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Acupuncture Today – January, 2008, Vol. 09, Issue 01

I Can Lift That

The Fast, Slow Approach to Building Muscle Mass

By Andrew Rader, LAc, MS

Here is a recommendation about exercise that your patients might like to hear: "Keep it brief and infrequent." About two months ago, I observed that one of my patients, a woman in her early 60s, had made some obvious positive changes in her physique (not through plastic surgery) and her strength and energy had improved dramatically.

I would have liked to think my treatments were the sole reason for this, but I knew that something else was going on. She told me she had been doing "super slow training" for about six weeks and that I should try it. It was only 20 minutes of training, two times per week. I was intrigued.

Seven weeks ago, I started the training at a place called X Gym. The method is quite simple. Extremely slow weight training: Push out for 10 seconds and return for 10 seconds. Keep this up until you reach complete muscle fatigue within two to three minutes. Do this for four to six major muscle groups and your workout is over in 20 minutes. Repeat one more time in about three days. You do not feel sore the next day. Since I started, I have gained 48 percent strength in my thighs, 51 percent strength in my biceps and 43 percent strength in my triceps and chest.

I have also made great strides in my core strength and hip abductors. As time goes on, the different muscle groups are addressed. In addition to gaining strength, I just feel much more energetic and positive. This was costing me only 20 minutes, two times a week.

This method was developed by Ken Hutchins in the early 1980s to improve osteoporosis outcomes. However, it inadvertently showed amazing muscle-strength gains. The slow method has been experimented with since the 1940s. According to research, the value of super slow as compared to standard resistance training is still debatable. Nevertheless, the value of any resistance training is unquestionable. The key to the greatest gain is something that is counterintuitive in our "more is better" culture. Here, less actually is more.

The logic behind this method is that exercise is merely a stimulus, an insult to our bodies which promotes a metabolic response to increase muscle mass to meet a future insult. Our bodies will only produce enough muscle to meet our survival demands. Because muscle tissue is so highly demanding in terms of energy and resources, it only makes sense to keep enough to do what needs to get done. By imposing an intense load or strain on the system via weight training, the body will respond by repairing the damage and adapting by adding more muscle to meet an expected future load. To do this, we need to allow the body to rest and recuperate. If we exercise too much (and/or too often), we will inhibit the body's response to the exercise and inhibit optimal muscle growth by not allowing enough time to heal and adapt. Hence, the super-slow method of intense loading for a short period is followed by resting three to four days between sessions.

For most people who are not physically active, starting in one's 30s and certainly gaining momentum as the years go on, the average loss of muscle mass is approximately 1 percent annually. When muscle mass is lost, fat tissue increases. Because muscle tissue has a higher metabolic demand than fat tissue, the loss of muscle and the addition of fat creates a downward spiral of slower metabolism and greater gain of fat over muscle. Fat cells stimulate insulin metabolism, which leads to hyperinsulemia. This is the root of metabolic disorder formerly known as syndrome X.

Modern life is not generally an active one. Most people in the industrialized world do not do physical labor now for their sustenance, and therefore, must move their bodies through choice. This is relatively new to the human condition. I always go back to how humans have lived for 98 percent of their evolution to look for answers to our core health problems. Work the body physically, eat low-density foods, have lots of down time and spend it in nature as much as possible and follow the sun (i.e., sleep when it is dark). The good news, as far as exercise is concerned, is that it doesn't take that much time to make the gains. Watch wild animals, or domestic animals for that matter. Dogs and cats spend most of their time sleeping. They have bursts of physical activity and then sleep. Carnivores eat infrequently, gorge and fast. They physically work for their food. We used to do this as humans. For many years, I did yoga and tai chi and thought that weight training was superfluous. Having tasted what it has done for me these past seven weeks, I no longer believe that I can neglect this aspect of my health. Not only am I off my butt, I might actually be developing one!

Click here for previous articles by Andrew Rader, LAc, MS.

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