Why Don’t You Lift 200% of Your One-Rep Max?

Static Contraction isometric workouts let you safely lift much more weight.

Static Contraction isometric workouts let you safely lift much more weight.

Strength training suffers from a lack of creativity and innovation. That’s why people toil away in gyms doing saturation workouts of multiple sets and reps of dozens of exercises that are identical to routines used in 1965. Yes, the routines in 1965 built muscle. And a carburetor worked on a 1965 VW. But fuel injection worked better. And electronic fuel injection works better than that. So where is the steady innovation in strength training?

I always think of this when I see yet another august university with a well-respected physiology and kinesiology program publish another study talking about test subjects lifting some percentage of their one-rep maximum weight. (The idea is a person can perform one full repetition with a weight so heavy that he can only do it one time, two reps with that weight is not possible and it therefore represents his maximum lifting capability.) Clinical studies are often performed with test subjects lifting as little as 30% of their one-rep maximum. Then conclusions are drawn, usually that lifting only 30% of capacity still has some beneficial effects. Fine.

Why does it not occur to these professors that when the range of motion is limited to only the strongest and safest range the same person can lift 50% to 150% more weight? A guy who can only bench press 100 lbs in his full range could bench 150 to 250 lbs using an isometric exercise in his safest range. Aren’t they curious as to how that would affect muscle fiber activation? Since fibers – and only fibers – contract to lift a weight, how could it involve more fibers to lift less weight? And how do those 30% of max exercises compare to using 200% of max using an isometric exercise? They never seem to test that.

Moreover, the concept of full range of motion for measuring strength is an artificial limitation. What I mean is that in nature we humans rarely use a full range of motion in a power movement. When you push a heavy car you don’t do it with your hands near your chest. When you climb a steep hill you don’t take maximum-length strides. Powerful movements are naturally performed in our strongest range. The only guys who need maximum weak range power at the guys competing in the artificial, man-made sports of powerlifting and Olympic lifting where judges insist on a specific range in order to win the contest. But why should the rest of us do that? What if power was measured by how fast you could make a puck sail into a hockey net? Pro hockey players would be said to have the most power and the rest of us would have much less. But who needs to shoot a fast puck? And who needs the maximum ability to lift a heavy bar off his chest?

It is possible (and always has been) to get very strong and develop very substantial muscle without doing the saturation workout routines from 1965. Static Contraction training was developed to be the most efficient way possible of maximizing strength and energy with the minimum wear and tear on the body and minimum risk of injury to tendons, ligaments and joints. That’s innovation.

Next time you’re in the gym try placing a barbell inside a power rack so you lift it an inch or two in your strongest range and see how it feels to lift 200% of your so-called maximum weight. Once you do that you will want to train the Static Contraction way.


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41 Responses to Why Don’t You Lift 200% of Your One-Rep Max?

  1. Bill Krauza at #

    I find the SCT concept very intriguing, but one of my concerns is that you run out of weights relatively quickly. How do you guys get around that issue?

  2. Charles Odland at #

    Hello
    My son and I just started your program,we are on day 12 today,we haven’t done it yet,but we were quite impressed with the results with workout” A “every excercise went up 25-50lbs(amazing).The only thing I’m struggling with is I also like to run(3-5mile 1-2 times a week),and I want to check my 10rep max, and single rep max.Do you have a suggestion on a way to do this without extending my recovery to much.
    Thanks
    Charles

  3. Hi Charles. There is no way to beat the physics of doing extra work and not having it ‘cost’ you. When you do additional activities it means you will need more recovery time. You can do everything you want – just make sure you compensate with more time between SCT workouts. Your numbers will tell you whether you waited for full recovery or not. When you want to test full range reps you have to treat that like a workout and never do it until you know you have fully recovered from your SCT and your running workouts.

