Personal progress provides its own motivation. Few things in the gym provide more positive feedback and personal motivation than setting a record on a favorite exercise. That’s why you see so many guys with T-shirts proudly proclaiming “Bench Press 300 lbs.” usually accompanied by a caricature of a huge guy hoisting a seriously bent barbell. While most of us prefer to be more introverted about our achievements, we all feel the glow of satisfaction in being able to improve ourselves with such a measured degree of certainty.

The First Step

Paradoxically, the first step in setting a new personal record is very easy, and yet many people find it the most difficult to actually do: Rest.

If you’ve been training for more than a couple of weeks, chances are you’ve already stimulated some new muscle growth that never has a chance to manifest because your body is never fully recovered. This is why so many people train three days per week but never see any real improvement in their physique and can’t get beyond old personal records in most of their exercises.

Here is a general guide. If you’ve been training for less than four weeks, take seven full days off training. You can do light aerobics and stretching but don’t lift any weights whatsoever. If you’ve been training for one to three months, take ten days off of weightlifting. If you’ve been training more than three months you should rest and recover for a full two weeks. No, you won’t lose muscle. I work with advanced trainees who rest six or more weeks between workouts and they see improvement on every exercise on every workout.

Recovery is the most forgotten element of a successful, productive training system. It allows your body to replenish itself in ways that exercise and diet can never do. Recovery is absolutely indispensable to progress.

Train Smart

When you return to the gym to start working towards your personal record you need a plan. Let’s suppose your personal record on the bench press is 275 pounds and you want to break that record by shooting for a 300 pound bench press.

I’ve helped thousands of athletes lift weights they thought were impossible by showing them the benefits of lifting in their strongest range of motion. Strong range lifts have the advantages of being safer because the weight is prevented from entering the weak range of motion where nearly all injuries occur. Also, by limiting the range of motion you are able to work with much heavier weights and that stimulates new growth not only in the target muscles but also in the ligaments, tendons and joints that support those muscles. If you’ve never used this technique, you’re in for a very big surprise.

Virtually any common exercise can be performed exclusively in the strong range of motion with the use of a power rack or Smith machine.

Continuing with the bench press as an example, after performing your normal warm-up, place the supports of a power rack so the bar rests in the top quarter-range of your reach. When you lie on the bench and reach up to grasp the bar your arms should be within about four inches of full extension.

Load the bar with the same weight that is your current personal record. When you lift this weight in your strongest range you’ll be amazed how easy it is. Next add 10% more weight and perform five reps. Keep adding 10% and performing five reps until you can only do 2 reps with a weight that will likely be 30% to 100% more than you’ve ever lifted before. Make a note of that weight.

Now take three days off from all weightlifting.

When you return to the gym set up the bench press in the rack the same way and perform your normal warm-up. Load the above noted weight on the bar and try to perform two reps. If you can perform the two reps you know you rested long enough to return to your previous level of strength. Here’s the hard part: if you can’t do the two reps, leave the gym.. Your body needs more recovery time. The proof is the fact you are not as strong as you were three days earlier. Remember, recovery builds muscle. Go home and build muscle on the sofa.

If you’re fully recovered you’ll most likely hoist the weight with ease. If so, add 5% more weight and perform five reps. Keep working the weight up until you can only perform two reps. Make a note of that new maximum weight.

Once again, take three days off all weightlifting.

The Big Day

When you return to the gym you will now be able to set a new personal record in the bench press. Perform your normal warm-up then do your attempt. Don’t be surprised if you can lift 20 to 50 pounds more. On leg exercises, increases of 50 to 200 pounds have been reported.

The techniques I describe here can be used to set a personal record on virtually any exercise. Athletes who train with my system have discovered the advantages of never lifting in their weak range of motion. They get fewer injuries, less frequent training means less wear and tear on their body and they reach levels of strength impossible with weak range training. When you understand that you might give up weak range training altogether.

Try the above just once and soon you’ll be setting personal records on all your exercises…and that is the ultimate motivation.

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10 Comments.

