Stop Training Blindly

Static Contraction - Don't Train Blindly

Static Contraction – Don’t Train Blindly

See the guy in the photo? Imagine for one minute if you had to train like that. You’re put into a gym and told to do a workout while blindfolded. You feel your way around the exercise machines until you find one that isn’t being used by someone. Then you move the selector pin of the weight stack to some position and feel how heavy it is. If it’s too light or heavy you move the pin a bit. Then you bang out some reps but you have no way to write down the number of reps and sets you did and you also don’t know the weight you used.

Next week you come back to the gym and feel you way around for other machines that are not occupied and then repeat the whole fiasco without really knowing if this workout is progressively more intense than last workout, never mind the exact percentages of improvement or regression on each exercise.

This is basically how 99% of the people in your gym train every time they do a resistance training workout. It’s blindness compounded by more blindness. And it’s inexcusable.

The factors that cause muscle to grow are very well understood in basic terms. When you force your muscles to work at higher and higher rates of intensity they adapt by growing both bigger and stronger. Your body adds more muscle tissue to itself. In a healthy person, this always works. Intensity can be measured by knowing the amount of weight you lift in a unit of time. Pounds per second, kilos per minute, tons per hour – whatever units you prefer. Once you know that number you can say with mathematical precision that Friday’s triceps workout was 9.6% more intense than Monday’s triceps workout.

That’s easy to understand, isn’t it? But where is the gym where you see every personal trainer watching over his client with a stopwatch and a calculator? I’ve never seen it. All I ever see is people training blindly.

Static Contraction training measures intensity by providing a fixed amount of time, just five seconds, to lift the target weight. You ensure progressive overload by making certain that you can lift slightly more weight this workout than you did last workout. If you can’t it means you have not fully recovered and allowed sufficient time to grow new muscle. You are never working blind. The first time your training goes into the ditch you have the numbers to see it – you never keep banging your head against a wall trying (blindly) to squeeze grow out of a hopeless situation of overtraining and under-stimulating.

The opposite of being blind is having crystal clear goals when you come into the gym. Using meaningful data from your last workout that is interpreted to create an actionable plan for this workout. Step by step this is how you reach distant goals inside the gym and outside the gym.

Stop training blindly, train with your brain.

 

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37 Responses to Stop Training Blindly

  1. Donnie Hunt at #

    Hey Pete,

    Really good article! I’ve been one of those who operates “blindly”. Trying to make excuses for not keeping a progress chart. The goal should be to continually get stronger. If you’re using conventional reps one should be careful to handle the weights under control for safety and to accurately track true progress. With the statics you advocate one would only need to keep track of time and weight as nothing else would change.

  2. Actually the time doesn’t change either. Just the weight.

  3. Joshua B at #

    Great post! Brings to perspective the need for accurate measurement and week by week evaluation of progress in a tangible manner.

    Question – All the muscle fibers can logically only be full contracted in the position of full contraction. So to impose an all or nothing load in that fully contracted position would stimulate 100% of the fibers that can be stimulated. With that in mind, compound movements such as Flat Bench or Top Range Pulldowns do not place the pectorals or lats in the position of full contraction the way a pec dec or pullover machine would. With that in mind wouldn’t only the number of fibers fully contracted under the massive SCT poundages be getting stimulated? Additionally – at the position of full contraction wouldn’t the muscle be stronger and thus able to hold a heavier weight? For instance I’ve read of trainees performing one armed pec dec holds with 500+ lbs which would seem to rival the SCT holds that I myself am performing on the flat bench at approx 500 lbs for 5 seconds.

    Would love to hear your thoughts,

    – J

  4. I’ve never been persuaded by the “fully contracted” argument. I’m more certain of the “most possible weight” argument for using the most muscle fibers. Fibers do all the lifting. If I lift 400 lbs in a position and 250 in the fully contracted position I say the 400 lb exercise position is using more fibers. It’s not about the position, it’s about the total weight lifted.

  5. Joshua B at #

    Thanks for the response! I did some more reading and several articles I found in fact supported what you said in regards to the position of full contraction. I even believe Dr. Doug McGuff has also attested that the position of full contraction does not recruit maximal muscle fibers due to some leveraging which allows certain fibers a huge advantage in the contracted position thereby allowing others to not contract maximally. This would fully support your hypothesis of HUGE loads at less than fully contracted positions recruiting maximal fibers.