  4. Bill, it’s a nice problem to have -being stronger than the machines in the gym. This page offers a few workarounds:
    http://www.precisiontraining.com/static-contraction-exercise-examples-and-some-cheats/

  5. Well, in fairness, those powerlifters have to have some kind of criteria in which to compete. Otherwise it would just be a talent show. “Oh yeah, well watch what I can do…” Nothing says they can’t also use SC workouts (a strength-building move) to improve their 1RM lift (a competition move).

  6. Sure they need a criteria. So do the hockey players. I’m just saying outside of those weightlifting competitions who needs full power in his weakest range? It’s risky to build that and what is to be gained for the risk?

  7. Charles Odland at #

    I know you are not a fan of suppliments, but from your expierence is there anything out there that helps with the recovery,I mean there are tons of things when you look it up,but all your studies show, time as being the only real effective way.
    Thanks Charles.

  8. Jason at #

    Very interesting Pete.

    I’ve actually got a bit of experience with these types of workouts. Played division one football a few years back and the emphasis points on many of the lifts (for example bench) where the bottom 6 to 8 inches or so above chest (Or above the lowest descent point).

    Always been a firm believer in not fully extending the joints… “snapping” them as is a common habit among many.

    Anyway. Great stuff here. Just curious, what are your thoughts when a bodybuilder would bring up his point that the “full extension” is what gets the “definition” in the muscle. For example, many believe that fully extending that triceps is the key to getting the butterfly look on the back of your arm.

    Thanks Pete,

    -Jason

  9. Greg Young at #

    Hi Pete/ I am about six months into my SCT workout. Very pleased. The other day though I failed on 3 of the six contractions. Not sure if I was just having a bad day or what. When that happens should you just move on to the next exercise and try again next session or reduce the weight and try again?

  10. rich at #

    Pete,
    I agree with most of what you preach, I brought my one rep, full motion bench press from struggling with 295 to an easy 335 in a few months.
    The problem is, as humans, we need a way to measure progress against our self and others. The full range motions are the accepted way. If you tell someone that you can lift a bar off the rack at 500 lbs, that means nothing to people. How much can you bench? Is understood at a full range press.
    We all know that, and I found sct to help tremendously to get past my plateaus.
    I am now much older, 55, only do full range with light weight for warm up, then get into either sct or the new pfw. It keeps me in good, strong shape. The point I am trying to get to and you touch on is; what is the goal?
    If it is to increase a one rep, full range lift, it will help. But then one can not really do sct exclusively. He would have to fit the full range in somewhere. BUT!!!
    If you want to be able to lift something, around the house, or help your friend move his household goods with out hurting yourself, then doing a 1000 lb deadlift in the strongest range is extremely beneficial.
    How’s this one? I only have enough weight to put 900 on the legpress where I workout, so I do my last sets with one leg. If I need to be able to carry an unconscious family member out of a burning building, it won’t be pretty and I may not win a lifting contest, but with sct/pfw training I’ll be able to lift them up and walk up stairs. Then it will matter.
    Bottom line, know what you want to accomplish.
    Thanks for listening to my 2 cents.
    Rich

  11. Brian Schamber at #

    I have been using max/static contraction for several years and have recently begun working out with my dad and brother (during the same session). We have been using the smith machine to perform the 1-6 second holds in the top position with additional downward pushing from the spotters. Our numbers have gone up considerably each workout. My last workout I used 725 on shrugs/dead lift (with lifting hooks), 675 on bench, and 545 on military. The stuff works and I have cut back my training to once every 14 days. Is there any chance of a trainer certification course for this type of HIT? I would like to be a trainer, but I don’t think I could go get any certification (ACE, AFFA, NCSM) and put it on my resume with a clear conscience. Thanks

  12. Brian, congratulations on your results! It sounds like you’re doing well. One thing (of a hundred things) that Pete and I have planned down the road is a certification process for those who want to be SCT trainers. It will include a comprehensive course on physiology and will require you to really know how the body works. That is why I’ve always liked the NSCA for certification. They have strict guidelines and a rigorous course which makes having that certification mean something as opposed to those weekend certification courses which almost anyone can pass and be a “certified” trainer.

