Thursday, April 01, 2010

Static Contraction Exercise

We’ve all been told or have read that that you should train with a full range of motion and that exercise, to be effective, needs to provide a concentric (raising) and eccentric (lowering) of a resistance in a controlled manner. As this is a tried-and-true practice, there is just too much proof that there are other ways to become stronger, to gain muscle and to improve metabolic performance. For the purpose of this article, I will discuss (in limitation), the concept of static contractions. Static contractions (an offshoot of isometric training to some extent) allow for limited range of motion while providing a high level of stimulation with the added bonus of reduced wear and tear on the joints, tendons and ligaments. Several books and information have been written about static contraction and it has become a mainstay for many trainees and as such, variations have spawned from its usage.

Static contractions can be performed in different positions, allowing the trainee to find a spot that is not contraindicating to his or her body for that particular movement. For instance, some trainees may find that the very beginning of a shoulder press (a weak leverage point) alleviates any problem with their shoulder that a full range overhead press may cause while another may find that a few inches from lockout (a strong leverage point) may have no ill effect on their shoulder at all. Through experimentation and a little know-how, a person who was once prohibited from doing an exercise because full-range movement caused by discomfort or orthopedic restrictions can now utilize these exercises again – safely and effectively.

Today’s training sequence is pulldowns, overhead press and leg press for this particular trainee. The workout is broken down as such: Each exercise is taken to momentary muscle failure. Each set is held for approximately 20 seconds. We are striving for a cumulative fatigue effect with lower than normal compressive forces, so on each set there is an increase in resistance until the trainee can no longer hold the weight in good form. As an example, this would be similar to using a weight that allowed for 15 – 20 repetitions as the first half of these reps provide and innate warm-up and fiber fatigue. I instruct clients to take a deep breath or 2 (maybe 10 seconds) in between repetitions to regroup and get to the next weight level. Once they reach a resistance they can no longer handle for 20 seconds in good form, the weight will then be reduced over 2-4 subsequent sets – basically until the trainee is completed exhausted on the movement. The entire set takes approximately 2:30 – 3:00 minutes, at which time he moves to his next exercise movement with little rest. This trainee’s total exercise time today was under 11 minutes.

The Pulldown

The following series of videos are of three movements that, to be honest, is all it takes to train the whole body properly. This pulldown movement (along with some of the program ideas described), is something I recently picked up from conversations with John Little (Body by Science). I’ve implemented static contractions in the past in various ways, but this application and this particular pulldown movement are relatively new to me. As you will note in the video, the positioning of the arms, elbows and torso engage the muscles of the upper (lats) and lower back, the pectorals as they are fully contracted and the biceps which are in a highly supinated position – not to mention the contractive stimulation of the abdominals.