We were originally turned onto “The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution: the slow-motion exercise that will change your body in 30 minutes a week” by Jimmy Moore during our podcast interview with him. Jimmy said this book and one other made a compelling argument for Super Slow training. The book is written by Frederick Hahn, Michael R. Eades, M.D. and Mary Dan Eades, M.D. We had forgotten about this book and it’s Super Slow exercise prescription until recently. We decided to take a look at the claims made in the book and a close look at the evidence and report on them both.
*** There is a more in-depth Part 2 here***
If you don’t want to read the entire article and you just want to know what we think of the book and its recommendations, here you go; We feel that this book is filled with misleading, incorrect and unsubstantiated claims regarding the benefits of a type of exercise referred to as Slow Burn. Therefore, it is not worth reading.
Now, if you’re interested in knowing why, read on…
The book makes extraordinary claims about the benefits of super slow exercise, trashes other forms of exercise and activities like running, golfing, skiing, tennis, raquetball, and basketball, and does it all with very little evidence provided. The authors speak in hyperbole, making these other activities seem outrageously dangerous and grossly ineffective, while promising that Slow Burn will be far more safe and more effective than any of them.
On page 10,
“Slow Burn is a form of exercise that has been shown to provide all the benefits you seek from an exercise regimen in only 30 minutes per week, with negligible risk of injury”
The rest of the paragraph rambles on in some sort of “Slow Burn will rule the world” style rant. The opening sentence, however, is of particular interest. It’s a sentence like this that requires some sort of scientific support. This is an extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. (shout-out to Truzzi!) Unfortunately for us, the authors don’t provide any references at this point. This happens often throughout the book, and is sometimes followed by a “we’ll cover that later in the book” sort of thing, giving us hope that evidence is coming. Alas, it never does – because there isn’t any.
On page 31, the authors get one thing right; for losing weight and more specifically losing fat, diet is far more effective than any type of exercise, even Slow Burn. If you’ve read our book or have been following us for a good amount of time, you know we agree with this. Exercise is a wonderful thing, but it just can’t compare to a great, whole food, low carb diet for fat loss and health improvement purposes.
Then, on page 32, they blow it:
In fact, studies show that slow-speed weight workouts build muscle about twice as fast as traditional weight training and faster by a mile than aerobics, jogging, walking, biking, or similar types of exercise.
Once again, an extraordinary claim. I agree weight training will build muscle better than aerobics (possibly not for maintenance, however) and I don’t think anyone would argue that. But, that slow-speed weight workouts will build muscle two times faster than traditional weight training? Absurd and unsupported! If anyone out there has a reference to a study showing super slow training builds muscle faster than traditional weight training, please send it to me.
On page 34, the authors throw out this gem regarding the addition of aerobics to a calorie-restricted diet:
If you add aerobics to the mix, believe it or not, you can actually lose more muscle on a typical low-calorie eating plan than if you didn’t exercise at all – a finding that ‘s been published in a number of scientific research papers (and about which we’ll have more to say later).
It makes me want to scream! If you claim to have science in your corner, show us the freaking science already! In reality, there are quite a few studies that show adding aerobic exercise to a calorie-restricted diet can help attenuate muscle loss and there are some that don’t. Of course, that’s not as sexy when you’re trying to claim that your method of exercise is the best and only way to exercise. An excerpt from SPEED:
Some evidence shows aerobic training is a viable agent against fat free mass loss during dietary restriction,4,15,16,18,19,23 while some evidence shows otherwise.9,13
Do you see those little numbers behind each claim? Those are references to scientific research papers. How hard is it to include that? After all, if you’ve read the papers, the hard part is over. You can find the references cited in the SPEED excerpt at the end of this post.
On page 37 the authors claim that 30 minutes of Slow Burn per week will give a person as much endurance as three hours of jogging, again without evidence cited. Do you see a pattern here? Although I can agree somewhat with the general sentiment of this chapter, which educates the reader to the fact that cardiovascular fitness really takes place at the cellular level, and so strength training can help improve this.
The Slow Burn chapter on flexibility claims that strength training will make you more flexible by making you stronger and that flexibility-specific activities like stretching will make your joints unstable and prone to dislocation. The exciting thing about this chapter is that there is a reference!
Matt: I found a reference!
Jeff: A reference?!
Matt: Yes, finally! A reference.
Jeff: Holy Shit. It’s a bout time.
The authors point to a study performed on inactive elderly subjects to see if strength training, aerobic training, or a combination of both will increase flexibility. The study shows positive effects of strength training or a combination, but not of aerobic training for flexibility of most joints measured. This makes sense; put formerly inactive seniors into a resistance training program that takes joints through a complete range of motion and their mobility/flexibility improve. What this study doesn’t prove is that specific stretching exercises wouldn’t also result in a difference in joint range of motion, or that stretching or resistance training would be better than the other. In contrast, this study from 1995 would lead us to believe that strength training inhibits the effects of a stretching routine in the elderly.
