Super Slow Strength Training: Build Muscle in 12 Minutes Weekly


You can start building bulging biceps, iron strength, or chiseled abs in the time it takes to brew your morning cup of coffee.

It’s not a pipe-dream.

I’m skeptical of programs that promise results in minimal time. Titles like Overnight Abs appeal, but rarely deliver. Transformation takes commitment.

That’s the thing.

You have two ways of getting outstanding results:

  1. Constant around-the-clock low effort activity
  2. Occasional yet painful intense activity

Super slow strength training minimizes time by ratcheting up intensity (and thus discomfort).

Try just one of these workouts and you’ll see why it’s my favorite minimalist strength-building routine. Today’s post covers everything you need to know about super slow strength training. From the many benefits, to the exercises and how to incorporate it into your training.

super slow strength training is brutal but effective.

Incredible Strength in 12 Minutes Weekly

Is it possible to get strong with just one short workout every 7-10 days?

Effective training comes down to two factors: duration, and intensity.

The two are inversely related. The lower the intensity (think walking), the longer time needed to produce effects. Higher intensity training (think sprinting) brings results in little time.

Slow strength training is a form of high-intensity training (HIT) with a short duration. With HIT, a little goes a long way.

Gym workouts usually consist of multiple exercises. Each with multiple sets of many reps. This might be excessive.

A study of older adults highlighted that ONE single set of exercises taken to failure improved strength equally to a group performing the same exercises twice per week. This suggests that each body part needs only a single set every week to build strength.

Three other studies compared slow to traditional strength training. Two found slow superior and one favored traditional.

A big victory for the time-saving slow training.

But getting similar benefits requires care.

The 3 Keys to Mastering Slow Strength Training

Dr. Doug McGuff noticed that his clients did best when they paid attention to:

  • Tension: How long they kept force applied against the muscle.
  • Speed: The cadence at which they raised and lowered the weight.
  • Failure: Final reps should be a battle.

That’s it.

If you takeaway nothing else, remember that:

The total time your muscles spend under tension and the speed of your reps determine your strength and muscle gain. Click To Tweet

Don’t worry about the logistic yet. I’ll explainexactly how to complete this workout at the end.

Your Muscle Mass Matters

Muscle not only looks good but predicts how long you’ll live. It’s one of the most accurate predictors of healthspan. Adding strength and muscle enhances your life in multiple ways:

  1. Makes your current activities easier.
  2. Opens up new activity options.
  3. Increases your metabolism so you burn more calories when you’re sedentary.
  4. Lowers insulin so that you’re less likely to store body fat.

Strength training of any form builds your personal resilience. It is especially useful to mitigate the damage caused by running and chronic endurance activities.

Super slow strength has advantages over traditional training.

Benefits of Super Slow Strength Training

  1. Short sessions: You can complete an entire full-body workout in less than twelve minutes if you hustle.
  2. Infrequent: Full-body strength training more than once per week had a marginal gain in multiple studies.
  3. Safety: Using less weight reduces the chances of injury from poor form.
  4. Strength: You can actually build strength and muscle on this abbreviated program.
  5. Portability: Perform the workouts in a gym, at home, in the back of a plane, or anywhere in the world.
  6. Flexibility: Applying resistance at the safe extremes of a muscle’s range of motion builds flexibility.
  7. Adaptability: Some workout plans are very strict, but with Super Slow you can tweak the program as you see fit.
  8. Cardiovascular: According to Dr. McGuff, resistance exercise greatly stimulates and strengthens the cardiovascular “aerobic” system.
  9. Simplicity: You don’t need any equipment, tutorials, videos or to learn complicated new exercise variations.
  10. Fat burning: Activates hormone-sensitive lipase which, in the absence of insulin, stimulates fat burning.
  11. Break plateaus: Incorporating slow training into your fitness routine will stimulate muscles differently and can help you get through plateaus.
"Your heart and lungs cannot tell whether you’re working your muscles intensely for [90] seconds on a stationary bike or working them intensely on a leg press. [They] know only about energy requirements, which they attempt to meet." Click To Tweet

Who Should NOT Use Super Slow Strength Training

rugby players
Athletes should consider a different program.

