A group of online volunteer test subjects has been helping me put a finer point on how much intensity conventional training methods deliver to a muscle group.

Personally, I love doing this stuff because it helps all of us make decisions with facts instead of with unquestioned and untested premises.

What that data showed was a bit shocking to me and I thing it might shock you as well.

The First (Very) Informal Study

A group of trainees measured the maximum weight they could statically hold on the bench press for 5 seconds. Then they selected a lighter weight and measured how long they could hold it.

As you might intuitively expect, the lighter the weight, the longer you can hold it. But the proportion is what is astounding. When the weight was reduced by 50% the amount of time they could hold it was not twice as long – it was 10.2 times longer. That is interesting on its own, but what amazed me was that when we calculated the difference in intensity (weight held per second) we found that this 50% weight reduction meant the intensity dropped to only 5.2% of maximum.

So a 50% reduction in weight means a 900% increase in hold time. Which give you a very strong clue as to how much less intensity there is when you reduce the weight.

The results are even more fascinating that the graph reveals.

High Intensity Workouts Require a Longer Rest Interval

Intensity is (Almost) Everything

We all know that if you want to get bigger, stronger muscles you have to lift weights. But why? It’s because the muscles of the human body adapt to stress – and the relevant stress for muscles is the work they are forced to do. Bend your elbow 1,000 times with no weight in your hand and your biceps doesn’t get any stronger. Bend it three times with a 90 lb dumbbell in your hand and it does get stronger.

The only difference is the intensity of the effort. The higher the intensity you force your muscles to generate, the bigger and stronger they will become. That is the entire reason that heavy gym equipment exists.

Knowing that, why lift with less intensity? Why deliberately stand in the shade when you want a darker tan?

Every exercise for every muscle group should be engineered to maximize the intensity you can generate. Using lighter weights generates disproportionately lower intensity. (Thus, a 50% reduction in weight yields 95% less intensity.)

Want More Proof?

A smaller group of nine trainees did a second (very) informal study. They performed lat pulldowns with 40% of the weight they could hold for 5 seconds. They did full range reps to failure, just like most people in the gym would do. They lifted until they could not complete another rep.

At the end of the set using 40% of their 5-second maximum weight – and so completely fatigued they could not do another full rep – they immediately doubled the weight and attempted a 5-second static hold in their strongest range of motion.

What happened when these “exhausted” muscles that had “gone to failure” tried to hoist double the weight? One hundred percent of the trainees were able to lift the increased weight. Only one of the nine subjects was not able to hit 5 seconds, the other eight achieved from 9 to 20 seconds, averaging 12.4 seconds.

That’s how bad light weights are at generating the maximum overload your muscles are capable of. One hundred percent of subjects had dormant muscle fibers that were not being taxed during reps to failure, and could therefore generate many times the intensity (measured in pounds per second) immediately after the low-intensity set.

But here is the really shocking part.

Can you see what a waste of time it is to play around with sub-maximal weights? How can you stimulate new muscle growth by taxing your muscles at 5% of their capacity? You can’t. Yet, remember, the first guys statically held that lighter weight as long as they could. Their arms were tired, their chest was tired, they couldn’t hold the weight another second . . . yet they were exercising at a measly 5.2% of their peak output.

And the second group went to “failure” using full range reps just like everyone in the gym does. And after so-called “total muscular failure” they could double the weight and do a static hold. So those full range reps obviously were not taxing all the muscle fibers, were they? Nor, obviously, were they stimulating maximum muscle fiber growth. The so-called “need” for full range is a huge lie.

I’ll say that again: the so-called “need” for full range is a huge lie.

Want Better, Faster Results?

When you use lighter than maximum weights for any exercise you cheat yourself out of progress. That is why Static Contraction Training is so effective and efficient; in uses the maximum weight you can sustain for a brief 5 seconds. The intensity has to be felt to be believed. When your muscles are forced to operate at that upper limit they adapt with urgency – like a pale Norwegian stepping into the noonday African sun. Go to the gym and try it.

