Adding more muscle to your body isn’t just for macho guys who love to sweat and grunt in dank gyms. Men and women at every age and every walk of life are beginning to hear about the enormous health benefits of having more lean mass: more calories burned every day, more fat burned off, lower blood pressure, greater bone density – the list goes on and on. In short, muscle is youth!

I’m often asked what exercises will build muscle the fastest. As a general rule, it’s the exercises that allow you to lift the most weight. The following three exercises use the largest muscles in the body and I’m going to show you the Static Contraction technique for lifting the maximum weight possible and in a safe manner.

Leg Press
Squats are a good leg exercise if you don’t have access to a leg press. But the leg press stands alone as the single exercise where a human can hoist the most weight. Here is a method that will allow you to lift two or three times what you normally use on your leg workouts.The technique is called Static Contraction and is being used by thousands of athletes around the world.

Move the empty sled of a leg press to the top of its range and lock it into position with the safety stops. Load the press with double what you would normally press or triple what you would normally squat. Sit in the leg press machine and adjust the seat so your legs are within two or three inches of full extension. Press the sled up and try to hold it motionless for 5 seconds. Do not lock out – force your leg muscles to do the work. Adjust the weight so it is so heavy you can only hold it 5 seconds.

This exercise should feel as though it is at the limits of your exertion. That’s why the goal is to hold it 5 seconds. If you can hold the weight for much longer than 5 seconds it is too light. Stop the exercise, add more weight and try again.

Remember to make a note of what weight you lifted so that next time you perform this workout you can shoot for a ten percent increase. The progression from workout to workout is what adds the new muscle to your body. Keeping the weight the same each time will keep you on a plateau of no growth.

The muscles of the lower back are extremely strong. That is why the average person can deadlift hundreds of pounds. To maximize the muscle building benefit of the deadlift it is best to limit the range of motion to the top portion of the movement. This is the strongest range and allows you to use more weight.

Place the barbell in a power rack or on a Smith machine so that it rests just above your knees. Load the bar with 150% to 200% more weight than you would normally use on your full range deadlift. Using an overhand, shoulder-width grip lift the bar about 3 inches off the rack and hold it for 5 seconds. Keep your back straight and head up.

The first time you perform this exercise the weight will probably be too light and you’ll be able to hold the weight for more than 5 seconds. Just add more weight to the bar and try again until you are at maximum effort for 5 seconds.

Barbell Shrugs
Most people perform shrugs with dumbbells and in doing so they shortchange themselves enormously. The trapezius muscles of the shoulders are capable of hoisting enormous weight and they also provide the benefit of being a highly visible muscle group. A guy’s well developed traps are visible from across a crowded room. That can’t be said for most muscles.

After you perform the deadlift, leave the barbell set up in the power rack or Smith machine at a level just above your knees. If you don’t know how much you can hoist in this exercise, use the same amount you just used for the dead lift. Take an overhand grip on the bar and lift it off the rack. Let the weight hang from your straight arms, do not bend your elbows. Use your trapezius muscles to shrug the weight up an inch or two and hold it there. Don’t worry about making your shoulders touch your ears. The key to maximum growth stimulation is to use more weight and less range of motion. Again, the 5 hold is your guide as to whether the weight is heavy enough.

These three great exercises will not only add new muscle to the target muscle groups, they are demanding enough to trigger you body’s systemic anabolic state. That means that the other muscles you target in your other workouts will also respond better to the growth stimulus provided by those exercises. Make sure you are able to add more weight on each successive workout. If you can’t, just take a few days of extra recovery between workouts. Within three of these Static Contraction workouts you will feel and see the benefits of your new strength and lean muscle!

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  • Rama

    Hi Pete
    I just wonder, if there is no diagonal leg press machine would it work as effective by using seated leg press machine to train thighs and calves?

  • Sure. Any leg press machine that delivers sufficient load would be fine. It’s not uncommon for trainees to have to substitute an exercise because of equipment availability, so they might use a hack squat machine, for example. As long as it delivers enough weight that you can only hold it for 5 seconds.

  • Russell

    Hey Pete,

    Other than ensuring proper position on these SCT exercises, what else do I need to know about doing SCT with a herniated disk between L4 and L5?

    Thank you!

  • Hi Russell. You need to know whether or not your personal physician, who is knowledgeable about your exact injury, says it’s OK to do this. I’m not an MD and really can’t tell you anything beyond the obvious as far as safe lifting goes. Beware of people who tell you to take risks without having the knowledge necessary to keep you safe.

  • Max Z

    How would you perform these exercises at home, with out access to a smith machine or power rack?

    Is there some kind of DIY setup that could give the same affect?

  • Hi Max. Don’t perform them without a power rack or smith machine. It’s important to limit the range of motion so you can lift heavier weights. If you can’t do that you have to use light weights and there isn’t much point in doing SCT with light weights.

  • Max

    What about just a pair of squat stands?

  • Yes, most squat racks have a good adjustment range and could work fine.

  • Bob

    I have talked with you slightly about this subject before.I found that I have arthritis
    in my low back and neck.Some exercises I can not do and some my body rebels against.
    The leg press I can not do because I workout at home,and was wondering if the leg extension would suffice for the quads with my small home gym.deadlifts I can not do,due to arthritis in low back,would leg curls suffice for this move.One last one I do not own a power rack so is there another lift that would suffice,maybe upright rows or side lateral raises???If these are bad exercises or to inferior to use I will skip them altogether,and do the lifts I a can do and make the best progress I can with what I can do and have.Thanks again Pete for your time and all your advice you continue to give everyone.


  • As you know, we put the #1 exercises into the program. But any exercise is better than no exercise. If you can’t do the #1 exercise it’s perfectly fine to make substitutions. Just stick to the principles of measurement and progressive intensity.