What Do We Know? What Don’t We Know?
I originally posted this to baye.com way back in July of 2004 after joining an e-mail discussion group for people teaching and using the SuperSlow high intensity training protocol. When I mentioned on my Facebook page I was updating and reposting some older articles I received a request specifically for this one, and managed to find it after a bit of digging. I have edited it somewhat for grammar and clarity, and added a few comments in bold text.
Saturday, July 10, 2004
I’ve recently joined an online discussion group for SuperSlow exercise instructors and enthusiasts, and while much of the conversation has been your typical training and equipment talk, there have been a few debates over certain aspects of training which have been very productive, and a few others that have become a bit heated. I recently posted the following to the group, and wanted to include it here as I brought up several things in it which have been on my mind recently and I think deserve further discussion:
“I only recently joined the list, but I get the feeling there has been a lot of ongoing arguments here on various subjects for a while. I think it’s important that despite our own perspectives, experiences and biases we try to be as open as possible to new suggestions or perspectives, and consider them critically but objectively.
I have been an advocate of SuperSlow for a long, long, time, so much so that I’ve at times found myself more concerned with proving I’m right than with listening to what the other person has to say. Scientists don’t start an experiment to prove anything, they do it to discover something. As a matter of fact, the point of an experiment to attempt to disprove the hypothesis. We need to step back and consider whether we’re more caught up in proving what we think is right, or trying to discover where we might be wrong so that we can improve upon it. The more critical we are of ourselves and our methods, the more likely we are to be able to improve upon them.
Even things which may appear to be self-evident shouldn’t be immune to questioning.
Before we can argue about methods, we need to define desired outcomes. Since different people may desire different outcomes, we may find that we require different methods or applications of principles to achieve those.
We need to clearly and honestly distinguish between what we know and what we suspect so we have a better idea where to expend our investigative or experimental efforts. There are a lot of things I think we’ve taken for granted that need to be questioned.
Danny [Thompson] mentioned he believes Ken [Hutchins] is “way over-concerned with safety”. I have known and worked with Ken for the better part of the last eight years and agree, but the condition of many of the people he trains justifies it. The problem is when you try to extend that to everyone else. Based on things Dr. McGuff has written and my understanding of the nature of force, acceleration, injury, etc., I think the speed and performance of the turnarounds is far more important than the speed of the positive and negative excursions, and that even if you were to move as fast as four or five seconds in most movements you will not risk injury so long as your form is good and you perform the turnarounds slowly. We may find that speed of movement, like intensity, volume, frequency, etc. is something that must be tailored to the individual, with those who have injuries or conditions requiring caution are prescribed a slower rep cadence than those with a much greater structural integrity.
I worded this poorly. I do not think it is possible to be overly concerned with safety – safety should be one of the highest priorities of training. However, I think some overestimate the risk of certain exercises and methods to the average healthy person.
If, as I and a few others suspect, there is a benefit to repeated negative excursions after a particular degree of inroad is achieved, but it is also necessary to limit the TUL, then we may find that the ideal speed of movement from a safety standpoint or efficient muscular loading is not ideal for growth stimulation due to other factors requiring a greater amount of mechanical movement during the exercise. We may find that we have to compromise between moving slowly enough to reduce the force the body is exposed to and minimizing acceleration and increases in momentum during the positive, and performing enough repetitions within a particular time frame to allow for some minimum number of negative excursions during which micro-trauma can occur and growth stimulated.
This assumes that the model Ryan [Hall] posted for muscular growth stimulation is correct, and I suspect it is. However, like anything else, I’m going to remain open and critical of everything.
After reposting this I contacted Ryan Hall and received his permission to repost his biochemical model for stimulus and growth process of skeletal muscle. Ryan said that although the model is still correct some of the details are now better understood and he intends to update and expand upon this later.
It is hard to do so, however, when in my own experience, Heavy Duty produced major size gains. So much so that I was constantly excited about it. In more years of SuperSlow than months of Heavy Duty, I have not even equaled that degree of muscularity. The only explanation for the muscular strength gains is that there are factors other than muscular size which contribute to force output that are improved dramatically by SuperSlow.
What do we know? What don’t we know?
We know that muscular work of a demanding nature is required to stimulate a response.
We don’t know the exact nature of how this is best applied to produce size or strength increases, we only suspect we do.
We know that too much work, or too frequent work, can have a negative effect.
We don’t know exactly how recovery works, or how to determine without a long period of experimentation how much or how little is ideal for someone or how it changes over time, we only suspect we do.
We know that progression is necessary for continuous improvement.
We don’t know the best method of progression, although we suspect we do. As for single vs. double progression, my own suspicion is that double progression only works because in the process people stumble across the best TUL for them every few workouts. Dr. McGuff wrote about this also.
We know that a reduction in acceleration is necessary to maintain a relatively continuous amount of momentum during the positive, which improves muscular loading. (We have to get away from saying “reduce momentum” because that is not correct, what we are trying to do is maintain a consistent momentum at a given level of resistance).
We don’t know how big of a difference this makes past a certain point, or just how slow it is necessary to move for just this purpose.
We know that moving more slowly allows for greater force production depending on an individuals level of motor control.
We don’t know how slowly is necessary for the average person or if there is any benefit to moving even more slowly from a nervous perspective.
We know that moving slowly reduces the force the body is exposed to and reduces the risk of injury.
We don’t know how slowly any individual must move for this purpose, and I suspect if we had massive amounts of data on injury rates associated with different repetition speeds and could cancel out other factors, we’d find it would vary from group to group depending on age and a whole host of other factors. If in doubt, it’s obviously best to err on the side of safety, but not so greatly that it is impractical [compromises size gains if that is the trainee’s primary goal].
For someone in good physical condition, a 4/4 repetition cadence performed with careful turnarounds probably provides a good margin of safety. Someone with osteoporosis or who is very deconditioned or who has a pre-existing injury may require a greater margin of safety and thus a slower speed.
If we find that prescribing rep cadence involves a compromise between efficient loading/safety and adequate mechanical movement to allow for micro-trauma (for the sake of argument – I suspect but I do not know) we may have to vary the movement speed based on the individual.
I still use a 10/10 protocol with some clients with certain spine or joint issues, but have been using a 4/4 or 4/3/4 protocol as standard with many clients for years with no problems and good results.
Studies show there is no significant difference in results between performing one set per exercise and two or three. While this might seem to indicate that one set is as good as two or three, and of course more time efficient, what does it say about overtraining? If two or three sets would result in overtraining, then why is there no significant difference? I suppose it would be necessary to read all of the studies and figure out exactly how they were conducted before going any further with this, but it’s something to consider.
I could go on and on. The important thing to consider here is that we must constantly question everything and not be so attached to a particular theory or method that we can’t be objective about it.
There is a tremendous amount we do know about exercise, but there are still many things which are not completely understood, so it is important to always remain objective and critical and to be open to new perspectives and information.
Since the principles of high intensity training are consistent with what we know to be true about biology and the physiology of how organisms respond to stress in particular, we know we’re on the right track. Since the use of slow, controlled repetition speeds is justified by both physics and biology from the standpoints of safety and efficient loading, we know we’re on the right track there also. We just need to continue to experiment and study the application of those principles while considering new information and ideas, to develop protocols or systems for prescribing them to individuals based on their unique physical attributes and desired results.