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on January 26, 2004
Max Contraction Training is John Little's follow up to the last book he wrote with Peter Sisco, 'Static Contraction Training'. Max Contraction Training contains some really good information and acts as a logical and worthy extension of the principles of high intensity training. However, the book is far from perfect and there are a number of problematic areas which Little does not satisfactorily address.
The early chapters of the book cover the underlying principles of strength training, and make it clear that the book is aimed at drug free people who want to follow an efficient and effective method of strength training founded on real scientific principles and research rather than the typical 'gym lore' and nonsense that gets published in the muscle magazines.
Little points out that he had been working on developing the 'Max Contraction' system before he teamed up with Peter Sisco to produce the 'Power Factor' and 'Static Contraction' systems and that he considers 'Max Contraction' to be the ultimate conclusion of the high intensity principles that underlie all the systems he has been involved with, which does kind of make you wonder why he didn't just publish this at the beginning and not bother with the other two.
He also goes in for a fair amount of repetition in getting the point about the position of full contraction being the only one in which all of a muscle's fibres can be forced to contract, and after a while this becomes a big of a drag. This is combined with a few mixed messages about safety which can become a bit confusing after a while. However, once you have figured out exactly what he is getting at you will find that the points he is raising are valid and contribute a great deal to your overall understanding of the science behind strength training.
The later chapters are concerned with the practicalities of training acoording to the scientific principles he has laid out. He gives a sound and well rounded basic routine to follow which is based around 'isolation' exercises (e.g. Leg Extensions and Leg Curls) which allow for the individual muscle or muscle group to enter a position of full ('Max') contraction and so activate all the muscle's fibres and utilise the full strength of the muscle. He then goes on to show you 'Bodypart Specialization' routines (e.g. Arms, Shoulders, Back, Legs) which clearly do not follow the principles he has laid out in the first part of the book as they entail doing more sets per bodypart rather than increasing the intensity of exercise.
Safety is also an issue, people who train on their own will be pretty much limited to using the weights that they can move into the position of full/'max' contraction on their own from full (or near full) extension for many of the exercises which, logically, reduces the effectiveness. What will really stick in the craw of many readers though, is that in selecting particular exercises he is clearly trying to get you to buy his 'Max Straps' which will only be available from his website, and will not be cheap either!
So, the book is deeply flawed, but also has some essential information that will do you a lot of good. I recommend that you first buy Little and Sisco's 'Static Contraction Training' and then use this to round out the picture. Where 'Static Contraction Training' focuses on compound exercises, this aims at isolation exercises. The two books and systems are complementary rather than competitive, and with some thought and common sense you can easily combine the best of the two books into a routine for yourself that makes the most of the equipment you have available to you.
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on October 4, 2006
My partner and I worked the routine religously for over one year. I have great documentation of every rep - how was the form, how many seconds was the hold and a message for the next workout to either increase poundage, time of hold or to hold steady for better form.

And yes, just as they claim, my strength on the static hold began to increase. As I say, it's well documented.

And the 1,000 pound mark finally arrived on the leg press, and 350 pounds on the trapezoid shoulder roll with the barbell...all the other routines had virtually doubled in the weight resistance area...

You'd think I was really building muscle wouldn't you? Well I wasn't.

And here's the flaw: The day I leg pressed the 1000 pounds I heard and felt a tear in my knee. Miniscus(sic)surgery in both knees occurred last week. I'm a mess, but mostly because I had to have rotator cuff surgery on July 6th.

You see what the authors fail to mention to anyone is that despite the muscles ability to statically hold heavier and heavier weights, there ain't nothin' going on to strengthen the tendons and cartilage and other "body parts secondary to the muscle." And they can give way as they did in my case.

In my opinion, we all have a limit to the endurance of those secondary parts that can be overwhelmed by the high weights lifted via static contraction.

I've sacrificed 3 of my 4 major joints to surgery caused by static contraction.

