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"X-Rep Static Contraction Training
by Steve Holman - 1997
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The scientific research on muscle growth points to one unavoidable, indisputable fact: Hypertrophy occurs as a result of increasing the intensity of muscular contraction. Most bodybuilders realize this and attempt to add weight to their exercises as often as possible or add an intensity technique, such as force reps, partials or Double-Impact reps, every so often. All of this falls under the guise of muscle-building overload.
The problem with most methods of overload is that they're difficult to measure. True, adding weight to an exercise is a precisely calculated overload, but once you reach the advanced level, your training poundages increase infrequently, which is the very reason advanced bodybuilders resort to intensity techniques. Once again, however, intensity techniques make the overload difficult to measure at best - with the exception of one extended peak contraction, or X-Rep training.
X-Rep training is simply placing a muscle in its completely contracted position, or close to it, against resistance and holding it there until the muscle can no longer contract. Once you achieve fatigue overload, you slowly lower the weight through the eccentric range of motion, and the set is complete. It's a very intense form of muscle overload that's relatively easy to measure - not in number of reps but in seconds.
An X-Rep set should consist of one 20-second contraction and a slow, six-second negative. That's it. For the technique to be most effective, you use it on exercises that place the target muscle in a complete contraction against resistance - a.k.a., the contracted-position movements in the POF training protocol.
To measure the overload , you use a clock with a second hand or a stopwatch, and at each workout you try to hold the weight in the contracted position for a few seconds longer. Continuing with that progression, you eventually reach 30 seconds, at which point you increase the weight at the nest workout to bring your extended-peak contraction back to 20 seconds - usually about a 20 percent increase in weight. The one drawback of this precise calculation is that you have to keep records of each set so you can strive to better your performance at every workout. Remember, overload must be progressive if you want to get the best muscle-boosting effects, so be meticulous.
Peter Sisco and John Little, bodybuilding researchers and authors of "Power Factor Training" orchestrated an informal study on this overload method. They report on it in their booklet "Static Contraction Training " and show some astonishing results from the 10-week study, in which subjects used only static-contraction workouts, with no full-range exercise:
All 41 subjects got stronger.
Almost every subject gained lean mass, with an average gain of nine pounds. One subject put on an astonishing 28.9 pounds.
The average gain in biceps, chest and shoulder measurements was approximately one inch, with one subject adding 3.75 full inches to his chest measurement.
The average increase in static-contract on strength was 51.3 percent
The average strength increase in full-range movement with a one-rep max was 27.6 percent.
The results are quite remarkable, especially when you consider that they were achieved in only 10 weeks. You must keep in mind, however, that it was an informal study, conducted by the individual trainees without researchers present, and the results raise a number of questions. Were some of the subjects on steroids? Were the measurements accurate? Were the full-range test repetitions done with proper form? Were the subjects merely recovering and thus growing from their training prior to the 10-week study?
Even with its shortcomings, Sisco and Little's experiment makes it quite obvious that static-contraction training has tremendous muscle-building potential. Even more astonishing it the fact that the average age of the trainees was 38 and that they were all advanced bodybuilders, which means they had a difficult time adding new muscle due to their above-average development. What's also amazing is that the subjects attained those results with an average of 2.1 workouts per week, each workout lasting less than 30 minutes, in which they performed one exercise per body part for two static-contraction sets.
The study also suggests that zero-range maximal-contraction training does positively affect dynamic full-range strength. Chapter 5 in "Underground Mass-Boosting Methods", which covers partial-rep training discussed the need for full-range movements in addition to partial-range exercises, and one of the conclusions is that to get the full benefit of any partial-range movement, you must do a full-range movement as well. Sisco and Little's study seems to contradict that conclusion.
Remember, however, that many exercises, such as bench presses and squats, require technique as well as strength. If you don't perform the full-range action, your neuromuscular efficiency for performing that action may deteriorate. In other words, you won't maintain your skill at performing the exercise, which may result in an apparent loss of strength, even though there may be no reduction in the muscle's power output. If the informal study is correct, no strength loss will occur and, contrary to popular belief, increases in full-range strength will result. Obviously, formal research is needed before this can be stated conclusively.