    With that cleared up – have you ever used elbow, wrist or knee wraps? I’ve read Dorian Yates advising against them due to the extra grinding they cause in the joint and I’ve read of others recommending them due to the support they provide thereby allowing the target muscle to overcome a weak link (much like the 1 ton grips do). Is this something that you believe is subjective(?), have you read anything on it(?), any opinion from your training so many individuals(?)

    Finally – I am a firm believer that plateaus are often due to neurological adaptation and stagnation. A good solution in my experience has been to switch up exercises for a period of time to then to switch back to the exercise on which you stalled. For instance if I were to get stuck on Hammer High Rows I would substitute them with Lat Pulldowns on a High Cable. Continue at the same frequency of training and make great gains – is this anomalous in my case or is this something you too have observed.

    I’ve been training for years and after I started following Mentzer’s techniques 10 years ago I thought I’d hit the jackpot but then I discovered your books bought WVR, TS-09 and your original static contraction training and I have more questions than you can imagine -so I really appreciate your time and effort getting back to me.

    Best

    Joshua B

  6. Brian T at #

    What about things like the lateral shoulder raise being almost all delts though and the military press being 30% or more triceps. It is splitting hairs but could lifting less weight on the lateral raise actually be stimulating the muscle just as much because the delts are taking a lot more of the exercise on their own?

  7. I know people (me included) who can do shoulder presses with 500-700 lbs. Do you know anyone who can do a lateral raise with anywhere near that much weight?

  8. Brian T at #

    Good point Pete. Not that I want to argue with a guy with delts that size anyway!

  9. 1. I don’t have an opinion on wrist wraps other than if they allow you to lift more weight without pain then use them. The objective of lifting a weight is to overload the muscle as much as possible. If something helps you do that, then use it. That’s why I recommend hand pads and lifting hooks.
    2. I notice you said, “Continue at the same frequency of training…” This is what all the “Monday, Wednesday, Friday” trainers promote – “God forbid you miss a workout!! If you can’t lift more weight on Wednesday then change exercises and lift something – anything! But always and forever train three days per week!” If you want to train smart accept the fact that your training frequency is a moving target. Eventually you’ll be training 2 or 3 times a month and seeing apples-to-apples improvements on the same exercises. That’s objective measurement.

  10. Joshua B at #

    Pete,

    thanks for getting back to me. I chose my words poorly – of course I completely agree that upon stalling adding extra recovery time between workouts should be the first thing that a trainee should do and that except for the genetic elite or drug users frequency of workouts is never static it’s constantly adjusting to accommodate increasing stress loads and demands.

    Let us say though that a trainee is at the point of working out EXTREMELY infrequently or rather their respective ideal frequency based on genetics and recovery ability. It stands to reason that one cannot make infinite progress on, hypothetically, the SCT Flat Bench Press there will come a point beyond which their body will be unable to handle heavier weights. Should that point be hit would you then think that replacing the bench with another effective movement such as the decline and then trying to build up that movement to near genetic maximum levels would be a good way to approach it. To avoid stagnation and keep the workouts interesting and challenging?

    Because irrespective of how much time off we take, there are inherent limits (which are unique to all of us) that we must come to terms with. When we reach those limits what is your opinion on switching the movement with another effective compound and attempting to reach one’s upper genetic limit on that?

    Best

    Joshua B

  11. Re: “It stands to reason that one cannot make infinite progress on, hypothetically, the SCT Flat Bench Press…” I’m not sure I accept that premise. You are saying ‘It stands to reason that one cannot make infinite progress lifting the heaviest possible weight for a target muscle.’ Apart from the word ‘infinite’ which is obviously not possible, I don’t see the reason that the best exercise stops working and an inferior exercise starts working. Again, I think this grows out of the school of training more often rather than less often as a personal preference. But I’m VERY different in my approach to all of this. I’d be inclined to say, “My bench press is 750 lbs and I can’t get it any higher? Great! Now I have time to learn a foreign language!” But I know I’m close to being alone in that philosophy. Haha.

