John Little is one of my favorite writers in the fitness field. He co-wrote the definitive fitness book Body by Science. Recently, I listen to an outstanding interview with him on High Intensity Nation. In the interview he discussed a style of training called Max Contraction Training that sounded interesting, so I checked to see if the book was in my library. It wasn’t, but a book with a similar title co-written by John Little in 1999 was there.
Static Contraction Training by Peter Sisco and John Little is a very quick read. This is a style of high intensity training that uses 1 set to failure for a handful of exercises. Instead of moving the weight slowly like is done in Body by Science and other slow training methods, this uses – as the title alludes to – a static hold of a heavy weight.
The premise is that when you raise and lower a weight, no matter how slow you go, tension is reduced at different points in the movement. An example mentioned in the book is that if you are lifting 200 pounds that no matter how slow the descent, you must lower the tension below 200 or the negative portion of the repetition can not occur. With SCT you take a weight that is so heavy that you can only hold it for 5 to 15 seconds. As soon as you can hold it longer than 15 seconds, it is time to increase the weight.
Safety was my primary concern when I read about this training method. You should be using either a trusted training partner to spot weights, machines or a squat rack with pins in the right position. The weight you can hold will be significantly greater than one you can lift. I think the book could have done a better job in explaining how to do these exercises safely. I’ve been lifting since 1994 and I still have questions on 30% of the exercises mentioned. My guess is this topic is expanded upon in the updated Max Contraction Training.
I did have one problem with this book. The photos. This book has lots of photos of professional body builders who used steroids and built their body using techniques other than SCT. If I were editing this book, I would have taken out all those photos which make up for over half the book and instead put photos or drawings on how to perform each exercise in a safe manner. The book has several photos of Craig Titus, who was later convicted of murder, arson, and kidnapping. Not exactly an ideal role model for a training protocol.
What do I think of SCT? The reviews on Amazon are love and hate. I haven’t tried it, but I will. John Little is a smart guy and I respect a lot of the people who respect him. One of the points that John drives home in his podcast interview is something I know to be true. Most people in the gym are over training. They aren’t allowing their body sufficient time to fully recover. Maybe some of the critics to this program are those gym rats that lower intensity in order to squeeze in additional volume? Or maybe it works better for some than others? I’ll let you know how it goes.
Feb 26, 2011 — 9:37 am
I’d recommend you rather try john little’s latest version of this protocol – the max pyramid. Lots of advantages over the older book.
Feb 26, 2011 — 1:41 pm
@Chris – Thanks for sharing that link. I was unaware of that article. It sure looks a lot safer than SCT.
Feb 26, 2011 — 4:13 pm
Try asking the SPL if they take order requests. The library system here accepts requests for newish books if it’s something they don’t have. They ordered The New Evolution Diet when I requested it.
Feb 26, 2011 — 4:27 pm
@Rachel – Good idea. Usually if they don’t have a book or it has a long wait, I will order from Amazon. Then I’ll read it and sell it.
Feb 26, 2011 — 4:29 pm
We have used static and Max-Contraction training (including max pyramid protocol) extensively at Ideal Exercise. It is a very productive training method and particularly effective for working around limitations in machines with a less than ideal resistance curve.
One caution that I would offer is to avoid the near lock-out static holds on compound pressing movements. The tremendous weights that can be used in such positions are due to a mechanical advantage of reduced moment arm. Max pyramid protocol takes this into account.
Another suggestion would be to avoid the “fully contracted position” on some rotary movements. Often, the feeling of “full contraction” is actually the sensation of the muscle moving into active insufficiency. John Little and I have had many conversations about this, and I believe that we are essentially in agreement.
Examples for rotary movements would include chest flye (Nautilus ten-degree chest in our case) and Nautilus pullover. In the ten-degree, a static hold just short of the pads touching avoids the sufficiency problem. In the pullover we use a mid-range static in order to avoid sufficiency issues with the long head of the triceps.
I believe that the best treatise on biomechanics and sufficiency issues is found in Bill DeSimone’s manual Moment Arm Exercise (one of the most useful training manuals on my bookshelf– says a lot as I have 100+ books related to training). You can order Bill’s manual by calling (609) 462-7722.
As always, best of luck with your training! If I can offer any help please don’t hesitate to ask.
Feb 26, 2011 — 5:25 pm
@Greg – Great information. I’ve watched DeSimmone’s videos on YouTube and his speech at the 21 Convention. Really good stuff.
I’m really enjoying my newbie phase into HIT. Although with far less time spent at the gym, I may need to take up a new hobby. 🙂
Feb 27, 2011 — 1:58 pm
By the way, I interviewed Bill DeSimmone – a great guy:
Feb 27, 2011 — 2:10 pm
@Chris – Conditioning Research was where I first heard of him … and many others.
Feb 15, 2012 — 4:05 pm
It’s been a year. Did you stick with the programs? What worked for you?
Let us in the digital world know, as I am starting a SC program and want feedback from experienced lifters.
Feb 15, 2012 — 5:08 pm
@jcland – I do not use the protocol in this Static Contraction book. I do use the static holds as John Little describes in his Max Pyramid. Very nice.
I also will often end a SuperSlow set by holding a weight. This works very well when doing body weight exercises such as push-ups, chin-ups or body weight squats.
Apr 8, 2015 — 7:30 am
I have found dick conners site on superslow and max contractions to be the easiest to learn how it should be done
Apr 8, 2015 — 8:02 am
@David – Thanks for the tip. Found his site.