Static contraction workouts

Static contraction workouts

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WORDS Will Shannon 

With more than 200,000 users worldwide and fans including Tony Robbins, the controversial static contraction workouts are fast becoming a fitness phenomenon.

Based on the principle of horsepower, static contraction workouts are short and intense and involve overloading your muscles to the point of failure. The exercises involve muscles exerting movement without the joints and ligaments moving far — and in some cases individuals remaining motionless.

Static contraction training has been shown in multiple studies to have increased both the muscle strength and endurance of athletes, and multiple research resources prove that the science behind the training works.

The concept behind progressive muscle overload is to get the muscles to do the maximum amount of work in the least possible time.

Using a power rack or Smith machine, a weight is lifted in the strongest range of motion for the muscle group. Weights are held for less than five seconds, and the idea is to lift the maximum weight you can in the quickest time it takes to fail. The recovery time between workouts is longer, allowing the muscle to fully recover before the next workout.

Static contraction exercises are quick, efficient and involve less repetition and overall movement, resulting in less time spent at the gym. Despite the reduced time spent working out, the exercises will challenge your muscles to become stronger, and over time you can expect to be able to lift 50 to 200 per cent more.

The limited motion in static contraction workouts keeps the muscle fibre in a constant state of twitching movement. A good illustration of how this occurs is when a muscle beings to shake or wobble when holding a heavy weight in a fixed position for a duration of time. This causes the muscle to constantly face a sense of strain and contraction in all directions, helping the muscle to grow in size and density.

Many athletes, such as powerlifters, use static contraction training for an extra boost and to save time. The techniques used in static contraction lifts can directly assist with exercises such as the bench press, traditional back squat and the deadlift, which requires explosive technique.

The exercises are designed to allow you to lift your true maximum weight, with the muscles becoming stronger as they lift progressively heavier weights, dispelling the common myth that to build a muscle you need to lift through the entire range of motion.

It is easy to adapt any normal exercise to become part of a static contraction training regime by adding more weighted resistance while taking away range. For example, use heavier weights when pressing dumbbells and only partially press them — a great adaptation for shoulder or chest workouts. Or try squatting with heavier weights, but with less of a squatting distance, as opposed to squatting past the parallel point with lighter weights.

For best results, perform the static contraction workouts once a week for four weeks, gradually adding 10 to 20 per cent more weight each week.

Make sure not to lock out. Instead, ensure that your muscles are supporting the weight, and if you are able to hold the weight for longer than 10 seconds, add some more. You should be aiming to lift heavier weights than you normally would as you are only training in your strongest range of motion.

For safety, it is important to never allow the weight to enter your weak range of motion; you should only hold the weight motionless in your strongest, safest range.

A great way to fully stimulate muscle fibres is to implement static contraction exercises alongside other traditional full range of motion sets. As with any exercise, remember to ensure that you are well-hydrated, have stretched properly and know your limits before you start. 


Will is the president of the Australian Complementary Medicine Association and a leading Australian iridologist and naturopath. For more information or to book an appointment with him, visit


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