Max Contraction Training

I just finished reading John Little’s 2004 follow up book to Static Contraction Training.

Max Contraction Training : The Scientifically Proven Program for Building Muscle Mass in Minimum Time
Max Contraction Training : The Scientifically Proven Program for Building Muscle Mass in Minimum Time by John Little is a much better book than Static Contraction Training. Instead of being light on text and heavy on photos of steroid monsters, this book dives into the details of how to use static holds to trigger muscle growth. And the photos are of normal people doing the actual exercise described in the text.

Max Contraction is different from other weight lifting protocols in that there are no “reps”. The weight is lifted slowly to the point where the muscle is in maximum contraction. At that point the weight is held fixed for 1 to 6 seconds. Then the weight is slowly lowered. That completes the exercise. You’re done. You’ve triggered full muscle contraction. Move on to the next exercise. If you were able to hold the weight more than 6 seconds, it was too light. Increase the weight.

It takes me about 10 minutes to do a Body By Science workout. With Max Contraction you’ll spend more time moving between exercises than doing the exercises. You can probably finish in under 2 minutes.

The problem I see with Max Contraction Training is that for a few exercises, the weight I can hold for just 1 to 6 seconds is much greater than the weight I can safely lift into maximum contraction position. This is where a trainer or spotter can help.

This concern is addressed in the updated version called The Max Pyramid Protocol (h/t Conditioning Research for finding this). This version of static holds stresses TUL (time under load) over poundage. For more information on that plan read:

I’ve done a few lifts using the Max Pyramid Protocol and found they were effective, especially the leg press. Starting next week I plan to test out the full plan using Max Contraction / Max Pyramid. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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MAS

Critical MAS is the blog for Michael Allen Smith of Seattle, Washington. My interests include traditional food, fitness, economics, and web development.

17 thoughts on “Max Contraction Training”

  1. Michael

    most of my training for the past few months while work has been busy has been Max Pyramid. Straight arm pulldowns, wall sits, lateral raises. Plus some superslow pusups and glute bridges…..

    Effective given the time limits

  2. Just finished the book. Sort of depressing because I want to believe the hype and typical protocol. I will give it a try though. On a 4 day schedule, y strength gains have been decent (bench press 185 up to 245 (1x)) in past 6 months but I just can’t figure out how to get a lean body even though I do all the right stuff.

    If this doesn’t work do you think p90x is worth the effort?

  3. @Thomas – Congrats on the strength gains. That is impressive.

    I tried today to implement some Max Contraction and realized just how unrealistic it is without a trainer or spotter. Instead I am going to pursue the Max Pyramid protocol which to me seems safer.

    Being lean is all about diet. Have you experimented with Intermittent Fasting? Do it on the day prior to lifting. Other than low-carb, it is the most effective technique I have found for getting lean.

    IMO, P90X workouts are too long and too frequent.

  4. Thanks.

    Same thing happened to me today. Started HIT training. Benched 185 10x as a warm-up. Then put on 275 and had someone spot me. I lifted the weight and lowered it to my chest at a reasonable pace by myself. Although I eventually got the weight back up, the spotter was crucial because I stopped about half-way up. I will reread the book and try the pyramid method.

    Intuitively and having trained, I knew much of what the book states is true, but there is such a desperation for results that supplements, new methods, etc. are very alluring and it is upsetting to realize that genetics is determinative.

  5. @thomas – just an FYI – but there is no need for warm up reps when you do HIT. The movement is slow and controlled. I do some mobility work, but no more than 10 minutes. Injuries come from explosive moves and/or poor form.

  6. My new routine is 4 days heavy/3 days other. Heavy will be 80% slo-mo warm-up 6-8reps/110% HIT 1 rep. I plan on doing yoga, tennis, light-running as other.

    I don’t want to totally abandon what I have been doing just yet, so I want to see how this works. It ought to be much less time than the 5-6 days a week I have been going the past 6 months. Also I socialize at the gym so I don’t mind being there longer than necessary.

    Reread parts of Max Contraction and it is really good. It is funny how muscle magazines are basically catalogs of supplements and the people pictured are actually on steroids as a rule.

