Train in 4D, not 3D

Train With Your Brain

Train With Your Brain

3D is the latest rage in technology. Movies are being in filmed in 3D on a regular basis and are selling out theaters. TV’s are being sold with 3D technology so you can experience it in the comfort of your own home.

We’ve also been experiencing 3D in gyms for years! No, I’m not talking about walking around with blue and red glasses to make our muscles look bigger. We weight train using 3D. Let me explain….

As Pete has mentioned in a previous post, most people walk into a gym and train blindly. But there is a small minority that actually uses some type of plan to trigger a growth stimulus in a particular muscle. In order to do that they use three different dimensions, or variables, and design a workout for the muscle around these dimensions. These dimensions are:

1. Exercise
2. Number of Sets
3. Number of Reps

For example, to work the chest, they will pick the exercises that will focus on the chest muscles and then will perform a certain number of sets of that exercise with a certain number of repetitions within each set. These “training plans” permeate muscle magazines and are the basis for the latest “add 10 pounds before summer” workout gimmick that the magazines tout on their covers.

The goal for each of these workouts is to push to failure with each set. They can then measure their success by seeing how much weight they can lift for the same exercise the next training session around.

We’ve all seen it. These trainees walk around the gym logging each workout carefully. They log the exercise, the number of sets and the number of reps performed each set to see how much weight they’ve lifted. If they increase the weight the next session around, they feel like they’ve made progress.

I see this with the personal trainers walking around with their clients from exercise to exercise, logging away. Instead of properly training clients, personal trainers have just become highly paid counters…..they count repetitions.

But let me ask you this. How long have you done a workout program like this only to stop adding weight to the exercise? What do you then? Do you think you’ve reached some kind of plateau which can be broken only with some crazy muscle confusion?

There’s a big problem here though. There is a component of the muscle stimulus equation that hasn’t been taken into account.

The problem is that these trainees are training in 3D and not 4D!!! By not training in 4D, they’re missing a key component of the muscle stimulus trigger!

What is the 4th component?


The time it takes you to do your workout is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to triggering muscle growth. Muscle growth is triggered by the INTENSITY of the exercise. Time is the critical denominator in the intensity equation. That equation looks like this:

Intensity = Total work performed by the muscle /Total workout time for that muscle
Take this example:

Get down and do 20 pushups. Not too bad, huh? Get up, grab a drink of water, take a few deep breaths, and read a bit more of this blog. When you’re done with all that, get down and do another 20. Should be pretty easy, right?

Now try this scenario. Get down and do 20 pushups. Get up, take a deep breath and get down again immediately again and do another 20.

Guess what? In both scenarios you did 40 pushups. If you were logging this in your workout book you would have logged 2 sets of 20 reps of pushups. But were they the same intensity?

Of course not! The second scenario should have felt more intense. That’s because the total workout time was reduced. This causes intensity to increase. This increase in intensity is what stimulates your muscles to grow.

Let me say that again in case you skipped over that last sentence:


So Time is the 4th Dimension that most people are missing in the gym.

Think about it? Who measures total exercise time in the gym? You’d have to be really disciplined and have a stopwatch around your neck to be able to get an accurate reading. And even this would be difficult at best with conventional training.

Static contraction training is designed around 4D training. We only use the most effective exercise for each muscle group in order to recruit the maximum amount of muscle fibers. We perform 1 set of 1 repetition. We include time by holding the maximum weight possible for 5 seconds. If you can count to 5, you can do a static contraction workout! The only variable is weight and that makes tracking progress easy. This is why we are called Precision Training!

So what dimension are you training in? If you’re stuck in 3D, you’re missing out!

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28 Responses to Train in 4D, not 3D

  1. Brian at #

    Greg, this is such an interesting component. The 5 seconds is pretty much a no brainer. The push-up example, and an example Pete used in another post (can’t remember which one now), has me scratching my head a little. Pete used an example of someone lifting Xlbs on one day at Yrepstime and then the next workout they lifted more weight, but it took more time to complete the reps or workout. The day that the person lifted more weight, was actually less intense. Should that conclude that the heavier weight was still not enough because it took the person more time to complete the reps? Any help to clarify this would be appreciated.

  2. Brian, use the equation I provided you. Total work performed by muscle/total workout time for the muscle = Intensity. If you increase the amount of work and decrease the amount of time, your intensity goes up. If you do the same amount of work and increase the time, the intensity goes down. If you increase the work and increase the time, your intensity could go up, or it could go down depending on how much work the work increased.

  3. Brian at #

    Thanks Greg. I tried a few more examples out on paper for myself and yes, the math works. It is very interesting that many folks who thought they had a harder workout by lifting a heavier weight, maybe surprised that their total amount of work was less than the workout where they lifted less. This is hard to wrap your mind around, but again the numbers don’t lie.