  13. Charles, time and rest. That is pretty much it. You can spend thousands of dollars on supplements but nothing helps like time and rest. I think sleep is overlooked a lot but is absolutely crucial to a proper a quick recovery.

  14. Bill Blake at #

    I’m 15weeks since surgery for a completely ruptured distal bicep tendon. How soon would you feel it is ok to resume SCT? Been doing some light full range movements for a couple of weeks.

  15. Bill, actually, i’d start with SCT right now. This is exactly what we use it for when we rehab clients. Obviously you will not be able to lift the maximum you lifted before the injury. I would start out with a weight that you can do. Keep it in the strong range of motion and do not push your muscle beyond the threshold of pain. What you will find is that the tendon will heal much quicker as you do your workouts and rest. Good luck and chime back in in about 6 weeks and let me know how that tendon is coming along. I’m sure we’d all love to hear if SCT worked for you.

  16. Greg, if you try an exercise and you can’t achieve the same weight that you lifted before, the lesson there is that your muscles have not fully recovered yet. You need a few more days rest. What I would do is skip those exercises on the next session and try them the session after that. I had the same issue with my legs. One time it took me 6 weeks before I could press with any more strength. But when that strength came, it was a big jump from my last maximum lift. A lot of people get worried with all the rest and time between workouts but once you see that the rest helps your muscles grow and get stronger you’ll be a firm believer too!

  17. Jamin B. at #

    Hi Guys and Gals,
    I must say that I feel it is not worth the risk doing heavy full range of movement lifts (since I’m suffering an injury from it at the moment). I have been training on and off with SCT for about 8 yrs now with excellent results. I was a practicing kinesiologist for some time as well. I am currently introducing a SCT program into a local gym, and in order to set a starting benchmark I engaged in a 10 rep max session with the gym owners before beginning a 30 day SCT program with them (after the 30 day program we would do a 10 rep max comparison). Through the course of the workout I sustained an injury to my upper back and neck. I’m in pain now and laid up on the couch for a couple of days off work. I regret doing heavy full range lifts and will not be recommending it to my future clients, even for a comparison. I don’t think it is worth risking progress just to compare with an inefficient and possibly dangerous method.
    Train Smart,
    Jamin

  18. Bill Blake at #

    Thanks Greg. My main concern would be the bicep, deadlift and shrugs. I actually injured the tendon doing shrugs (struggling with some cheap lifting hooks). Irony is that I had ordered 1 ton hooks that morning!

  19. Bill, can I just add that nobody knows your exact situation better than your physician and surgeon so you need them to green light any activity. Only then, take it slow and build strength in the range of motion that causes zero pain.

  20. Thanks, Jamin. People get fixated on one-rep and ten-rep maximum lifts. As I’ve said so many times, developing maximum power in your weakest, most injury-prone position is risky and what does anyone have to show for it? Outside of competitions that require it, it makes very little sense. Focus on the dozen health benefits of resistance training and you end up with a better quality of life and, likely, a longer life.

  21. Thanks, Jason. Haha! “Full extension is what gets the definition.” Typical nutty assertion you hear in gyms. Like what moves build a ‘peak’ on a biceps. Having a bigger biceps is what builds the peak; how it ends up looking depends on who your mom and dad were. Just like your nose.

  22. Kev at #

    Hey Greg, along with echoing Brian’s request for SCT certification, I think some general nutritional guidance would be welcomed as well. If it’s really as simple as following the food pyramid, I think a lot of us would be surprised. But then again, we’ve learned training can be much simpler, so why not eating?! As a general rule of thumb, I think a lot of us have found that when training with heavy weights and intensity, we need to give our body adequate(more) amounts of fuel, as well as building/nutrients for muscle growth and repair. Based on general info and guidelines available, we can derive what a diet and nutritional intake should be on a daily basis. We can get most of that with food, but one of the things that supplements help me out with (mainly talking protein, meal replacements), is that I can put together quick healthy options and/or get them in bar format. Convenience unfortunately is key, and any other fast food options just tend to be bad. But if you search this info on the internet, there are more links than I can count, and it’s very hard to get to get a straight answer. Hence, the need for the help on this topic as well!