And lastly, when we shifted to regular lifting after dazzling the gym with our "big stacking the weights on show," we were weaklings. My static bench press had been 310# but my bench press was only 165#.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon November 3, 2005
Little gets right down to the root cause of muscle growth: INTENSITY. A careful study of research on muscle growth confirms that it's not the movement your limbs perform; it's not repetitions--it's INTENSITY OF MUSCLE OVERLOAD.

Little homes right in on this critical point. His exercises are designed to maximize intensity on a specific muscle (rather than compound exercises.)

Much of Little's work is based on the classic, "Toward an understanding of health and physical education" by Arthur H Steinhaus. (This book is definitely worth getting as well.) This work shows the results of numerous experiments (by mostly German researchers) on both humans and animals.

Surprisingly, empirical results confirm that even brief, full contractions with maximum intensity can lead to maximum rate of muscle growth. Little is correct, therefore, when he suggests exercises of very short duration. Research confirms that indeed, just a few seconds at max intensity is sufficient to trigger a near-maximum rate of growth.

One suggestion for future editions: I didn't see very much about warm-up. It seems like this should be covered in detail, given that the suggested exercises will be at maximum intensity. Isn't that all the more reason for careful warm-up? To be fair, Little does suggest a SLOW contraction, which presumably would minimize the risk of injury.

Little also exposes the questionable claims of the myriads of supplements. The science of muscle growth is really not that complicated. If you study the scientific literature (not Muscle magazines) you'll quickly see the basis for Little's method. It's based on fact, not marketing biases.

Purchasing this book is a "no-brainer." If you're really serious about muscle growth, you would be wise to get it, as well as the Steinhaus classic.
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on April 11, 2010
What I have to say here is NOT INTENDED AS A REVIEW: I just want to give you some background knowledge that'll help you sort out the controversy surrounding this training method for yourself.

Exercising your muscles by holding them against resistance in a static position is known as isometric training. If you look back at the history of physical training over the decades, and even over the centuries, you'll see that isometric training regularly comes into and out of vogue. Many yoga asanas, for example, can be seen as isometric endurance holds. Isometric training can also be more intense - pushing or pulling at 60 to 100% of maximum exertion against an unmoving object. "Max Contraction Training" is one form of this. But so too can be simply tensing (or "flexing") your muscles as hard as you can in a static position.

I'd like to put in a couple of links here, but unfortunately I can't - Amazon has a way of censoring out any external links. However, if you do a bit of Googling on your own, you'll quickly discover that it is very well established that:

1. Isometric training does work. It is incredibly effective at increasing strength at the specific angle you exercise at.

2. Isometric training is not especially effective at building full range of motion strength - although in each individual there will be a very small percentage of muscles that will have their full range of motion strength increased by isometric training alone. Which specific muscles have this characteristic varies from person to person. I know this sounds very strange, but that's what the empirical research says. Go figure.

3. Isometric training by exercising your muscles in the most extended position (essentially the exact opposite of the position recommended in Max Contraction Training) also improves flexibility. Interestingly enough, according to the mainstream science, this is also the best position to use if you want to maximize the effect of isometric training on your full range of motion strength.

Because isometric training is most effective at improving strength at (or close to) the exact position you train, in some forms of isometric training the same muscle group will normally be exercised in a range of different positions. For example, in both hatha yoga and bullworker training. In this way more broadly useful strength is cultivated.

On the other hand, precisely because isometric training is far and away the most effective way of building strength in any one position, this form of training is exceptionally useful for people who do want to maximize their strength in a specific position or series of positions: for example, wrestlers who want to maximize their strength for purposes of specific holds.

Another major advantage of isometric training is its sheer brevity: each hold is normally maintained for only 7 to 10 seconds. 7 second holds are traditional. My own understanding of the current empirical research is that while 7 seconds is optimal for cultivating strength, 10 second holds are best if your goal is to maximize muscle mass. But clearly, either way an entire workout can be completed extrordinarily quickly. [UPDATE: Most serious bodybuilders utilizing isometric training now favor 30 to 60 second holds. I have also heard that the author of this book has since put out a more up to date ebook in which he too has come around to this way of training.]

