Q&A: Effectiveness of Max Contraction Training

Hi Drew,

After reading some of your articles on HIT and after having started training in HIT form, I then found reference to John Little’s Max Contraction Training book and bought it. After reading it, I have to admit that I am fascinated by the book and am curious to know if you ever trained in the Max Contraction protocol – specifically holding the maximum weight you can hold for a given exercise when the muscle is in its fully contracted position – thereby recruiting all muscle fibers because the muscle is strongest in the fully contracted position.

I am curious to know based on your personal experience if his method is even more effective than the one you follow currently – 1 set of reps to failure doing 6 – 8 reps. Perhaps you do your workout because you are at a sufficiently big size that you are interested in gaining 30lbs of muscle in one year like one of his students. I am just curious to know why you don’t follow his method, considering that it “seems” to be more efficient than yours.

The bottom line is that I am just trying to find the most effective/safe way to gain strength and size in the shortest possible time and I willing to do whatever it takes to do that cleanly.

I tried his method yesterday and I was expecting to be very sore today (Shoulders, Chest and Triceps) considering I was holding the heaviest weight I could for 1 – 6 seconds for 4 reps and I did only four exercises as he recommended. However I have absolutely no soreness at all today and as a matter of fact I did not feel light headed or nausea after performing those exercises giving them my best effort. I am wondering if I really put in my best effort or perhaps those muscles are not big enough to deplete my body’s glycogen store sufficiently enough to cause lightheadedness.

Regards,
Hameed

Max Contraction training is highly effective, and I have gotten good results from it in my own training and with clients. However it requires at least one and ideally two strong training partners to lift the resistance into the fully-contracted position for the trainee to hold, and unfortunately my schedule makes it difficult to train regularly with  a single partner, much less coordinate workouts with two other people.

While it would be ideal to perform Max Contraction on a properly designed machine with strong helpers to lift the weight into the fully contracted position for you, it is possible to perform Max Contraction on some upper body barbell exercises such as arm curls using a power rack and assistance from your legs to get the resistance in the finished position. This is one case where it is not only acceptable but necessary to curl inside a squat rack or power rack. To perform Max Contraction barbell curls, set the safety pins to a point a few inches below the height of the barbell when held in the fully contracted position. While holding the barbell, squat down while bending your elbows until you are in the finished position of the curl, then contract your biceps and hold the bar in that position while standing up, lifting the bar off the safety pins. Contract your biceps as hard as you can, attempting to hold that position for as long as possible. When you can no longer hold the bar in the fully contracted position, slowly lower it to the bar and repeat for a few more reps. The Omega Set described in Advanced Max Contraction Training can be performed the same way, with a lower safety pin setting to allow for a partial negative after static failure.

You can’t gauge the effectiveness of a workout by the soreness it does or doesn’t cause. Keep accurate records of your workouts and measurements and let those be your guide. If you’re getting stronger and bigger, you’re doing things correctly. If not, you need to reexamine your training, diet, and other factors supporting recovery and growth and make improvements in areas which may be holding you back.

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