Slow strength training is not ideal for everyone.

Especially athletes.

Athletes should instead focus their limited energy, performance, and ability to recover on sport-specific and skill-specific workouts. McGuff believes that recovery from slow strength workouts can take too long and detract from their performance.

Then again, most competitive athletes already engage in some form of strength training.

Great results from super slow strength training come from

I believe that going to failure overly taxes recovery. One option would be to let up a little before failure. But Doug emphasizes your success in the program comes from the failure, so it makes sense to consider a different plan.

How to Workout Super Slow Style

Time to get into the nuts and bolts of performing the workouts.

Frequency: Once per week.

I’m far younger than the research groups, and I feel a need to train strength twice weekly. I usually break Doug’s recommendation there. In Doug’s experience, older folks might need up to ten days of recovery between workouts as they advance.

Sets: One set for each exercise.

Weight: 10 to 40 percent of your one rep max. If you exceed 90 seconds, go up in weight next time.

Reps: Not important. Pay attention to the total time your muscles work (see below).

Total time under tension: 40 to 150 seconds performing reps. The optimal time is between 45 and 90 seconds.

Cadence: Five to ten (or more) seconds up, and then the same down. Make each rep as long as you can while maintaining a consistent pace. It should look smooth (but slow). I have a hard time going slower than ten seconds up and ten seconds down.

Variety: When your progression stalls, rotate different positions or exercise varieties into your program. This keeps the body adapting to new stimuli.

In summary:

  • One to two sessions per week
  • One set per body part
  • 40 to 150 seconds performing the exercise

You must go all the way to muscle failure in order for this program to work. That’s what makes it brutal. Your last rep might take 15 seconds or more.

Sample Workouts

You can “super slow” most any exercise.

Doug McGuff prefers machines over free weight for two main reasons:

  1. Safer to go to failure.
  2. Similarly effective.

The machine manufacturer matters. Different manufacturers make the weight move (known as cam profile) at different angles. The resistance must vary in accordance with the strength curves of the muscle. Cheaper machines don’t do a good job. Doug recommends those made by Nautilus and MedX (and Hammer Strength as the runner up).

I skip the issue altogether and either use free weights, body weight, or resistance band workouts.

These workouts balance muscle groups so that you get an even workout, with no weak links.

Super Slow Bodyweight Home Workout

via GIPHY

Bodyweight limits your options.

Squats and pushups cover the very basics of an upper and lower body workout. You can perform them anywhere.

Most back exercises don’t lend themselves well to bodyweight workouts. My two favorite are pullups and deadlifts, but neither works well super slow style. You can control the inverted row much easier. You’ll need a little creativity though. Find something that you can hang under.

Follow the above instructions for each exercise:

  1. Squats
  2. Pushups
  3. Inverted Rows

Super Slow Home Workout With Resistance Bands

Resistance bands introduce a different resistance curve.

The easy part of the rep becomes the hardest.

They’re one of the best travel-friendly portable fitness gear options. Bands improve any bodyweight workout.

Follow the basic protocol for each of the below exercises:

  • Banded Squats
  • Banded Chest Press
  • Banded Pulldowns
  • Banded Overhead Press
  • Banded Seated Rows

Super Slow Gym Workout With Machines

The original super slow strength workout.

Doug calls these exercises “the big five”. Most gyms have a machine suited to each of these exercises.

Follow the basic protocol for each of the below exercises:

  • Pulldown
  • Chest Press
  • Leg Press
  • Seated Row
  • Overhead Press

Super Slow Gym Workout With Free Weights

My preferred slow strength training method when the gym is open. There’s little dispute over the efficacy of free weights.

Get a spotter. After all, you’re going to failure. At the very least use the safety pins.

Follow the basic protocol for each of the below exercises:

  • Barbell Bent Row
  • Barbell Squat
  • Barbell Military Press
  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Barbell Deadlift

Super Slow Strength Training Hack to Get Better Results

Looking to get even MORE?

Try this once you’ve mastered slow strength, and only days you’re feeling great.

I use this combo whenever I’m on the road to get an ultimate workout without needing a gym or fancy equipment.