If isometric training sounds like it might be right for you, in addition to the methods suggested in this book you might also like to consider the Bow Classic - Full-size Bullworker and FREE DVD or the Steel-Bow Bullworker - Flex the Ultimate Total Home Gym includes 2 FREE DVDs.Designing Resistance Training Programs - 3rd also has some very useful material in it, although I caution you that this is a college level textbook on exercise science, and as such is only for the most serious students.

Alternatively, if you'd prefer to keep your money in your pocket, you might also like to check out John Peterson's Transformetrics website. As well as serving as a vehicle to promote Peterson's own material, it includes Mike Marvel's "Dynaflex" and Vic Obeck's "How to Exercise Without Moving a Muscle". Both these classic isometric training programs can be viewed in full for free. Peterson's own material is available for sale both on his website and here on Amazon. I've also seen both "Dynaflex" and "How to Exercise Without Moving a Muscle" available as free PDF downloads elsewhere on the net.

Theo.
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on December 31, 2004
Let me just say that you should not waste your time and money on this book. I went to the store to get a new training book and i found this and it looked really interesting. It said that you could build maximum muscle mass in minimum time. I bought it and tried it out. When i first started reading the book it was hard for me to accept that you can actually build muscle without doing full reps and multiple sets for each muscle. I'm sure it would be hard for most people to change their beliefs after years of hearing from people that you need to do 3 sets of 10 reps or whatever.

So once i started using this "max contraction" program i had more time to do other stuff since the workouts were quick. A big flaw is that the book does not offer many alternatives for the excercises. For example the gym i go to does not have a pec dec which is the main machine that is used for building your chest. AND you have to order "Max Straps" in order to do a bunch of the excercises. I could see charging $5 bucks for them, but they actually cost something like $80! Plus the program neglects certain areas of the body like the neck and wrists. And it was always hard to tell if i was in the max contraction postion. And since I was not able to convince anyone else that this was legitimate, I did not have a partner to help me lift the weight into position. I could go on and on about how this book is flawed and contradicts itself, but I won't.

