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Static Contraction Training and Max Contraction Training

Static Strength - Who Needs It?
Applications for static strength.

By Pete Sisco
Lifetime Strength

It's strange how once you get involved in a certain subject it has a way of leading to other connected issues. My initial interest in static contraction training was its application as a "minimum dose" form of exercise.  I have never been a hard core bodybuilder or the sort who likes to spend as much time in the gym as he can, who gets a "high" just in anticipation of a workout or yearns to get back to the gym after being away for only short periods of time. In fact, I'm really quite the opposite. I've never particularly enjoyed exercise and if someone can show me a way in which three workouts can yield the same benefit as ten workouts, I'm all ears. For me, lifting weights is a means to get stronger so that I can use the strength doing something I enjoy outside of the gym. 

So the appeal of Static Contraction Training was the fact that it permitted very brief workouts that could be spaced very far apart. As I'm now over forty, I am particularly interested in not just the minimum dose of exercise that can trigger new muscle growth, but more in the minimum dose of exercise which can sustain my lean mass into middle age and beyond. 

Old habits of thinking are often difficult to break. So even when I designed the Static Contraction Research Study, measurements were taken that would demonstrate static training's benefits, not just to static strength and muscle mass gains, but also to full range strength. It took me about a year to realize that static strength has its own merits which, in many applications, rank above full range strength. 

I have become sensitized to how often I find myself using the static strength of my muscles rather than the dynamic strength of my muscles. For example, before these words were put on this page they were first dictated into a hand held recorder. One of my favorite ways of mixing work with pleasure is riding my off road motorcycle into the wilds of Idaho's mountains, finding a remote area of pristine wilderness, in today's case bedecked with wildflowers and elk tracks, and dictating articles like this one. 

When riding a motorcycle, particularly in off road or motocross conditions, the body expends a great deal of muscular energy but nearly all of it is expended by holding the muscles statically. The biceps and triceps hold, or attempt to hold, the handlebars in a more or less fixed position despite being bumped and buffeted by various obstacles. The quadriceps and ham strings hold the body in a position three or four inches off the seat and do their best to maintain that rigid position in space despite the up and down motion of the motorcycle. 

Once again I was aware of the value of static strength while trap shooting. All shooting sports rely on the ability of the muscles to have sufficient static strength to hold the gun perfectly steady under all conditions. Dynamic, or full range strength, is never used. I notice that my ten-year-old son, Alex, who shoots with me, can always break more clay pigeons on his first ten shots than he can on his second ten. I attribute this difference to muscle fatigue that sets in sometime after his first ten shots. I have no doubt that if he were to increase his static strength he would find it less tiring to hold his shotgun and his scores would improve proportionately. The same holds true for most adults after thirty to fifty shots.

Two more examples are alpine and water-skiing. A water-skier holds his arms and legs in a more or less rigid position while skiing. He will shift position from time to time but once shifted his knees and elbows stay bent at about the same angle. Bobbing up and down in the range of motion of a full squat, for example, would serve no purpose but to look ridiculous and manifest bad form. Skiers need static strength and they need it at a specific point in their range of motion.

Lately I have wondered just how long the list of sports and activities that utilize static strength really is. Horseback riding, mountain biking (upper body), wrestling, jet skiing, nearly all gymnastic events, fencing and no doubt many more sports all lend themselves to Static Contraction Training. In any application where an athlete would benefit from having more static strength at a specific point in his range of motion, he would surely benefit more by exercising statically and therefore developing the exact form of strength he needs, where he needs it.

As exercise science further evolves I firmly believe that Static Contraction Training will play not just the role I originally envisioned, of "minimum dosage" for maintaining or increasing muscle mass, but also as a very precise method of placing additional strength exactly where it is needed.

Train Smart.

Pete Sisco
Lifetime Strength


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