  12. Joshua B at #

    Pete,

    That’s a very balanced way of looking at things, I even recall Mentzer saying that if people devoted as much time to other pursuits as they did to bodybuilding religiously 5 days a week 2 hours a day they’d soon be well off to their first million or a PhD etc. Granted, if one does get to a stalling point and their statically holding 800lbs on the bench, 600 on the shoulder press, deadlifting 900, leg pressing 2000 per leg, no doubt that’s incredible and maybe at that level they should seek to be happy with their gains if they are slowing down to a crawl or if they simply cannot increase the weight anymore

    I do see your logic behind using the most efficient exercise and I also understand how to overcome sticking points by managing stress, frequency, duration etc. But there logically have to be inherent limits – otherwise over the course of a lifetime you’d have people benching 10,000 lbs (a little over dramatic i know…but you see my point)

    Additionally as per our previous conversations with fiber recruitment based on the load imposed it stands to reason that as a beginner if you required 400 lbs to reach failure in 5 seconds and succesfully tap into as many muscle fibers as possible as you get more muscular, more neuro-muscularly efficiient and stronger the load required to stimulate the maximum number of muscle fibers possible will have to be increased. When you hit that 750 lbs bench as you said in your last response to me and choose not to increase it at your next bench workout it’s a less than maximal load ~ therefore will require fewer muscle fibers to lift and over time will require even fewer fibers to lift and hold. With that in mind ~ isn’t maintenance almost a sort of regression? Because fewer fibers are being stimulated at each workout that you don’t increase the imposed load? Won’t that case a loss of muscle mass? Since the body is no longer subjected to an external stimulus where it MUST engage maximal muscular output in a all or nothing way to complete the exercise?

    Therefore progression is mandatory and with that in mind going back to my earlier argument that progression on the same exercise indefinitely is NOT possible. Not because muscles are inherently weak (Arthur Jones himself argued muscles are infinitely strong but bones have their breaking points) I don’t think the human body’s skeletal structure could code with 10,000 lbs bench or 40,000 lb leg press without causing severe bone damage.

    With those premises, doesn’t it make sense once a trainee has built up to a level of strength on exercise A past which they would be entering a zone of extreme discomfort and risk the trainee should replace A with exercise B (albiet a little less effective) and strive to become as strong as humanly possible on the alternative exercise?

    I’m just asking because I’m making great progress on your routine jumping anywhere from 40 to 80 lbs on each movement every workout and I can’t forsee the weight i deadlift or shrug or leg press or bench increasing at this consistent a rate into perpetuity. So from my perspective when I hit a limit on the flat bench I think I’ll replace it with a low incline press on the smith machine and try to get as strong on that as humanly possible and when I hit a plateau on that choose another exercise, perhaps the decline statics in the power rack etc etc.

    I’m not trying to be contentious at all here, but since your SCT is working for me better than any other routine I’ve ever used I wanted to get your view on things.

    Best,

    Joshua B

  13. I always have trouble taking these hypotheticals to heart. A guy who has reached his absolute genetic limit on every exercise – should he keep working out with lesser exercises? Nice problem to have, I suppose. My advice would be to return to the gym every couple of months and make sure he can duplicate all his lifts. If he can, he knows he has not regressed. Then he can go back to doing something productive with his life. That is my serious answer. Maybe it’s my advancing age, but there is a hell of a lot more to a good life than having ‘separation’ in one’s quadriceps muscles. Haha. Lift weights to be healthy then move on to doing something productive with your good health.

  14. Brian T at #

    Yea, but the point I think Pete is making is once you are maxed out on the flat bench your incline with be maxed out at a slightly less weight. Herein lies the issue.

    At this point the only place to go is volume. Doing beta hybrid or variations not yet in use. Or if you feel you are big enough already or what ever then just maintain.

  15. Joshua B at #

    Got it!!

    Thanks for the answers Pete, really appreciate the time you take out to answer our questions. Personally I have no issues with hitting the gym twice a month or less lifting poundages heavy enough to bend the bar and continue making gains in strength and size in a sustainable manner.

    I was going through youtube videos of actual trainees performing Static Contraction Training , one poster claimed that the program is primarily for strength development instead of size, while I admit that the laws of thermodynamics and geometry are not on the side of massive size gains – this statement that the program is only for strength gains couldn’t have been further from the truth. Atleast, in my opinion, whats your take on that theory that SCT is only for strength?

