climate. I took a break from personal training in 2000 to pursue other interests (primarily graphic design and martial arts training) however I continued to work out at Ken’s facility and stayed in regular contact with him. In 2002 I returned to work for Ken, this time as a machinist and welder for his exercise equipment company. Then from 2004 to 2005 I worked for the SuperSlow Zone personal training franchise as the director of education, working towards accreditation of the certification program and helping produce educational materials.
In 2001 was interviewed for a round table discussion on SuperSlow for Muscular Development magazine by editor Rob Lefavi, along with Dr. Wayne Westcott, Dr. William Kramer, and Dr. Robert Newton.
Many trainers and “experts” have criticized SuperSlow over the past two decades. Most of their criticism was uninformed and erroneous, and some of it was just outright stupid. Unlike most of them I worked closely with Ken Hutchins for years, have instructed thousands of SuperSlow workouts, and trained myself using SuperSlow almost exclusively for nearly ten years. I’ve “been there and done that” and know what I’m talking about.
Currently, there are many SuperSlow trainers, including some “Master Instructors” who attempt to dispute my criticisms of the protocol. Realize these instructors have nowhere near my experience with or understanding of the subject, and many own, operate or work for either a SuperSlow Zone franchise or an independent SuperSlow facility and have a financial stake in defending the protocol.
What is SuperSlow?
This could turn into a book if I’m not careful, so I’m going to try to keep it short.
It is “SuperSlow”, not “Super Slow”. One word.
SuperSlow is not just lifting and lowering weights slowly. It is a comprehensive high intensity strength training protocol. The specifics of the protocol are dictated by the founder, Ken Hutchins, and have changed over the years. The current definitive description of the protocol is contained in the book SuperSlow: The Ultimate Exercise Protocol, Third Edition by Ken Hutchins. This book is currently only available to employees of the SuperSlow Zone personal training franchise.
Just because someone is lifting and lowering weights slowly does not mean they are doing SuperSlow. That CEU course you took from ACE or IDEA at a trade show or from some guy on the internet does not certify you as a SuperSlow instructor.
Super Slow (two words) has come to be used as a generic term for exercise methods using slow repetition speeds, however the word SuperSlow is a federally registered trademark owned by Ken Hutchins, and is licensed for use by the SuperSlow Zone training franchise.
Slow Burn, Power of 10 and the 12 Second Sequence are not SuperSlow. Slow Burn and Power of 10 are similar in that they are also high intensity training protocols using slow rep speeds, but are unique protocols. Jorge Cruise just uses slow rep cadence as a gimmick in his 12 Second Sequence, other than that it’s your typical fitness magazine bullshit.
Ken Hutchins did not invent slow resistance training. Neither did Ben Bocchicchio, although Ken does credit him with suggesting the 10/10 repetition speed to him. Bob Hoffman wrote about lifting and lowering weights in 10 seconds in the early 1960’s, George Barker Windship talked about moving slowly during exercise in the late 1800’s, and it probably goes back about as far as progressive resistance exercise itself.
SuperSlow Repetition Speed Versus Moderately Slow Repetition Speeds
Many people have the impression I think SuperSlow is ineffective or am against training with very slow repetition speeds. I am not against SuperSlow training. With proper programming, SuperSlow is highly effective. There are many trainers out there who have been producing great results for their clients with SuperSlow for many years, as well as many strength and endurance athletes who have competed successfully using SuperSlow in their training. What I am against are the unfounded claims that SuperSlow produces results that are far superior to high intensity training methods using moderate repetition speeds and is significantly safer. The evidence does not support these claims.