  7. @Thomas – To me it sounds like you are WAY over training. If you really do HIT right, it can take 3-10 days to recover. For me that number turned out to be 5 days. Remember that muscle is building during your rest period. The lifting is the stimulus. Like an elevator button, additional stimulus won’t make the elevator come faster.

    Hit it and quit it. Rest and recover.

    If you aren’t fully recovered, you’ll not only short circuit the repair process – you will increase your risk of injury.

    Author John Little did a podcast on High Intensity Nation a while back where he does an outstanding job explaining the repair process. Check it out if you have an hour.

  8. Thanks for the concern. I will definitely check out the podcast.

    I realize that I may be over-training according to the book but am hesitant to abruptly stop. I enjoy “working out” as a leisure activity so that may be part of the problem; I get bored when not doing physical activities.

    Will let you know my progress after trying out the above for a while.

  9. Question…Can the Max Contraction protocol be used with adjustable dumbbells as opposed to machines or barbells?

    I’ve read the book, but I’ve not seen anything mentioned. If this is possible, what exercises can be implemented with dumbbells (or even resistance bands)? I really would like to try the protocol and add it to mix up my workouts.

    Thanks!

  10. @pTerry – Yes. If you end up finding a particular weight too heavy to safely get to the max contraction point, you can get a spotter. Or I would just lower the resistance.

  11. Thanks for the reply, MAS! Greatly appreciated…

    One more question I have regarding Max Contraction Training. Since most of the exercises require use of machines (squat rack, lat pullover, etc), what free weight alternatives can be substituted?

  12. @Terry – I would not advise using free weight for Max Contraction. Unless you had 2 outstanding spotters, It would be highly unsafe.

    A rule to determine the safety of any exercise is to ask yourself what would happen if you failed at any point of the repetition. This is why a push up will always be safer than a heavy bench press.

  13. I have a question on the max training i hope someone might answer.

    I have used statics in the past with great effect. So i do like em. Ive had a sore rotator area last few weeks despite taking time off. Not super bad but enuff im careful.

    Anyway..i was asking my bro about doing these as it spares the joint.H is a dr of physical therapy so figured he knee whats up. He said theres no question max contraction will build muscle. But he said it becomes problamatic because u get a powerful muscle without the joint stability that comes from full range. It becomes like letting a three year old shot a shotgun. The kick of the muscle becomes more than the joint can stabalize.

    Seems if thats true mixing uo reps woukd be helpful. Anyone know about the joint issue…is that true? And also…anyone have a roitine mixing the two? Not sure just how taxing each workout would be and how much rest would be needed. This is very different than the high frequency with low reps and volume that seems also to be very effective.

    Thanks
    Jeff

  14. @Jeff – RE: “..powerful muscle without the joint stability that comes from full range.”

    This is not true. Not only are your joint muscles used to stabilize you in the exercise itself, but we use our stabilizer muscles ALL the time. Standing, sitting , walking, any sport you play.

    The real risk is loading the muscles in a way that overstresses the joint.

  15. @MAS
    Thanks for your thoughts. Im gonna give statics a try in my cycle. Im thinking maybe on mondays and then lighter weight with medium reps through the week. I like doing something…even light…regularly. It keeps me awake and energized.

    Lemme ask…im assuming since a heavy static recruits all fiber types i order that all will be worked. However…im also assuming the fast twitch will get worked the most since they will be firing and fatiguing fastest.

    Im also given to understand the fast twitch heal the slowest and the slow the fastest. So…could not ine do a heavy static day on monday…fatiguing everything. Then on wednesday a light day focused on slow twitch as they should be healed. And maybe a medium day for middle fibers on friday since they ought to be recovered. Take off weekend and start again.

    Anyone try anything like this?

    Lastly…i just got some rings and i LOVE THEM. But im curious…whixh do u think hits the muscle harder….ring pushups or weighted pushups. I ask because i strap 50 lbs on my back and rep off sets of 5. And whike its hard…i dont feel the pec contract much. On ring pushups my bodyweight is plenty and the contraction is HUGE. Any thougt on which is a better builder?

    Thanks
    Jeff

  16. @Jeff – Your training plan idea sounds solid to me. It might be 1 workout too much, but you’ll discover if that is case if your Monday workout suffers.

    I’ve never done a ring push-up, but if it is working or you, keep it up. My only concern would be wrist strain, but that is probably a minor risk.

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