    – JB

  16. Muscle fibers are like steel cables; in order to be stronger they have to be bigger. Yes, you can get strength gains from neuromuscular efficiency and intramuscular fat loss, but those are nominal and limited – big gains only come from building bigger, stronger muscles. I used to ask guys who talked about “training for size” vs. “training for strength” is they ever saw a guy with a 12″ arm who could bench 450 lbs because he trained for strength or ever saw a guy with a 20″ arm who could only bench 150 lbs because he just trained for size. Not gonna happen. People just parrot these things and never think it through. A stronger muscle is always a bigger muscle and vice versa.

  17. Donnie Hunt at #

    What i’m asking is why is the the fact that one can handle more weight in the strongest, safest position relevant other than it being what is safest for the body? Doing a lateral raise is going to put much more shearing forces on the body that doing a strongest range shoulder press. right? I’m confused how the weight difference is relevant.

  18. The relevance is that we want to stimulate the most muscle fibers to grow. If you lift a lighter weight you stimulate a few fibers. A heavier weight, more fibers. The heaviest weight you can possibly lift uses and stimulates growth in the most fibers possible. Avoiding dangerous shear forces is an added bonus of doing the lifting the SCT way.

  19. Leighan at #

    Lifting weights that are heavier than your muscles’ normal maximum lifting capacity causes your body to divert large amounts of energy and resources to those muscles in order to assist them. If your muscles were larger, then they could handle the heavy weights without requiring the extra resources.

    When your muscles are consistently over-stressed, your body takes the defensive action of building larger muscle tissue. In actuality this process is far more complex.
    The bottom line is this: maximum muscle overload equals maximum muscle growth. In fact, muscle overload is the only stimulus for muscle growth. In the gym this simply means lifting extremely heavy weights.

    By eliminating the weak and risky section of the movement, you drastically decrease the risk of injury yet lose absolutely no growth potential. In fact, you will greatly increase the growth potential of your muscles because now that you are doing safe, strong range repetitions, you can handle much heavier weights than normal.

    In many cases you will be able to lift double what you would normally lift for a full range repetition. Remember, when you eliminate the weakest link, the chain becomes stronger even though it is now shorter.

  20. Hey, I love that analogy – shorten the chain by taking out the weak links, making it a stronger chain. Good one.

  21. Brian T at #

    Good analogy, but people will think you are saying shorten the muscle and get their knickers in a twist. 😉

  22. True. But some people get their knickers in a twist no matter what you say.

  23. Donnie Hunt at #

    Guys, I’m right there with ya. The only thing I’m saying is that to the body a weight can be “heavy” by using a great deal of weight in a strongest range hold or by using a lighter weight in a position of leverage disadvantage. I agree that you should train the body in the safest way which would be strongest range holds. If more weight/resistance recruits more fibers then both types of exercises could accomplish this. But the strongest range holds would accomplish it much more safely.

  24. Leighan at #

    Maybe if it was your typical gym-goer yes, but at least we know the intelligent people that visit this blog won’t see it that way 😀

  25. Leighan at #

    The potential size of a muscle is determined primarily by its length. For example, a bicep that is 1 inch long will never be more than 1 inch thick. Its width will never exceed its length because otherwise it would be unable to contract.

    THEREFORE, how could a muscle possibly get shorter as it’s getting stronger? A muscle may increase in strength without much size at first, but eventually it will have to get bigger as strength increases even further. The people who believe partial range movements make your muscle shorter know that partials increase strength, so there idea of a muscle getting shorter contradicts itself.

  26. Not to mention that to get physically shorter a muscle would have to detach itself from the bone and reattach in a different spot.

  27. Leighan at #

    Say for instance, you compared the shoulder press, which targets the whole shoulder area, or the lateral raise, which targets the middle delts. You may only be able to lift 15kg on the lateral raise, but doing a shoulder press, 50kg. Even though that 15kg still feels heavy on the lateral raise, the 50kg is getting MORE fibres to contract because it needs more to, to move it.

    Remember; a muscle will only contract as many as it needs. They are lazy, they will use no more than is absolutely necessary; and I’m pretty sure that 50kg requires more than 15kg, regardless of the fact that 15kg may still feel just as heavy.

  28. Murrell at #

    Leighan, in your theoretical example, 50kg does NOT necessarily require more muscular force than 15kg; it depends on the respective leverages. (See the “Lever” entry in Wikipedia.)

  29. Leighan at #

    So the 15kg lateral raise could be as stimulative as the 50kg press?