Here's the real proof that it does not work: After using the program for six months, my body weight decreased by 10 pounds, not including fat. I took measurements of my muscles before starting this program and they actually got smaller. I had increases in strength using this, but only for a little while until I eventually hit a plateu. I decided for one week that I would go back to doing a regular workout with reps and sets just to see how much stronger I had gotten. But I was actually weaker in almost every excercise using the full range of motion. what a big waste of time.
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on August 14, 2005
I've read John Little's books and articles on high intensity training for over 20 years now. His first series of articles were published in the mid 1980s in a British publication called "Bodybuilding Monthly." It was in this publication that he first began to research and test the principles that would become "Max Contraction Training." At that time he advocated that trainees train solely within their anaerobic pathways (this was years before such a topic was even broached by bodybuilding magazines)of 60-seconds. Later, after more research, he refined the application and reduced the TOC (Time of Contractions) to 1-to-6-seconds. Max Contraction Training is the furthest evolution of high intensity training without question. Little's influence by Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer is unmistakable (and acknowledged within the text), but what he has discovered is his accomplishment alone and something for which he deserves full credit. That a full range of motion is not a necessity to develop a "full" muscle and can serve to induce injury or, at best, retard progress, is an important contribution to scientific bodybuilding. Also his long time emphasis on recovery ability taking up to seven or more days to be completed has recently been established clinically as necessary for optimum growth (compensatory adaptation to the stress of exercise) to take place is certainly revolutionary compared to the old fitness/bodybuilding model of three to four days per week training (no wonder none of us made progress on the other systems!). Speaking personally, I have utilized Max Contraction (in its various evolutions) for over 10 years and have never had an injury and have gained 30 pounds of muscle during this time. In fact, I'm still getting stronger training once every 12 days -- at age 49! Reading any book by John Little is time well spent, but Max Contraction Training is most certainly his magnum opus (at least in the bodybuidling realm; he also has written great books on history, philosophy and martial arts). Read it, employ its principles and enjoy the best gains of your life.
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on October 27, 2008
I read the reviews claiming no improvement and injuries - that is the opposite for me - age 53 and my son - age 25. We followed the Max Contraction system for 9 months and then bench marked our progress on a Hammer Strength machine incline bench press. Prior to Max Contraction we maxed out at 150 lbs - after 9 months we were able to do 250 lbs. At age 53 and weighing 185 lbs my comparisons in strength are as follows: Curl machine - 110 lbs vs 65 prior, pushups 55 vs 35, decline bench 300 lbs vs 180 on Hammer St. machine, and 220 lbs vs 130 on the Pec machine. The workout takes 30 minutes only 1 time per week, I found no injuries, it greatly increased strength. The only negative was I have gained some weight and need to do more aerobic and calorie burning. I was refered to the book by a friend who at age 54 said he was stronger than he has ever been in his life from Max Contraction. I highly recommend this method and have been shocked at the results. With 30 minutes of lifting per week I was figuring I would be happy to see even a 10% increase in strength but was shocked to see the results. With a busy schedule, I never would put in the 3 days per week but this book makes it clear that it is intensity not time that inceases strength. I would have never believed it if I did not see it happen myself. I did not buy the max straps and just adapted equipment at a fitness center to accomplish the exercises. My pull down for example is loading 220 lbs on the machine and pulling it down with both hands and then holding for 10 seconds with one hand. A partner helps but I do all the stuff alone since my son got married. I do not understand the negative articles and cannot imagine what these guys did considering the results my son and I experienced. Good luck to all of you.
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on March 15, 2012
I purchased a copy of "Body by Science" Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Weekco-authored by the author of this book and Dr. Doug McGuff and was blown away. Superbly written, incredibly detailed, and backed up by actual clinical and scientific data (hell, the footnotes for the book are about 25 pages long). So I said to myself "hey, let's see what else the authors have written, this is great" and ordered this mess of a book.

The author teases the reader with "you only need one second per exercise, once a week, to build amazing results" but then proceeds to take half the book before telling you what the secret techniques are. Well, not really, as when he finally gets to it, there still isn't a specific "do this, this, and this, and this is how it's done," just hints to it.

In fact, maybe 10 total pages of the 224 specifically deal with Max Contraction, the other 214 are the author's rantings about how bodybuilding magazines suck because they push readers to buy unproven, over-priced supplements (which to me was laughable--as the author's OWN bio page lists him as a writer for Ironman magazine for more than a decade), mentioning about 1,000 times that he knew Mike Mentzer personally, and droning on and on and on about theories without any scientific backup.

One example? He tells us that a pound of lean tissue is 600 calories when burned, so (as he puts it in the book), you'd only need to eat 16 extra calories a day to pack on an additional ten pounds of muscle a year.

Skipping over his sloppy math (16 calories a day x 365 days = 5,840 5,840/600=9.73 But ok, close enough...), he completely skips the calories burned in the process of "building muscle" to make one of dozens of over-simplified "I can't believe everyone doesn't know this stuff already" points in the book.

Much of the book shows personal training clients of the author's doing unbelievable feats of strength..."Irwin Heshka shrugs 1,035 pounds!" "Joe Ostertag (does a one-armed pec deck contraction) against over 1,000 pounds...after only five workouts of Max Contraction Training" etc, yet in the almost-hidden section telling you how to actually do the exercises, it says "Pec Deck: Sustain the fully contracted position for 6 seconds, and then move on to your next exercise" in one section and ""Sit down in a Pec Deck machine and place your forearms on the padded movement arms of the machine. Contract your pectoral muscles by drawing the pads forward until they touch in front of your chest. Hold this position for 1 to 6 seconds." So, did the guy in the photo follow the first (which amounts to holding his arm across his chest against 1,000 pounds--put there by helpers) for one second, or did he go from full extension and rest to drawing his left arm only across his chest against over 1,000 pounds of resistance, then hold it for 1-6 seconds?