The claims for superior results and safety with SuperSlow are based on the assumption very slow repetition speeds result in significantly less unwanted variation in resistance due to acceleration – the forces encountered don’t spike dangerously and increase the likelihood of injury or drop significantly, underloading the muscles and reducing effectiveness. However, they underestimate how quickly it is necessary to move to cause a significant variation with typical loads over a typical range of motion, as well as the difference a reduction in speed makes. Force gauge studies1 and simple calculations show very little benefit to moving any more slowly than the old Nautilus protocol of a 2 second positive and 4 second negative, so long as care is taken to reverse direction in a controlled manner. Turnaround performance – how you reverse direction between the positive and negative – has far more to do with the forces encountered during an exercise than the the overall repetition duration.
SuperSlow advocates like to reference a pair of studies performed by Wayne Westcott2 that appear to show a 50% greater increase in strength with SuperSlow than with traditional repetition speeds (an actual difference of only 8 and 9 pounds over 10 and 8 weeks), however the studies were invalid since the testing for each group was not standardized. To rule out the effect of repetition speed on test performance, isometric testing should have been performed. I discussed this with Westcott, and he agreed. Had testing been standardized between the two groups, it is unlikely the outcomes would have been significantly different.
In terms of practical results, there is plenty of empirical evidence of the effectiveness of SuperSlow, but no evidence that would prove it is more effective than traditional high intensity training methods. The fact that a particular method has produced a particular result is not proof that equal or better results could not have been achieved by another method.
My experience with both my own training and working with hundreds of clients over the past 15 years leads me to believe there is no significant difference in results between SuperSlow and more moderate repetition speeds when similar loads and workout volume and frequency are used. The degree of effort and appropriateness of the program to the individual’s goals and their response to exercise are far more important than whether they lift the weight very slowly or at a more moderate speed.
High Load/Low TUL Versus Low Load/High TUL
My biggest disagreement with SuperSlow training is not the repetition speed, but rather the prescription of relatively light loads and very long set durations. Ken Hutchins’s original 1984 guidelines for the SuperSlow protocol were to perform three to five repetitions using a ten second positive and five second negative movement, which resulted in a set duration of forty five to seventy five seconds3. This was roughly the same duration resulting from the traditional Nautilus training guideline of eight to twelve repetitions using a two second positive and four second negative, and is highly effective for improving muscular strength and size in most people. Over time Ken recommended longer and longer set durations, requiring lighter and lighter loads. In the 1992 edition of Ken’s SuperSlow technical manual, he recommends a repetition range of four to eight using 10/5, resulting in a set duration of sixty to one hundred and twenty seconds, a fifty percent increase in time. In 2005, the official guideline for the SuperSlow Zone personal training franchise was to use a level of resistance that allowed for one hundred to one hundred and eighty seconds time under load using 10/10, a one hundred and thirty three percent increase in time over the original guidelines. These guidelines were part of the reason for my resignation from the SuperSlow Zone.
Most research5 and a large amount of empirical evidence suggests set durations between thirty and ninety seconds are more effective for improving muscular strength and size. While the original SuperSlow guidelines were within this range, the current guidelines are totally outside of it. These kinds of set durations and very light weights are what one would expect from an aerobics-based program, not one for building strength. In all of the research on SuperSlow where the SuperSlow group used a longer set duration, the SuperSlow group performed very poorly compared to the group using a more moderate repetition speed.
In the early 2000’s, frustrated with my lack of muscular size gains using SuperSlow with a longer time under load, I began experimenting with reducing my set durations, eventually finding I made much better progress using a range of forty to sixty seconds. Others started reducing their set durations and also experienced better results. On the few occasions I discussed this with Ken Hutchins he seemed interested in my results, but was concerned training with lower times and heavier weights would significantly increase the risk of injury. To date, neither I nor any of my clients have been injured since using not only the shorter set durations but also more moderate repetition speeds (averaging four seconds during the positive and four seconds during the negative).
Many people seem to believe that since I have disagreements with aspects of the SuperSlow protocol that I dislike or do not get along with Ken Hutchins. I can not speak for Ken and will not speculate on his opinion of me, but I have a very high opinion of Ken. He is highly intelligent, incredibly knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects, and a very interesting person in general. I know numerous people who have been involved with SuperSlow over the years who do not get along with Ken for a variety of reasons, but I have never had any problems with him. I consider Ken a friend and a mentor and he has had more influence on me than anyone.