  4. SCT simplifies this by using 5 seconds as the time interval. Progressive intensity is ensured by using a slightly heavier weight for those 5 seconds.

  5. Farhad Ghorbani at #


    My question is about using 5-second interval. Does it matter if a certain muscle is mostly made up of slow-twitch fibers as opposed to mostly fast-twitch? Wouldn’t the former require longer TUT than the latter since ST muscles have greater endurance ability?

  6. You can find some long discussions of building muscle endurance on this blog. But you mention fiber types. Have you done tissue biopsies of these muscles and determined their ratio of fiber types? Or are you believing gym gossip about how your muscles are formed?

  7. Aaron at #

    I love SCT, it’s so rational!

    There’s only one criticism of SCT that I’ve been unable to answer quickly to, and it has to do with mechanical advantage. The question is how do you know you’re recruiting more muscle fibers in a position where you have mechanical advantage compared to less weight in a position with mechanical disadvantage? For example, how do you know you’re not recruiting a high percentage of fibers to work against the mechanical disadvantage of, say, positioning your legs at a 90 degree angle instead of using a much heavier weight in the strongest range?

    Of course, the safety issues with that would still make strongest range the way to go, but I hope someone can clear this up for me.

  8. Farhad Ghorbani at #

    Well, I have been following HIT for over 10 years now, and without exception all HIT theorists from Jones, Mentzer, Johnston, McGuff, Baye, Winett ahve written much about different fiber-types throughout the body and how to test for them. Even the NSCA in their text books have written about muscle-fiber types. The general consesus(for whatever it is worth) is that slow-twitch fiber types generally require a TUT between 60-100 seconds, and fast-twich 30-50 seconds, and mixed, 50-80. So i assumed even with static-contraction training, the principle applies but obviously to much less degree. For example-ST-8-10 seconds, FT: 3-5 seconds, MT: 5-7 seconds.

  9. Muscle fiber hypothesis come and go. Lately people are talking about how fiber types change from slow to fast after heavy lifting. My interest is in delivering the highest possible intensity of overload to the muscles. That’s why I’ve always focused on measuring intensity. If you want the highest intensity for 60 seconds you can do that. But it will be a lot lower than what you can do for 5 seconds. I have not seen many people (perhaps 10% – people who are naturally good at marathon running, etc.) who get better muscle building results doing 60 seconds of lower intensity than 5 seconds of their highest intensity. (In fact, what I recommend is repeatedly performing the highest intensity 5 seconds at a time for those people.)

    By the way, the idea that muscles “require” more than 5 seconds of stimulation has been empirically disproved many thousands of times, including hundreds of times by the very people who have made comments on this blog. Nobody should be printing that with a straight face.

  10. Thanks, Aaron. Here is the short answer before I refer you to other discussions of this. 1) Your body will not let you generate your maximum power in your weakest, most injury prone ranges of motion. That is due to nociception. 2) Even if it were hypothetically possible to generate as much intensity in your weakest, most injury prone range of motion as it was in your strongest and safest range of motion – why would you? What is the upside of risking a permanent injury? More intensity? No. More muscle growth stimulation? No.

    These issues are discussed on these pages:

  11. charlie sanders at #

    it seems to me to be largely ignored that in the stronger range of motion the angles are slighter and therefore force must be going through the bones as well, i have had to modify my legpress position to load more into the muscle by increasing the bend at hip and knee so that my muscles get worked without exceeding the weight that is comfortable to bear through joints and bones…same with bench press, wrists and shoulders take too much in strong range and i lowered the bar just a bit and ‘felt’ much more intensity in pecs and triceps. pete can you speak to this? anybody else who has made this type of modification? then how might you measure the difference in intensity of muscle only stimulus. say we have ability to hold our knees locked and hold 3000lb but at 10deg. of bend in hip and knee only 2000lb. another thought, should we do bench with locked elbow and only push with stronger pecs?

  12. Leighan at #

    Some biopsies were done once by a Dr (forgot who now) that showed the amount of slow twitch fibres in his Calves varied from week to week. Sometimes there would be more slow twitch fibres than fast, sometimes the other way round.

    But the point is, even if slow twitch fibres were pre-dominant, it wouldn’t change the fact that the only way to trigger muscle growth is high intensity overload.

  13. Leighan at #

    I agree with some of your statements Charlie, when doing all the holds I feel quite a bit of discomfort. On some moves I don’t feel anything on the muscle.