I'm not sure if this is just a giant advertisement for the author's gym (if you can't get trained by their special trainers, forget it) or it's just a mess of a book full of confusing advice and lots of "hey, guess who I know and knew?" I'm not sure.

Save yourself $20...

1. Max Contraction says that muscles can only activate all fibers if they are in a fully (Max) contracted position.
2. SOME studies suggest that a 1-6 second full contraction at ultra-high intensity does as much as tons of sets and reps, as long as you get sufficient rest after. This can only be attained if the resistance applied is very high--but only for a second or so at the point where the muscle is fully contracted (think: bicep preacher curl, top-most position only, no movement, just holding against very heavy weight for 1-6 seconds--full range of motion is absolutely not part of this program)
3. Other bodybuilders overtrain, either by doing lots of sets or, more often, by not allowing sufficient time between workouts for the body to add to muscles.
4. So, only resist against heavy weights in a position of full contraction for 1-6 seconds, no movement of the limbs, and then rest, preferably seven days in-between.

Skip this book, get "Body by Science" and learn the science and research behind High Intensity Training (HIT), weight loss through resistance training, and sports-specific training. Unless you like pulling your hair out for the first half of a book saying "WTF? When is he going to tell us anything about this magic formula?" and smacking the book on your forehead for the second half saying "OK, ten pages kinda' describing what you are supposed to do, then another 140 about how he hates bodybuilding supplement companies, and dropping names, I want my money back."
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on December 12, 2006
Readers BEWARE: The methods taught in this book should only be used to suppliment your training - and not to replace it. For years when I train people I tell them to hold the last rep --to contract and really squeeze the hell out of that muscle on the last rep. I drill that concept so much that I often tell others - that the last rep is so important that I could write a whole book about it - So guess what this book is about!! Except that he tells you to use THAT one and only rep in all your work outs--ONE REP WORKOUTS ?? that is crazy! No wonder so many people got injured following this method on it's own! You can't just work out 10 seconds a day putting supper intensenity in one rep and hope to become like Arnold! IN TODAYS LAZY SOCIETY WE NEED TO TRAIN HARD to achieve results. SO with that being said - if you put this book's method at the end of each exercise then you will have awesome potential in you hands - truely powerfull information!

The book is an interesting read -- a real page turner, with a lot of good insight on whats happening with the bodybuilding today as opposed to 50 years ago. You will love his explanitions on how corrupted the muscle magazine industries are,( How you are being brain washed by suppliment compenies) and the whole harsh reality of how unhealthy todays pro bodybuilders are. Check this one out at your local library.
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on February 10, 2007
I have been using the Static contraction and Max contraction training for about 3-4 years now.

After years of doing long work outs and never getting anywhere. I said "screw it" I am doing less and that's that. And tried this I am now in the bet shape of my life and stronger than ever. Once you get up to really high levels of weight and start to feel it in your joints more I would reccomend back the weight down and then working in a wider range of motion which I have done.

Also wrist wraps are a great Idea when benching every heavy. I have only had very positive experience, my ownly injuries i have every had were doing full range of motion bench presses (before trying this workout)and a slight wrist problem before using straps. If you do this write you will not hurt yourself. Always follow how your body feels first.

But I feel this is one of the best workouts ever and does not leave so exausted that I feel weak after. I feel good after these workout and I get stronger. Now I have increased my range of motion and lightened the weight to work a little different. But I did the basic workout for over 1 year with very good results.

I now life heaver weights than I have ever before. I also am incresing my range of motion now and doing partial reps, but I could have never done that before I used this workout. I do partial range bench and incline bench with 315-400lbs I never could have done this before I started training that way. And to all those who think you need full range, full range hurt my shoulders for years and never let me grow I started growing when I did partials and then static. Not everbody responds the same way but for me this worked as a good base and now I am trying new things.

Once I pressed 5 plates for static, I deciced to back of the weight and increase the range and that is what I am doing now with good success.
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