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Super Slow vs Tempo Contrast?

I know that’s a horribly generic question, but i hope it can be answered.
I’m getting more and more interested in HIT: the one excruciating set to failure.

And as I see, whether it is Elligton Darden (yes, I know he has a dedicated sub-section on the forum) or Mike Mentzer or Arthur Jones etc… a key element still seems to be: TUT, which is most of the times in the 60-120 second range (Wether rep cadence is 5050; 4022; 30-10-30; 30-30-30(1.5 reps: 30 sec. negative, 30 sec negative, 30 sec negative).

I noticed that you fall within that time (at least not less than 55 seconds) range if I perform Tempo contrast sets (8-12 reps as prescribed). But stimulus wise how would you compare (in practical terms) one tempo contrast set vs one super slow set?

First, tempo doesn’t matter as much as its proponents claim that it does.

I’m also not a fan AT ALL of superslow reps and will rarely (now) use tempo contrasts, and mostly as a tool to teach athletes to gradually move toward learning to safely perform fast eccentrics (the slow reps engrain technique and you then go fast while staying in the same groove).

The main driver of hypertrophy is mechanical stress. Especially mechanical tension placed on the fast-twitch fibers.

Mechanical stress is essentially when a muscle is asked to produce a high level of tension and it is at its highest when you have to produce that tension when lengthening the fibers (i.e. tension during the eccentric).

I like to see reps this way:

  • The purpose of the concentric is to produce as much tension as possible
  • Then the goal during the eccentric is to maintain as much as that tension as you can

Tension is correlated with force production.

When using superslow tempos (and even tempo contrasts) you are forced to use lighter weights. This means less force production, less tension and thus less mechanical stress.

The argument is that the long TUT compensates for the lower mechanical stress. Specifically, the longer TUT leads to an accumulation of several metabolites or growth factors (lactate, MGF, IGF-1) that have anabolic properties.

That is true, it’s called the metabolic stress hypertrophy factor.

But it is much less effective than mechanical stress as a stimulus for growth.

As such, longer TUT are likely not worth it if they come with a significant decrease in load used.

And what about failure (since you asked about HIT)? The benefit of failure is seen mostly with lighter and moderate weights (under 70% of your 1R’M). The reason is that with these loads you are not recruiting all of your fast-twitch fibers right from the start (and FT fibers have the most growth potential).

With light loads, as fatigue accumulates your strength diminishes and the load represents a heavier load relative to your capacity at the start of the rep (there is a 2-3% strength decrease/fatigue per rep). So when working with light or moderate weight you must go to failure, or close to it, to get a significant number of reps utilizing the fast-twitch fibers.

FT fibers start to be recruited when the amount of force you have to produce to lift the weight represents 80% of the maximum force you have available at the beginning of that rep (remember, strength decreases 2-3% per rep).

If you stop way short of failure with light-moderate loads, the hypertrophy stimulus is much weaker because you don’t impose a big stimulus on the growth-prone fast-twitch fibers.

Now, when using loads of, or above, 80% the need to go to failure is lowe because right from the start of the set, you are involving the fast-twitch fibers.

In fact, a recent study (I can try to dig it out) found just that: light/moderate loads are more effective when done to failure but heavier loads show no benefit between going to failure or stopping 1-2 reps short.

I think that slow/superslow methods gained some popularity for two main reasons:

  1. It burns and hurts like hell. And most people equate that sensation with lots of growth. It leads to a great pump, which reinforces that belief.

  2. Those who start using it likely always did normal reps. A novel stimulus, even if it is suboptimal, always yield fast results. Which make people believe in the superiority of said method. But it stops working superfast.

I have nothing against HIT. I use that approach myself from time to time. I also adjusted my volume recommendation downwards in recent years. But I do believe that traditional HIT might be too low in volume and frequency to be optimal as a year-long training system.

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I think too slow is not good anymore. Fast up, hold, squeeze for a sec, a bit slower negative and fast up again. Do that for reps so your total set is around 45sec of action. Its still pretty slow compared to classic 10 reps of up and down in 15 seconds.

