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Building the Ultimate Physique
Month 6: Fast Mass for Your Arms With Max Contraction

The more muscle fibers you can involve in a given contraction, the more productive the exercise will be; that is, the greater the muscle growth stimulation you will generate.

Last month I introduced the Max Contraction training system. Without question it’s the most intense training method available, and, consequently, it’s the most productive.

The routine I presented last month contains all the growth stimulation that you should ever require to build massive muscles’provided, of course, that your genetic makeup enables you to build muscles in the first place. There can be no overstating the importance of genetics in developing a prize-winning physique, but that’s not to say you can’t build a pair of muscular’and I mean massively muscular’arms by training properly with Max Contraction. Specialization is the key.

Why You Need Specialization

There are two reasons to specialize on different bodyparts from time to time. It allows you to really blast a bodypart that’s been very stubborn in responding to training into maximum growth by directing more effort and intensity to it without running the risk of overtraining’if you space your workouts apart sufficiently. It also gives you a respite from the monotony of performing a routine that your muscles have already adapted to.

It’s not so much that the workout is no longer stimulating growth as it is that the mind can no longer sustain enthusiasm for it. Once the excitement has worn off and you’re left with the prospect of having to engage your muscles in the arduous task of making increasingly greater demands on your recuperative subsystems, it’s the rare individual who can summon the will required to see the task through to the end. If you are one of the many bodybuilders who crave variety and find motivation easier when you approach your objective from slightly different perspectives from time to time, you’ll find it much easier on both psyche and soma to slightly alter your routine from month to month to keep your training interesting and fresh.

But First a Little Anatomy and Kinesiology

In order to design a specialization program for your arms, you need to know how the muscles in your arms function. After that it’s a relatively simple task to select movements that will give you full-contraction, or Max Contraction, exercise.

Biceps. The biceps’as its name indicates’is a two-headed muscle. Its point of origin is under your deltoid, or shoulder muscle, and its point of insertion is below your elbow. The function of the biceps is also twofold: to supinate, or turn your hands from a palms-down to a palms-up position, and to raise your forearms up toward your shoulders. So any exercise that fulfills those two functions and also provides resistance in the fully contracted position’the point at which all available muscle fibers are called into play’will serve our purposes. Three exercises come to mind right away: palms-up chins; preacher curls on the vertical side of the bench, a.k.a. spider curls; and dumbbell concentration curls.

Triceps. The triceps, as its name implies, is a three-headed muscle group, and it works in direct opposition to the biceps. Like the biceps, the triceps attaches just under your deltoid and just below your elbow, and its function is also twofold: to extend the forearm and draw the humerus, or upper-arm bone, behind the midline of the body.

Most triceps exercises performed on conventional equipment involve a lockout in which the resistance is transferred in large degree from the triceps to the bones and ligaments. That’s completely contrary to the philosophy of Max Contraction. With exercises such as close-grip bench presses, cable pushdowns, overhead extensions and dips’unless you perform them two to three inches shy of full lockout’you get no resistance where you need it the most: at the point of full muscular contraction. Apart from using machines such as Nautilus, Cybex, MedX and the like’which are both expensive and not always readily available (particularly if you train at home)’the one triceps exercise that provides maximum resistance against both functions of the triceps muscle is the dumbbell kickback. Use it or barbell kickbacks, and supplement it with reverse-grip one-arm cable extensions, on which you draw your arm behind the midline of your body. As a finishing movement do one set of overhead extensions, with the slightest bend in your elbows to prevent locking out while you’re near the fully contracted position.

A Brief Review of the Max Contraction System

The Max Contraction System is the result of a thorough research of muscular systems and their response to stress, or tension. It’s certainly no secret that the greater the intensity placed on a muscle, the greater the growth stimulation that takes place. It’s also true that for every increase in exercise intensity, a corresponding decrease in training time must take place. It’s like walking and sprinting: While you can walk almost indefinitely, you can only sprint for a limited number of seconds. Max Contraction training is the most intense form of exercise currently practiced, so it must of necessity be the briefest.

It’s also well known that the more muscle fibers you can involve in a given contraction, the more productive the exercise will be; that is, the greater the muscle growth stimulation you will generate.

As the name indicates, Max Contraction training involves firing as many muscle fibers as possible from a maximally contracted position’not just a random hold but a maximum effort, holding the resistance in a position of full muscular contraction for a minimum of 45 seconds and a maximum of 60 seconds.

Unlike the high-set routines, some of which take hours to complete, Max Contraction training uses exclusively the anaerobic pathways. High-set routines involve the aerobic pathways, which works wonders for improving your training endurance but little or nothing to improve your strength and muscle mass.

ALLUp to a point your body responds to the increased stress of training by adapting to it; i.e., by enlarging its level of muscle mass to better prepare itself for an encounter with a stressor of like severity in the near future. It’s imperative that you train hard enough to trigger that adaptive response, which is precisely why Max Contraction training is so successful. If I might be so bold as to quote myself from last month’s introductory article on this system:

What, then, is the training method that will let you generate maximum muscle fiber involvement and, as a result, maximum muscle growth? The answer is a method that focuses on stressing each individual muscle group in the position that involves the maximum number of muscle fibers over a 45-to-60-second time span. When using the MCS, you must throw out all preconceived notions of training methodology. You’ll no longer gauge your progress in terms of repetitions; from now on you’ll count seconds. You’ll no longer be using a variety of exercises to tax various muscle groups; instead, you’ll use only one exercise per bodypart, choosing a movement that calls into play all of that muscle group’s fibers’and you’ll contract that muscle group maximally for the prescribed time until each fiber is spent and you can no longer continue to hold the resistance in the max, or fully, contracted position.

