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Max Contraction and Pro-Style Workouts

A lot of the great research results on static contraction are based on strength increases, which occur rapidly in untrained individuals, primarily because that method is a great neuromuscular efficiency builder.

Q: What’s your take on John Little’s Max Contraction training? I mean, come on—a 10-second full-body workout once a week? What about eventual adaptation? Or weak-point ROM? Or fascia stretching? And he just walked away from the last, latest, greatest thing since sliced bread, power factor training, which he cowrote. Like Mike Mentzer’s “reason-derived, science-backed” writings, this seems to be another case of something that looks good on paper, but…. Any thoughts?

A: I think Max Contraction—holding a weight in the contracted position till failure occurs, usually anywhere from 10 to 50 seconds—is a great ancillary method to use in your workouts for variation and new adaptation. In fact, Jonathan Lawson, my training partner, and I use and highly recommend StatC and StatS, which are end-of-set static holds in the contracted position and stretch position on contracted-position and stretch-position exercises, respectively.

A lot of the great research results on static contraction are based on strength increases, which occur rapidly in untrained individuals, primarily because that method is a great neuromuscular efficiency builder. Nerve force improves rapidly, as it does with any type of similar isometric-contraction work. You get stronger but not much bigger, although some tension-induced hypertrophy occurs in the endurance components of the key 2A fibers due to occlusion, or blood-flow blockage.

Little is a respected colleague, and we think he truly believes in his system because he sees a lot of strength gains occurring in his clients. He probably chalks up lack of muscle mass to lack of desire or bad bodybuilding genetics that the average person supposedly has. He is right in that muscle is very hard to build for most trainees, but….

We think there are ways around many genetic roadblocks for those who do want to build bodybuilder-type physiques. I’ve demonstrated that ability with my transformation from a 120-pound stick figure to a ripped 200-pound bodybuilder. Positions of Flexion and X Reps were the key.

It’s my humble opinion that Max Contraction, like Heavy Duty, simply doesn’t address all of the layers of muscle growth necessary to pack on maximum mass—including total fiber activation, max-force generation, full-range of motion and stretch overload. It takes a lot to get the body to break free from homeostasis. You essentially have to beat down Mother Nature’s need to keep your body the same.
To be fair, Little’s Max Contraction training is one of the methods we talk about in the X-Rep story at the homepage. It led us to the X-Rep-partials method, and X Reps helped take our physiques to the next level of mass development. I have an open mind, and I’m a big believer in Bruce Lee’s adage, “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” Jonathan and I embraced Max Contraction but adapted it so that it works for us.

So thumbs-up to Little for all the research and effort and for fueling the thought process, but we know it takes more than one 10-second static contraction every few weeks for a muscle to grow to an extraordinary size.

Q: I just want to thank you. I’ve gained five pounds of solid muscle in less than two months, and it’s all because I started using some higher-rep sets. I got X-Rep Update #1 and read the chapter on Jay Cutler’s training [“Mr. O’s Wild X-O Workouts”] and realized that even the biggest bodybuilders don’t use heavy low-rep sets all the time. That’s your Power-Density theory, right?

A: As Jonathan and I mention in that chapter, Jay does tend to pyramid the weight up over a number of sets, but his reps rarely fall below 12. And we timed many of his sets. On his last, heaviest set of incline flyes, for example, his time under tension was 31 seconds. That’s a long set. In fact, watch not-so-big bodybuilders train in the gym and see if their sets even make it past the 20-second mark.

On elbows-flared pushdowns his reps were 17, 13 and 12 and ended with Double-X Overload-style hitches before the last few reps of some of those sets. That is, he double-pumped at the top, semistretch point, or X Spot, for extra fiber activation.

Rarely do Cutler’s reps go below double digits, and his tension times are usually at least 25 seconds per set. That’s important. As we discuss in our new e-program, The Ultimate Power-Density Mass Workout, the latest research has found that the biggest bodybuilders have muscles dominated by type 2A muscle fibers.

Those fibers have both anaerobic and aerobic capabilities—so you must train with some power and endurance to get maximum, extreme size increases. Jay accomplishes that by pyramiding the weight, using longer tension times, incorporating X-Only sets and using the Double-X Overload technique for max fiber activation. It works. He’s also currently experimenting with Hany Rambod’s FST-7 method for even more density. [More on that in the Q&A below.]

Q: I see a lot about FST-7 training, which is seven sets of an exercise done at the end of a bodypart routine in 10×10 style. Isn’t that just using what you’ve been saying all these years and slapping a fancy name on it?

A: FST-7 is Hany Rambod’s training system, and he says that doing the quick seven sets with higher reps at the end of a bodypart routine stretches the fascia, which makes for more muscle growth. The stretching effect is due to the muscle pump you get at the end.

That may be true to an extent, but as I’ve been saying for years, you need to train the endurance components of every muscle to get extreme growth—and that’s really what FST-7 does. Here’s a quote from the e-book 3D Muscle Building, the Positions-of-Flexion manual we put out back in 2006, before FST-7 was around.

“The 2As [which have both a power and endurance component] are king. With low-rep training, all of those 2As don’t develop to their full capacity because they aren’t being stressed enough from an endurance standpoint. They only get anaerobic stress. Critical excess development from endurance-oriented stress doesn’t occur….

“In other words, with lower reps you’re only getting half the 2As’ growth potential—the anaerobic part…. You can stress both facets of the muscle cell for a double-layered size effect. Does that mean low reps don’t build muscle? No, they’ll build muscle, but the growth will be limited till the endurance capacities of the fast-twitch fibers are developed.”

That’s why all of the best mass-building programs contain an endurance-training component: Eric Broser’s Power/Rep Range/Shock (in the RR and S weeks), FST-7 (the last seven quick sets performed in 10×10 style), Positions of Flexion (the last contracted-position exercise is usually performed with higher reps), heavy/light (during light workout).

You can also emphasize power for a few weeks, then move to endurance for a few weeks, doing, for instance, all-10×10 workouts. That method produces extreme growth in the endurance facets of the 2As while allowing full recovery of the power components during the 10×10 weeks. Jonathan and I are proof that it works. At the beginning of ’09 we each gained eight pounds of muscle after switching to a program similar to The Ultimate 10×10 Mass Workout, but using 10×10 exclusively for many bodyparts. As we said, that enabled the muscles’ power components to supercompensate as we focused on and built the endurance facets.

Most bodybuilders are hardwired to believe that heavy weights are the only requirement for size. Not true, as the new study on muscle fibers demonstrates. The dominant type in the biggest bodybuilders is the fast-twitch 2As—just what we hypothesized back in 2006 in 3D Muscle Building.

By using all-heavy training all the time, most bodybuilders miss out on the endurance, or density, side of the growth coin. When they move to training that contains some density-type moves, they get a growth surge—as we did with 10×10 and as many are with FST-7.

So, yes, FST-7 is a good way to stimulate new gains, but it works primarily because it trains both sides of the key type 2A muscle fibers—the ending sevens on an isolation exercise provide a decisive density segment. Our contention is that you should also have a density segment for the big, compound exercises—as Arnold did with his “burnout” sets—because those movements involve the most muscle fibers. And the more fibers you activate, the larger the muscle will get.

Our method, explained in The Ultimate Power-Density Mass Workout, provides power for compound and isolation exercises, as well as density for both.

No matter how you accomplish it, you need power and density for muscle immensity. It’s the combo for growing massive!

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