  • As someone who has been using STC for about 9 months now, I just want to underscore what Pete is saying. Full disclosure: I don’t know Pete, have no connection with him or Precision Training and receive nothing for this endorsement. In my 40s I tried using conventional techniques to build up my body, especially my upper body, with very limited success. I finally just gave up and became a slug. About 18 months ago I decided to loose weight (then 250 lbs, now 190) and gain muscle. For the latter I began using STC about 9 months ago. My first attempt at an STC bench press was 180 lbs. The last time I had a static hold of 265 lbs. To my mind, that is a significant strength gain. Figure into this that during the past 9 months I have not been on a regular STC schedule due to silly injuries* and interruptions with travel and work. Despite these schedule irregularities, my strength has continued to increase. Not only am I developing strength I can measure, I can SEE the difference in my physique. What can I say, STC works and beating my personal best at my age keeps me motivated. Thanks Pete! 🙂

    *(Injuries unrelated to working out: One time I blistered the bottoms of my feet walking barefoot, another time I sprained my ankle falling into an hole of missing pavement, etc. What can I say, I’m a klutz!)

  • Rob G

    I’m confused by the term Rep. Let me explain why. In the training guide, you suggest lifting as much weight as you can for as long as you can in a static hold, and if that is greater than 5 seconds, you should increase the weight on your next workout. In this article you suggest loading the bar with your personal best and doing 5 “reps” in the strongest range of motion, then increasing the weight by ten percent and doing 5 more “reps” and so on and son on until you can only do 2 “reps”. What is this rep? Is it like a mini “rep” as in, up and down in the 4″ space from the resting point of the bar on the machine to the top of your extension, or what? I don’t understand. Thanks in advance for the clarification.

  • That’s right, Rob. I’m not talking about static holds in this article. The article talks about a method people can use that uses 1/4 reps to increase their muscle mass so they can lift more in their full range. My intention is once they do that they might ask themselves why they ever fiddle around with lighter weights and full range. The article is a path to enlightenment. Haha.

  • Stuart

    Pete

    I was on youtube checking out powerlifting vids and it started me thinking about the whole bench press shirt controversy and how it relates to SCT and PFT.
    The shirted bench is basically a partial, with the super-stiff material of the bench shirt(usually polyester, denim, or canvas) helping the lifter get the weight off of his chest. Some lifters can actually press 300-400 pounds above their normal (raw) max.

    That’s just another reason why it amuses me when traditional full-range advocates get so up in arms about SCT/PFT training. The most respected lifters (the ones winning all the competitions at least) in the world compete only in their strongest range of motion. Haha.

    So it seems they are employing your methods whether they know it or not.

  • Right! Fine to use a special shirt to get past your weak range, but it’s a sin to use a power rack to do the same thing.

  • Lambros

    Hey Pete,

    I use the Static contraction program. I find when I perform biceps I can lift considerably more and its more comfortable when done for each arm individually with cable/weight stack. In actual fact I can only lift 90 pounds during bicep curls using the smith machine, but when I perform each arm individually using the cable I can lift 80 pound!

    I had a similar results with shoulder shrugs. i.e. I can only lift 200 pounds during bilateral shrugs using the smith machine compared to 155 pounds performing each shoulder with the cable. I was amazed at how much more I could lift!

    I personally find using the cable much more comfortable and less strain on my body
    I am just wondering what your thoughts are on this given that I am lifting almost twice as much using the cable. Will the exercise be as effective if not much more effective given that I can lift a heavy load?

    Also, I am finding Grip problems is making it difficult to increase my lifting capacity on the abdominal crunch exercise. The rope feels likes is going to slip so I end up focusing more on my grip than my abdominal power. any suggestions?

    Thanks for your advice in advance

  • 1. In general, always use the exercise that allows you to lift the most weight for a target muscle. Depending on what equipment you have at your disposal this can vary.
    2. That said, be careful comparing the honest weight of a barbell with weights that operate via belts, pulleys and levers. Some machines deliver 60% of what they imply.
    3. The lifting hooks are the solution to all pulling exercises where grip is a limiting factor.

  • Ben

    I want to wish Pete and his family a joyous Christmas and a Happy, healthy, productive, strength gaining (or maintaining) New Year!
    Let the Spirit of innovation, motivation, inspiration and new discovery in the field of health, strength, training and teaching/coaching (or in any field and endeavor) by upon Pete, Greg and the entire team! With gratitude,
    Ben
    P.S. I am sure that all readers of this blog are joining me in this Holiday Greeting of
    Pete and Greg

  • Thanks so much for the kind words and thoughts. I hope you and your family have an epic year.

  • Brian

    Merry Christmas Pete and Greg. All the best for 2012!

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