This is what you do:

  1. Choose an exercise.
  2. Use less weight than you otherwise would for super slow training.
  3. For upper body exercises, place the BFR bands as high up on the arms as possible.
  4. For lower body exercises, place the BFR bands as high up on the legs as possible.
  5. Perform the super slow strength exercise as normal

It requires a good set of BFR bands.

My recent post about BFR training explains more about this powerful training technique and which bands to get.

Super slow strength in tandem with blood flow restriction training kicks your butt every time.

Super Slow Strength Frequently Asked Questions

Are super slow workouts effective?

Super Slow workouts produce results comparable to traditional strength training with only a single set. Slow reps are simple, safe, and great for injury rehabilitation. They’re especially useful when weights are not available.

Is it best to lift weights fast or slow?

The best lifting cadence depends on your goal. Both build strength. Faster rep speed improves power more but with a greater chance of injury. Lifting weight slowly builds muscle but with a lower injury risk.

Is working out slowly better?

Depending on your goal, Super Slow strength training can be the best style of exercise. By keeping tension on the muscle throughout the entire range of motion, you’ll build mobility as well.

Do you have to lift heavy to get big?

You can get big and strong without lifting heavy. Lighter loads are used with Super Slow strength and you can pack on just as much mass as through traditional training.

Super Slow Strength Training: An Effective Quick Workout Program

Don’t let it fool you, super slow strength isn’t easy.

Nor is it for the faint of heart.

If you can handle the “burn” of the last few reps you’ll be rewarded.

Super slow strength works in any situation, and with just about any exercise.

Remember the three levers that make workouts easier or harder: rep speed, time under tension, going to failure.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.

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Nick Urban

Nick Urban is the Founder of Outliyr, an expert biohacker of 10+ years, Data Scientist, Certified CHEK Practitioner, host of the Mind Body Peak Performance Podcast, and a High-Performance Coach.

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6 thoughts on “Super Slow Strength Training: Build Muscle in 12 Minutes Weekly”

  1. Hi Nick
    Good article thanks. I am doing a traditional resistance band program 5 days a week that targets different muscle groups each day with 4 sets of reps for each exercise. Would I –
    1. convert each exercise to a single super slow set,
    2. add a super slow day, or
    3. just drop the program and do one super slow session a week?

    (I’m just an old guy of 70 who has lost weight through diet and fasting recently but now I am skinny fat so need more muscle).

    Regards
    Neil

    Reply
    • Hi Neil,

      Good for you!

      How’s your current progress/routine? As I see it, you have a couple options depending on how well you recover from each workout:
      1. Add a super slow to the last set and stop well before failure.
      2. Mix up your workouts with occasional super slow days.

      What kinds of exercises? Effective super slow training uses compound lifts (targets multi muscle groups). SST on smaller muscle groups isn’t as effective. It also strains the nervous system more than traditional lifting.

      Happy to help more via email: [email protected]

      Reply
    • Great question! You can apply Super Slow to any form of exercise that allows you to place muscle under constant tension. Be more careful and cautious with TRX or kettlebell super slow as form tends to break down towards failure/the end of your sets. If you’ve been training for a while and have good form, it’s a solid option!

      Reply
  2. Hi Nick,
    Really enjoyed the article, especially since it was written recently. I am a 78 year old male, 5’11” and 190 pounds. I recently (2 months ago) started back at the gym. I’m using machines and doing curls, arm extensions, pull downs, presses, low rows and leg presses. I do “super slow”, approximately 10 sec out and 10 sec back in using a weight that allows me to do 4 to 6 reps. When I max out at 7 to 8 reps I up the weights and go back to 4 to 6 reps. Right now I’m doing this 2 to 3 times a week. Is this the right mix or should I add more for the legs or perhaps drop or substitute some of the upper body exercises?
    Thanks for any suggestions.

    Reply
    • Hey Allen,

      Glad you’re back to the gym routine! How do you feel from that? Are you going to failure? Are you feeling recovered and able to continue making progress? Dr. McGuff recommends ~1 session per week, but I’ve found that most people can handle more frequency. Your actual progress speaks louder than theories. Once you start stalling, then I’d make some modifications.

      Keep it up,
      Nick

      Reply

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