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Static Contraction Training - Maximum Overload in Minimal Time!

Pete Sisco explains how to conduct static contraction training.

The Theory

Static contraction training. Instead of focusing on the amount of exercise and frequency, emphasizes the intensity of the workout session. This is done by working with weights that are far above what you would use during a traditional strength training workout routine.

To understand the theory behind static contraction training, you must first understand how muscles work, and what causes muscles to grow. Each muscle in your body contains a variety of fibres. Without going into detail for our purposes, each fibre type becomes involved in physical activity at different levels of stress. In other words, if the physical requirements of a particular action are very light, only individual muscle fibres of the involved muscle group may be needed to complete that activity. If the physical demands are more strenuous, the muscle may require the involvement of an additional group of muscle fibres. If the physical demands are very strenuous, the muscle may require the participation of all muscle fibres simultaneously. In other words, the muscle fibres in each muscle are recruited into action based on the amount needed to complete the activity.

Muscles get bigger when the body senses, through messages sent to the brain, that your body is unable to handle the load currently being placed against it. When the body determines that it needs to be stronger to complete a particular activity in the future, it signals the growth of additional muscle fibres. Once additional muscle growth has taken place, the body can handle an increased load when the stimulating activity is resumed again.

What static contraction training does is to signal to the body through an intense activity that additional muscle growth is necessary. And, it does this in a way that is very different from traditional strength training methodology. Most of us have been taught to workout with the weight with which we are capable of performing, typically 8-12 repetitions, and to increase the weight when we can do more than 12 repetitions. You then continue to work with the new weight until you can do more than 12 repetitions with that weight. In this traditional approach to weight training, those first 11 repetitions are a preparation for the final repetition, which should be very difficult to complete. That is the one that signals to the brain that you need to be stronger the next time. This form of weight training, while it works, takes much more time to generate the same results that can be achieved through static contraction training, and here is why.

Instead of trying to take a muscle group to failure through the use of repetitions, static contraction training teaches us to hold the maximum weight we can handle (Isometric exercise), in our strongest range of motion for a particular movement, for a maximum of 5-10 seconds, and not perform any repetitions with that weight. For example, suppose you normally bench press 150 pounds. In that case, you might work out with as much as 300 lbs., but instead of attempting to perform repetitions, you would hold that weight at the strongest point in the range of motion for the bench press, which would be approximately two to 3 inches before you can lock your elbows. Holding that weight in position for five to 10 seconds is all that is required to stimulate the brain that additional muscle growth is necessary.

A static contraction training workout involves only five exercises per workout. Typically, you perform your five exercises in less than what amounts to a minute, not including the time it takes for you to set up the machines, and short breaks between exercises. I know this sounds rather extraordinary and may be causing many of you to think that it sounds too good to be true. I thought the same thing when I first heard about static contraction training. As a result, I was cynical also. But, because the routine had been recommended to me by someone with whom I was very familiar, and for whom I have a great deal of respect, I was willing to investigate further and try it for myself. To make a long story short, I am a firm believer in static contraction training after participating in this routine for only 60 days. I have seen a dramatic improvement in both my strength, muscle size, any dramatic reduction in the amount of time I spend attempting to get results.

Maximum overload

Static contraction training is designed to deliver the maximum possible overload to each targeted muscle or muscle group. This goal is accomplished by using what is known as "strong range partials". Using your strongest range of motion means operating (in most exercises) in the last few inches of your reach. This is the range where you can handle the most weight and are least susceptible to injury. While the most important steps in beginning a static contraction training workout routine are to determine your "sweet spot". This is the maximum weight that you are capable of handling in each of the exercises that you will perform in the routine.

It sounds simple enough, but for those of us who have engaged in traditional strength training routines, it can take time to get used to. The reason is that you will be surprised at how much weight you can handle in your strongest range of motion. It will be dramatically higher than what you are used to working out with. For example, as I was trying to find my sweet spot, I started out working with 400 lbs. on the leg press machine. I realized right away the weight was much too light for static contraction training. I raised the weight to 500 lbs. and that was still too light. I increased the weight to 600 lbs. and began to find that I was reaching my sweet spot. I added 85 lbs. more and that was a weight with which I could only perform a 10 seconds hold before failure. That became my sweet spot for the leg press machine.

You will need to find your sweet spot for each of the exercises that will be performed in the routine, and it may take you a workout or two to figure that out. Once you have identified your sweet spot, the next most important consideration is "progressive overload". This means making sure that you are making progress in each workout by either being able to handle more weight or being able to hold the last weight for a longer time. If you are working out at the highest intensity possible, you should see improvement in either your hold time or your weight or both, each time your workout.

The Basic Workout Routine

The basic Static Contraction Training workout routine consists of 10 exercises. You perform 5 of the exercises in one session, and the other 5 in a separate session. Here is an example:

Mondays: Workout Routine A

  • 1) Shoulders
  • 2) Trapezius
  • 3) Triceps
  • 4) Biceps
  • 5) Abdominals

Thursdays: Workout Routine B

  • 1) Lower Back
  • 2) Chest
  • 3) Upper Back
  • 4) Legs
  • 5) Calves

How to perform the exercises

In static contraction training, you will merely be holding the weight (Isometric exercise) at 2 to 4 inches before completion of the lifting motion. For most exercises, this is the strongest range of motion for that exercise. You will need the assistance of the spotter to move the weight in that position since it is unlikely that you will be able to lift it by yourself. Your goal is to hold the weight for a minimum of five seconds and a maximum of 10 seconds. If you can hold the weight for longer than 10 seconds, you should increase the weight on your next workout.

Beginners should workout performing one set for their first six workouts. Intermediate trainers should do one to three sets per exercise, depending on how you respond to multiple sets. What we mean by that is if the weight with which you are working allows you to perform three sets holding a minimum of 10 seconds each, you are probably better off to do three sets but also to raise the weight for your next visit. Advanced trainees should perform three to five sets per exercise.

Intensity versus Duration

One thing that is important to remember about strength training is you cannot sustain the high-intensity activity for long periods. In other words, you can either work out at a high intensity, or you can work out for a long duration, but you cannot do both. Take the example of a sprinter and a distance runner. The sprinter is engaged in a high-intensity activity because sprinting is very strenuous when done correctly. By default, that activity is short-lived because no one can sustain a sprint for very long. A long-distance runner, on the other hand, works at a much lower energy level starting out and therefore can maintain it for a much longer duration.

Static Contraction Training, when done correctly, simulates the situation of the sprinter by getting maximum intensity out of the workout, which by definition makes the workouts brief. So, if you can sustain longer workouts, you are not working at the appropriate intensity level.

Frequency of Workouts

Also related to the intensity/duration principle is the principle of workout frequency. As the intensity of your workouts increases, your body will require more time to recover, and that is why the frequency of workouts is dramatically decreased in the Static Contraction Training routine. For the first six or so workouts, you should be working out no more than twice per week, and then after that, you should be switching to once per week, assuming you are working out at the proper intensity level. It would help if you gave your body adequate time to recover and grow between workouts.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • SISCO, P. (2006) Static Contraction Training - Maximum Overload in Minimal Time. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 36/ October), p. 3-4

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • SISCO, P. (2006) Static Contraction Training - Maximum Overload in Minimal Time [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Peter Sisco is the author of Train Smart, co-author of Power Factor Training, Static Contraction Training and other books. He is also the editor of the five-book "Ironmans Ultimate Bodybuilding" series.