Coach, I have a question. Between 2010 and 20X0 tempo, what’s better for hypertrophy, strength in big lifts like Bench Press, Squat…?

I do not believe in using a specific tempo, especially not during the concentric. Unless I’m using a special method.

On the concentric, just focus on pushing/pulling as hard as you can (on the big lifts). The actual speed of the lift will depend on the load and fatigue level.

On isolation exercises I prefer to focus on contracting the muscle as hard as possible. I don’t focus on the actual speed, but it is obviously a bit slower.

Christian, are you referring to a study reported on by muscle-building researcher Jerry Brainum compared high-level bodybuilders with average college students?

“The study examined single muscle fibers. Since the type 2B fibers are the muscle fibers most likely to grow, it stands to reason that the bodybuilders in the study would have an abundance of such fibers or at least more of them than the other kinds of muscle fibers. The reality was that they showed a higher portion of types 1 and 2A fibers, with a complete absence of type 2Bs.” [Eur J Appl Physiol. 103(5):579-83. 2008.]

Take a look at this:

The bodybuilders had almost no 2B fibers. Therefore, optimal training for bodybuilders interested in size should emphasize the 2A power + endurance fibers. So if you’re looking for max-muscle hypertrophy, you don’t have to worry too much about training with extreme poundages.

Bodybuilders need a mix of semi-heavy and lighter training— for a number of reasons. The first is to train both facets of muscle expansion. You must train both the power part of the 2As (myofibrils) and the more endurance part (sarcoplasm), not to mention the type-1 aerobic fibers to some degree.

Popular dogma suggests that a rep range of eight to 10 reps is the key to optimal muscle growth. That’s only partially true; you see, most trainees do each repetition of a set in about two seconds.

If they do 10 reps, the target muscle is only under tension for 20 seconds. That’s still mostly 2A power, a tension time that affects primarily the myofibrils.

By using only that rep rage or TUT, lots of sarcoplasmic “endurance” growth potential is left on the table. You want both for extreme growth, which can be achieved with reps in the 15-to-30 range or sets that last 50-plus seconds, for 2A sarcoplasmic expansion + type-1 activation as well as seven-to-12 reps for more myofibrillar thickening.

And most of the time you should do the high-rep set or sets first. Why? Brazilian researchers found that bodybuilders can build more strength and muscle mass if, before doing their usual heavier sets, they first do a lighter, high-rep set. [European Journal of Applied Physiology, March 10, 2015].

The researchers had one group do a preliminary set of leg extensions to failure with 20 percent of their one-rep max before moving to heavier sets. The other group did only standard sets with 75 percent of their 1RM. Rests between sets for both groups were 30 seconds to one minute. Here are the exciting results from the researchers.

"The men who started their workout with the light set built up more muscle strength than the men who trained their legs in the traditional way. The scans also showed that doing a set to failure with light weights resulted in a bigger increase in muscle mass.”

Why was that so effective?

Researchers: “We hypothesized that muscle failure (principally of [slow-twitch] type-1 fibers) and metabolic accumulation induced by prior exhaustive exercise would promote a greater global recruitment of type-2 [high-growth] fibers during traditional training sets and, thus, further stimulate muscle performance and adaptations.”

Remembering the size principle of fiber recruitment, this is a way to make that happen more thoroughly and efficiently —the high-rep set fatigues the slow-twitch fibers like the earlier reps on a normal set, but with more precision. That can force more fast-twitch fibers to fire on the heavier sets after, exactly what we want for size.

According to Brad Schoenfeld, “Sets that last longer than 20 to 30 seconds substantially increase metabolic stress.”

So, performing a high-rep set first can:

  1. Hypertrophy the slow-twitch endurance fibers.
  2. Prime more activation and growth in the 2A power-and-endurance (dual-component) fibers as well as 2B power fibers.
  3. Cause sarcoplasmic, or energy fluid, expansion via mitochondrial growth, glycogen storage, etc. in all fibers.
  4. Stimulate metabolic stress and thus anabolic hormone release.