Also note that the trainees in this study didn't use contracted-position exercises for every body part. For example, the chest movement of choice was the bench press, with a static contraction at three inches below lockout. With resistance bearing down rather than pulling form the sides, as in a cable crossover or pec deck exercise, maximum pectoral contraction seems much more difficult to achieve. Since maximum contraction is the sole purpose of this style of training, more strategic exercise choices may produce better gains.
Therefore, the programs given dictate using the X-Rep on contracted position movements only - to get the most extreme contracting possible without involving surrounding muscle groups.
The X-Rep routine that follows is a combination of Hypercontraction and extended-peak-contraction on training. With the proven power of Hypercontraction beginning each bodypart workout, X-Rep training finishing it, and then a full seven days for each bodypart to recover, your size and strength gains should be astounding.
How to Use X-Rep Training
Because X-Rep static contraction training is centered around maximally contracting the target muscle for a prescribed time, it stands to reason that the most effective exercises are those with resistance in the contracted position. Here's a list of exercises for each body part that lend themselves well to X-Rep training:
Quads: Leg extensions
Hamstrings: Leg curls
Calves: Standing calf raises
Abs: Cable crunches
Lats: Under-grip cable rows
Mid-back: T-bar rows
Pecs: Cable crossovers, pec deck
Delts: Lateral raises
Biceps" Concentration curls, spider curls
Triceps: One-arm pushdowns, kickbacks
Here are a few body part routines you may want to try:
Squats* 3 x 8 - 10
Sissy squats 2 x 8 - 10
Leg extensions** 1 x 1 static contraction
Behind-the-neck presses* 3 x 8 - 10
One-arm incline laterals 2 x 8 - 10
Seated laterals** 1 x 1 static contraction
Close-grip barbell curls* 2 x 8 - 10
Incline curls 2 x 8 - 10
Concentration curls** 1 x 1 static contraction
Decline extensions* 2 x 8 - 10
Overhead extensions 2 x 8 - 10
One-arm pushdowns** 1 x 1 static contraction
- Do one to two warm up sets with 50 to 70 percent of your work-set weight prior to your heavy sets.
** Use a poundage that allows you to hold in the contracted position for 15 seconds. Once you reach contraction overload and can no longer hold the weight, slowly lower through the negative range of motion at each workout until you reach 25 seconds, at which point you should increase your resistance by 10 to 20 percent at your next workout.
In the excellent bodybuilding book, "Heavy Duty II", Mike Mentzer describes a version of X-Rep Training that has been bringing his personal-training clients very good results. Instead of using one pure extended peak-contraction rep, he has the trainee do the static hold for as long as possible at the end of a set of standard reps. When the trainee can no longer hold the weight i the contracted position, he or she lowers it slowly through the negative range. In most cases, Mentzer says, one set in this fashion is all that any trainee requires for optimal muscle fiber stimulation. He only uses this technique on exercises in which there is resistance in the contracted position, such as leg extensions, leg curls, or cable crossovers.
The problem with adding an X-Rep to the end of a standard set is that, once again, it makes the overload difficult to measure. If you train the full-range reps to failure prior to your X-Rep, your static hold may fluctuate from workout to workout rather than moving upward. Nevertheless, it's a good technique to use every so often to ensure that a target muscle is receiving new stress loads.
For example, using it on the second set of the contracted-position exercise in a standard. POF routine every so often gives the muscle a new form of stress to deal with, which can trigger new growth. You may also want to try this end-set variation on shrugs, standing calf raises or other exercises on which excessive poundages make pure X-Rep training more difficult.
As for Mentzer's experiments with standard X-Rep training - that is, one rep held in the contracted position to failure, then lowered slowly - gains have been incredible. "One of my regular gym clients improved this ability on the Nautilus leg extension to 250 pounds for 14 positive reps.
He then remained stuck for three workouts at 250 pounds for 14 reps, whereupon I had him do three leg workouts in a row of only holding the 250 pounds in the straight-leg, lock-knee position to failure and then lowering slowly. His first static workout he held it for 15 seconds, the second for 22 seconds and in the third for about 30 seconds. The next leg workout I had him do conventional positive reps to see if there was a carry over, and he performed 20 full-range positive reps!"
X-Rep, or static-contraction, training appears to be a very powerful bodybuilding method. Use it, don't abuse it, and you'll grow larger and stronger at a spectacular rate of speed."