I disagree with a lot of people about a lot of different things, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like or respect them.
The SuperSlow Zone Personal Training Franchise
I resigned from the SuperSlow Zone in September of 2005 because I felt the company was being run in an unethical, short-sighted and ultimately unprofessional manner by CEO Madeline Ross, as well as due to disagreements with the exercise recommendations.
The following are excerpts from a November 2005 journal entry from the previous version of this web site detailing my reasons for resigning from my position at the SuperSlow Zone.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Why I Resigned From The SuperSlow Zone Personal Training Franchise
There’s been so much going on over the past few months it’s been hard to find time to write. This is frustrating, because I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking on training and have come up with quite a few ideas for articles and topics I’d like to address in the journal, not to mention starting up a Q&A section to deal with all the e-mail. Before I get into any of that though, I promised I’d explain why I left my position as director of education and technical advisor at the SuperSlow Zone personal training franchise.
Over the past few years I’ve been following more of the research on exercise, specifically muscular hypertrophy, as well as a lot of the research and meta-analyses addressing the questions of training volume, frequency, rep speed, etc. While working at the SuperSlow Zone, I made an extra effort to stay on top of research involving high intensity training or comparison of different repetition speeds since we were planning to conduct studies of our own, and so I could keep our franchise owners and trainers up to date and provide them with information useful to them in their businesses. In addition to following the research, I continued to converse with various people in the high intensity training community, all highly experienced, highly intelligent, and forward-thinking. Gradually, the doubts I had about the rationale for Ken Hutchins’ current recommendations for SuperSlow® that started with my lower-TUL experiments were confirmed and re-confirmed by the experiences of others experimenting with different protocols, and my own further experiments.
Many of Ken Hutchins’s current recommendations for the application of the SuperSlow exercise protocol are overcautious, in my opinion. Over the years, he has gradually recommended increasingly long set durations, which require increasingly lighter loads, while recent research on hypertrophy suggests the stimulus for hypertrophy is at least partially related to load. The current recommendation by Ken Hutchins and the SuperSlow Zone is that the SuperSlow protocol be performed using a time under load of no less than 100 seconds and no more than 180 seconds. While this may be somewhat safer due to the lighter load, it is also far less effective for stimulating muscular hypertrophy, and the weight is not as significant a factor where injury is concerned as exercise performance.
Another reason for Ken Hutchins’s recommendation for lighter weights and longer set durations is that he based much of the SuperSlow protocol on the premise the stimulus for muscular hypertrophy is a deep level of inroad. This is a key part of his definition of exercise, a foundation of the SuperSlow protocol. Additionally, it is stressed that the goal is to achieve the deepest possible inroad per unit of time, and claimed that SuperSlow is the most effective protocol for this purpose. However, it turns out that SuperSlow inroads muscular strength levels less effectively than the traditional Nautilus protocol (two seconds lifting, four seconds lowering) and other less-slow protocols when using the same weight. Former SuperSlow Master Instructor Danny Thompson, myself, and several others have performed variations on a simple experiment clearly demonstrating this. Perform any compound or simple exercise using a protocol with a 2 to 4 second positive and 2 to 4 second negative, recording the time from the beginning of the set until the moment where no more positive movement is possible in good form. Rest for an hour or more, then perform the same exercise, with the same weight using the SuperSlow protocol – ten second positive and ten second negative – and record the time again. Despite performing the exercise a second time with the exact same weight, the time under load will typically be around forty to fifty percent longer when using the SuperSlow protocol, indicating significantly less efficient inroading.