Unfortunately, there are no references for the claims that getting stronger is what really makes you more flexible and that stretching causes joint instability. This is because, in fact, stretching increases flexibility (Thacker, pdf here) and the earth is still round. Some things are just supported by the facts, no matter how much fun it might be if there were some new, interesting hypothesis.
The authors surmise that since getting strong makes you flexible, and since Slow Burn makes you stronger than any other form of exercise, Slow Burn will make you more flexible than anything you could do. Someone alert the ballerinas and gymnasts, they should be doing Slow Burn! The truth is, getting stronger does not make you flexible, Slow Burn does not make you stronger than any other good form of resistance exercise, and so the conclusion is absolutely unfounded.
Other unsubstantiated claims in Slow Burn Fitness Revolution include curing back pain by isolating the lumbar extensors and taking them to failure, building strong bones and improving balance, maximizing athletic performance, and growing a wicked-awesome goatee. But enough of talking about the unfounded claims, let’s take a look at the research that has been done specifically on super slow resistance training.
Super Slow- A Quick Look at the Studies
Super Slow research has been reviewed previously by Baye, Nelson and Kravitz, and Greer.
Hunter GR, Seelhorst D, Snyder S. Comparison of Metabolic and Heart Rate Responses to Super Slow Vs. Traditional Resistance Training. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17(1):76-81
“Traditional resistance training increases energy expenditure more than SST (super slow) does and thus may be more beneficial for body weight control.”
Keeler LK, Finkelstein LH, Miller W, Fernhall B. Early-Phase Adaptations of Traditional-Speed vs. Superslow Resistance training on Strength and Aerobic capacity in Sedentary Individuals. J Strength Cond Res. 2001;15(3):380-14
Keeler found greater strength improvements in the traditional resistance training group compared to the super slow group, although both showed strength improvements over 10 weeks. Training did not effect VO2Max but improve total work on the cycle ergometer. The authors address Hutchins’ claim that super slow training should increase aerobic capacity greater than traditional resistance training, citing a lack of evidence to support his claim. (Hutchins is the author of Super Slow: The Ultimate Exercise Protocol)
Wescott, W, Winett R, Anderson E, Wojcik J, Loud R, Cleggert E, Gover S. Effects of regular and slow speed resistance trainig on muscle strength. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2001; 41:154-58.
Wescott showed a greater strength improvement in a super slow group compared to traditional, but both groups were tested in their specific protocols. So, in other words, the super slow group got more better at super slow than the traditional group did at traditional training. Yes, I just said “more better.”
Three abstracts from a group of researchers are available which found super slow to be less effective than traditional strength training at improving maximal aerobic capacity, anaerobic threshold, increasing lean tissue, or lowering resting blood pressure. Details are not available, but the abstracts say the super slow program was supervised by a certified Super Slow practitioner.
*I have contacted the lead researcher, Philip Blount, MD, in hopes that he can fill us in on some details.
There just isn’t much evidence that Super Slow training is any more effective than traditional strength training at improving strength, muscle mass, flexibility, athletic performance, or any disease risk factor. The truth is most resistance training studies show mild differences in the benefits of varying set/rep protocols, such that it all boils down to the basics; lift some heavy stuff and run around from time to time.
The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution is low on evidence and high on anecdotes. This means one of two things: they don’t think you’re smart enough to understand the science, or they’re not smart enough to understand the science. You decide which one it is.
References for aerobic training’s attenuation of lean tissue
4 – Hill JO, Sparling PB, Shields TW, Heller PA. Effects of exercise and food restriction on body composition and metabolic rate in obese women. Am J Clin Nutr 1987; 46(4):622-630.
15 – Janssen I, Fortier A, Hudson R, Ross R. Effects of an energy-restrictive diet with or without exercise on abdominal fat, intermuscular fat, and metabolic risk factors in obese women. Diabetes Care 2002; 25(3):431-438.
16 – Janssen I, Ross R. Effects of sex on the change in visceral, subcutaneous adipose tissue and skeletal muscle in response to weight loss. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1999; 23(10):1035-1046.
18 – Rice B, Janssen I, Hudson R, oss R. Effects of aerobic or resistance exercise and/or diet on glucose tolerance and plasma insulin levels in obese men. Diabetes Care 1999; 22(5):684-691.
19 – Ross R, Rssanen J, Pedwell H, Clifford J, Shragge P. Influence of diet and exercise on skeletal muscle and visceral adipose tissue in men. J Appl Physiol 1996; 81:2445-2455.
23 – Ross R, Pedwell H, Rissanen J. Effects of energy restriction and exercise on skeletal muscle and adipose tissue in women as measured by magnetic resonance imaging. Am J Clin Nutr 1995; 61:1179-85.
9 – Bryner RW, Ullrich IH, Sauers J, Donley D, Hornsby G, Kolar M, Yeater R. Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate. J Am Coll Nutr 1999; 18(2):115-21.
13 – Geliebter A, Maher MM, Gerace L, Gutin B, Heymsfield SB, Hashim SA. Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 1997; 66(3):557-563.