  30. That has yet to be proven.* My way of looking at this reasoning is that if I do a dumbbell curl behind my back all the associated muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments are in their worst and weakest configuration so it takes maximum effort to curl, say, 25 lbs. In my strongest and safest range of motion I can curl 125 lbs. So is it using the same number of fibers? And even if it was why on earth would I risk all those injuries just to avoid lifting in the most comfortable position?

    * The body has some quirks that don’t always allow the math behind the laws of physics to be assumed. For example, lifting 100 lbs 12 inches is the same in physics as lifting 1,200 lbs 1 inch. But try doing it? It’s nowhere near the same in practice. Weight is far more taxing than distance. This principle was the genesis of both Power Factor Training and Static Contraction.

  31. Leighan at #

    “Weight is far more taxing than distance.”

    This is why I find it hard to believe that doing the lateral raise at 15kg would be using just as much force as the 50kg press in the example, not that I’m being stingy in my opinion. When you consider the fact the muscle either contracts fully or not at all, in both cases the shoulder is going to be firing isn’t it? and therefore the extra weight will mean it has to fire more fibres to hold it? Plus theres the idea of Nociception to consider as well.

  32. This happens on every exercise. There are dozens of triceps exercises – but there is only one where you can lift the most possible weight with your triceps. That’s the one we use. I think the onus is on everyone else to explain why they would use a lesser exercise on any muscle group.

  33. Leighan at #

    And like you have said Pete; maximum muscle overload results in maximum muscle growth. And the way to do that is lift the heaviest weight possible.
    When considering Nociception as well, that poses the question of why anyone would want to use a full range of motion in addition to a lesser exercise?

    “When nociception activates, it basically prevents the muscles from contracting at 100% capacity.”

    If Nociception activates at the weakest range of motion on an exercise, and stops your muscles from at 100% capacity because of risk of injury, it should be obvious that people should WANT to perform exercises only by using just strong range movements. Thus you are performing them without compromising on the amount of muscle growth you can stimulate, as well as avoiding injury yourself without your body having to stop it from happening.

    Pete, what are your thoughts on Nociception? Do you strongly believe in it? I’m considering never performing full motion exercises ever again due to it.

  34. it certainly seems to be a well established principle in medicine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nociception I have no reason to question it. I don’t think anyone should ever attempt a full-range exercise with maximum weight. It’s needlessly risky.

  35. Donnie Hunt at #

    I know I have nagged you guys over the whole leverage and fiber recruitment issues. While I don’t fully understand “Nociception” this is making me see why you guys are saying more fibers could be recruited in a strongest range/greatest leverage advantaged hold. Pete, what you said somewhere on this site about flexibility and maximum strength not going together/being dangerous makes alot of sense too. Now I think I get why you and John Little over the years, have been talking about not only these strongest range holds being very safe but also recruiting more fibers. The body will recruit more because it is in the safest position to produce a great deal of force.

  36. Leighan at #

    Donnie, to try help you understand Nociception more, I’ll paste what it says from another article elsewhere on this website:

    “Nociception is described very simplistically as your muscles communicating back to your brain, and feeding it information as to what position the joint is in, as well as detecting mechanical, thermal and chemical stresses above a predetermined threshold in the muscle joint area. When nociception activates, it basically prevents the muscles from contracting at 100% capacity.

    If the joint in your shoulder is positioned in a mechanical disadvantage, such as in the beginning of a full range bench press with the bar resting on the chest, the muscles will communicate to the brain via pain receptors that a 100% effort from the muscle would damage either the shoulder joint, tendons and or the shoulder and chest muscles themselves. The nociception/self-preservation system activates so that you cannot exert 100% effort, thereby limiting the stimulus for muscle growth.

    As you [Pete] so beautifully described in your articles, those who are ignorant and brainwashed choose a weight light enough to exercise within the confines of their weakest range. Then once the weight, which is now not enough to impose stress induced stimuli required to trigger a growth response, has travelled beyond the weak range, the muscles are no longer working to full capacity, even though they are now capable due to the mechanical advantage. This ultimately results in zero to mediocre results. In the worst case scenario, you end up with torn pectorals; if you manage to somehow hype yourself up to temporarily override the nociceptors when starting the bar off the chest. The same is true for squats etc.”

  37. Donnie Hunt at #

    Thanks for the detailed response Leighan.

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