  14. Bingo.

  15. There are several issues here:
    1. When you lock out you take all the load off the muscle. That’s why a person can stand at attention for hours but if he bends his knees slightly he loads up his muscles and is fatigued in minutes.
    2. Since we want maximum load on the muscles we want to avoid #1.
    3. When you move toward your weaker range you increase the shear forces on the joint. Shear forces cause nasty injuries so you should not use maximum weights and greater joint angles.
    4. It might help to squeeze your pecs when doing the bench press, The truth is I don’t think the ideal pec machine has been invented yet. But that’s another story.

  16. Joe at #

    Pete and/or Gregg:

    You hit a point with 3D VS 4D workouts. When I do SCT workouts, my time challenge is loading and unloading the bar and leg press. Although my total workouts are 25 -30 seconds, I spend almost an hour in the gym adjusting the pins on the power rack for different lifts and plate loading and unloading for the leg press.

    Does that time affect the intensity of the workout?

  17. James at #

    Thanks Greg, fantastic article!!

  18. I am 57 years old and have been doing Static Contraction for a little over a year. I started benching at 175 lbs and am now at 295 lbs. I am 6′ and weigh 160 lbs. I started with a bad shoulder which I’ve had for many years, (I tweaked it lifting). At times over the year I’ve had to reduce weight because the shoulder would act up. I’m now at the point where it feels pretty good. The question is do I go for more weight and risk it flaring up again or just stay where I’m at. I guess the real question is there ever a point where you are just doing a maintenance type workout? I’m guessing at some point you can only lift so much. Got to say though I’d love to crack that 300lb mark!

  19. Steve at #

    I have been working out for 48 years and with a combination of full range and static training since 2004. I have to say I enjoy lifting heavy weights for limited range rather than just pushing as hard as I can against a scale. The only drawback is with leg training, which takes an awful lot of weight. I have actually devised a lever lift with a strap around my hips to multiply the weight on the end of the lever by four. It works pretty well, but is starting to get uncomfortable on my hips as I get stronger.
    One question I have always had is with the biceps curl. Every other exercise is performed in the strongest range, which for the biceps curl is at the very bottom (start) of the movement. You advocate performing the curl at the top of the motion, which 1. is a much weaker position, and 2. is hard to perform correctly, with the elbows back so that the force is through the biceps and not just down through the forearm bone. I’m sure you have a great explanation for this, but I have hypothesized that it might be because the low biceps gets worked very hard during the weighted chins and you chose to work the biceps in its fully contracted position.
    Thanks for all your work.

  20. charlie sanders at #

    maybe the ideal pec machine is good old atlas prayer, pressing chance i will try my bench with elbows straight. squeezing seems to isolate but how do i measure it?

  21. Not really. The intensity relates to the target muscle. It’s all about what happens for 5 seconds. If it’s 15 minutes until your next exercise it doesn’t matter.

  22. Every person has to make his own determination of when he wants to switch to a maintenance routine. When you think you are strong enough and muscular enough then you should switch. Maybe do 305 and call it good? 😉 Up to you.

  23. You can’t measure the squeeze, only the weight you are holding when you do it.

  24. Curls are tough. At the absolute top and bottom of the movement you can hold a huge amount of weight but it doesn’t load the biceps muscle. You need to be closer to a 90 degree bend in your elbow, plus or minus an amount that allows you to hold your maximum while having the biceps muscles doing the work. In my opinion the perfect biceps machine hasn’t been invented yet. I have my own idea for it and here’s a hint – nothing gets held in your hands. Today we all have to work with 19th Century ideas of exercise equipment. Drives me nuts.

  25. Tom Strong at #

    I agree the curls are tough! I had started doing them at the bottom of the movement as I had discovered that was my strongest point; but then discovered as you point out that my back, traps and shoulders were getting worked but my biceps were not. When I went a little under the 90 degree bend in the elbow my weight went down but my biceps were getting worked more.

  26. Ryan Smithson at #

    So ideally this is how you would do you static hold for every muscle? Resistance in the opposite direction of movement and applied directly to the limb or bodypart that the muslce attaches to?

  27. Ryan Smithson at #

    I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around comments like this one, Pete. That is, ideal ways to load specific muscles. Correct me if I’m wrong but this is some of what I’m getting out of this site.

    Ideally you would load a muscle directly, like loading the upper arm for the pecs, the forearm for the biceps, the front of the lower leg for the quads, etc. You want the joint angle where you do your static hold to be at the point that allows for the greatest strength output.

    I know with many conventional exercises you have to move through your weaker range before getting to your stronger range.

  28. The way to know you’re using your strongest range of motion in any given exercise is to find the point where you can hold the most weight, without being locked out or in a position where the muscle is not doing the work.( e.g. top of a curl) It’s easy to find that position even though it can vary a bit between individuals.