In reference to #1 above, a study showed that 3 sets of 30-rep sets produced fast-twitch growth almost exactly equal to a heavy set (80 percent of 1-rep-max). The bonus with the high-rep sets is that they produced almost double the growth in the slow-twitch fibers.

If low-twitch fibers have much more growth potential than previously thought, so if we don’t incorporate some high-rep sets, we leave lots of growth on the table.

So I’m experimenting with this method:

  • Pick a weight with which you can get 20 to 25 reps and go to failure. Rest 35 seconds as you add enough weight to limit your second set to around eight reps. Go to failure. Rest 10 seconds, then go to failure one last time.

So it’s really three sets, 20-8-5, condensed into a short time frame, all three sets to failure.

What do you think?

I’m also trying to figure out how to warm up (activate the nervous system as well) and the rest time between sets 1 and 2, to get the most out of the second set of 8 reps to failure.

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Me, I’m doing Darden’s 30-30-30 routine every third workout (30 sec neg - 30 sec pos - 30 sec neg = one set to failure per musclegroup). The other two rotating workouts being different Darden routines.

I don’t know if 30-30-30 is to be considered SuperSlow, but I find this particular routine to be the driver in terms of strength, compared to my other routines. If strength precedes gains, this should a fine addition, as well as a recurrent novel stimulus.

Christian, it would be interesting to hear how do you find this idea?

Not at all. I think I quoted the research in my article on how to become a fast twitch machine

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You are not likely getting stronger from this method, what is happening is that you are likely just becoming more efficient with that type of repetition. 30 seconds eccentrics and concentric are quite uncommon and, at first, people will suck at them because it is so foreigh to their nervous system as a motor task. For about 4 weeks, the time it takes for the nervous system to become more efficient at this style you will have rapid “progress” in that you can use a lot more weight with that style of repetition. But it will not make you significantly stronger in a normal style of training.

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Yes, but several studies found the opposite. But what happens is that IIx convert to IIa. So the amount of FT fibers stay the same (and they can grow) but it still leads to a shift to a slower profle. The same study found that the high rep protocol only led to half of the strength gains as the heavier group.

For what its worth I have NEVER said that high rep didn’t work. I fully acknowledge the value of metabolic stress as an hypertrophy factor. I was one of the first ones to talk about it in my “Growt h factors” article series. But it is less powerful than mechanical stress, and that is even more true as someone becomes more experienced.

That’s because training in the more traditional “bodybuilding” lifting zone leads to a conversion of the IIx fibers (nobody uses 2B anymore) to 2a fibers. Which is personally not something that I want because my focus is in building bodie that are as strong and explosive as they are muscular.

A combination of fairly heavy lifting and explosive work actually leads to a similar increase in IIa fibers, but at the expense of type I fibers (which convert of IIa) while preserving IIx

I’m not disputing the value of high reps, its just not something that has a big place in my personal methodology as I’m not interest only in hypertrophy

coach,what about Chad Waterbury 10sets x3 reps ? CW recomend doing FAST reps-
That is the direct opposite of superslow and slow HIT style tempo

When I train athletes my goal is to work toward using a fast eccentric. In fact, that’s why I use slow eccentrics, then heavy eccentrics: to prepare the body for the shock absorption of fast eccentrics by first improving movement control and tendon resiliency then by making you stronger eccentrically.

My progression normally goes like this:

  • Slow eccentrics
  • Normal eccentriics
  • Eccentric overload
  • 2/3 eccentric (first 2/3 is controlled, but not snow, last 1/3 is fast)
  • Fast eccentrics
  • Overspeed eccentrics

The reasons why I want to use fast eccentrics with athletes (warning, it will get a bit complicated… I have a whole article coming up on this topic on my own website):

  1. To maximize the stretch reflex. The faster the muscle/tendons are stretched, the more the reflex is activated and can contribute to an explosive concentric (which is my goal with athletes)

  2. A fast eccentric, coupled with a lightning fast turnaround (from eccentric to concentric) leads to more potential energy stored from the force absorption. We can then use this energy during the concentric to promote faster velocities. Here’s how it happens. To maximize potential energy storage you first need the muscles to be elastic (lower tension). The more elastic they are during the first 50ms (milliseconds) the more energy you can initially store. BUT they tendons/muscle must extremely quickly become stiff to avoid dissipating the energy, that happens during the second 50-75ms of the force absorption phase. Then the muscle fires and uses the potential energy and gets elastic again. That’s how plyometric exercises work: by improving that “elastic-to-stiff” cycle. And fast eccentrics are training the same thing, but with extra resistance.