  23. Kev, at this point we don’t want to wade into the nutritional guidance arena just yet. We’d like to stay focused on SCT, and then eventually add on nutrition and cardio training. Trust me, I have a lot to say on this, mostly because I can’t stand all the gimmicks and fads out in the market that are taking people’s hard earned money. I’d like to teach everyone the basic principles so they’ll never fall victim to another fad diet or useless supplement or product. Maybe when we launch our forum we can discuss.

  24. Bill, the hooks will definitely help with the deadlift and shrug. I don’t know where I’d be on those exercises without those hooks. Good luck and let me know how it goes on the rehab. I have a running tab on people we’ve directly helped rehab quicker with our SCT method.

  25. Bill Blake at #

    Thanks guys,
    I will run it past my Dr andl post again to let you know how it goes.

  26. RobJ at #

    Just thought I would add to some previous observations. Nothing in life moves in a straight line; you are going to have off days. If you miss your goal, and it happens to me at various times, then do the opposite of what you might think, rest more. Skip that muscle next time. You won’t believe your improvement over time as you graph your numbers. The improvements will be there but so many things can have an effect on max effort on a daily scale. Your mood, the time of day, life distractions, whether or not you shoveled snow that day, whatever. You are lifting for max effort, your body is getting the message to grow. Let it grow. Rest is so great to do once you get used to the gains.
    Which brings me to pain, which can and does happen when pressing so intensely. I have the hooks, I wear them so that they hook in, which just seems more comfortable. Still though, at that heavy weight, I do feel pain in other parts of my body. Pay strict attention to form, but on those big big muscles, I notice a big difference when I warm up the other muscles that day too. Those larger muscles just have so much more capacity.
    Pete and Greg thanks so much for what you do.

  27. Thank you, Rob. You nailed it! I hear the voice of experience.

  28. Jvalek at #

    Pete,
    I have been on SCT for over a year and love it! I have one problem: I did a 400 lb dead lift without my lifting hooks and pulled a tendon in my elbow. With the hooks, I’m fine, but how can I get this to heal?

  29. Duncan at #

    I trained with your SCT program for a while and did indeed see some amazing gains in terms of the weights I was able to lift. Mind you, I got some strange looks from some of the guys in the gym when they saw I was moving a bar a few centimetres only once.
    I’m a little confused about your 12 ways to improve your next workout booklet which you offer as a free download. Among the 12 ways it refers to a Beta workout doing 4 sets of 20 reps each with the heaviest weight possible. I tried doing this recently and could get two sets with 20 reps and then set 3 would be about 14-15 reps (same weight as the first two) and the last set about 12-14 reps. What am I doing wrong? Should I reduce the weight on set three for example? But this would surely go against the grain in SCT terms?

  30. I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. When we select a weight we always have to guess what we can do with it. You were shooting for 4 x 20 and only came up a bit short. That’s fine. Next time just make sure you do a bit more. Rinse and repeat.

  31. Brian Schamber at #

    I found a 1994 version of the NSCA textbook at a used bookstore. I was wondering if something that old is still useful and current. Also, what do you think is a reasonable price to charge for a SCT training session? I’m all about “what the market will bear”, but can you see someone paying say 35 dollars a session, while training 2-4 times per month? Compared to the rates I have seen at commercial gyms this seems more financially (and time, and metabolically) efficient. Keep up the good work.

  32. I’m sure any 15 year old textbook still has some valid information in it, but things change and a pro always wants to be up to date with current best practices. Personal training rates vary from market to market. New York City and Beverly Hills will always garner more than Topeka and Bozeman, so I can’t really give you a number. One of the big pluses of training clients with SCT is that you can show them hard numbers for every exercise and provide exact goals for each future workout. That not only adds value, it adds motivation.