Indeed, this training system is different, but from the time I published the preliminary results of my research back in 1984 to the present it has put more muscle mass on more trainees than any other training system I’ve ever seen.

This month I present a Max Contraction arm routine’to try to put size on your arms that would make even Ronnie Coleman envious! Well, almost.

The Arm Routine

While using the Max Contraction System, you will still be following a three-days-a-week routine, training on alternate days of the week’Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example’and taking the weekends off for additional recovery and growth. You’ll also continue to train your entire body at each session, performing three to four sets for each specialized bodypart and only one for each of the remaining muscle groups. In all honesty that’s probably all the stimulation any muscle group requires when you’re training with Max Contraction, but, then, this is specialization, and there’s no overestimating the importance of the mind when it comes to training intensity. Sometimes a change of pace can work wonders for motivation’the real key to putting yourself through such intense and demanding workouts.

What follows is the Max Contraction arm-specialization program. Do it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, performing one Max Contraction set for each exercise.


Close-grip undergrip chins. Pull yourself up to the top of a chinning bar into a position of full contraction, with the bar right under your chin. Hold that for as close to 60 seconds as possible. When you can no longer sustain the contraction, concentrate on lowering yourself slowly, in about four seconds, under full muscular control until you reach the fully extended, or bottom, position of the movement. Rest your biceps for 30 seconds and then pick up a barbell and move to your next exercise.

Preacher curls on vertical side of the bench, a.k.a. spider curls. Holding a barbell, sit on a preacher bench that has a padded arm surface set at a 90 degree angle to the floor. Bring the barbell into the fully contracted position and hold for between 45 and 60 seconds’or until both the depleted biceps muscles and the force of gravity break the contraction. Rest 30 seconds, and then move on to your final biceps exercise.

Concentration curls. Pick up a dumbbell and sit on a bench. With your elbow braced against the inside of your knee, slowly curl the weight up until your biceps is fully contracted. Hold the position for a full 45 to 60 seconds or until you can no longer maintain the max contraction, and then slowly lower the resistance back to a position of full extension. Your biceps should be absolutely rubbery at this point, and although you’ve performed only three sets, you’ve stimulated phenomenal growth.


Dumbbell kickbacks. Hold a dumbbell in one hand, and, bending over so your torso is at a 90 degree angle to your legs, extend your arm behind the midline of your body, all the while making a focused effort to keep the elbow completely locked, with the arm straight. Hold that fully contracted position for 45 to 60 seconds or until the contraction is broken’whichever comes first’and then slowly lower the dumbbell. Transfer it to the other hand and repeat. After working your other arm, quickly move to the cable pulldown machine for the next exercise.

Reverse-grip one-arm pushdowns. Using a short handle on an overhead pulley, take a palms-up grip, step close to the machine and slowly extend your forearm, bringing the handle downward while maintaining that grip. Continue to extend your forearm until your arm is completely locked out behind you, and hold that fully contracted position for a full 45 to 60 seconds or until you can no longer hold it. Repeat the movement with the opposite arm. Rest for 30 seconds, pick up a loaded barbell and advance to the nearest bench for your final arm exercise.

Overhead extensions. Extend a barbell or two dumbbells to an arms-locked position right above your head and then just break the lock in your elbows, extending the weight(s) down and back to the point where you can feel your triceps muscles actually absorb the brunt of the weight. Hold that quasi-extended position for a full 45 to 60 seconds, and then, when you can no longer hold it, slowly lower the resistance back to a fully extended position behind your neck before returning the barbell or dumbbells to the floor. If you use a barbell, you’ll need someone to take it from behind your neck.

That’s it for your Max Contraction arm routine. Here are the exercises for the rest of your physique. Again, do one Max Contraction set of each.

Strongest-range hack squat. Step into a hack squat machine and, shouldering the resistance, press up, locking your legs. Bend your knees three to four inches and support the weight with a quad contraction for 45 to 60 seconds. Leg curls. Hold the resistance in the contracted position for 45 to 60 seconds.

Bent-over barbell rows. Bend at the waist and take a shoulder-width grip on a barbell. With a slight bend in your knees to eliminate lower-back strain, draw the barbell up and into your lower abdomen. Keep your back flat and sustain the fully contracted position for 45 to 60 seconds.

Cable crossovers. Take hold of the two pulley handles on a crossover machine, and draw them down and across the midline of your torso. Hold that fully contracted position for 45 to 60 seconds.

Upright rows. Take a shoulder-width grip on a barbell, draw the weight up to your chin and sustain that fully contracted position for 45 to 60 seconds.

Crunches. Hold the fully contracted position of this movement for 45 to 60 seconds.

The fact that Max Contraction is based on empirically validated data going back more than 100 years in some instances, as well as common sense’as opposed to commercial interests’means that what has worked in physiology labs can be repeated with equal, if not greater, success if you apply yourself to the task. Be open-minded enough to throw off the shackles of traditional training wisdom’or what passes for wisdom’and follow the principles described here. I guarantee that if you do, you will make muscular progress in the space of a month that would otherwise have taken you several years to achieve. And by this time next month your arms should be considerably larger than they are now, which means it will be time for us to concentrate on subjecting your deltoids to the intense massive muscle stimulator known as MCS.

Editor’s note: John Little is a leading innovator of bodybuilding training. Watch for his latest book, Fast Mass: The Max Contraction System. IM

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