As Louie Simmons found out during some experiementation with advanced lifters, during dynamic effort work, the fast the eccentric was the faster the following concentric got.

There is a definite advantage to fast eccentrics for power development, provided that the athlete has the structures and movement control in place to do it properly.

But it is NOT superior (or that effective) for hypertrophy purposes.

It’s like with depth jumps (high intensity plyometrics): they found that in advanced athletes with plenty f explosive training experience, they increased power output; but in those with little or no experience, it led to a decrease in performance.

Now, your question was likely more related to hypertrophy.

It is my belief that any new high-force stimulus can provide hypertrophy gains at first, simply because of the novelty and the need to adapt.

And this includes fast eccentrics.

And a fairly recent study has shown that a fast eccentric (shock absorption) on jump squats and ballistic bench press does provide some hypertrophy.

However Chad was wrong when he said that a fast eccentric is superior to stimulate muscle growth.

He was basing himself on studies using an isokinetic device, which is completely different than regular free-weight, machine or pulley lifting.

Isokinetic means “same speed” (well, same movement). Basically, it’s a machine on which you can set a certain speed and apply that speed for the whole movement AND the speed cannot change regardless of how much force you apply on the machine.

For example, let’s say that you are using an isokinetic leg extension set at 120 degrees per second, the machine will move at 120 degrees/s regardless of how hard you push against it. The machine essentially applies the amount of resistance required to get you to move at the programmed speed.

If you apply 20lbs of force during the eccentric, the machine can easily go at 120 degrees/s and thus doesn’t provide much resistance.

If you apply 200lbs of force during the eccentric, the machine needs to apply a lot more resistance to get you to move at 120m/s.

When you set the machine on a fast eccentric speed and the subject is told to resist as hard as possible, the resistance provided by the machine will be much higher than during a slow eccentric because the machine much push hard enough to overcome you end get you moving faster.

BTW, it’s the opposite during the concentric: a faster concentric speed on an isokinetic device provides less resistance to allow you to more easily move rapidly.

In those studies, the fast eccentric did not promote superior hypertrophy results because of the faster eccentric speed but rather because of the much higher resistance applied, leading to more muscle tension.

Now, with any other type of lifting exercise, free-weight, machines, pulleys, what is called “isoinertial” exercises (same resistance) when you do a fast eccentric you must actually reduce muscle tension (as opposed to increasing it during an isokinetic exercise). which makes it less effective for growth. Because the resistance doesn’t change depending on the effort you produce, the more force you produce during the eccentric, the slower the movement gets. And the more force you apply during the concentric, the faster the movement gets.

Basically isokinetic and isoinertial are exact opposites. So you cannot use the results you got with one type and apply it to the other.

I mean, once an athlete that I train has gone through the eccentric progression, most of what we do are fast (even overspeed) eccentrics. And we don’t notice much (if any) muscle growth at that point.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that asking anybody to perform fast eccentrics without first preparing for them is idiotic and dangerous.

I think that Chad suffered a bit from confirmation bias on that one, or the desire for it to be true to come up with something completely new.

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Coach, Do people with low Acetylcholine (Example: Neurotype 2A “passionate”, 1A) benefit more from slow eccentrics?

2A do. not necessarily have low acetylcholine. 2A actors have pretty high ACh and 2A passionate have a normal (sometimes a bit low) ACh.

It’s NOT that they benefit more from slow eccentrics, it’s that they are less naturally gifted to use the stretch reflex so they don’t perform well naturally on fast eccentrics. But it can be trained.

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I hope u put that article on explosive eccentric soon lol I’ll be looking for it…are u planning on adding any brand new programs on thibarmy soon ? Hopefully

Great thread. Happy New Year, CT.

thank you for amazing reply,coach