  33. Frank Indiviglio at #

    Hello Mr. Sisco,

    Thanks you for your fine work.

    I’m a bit concerned about an increase in blood pressure during very heavy holds; I’ve read passing references to this possibility, but have been unable to find any definitive research. My cardiologist is unsure. I understand that it is not appropriate to request medical advice here, but was wondering if you might point me towards any information/research on this topic.

    Thank you,

    Best regards, Frank

  34. charlie sanders at #

    why are these saturation routines not called exhaustion?

  35. The fact is that whenever we strain ourselves with exertion it causes an in increase in momentary blood pressure. All weightlifting certainly does. With SCT the exertion is over in 5 seconds. Overall, studies show that resistance training lowers resting blood pressure and that’s one of its big benefits. One of the main issues is to never hold your breath when lifting. With SCT its easy to exhale with force for 5 seconds because you don’t run out of air.

  36. Frank Indiviglio at #

    Thank you, good points. I experimented with SCT while wearing a blood pressure cuff and found no significant increase (only 3 trials). I have a repaired mitral valve and so am looking into the matter carefully; I’ll post any new nfo that might be of interest. best, Frank

  37. Xanatoes at #

    Hey Pete,

    I have followed your e-mails sense 2005, I have employed many of your ideas with great success. Thought you might find the following article interesting.
    AN ANALYSIS OF FULL RANGE OF MOTION VS. PARTIAL RANGE OF MOTION TRAINING IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF STRENGTH IN UNTRAINED MEN Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2004, 18(3), 518–521

    P.S. weight 145 max bench 315. Marathon time 2:45.00

    http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2004/08000/An_Analysis_of_Full_Range_of_Motion_Vs__Partial.22.aspx

  38. Interesting. They say it works equally well, then they conclude you should add it to conventional training. Haha. “Doing it the safer way works equally well, so add it to the more injury-prone way and do both.” Right.

  39. Xanatoes at #

    In truth it only worked equally well because these were untrained lifters. You take advanced lifters and have them lift 200% of their max for reps and at the end of they study they will be significantly stronger than the control. In fact the principles of static contraction and eccentric (wneg) lifting are similar and there is lots of research on the benefits of the latter, as well as the former. (i.e hyperplasia, increased collagen synthesis—actually a highly effective treatment method for tendinopathies—neuromuscular activation. It’s all about the accentuation principle! I just want to make it clear to people that that there are articles written on this stuff. Ill quote part of an article that seems fitting for this blog.
    “Mookerjee and Ratamass hypothesized that those individuals who trained exclusively with a full range of motion might fail to optimally train in the area where maximal force development occurs…partial range of motion exercise allows optimal force production to occur because of the elimination of the sticking point, thus giving the lifter a biomechanical advantage”

  40. Shawn at #

    Pete,

    I was not sure which blog to post this under but this seemed to fit closest.

    At one point you were endorsing an SCT machine for home use but I noticed you took all links to it down and stopped emailing about it roughly a year ago. So my question is are there any SCT machines that can be used at home you would recommend? Preferably a reasonably priced one. The only one I see now really is {edited} and it runs $3500 plus shipping. I would love to stop wasting time guessing at weights and having to hual 15+ plates around the gym when doing legs, especially since if I go in peak times those weights are not always available. I tend to spend at least 45 minutes in the gym doing a 10 minutes worth of lifting just waiting on equipment. Thanks for the response.

  41. Hi Shawn. I used to endorse the machine you named, (I edited it out of your post) but I lost all confidence in that company in December, 2007. I would not recommend them – if the company is even operating now – and I can tell you I still get e-mails from people trying to sort out their problems with the company and asking if I can help. Nobody on earth wants to see a world-class consumer SCT machine more than I do. There is one under development but it’s taking a long time to get to market for reasons unrelated to the engineering. I’ll be the first person to pass along any news I hear.