One of the nice things about these measurements is you can go into your gym today and test the veracity of all the above. This is a universal phenomenon; light weights generate much less intensity. And intensity is (almost) everything when it comes to getting bigger, stronger muscles.

Want to maximize intensity? Do Static Contraction training and perform maximum holds for 5 seconds. You have to feel it to believe it.

My thanks to the above volunteers who helped move strength training closer to a science and farther from macho gym hype.

Want To Know What Works In The Gym?
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1-Set? 2-Sets? 3-Sets? Strip sets? Pyramid sets? Fixed sets? Timed sets? What delivers the highest intensity?


  • Rene Kittelsen

    Very nice article yet again, to bad people in general are so misinformed by media and lets not forget personal traineers.

    I get strange looks at the gym when I do the 5 seconds hold with pretty heavy weights, but many are curious to fortunately.

    The other day I saw a young boy showed a older man, in his late 70’s, how to do full length strength exercises, but I could really see he was struggling even with light weigths. Felt little sorry for the guy and wanted to show him SCT, but due to respect I was hesitant.

    I’m in my 8 weeks of SCT and feel great! Training every 2-3 weeks now and wouldn’t change it for any thing. I want to get the measurable results and looks, cause people believe what they see then what they hear. That’s how it is.

    Keep up the great work that I’ll know you will.

    Thanks for this!

  • Garrett

    Pete. In your e-book workout variations revealed (where I first found the above information) there is a graph that compares the momentary intensity of different workout variations to that of static contractions. On page 17, the rate of work per distance is for SCT on the bench press is listed as 4560 lbs/min. I am dying to know how you made such a calculation without a rep count, please divulge.

  • With SCT you only lift for 5 seconds and you can always use a heavier weight – so your intensity per second is much higher than conventional lifting. When you convert the lbs/sec to lbs/min you can clearly see what the difference is.

  • Garrett

    First I want to say I have been doing SCT for a while now and I know it works and I am grateful for your books and your research. I absolutely love the application of science to bodybuilding. I just don’t understand how you justify your calculations on this issue. In your e-book you write “when these trainees switched to an SCT exercise they hoisted a whopping 380 for their bench press…”. So 380lbs/5sec * 60sec/min = 4560lbs/min; this is the value you got in your e-book. However, by that same reasoning, if they were to have lifted the weight for a total of 10 seconds the final value would be cut in half, or 2280lbs/minute. Also by this reasoning if the trainees were to place the weight down before the full 5 seconds were up, the value would increase drastically. If for example an individual were to lift 380lbs for 1 second, the final value would be 380lbs/1sec * 60sec/min = 22,800 lbs/min. How could this be? As far as I know the rate of work done by a muscle cannot increase or decrease and still hold static the same amount of weight. Thanks so much for your help and for your work. Understanding this issue is obviously not necessary in order to apply the principles of SCT, so an answer is not crucial. I understand that efforts to calculate the work done by a static muscle would probably involve more biochemistry than physics. I am just curious. Thanks again.

  • I agree with your observations, but what I’m saying is there is no conflict created by the conclusions. The object of lifting weights is to create a high intensity of overload to the muscle. But the more time you work the muscle the lower the intensity must be. So 5 seconds with 500 lbs is better IF — and this is an important IF — you can only lift that weight for 5 seconds and NO MORE.. That’s the key – no more time is possible. In your example the trainee can hold the weight 10 seconds but cuts the time in half anyway. That’s not maximum intensity. If a person could hold 380 lbs for 10 seconds then he could likely hold 450+ for 5 seconds and that would deliver his highest possible intensity.

    What will be really interesting is when we have proper SCT equipment so we can determine if, say, 2.8 seconds is all that is really necessary to stimulate growth – then the goal would be to lift even more weight than you can for 5 seconds – and that will equate to even higher lbs/sec intensity.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Pete I forgot to ask, when I return to the gym after my month off should I attempt a lift with the last poundage I successfully hoisted? Or should I lower or increase the weight? Thanks.

  • You stay out of the gym to allow time for muscle to grow. When you return to the gym you are stronger – so you always lift a heavier weight. (no point in going backwards with weights)