The claim of greatly reduced force and greatly improved muscular loading with SuperSlow repetition speeds has also been shown to be false. A force-gauge study in the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online and in the International Association of Resistance Trainers’ publication Synergy (Johnston BD. The Effects of Momentum on Muscle Loading, Synergy 2005) demonstrated there are no significant differences in peak force or muscular loading between the traditional Nautilus 2/4 protocol, a moderately-slow 5/5 protocol, and the SuperSlow 10/10 protocol. I have discussed the study with several professional engineers who provided mathematical models corroborating Johnston’s results. All stated the turnaround performance is far more important than the steady-state velocity where safety and muscular loading are concerned.
In addition to these problems with the SuperSlow protocol, I have come to disagree with various other recommendations being made by the SuperSlow Zone regarding exercise volume, frequency, and selection. Since I can not recommend with a good conscience what is currently being promoted as SuperSlow by the SuperSlow Zone, I felt I had to leave.
There was a problem though; Emma is pregnant and I felt I needed to stay at the SuperSlow Zone until I found suitable employment elsewhere. So I stayed on until it became intolerable. What was intolerable was not the SuperSlow Zone’s lack of objective, scientific exercise recommendations, but the CEO Madeline Ross’s business ethics.
I am a strong supporter of laissez faire capitalism, and believe the ethical approach to competing successfully in any business is to try to offer the best possible product or service. I believe it is wrong to focus instead on how to deny and disrupt the competition, which seemed to be Madeline Ross’s primary concern. Rather than offer the existing SuperSlow businesses and instructor community something of value as an incentive to become a SuperSlow Zone franchise, Madeline Ross tried to prevent anyone who didn’t become a franchise from being able to purchase MedX exercise equipment, and she took over the SuperSlow exercise instructor certification program as part of the SuperSlow Zone to deny certification to instructors not working for SuperSlow Zone franchises. Additionally, she has been dishonest and hostile in her dealings with many in the SuperSlow community who, for a long time, had been some of Ken Hutchins’s biggest supporters, as well as the staff at the SuperSlow Zone.
There was a bit more, including several other examples of problems with how the business was being run, but I think the SuperSlow Zone’s record speaks for itself. Since 2005, they have lost five franchises that I’m aware of in just their own “back yard” here in central Florida. Three closed down (Winter Park, Winter Garden, Metro West) and two have dropped the franchise, including the first “flagship” studio (Altamonte Springs, Lake Mary). Many others throughout the United States and Canada have either gone out of business or dropped their SuperSlow Zone franchise and gone on to be more successful without it.
The SuperSlow Zone may try to blame the current economic situation, however, other local HIT personal training studios, including ours, and local SuperSlow personal training studios not affiliated with the SuperSlow Zone are doing very well.
The SuperSlow Manuals, Videos, Etc.
SuperSlow: New copies of The Ultimate Exercise Protocol, AKA the SuperSlow technical manual are no longer being sold to the public. They are only available to SuperSlow Zone employees. I have seen second editions on amazon.com and ebay, occasionally, often overpriced. With so many SuperSlow Zone franchises closing, however, more will probably start popping up for sale on ebay.
As far as I am aware, none of the recent instructional videos produced are available to anyone outside of the SuperSlow Zone. These might also be found on ebay, however, due to franchise closings.
1. Johnston BD. The Effects of Momentum on Muscle Loading, Synergy 2005
2. Westcott WL, Winett RA, Anderson ES, Wojcik JR, Loud RL, Cleggett E, Glover S. Effects of regular and slow speed resistance training on muscle strength. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2001 Jun;41(2):154-8
3. Darden, Ellington. The Nautilus Advanced Bodybuilding Book. Simon & Schuster 1984.
4. Hutchins, Ken. SuperSlow: The Ultimate Exercise Protocol, 2nd Edition. 1992
5. Carpinelli RN, Otto RM, Winett RA. A Critical Analysis of the ACSM Position Stand on Resistance Training: Insufficient Evidence to Support Recommended Training Protocols. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online 2004;7(3):1-60