Static contractions are a unique variation or approach to strength training. The most accurate description is that they are an isometric contraction, meaning no actual movement of the muscle. Often referred to as ‘Timed Static Contractions,” or TSC, they are regarded by many people a quite boring and somewhat unproductive, yet they certainly do have their place in a strength training program, at the very least as a valuable variation to normal full range of motion strength training.
NOTE: They are not to be confused with Static Holds, which are an advanced training techinique normally used at the end of a set to maximize the intensity of the contraction. Static Holds can also be done as a method of training on their own, however it is less common than the aforementioned traditional usage.
Research to date
There has not been a great deal of research done with respect to Static contractions, as it has proven quite difficult to elicit meaningful results. (Ken Hutchins, the founder of the Superslow Zone, a fitness chain in the USA has done some preliminary work. He remains at the cutting edge of exercise research.
Strengths and weaknesses of Static contractions
The main problem is accurately measuring the intensity of effort, which is a mandatory requirement to assess progress. In normal strength training methods it is virtually impossible to accurately measure intensities that are other than 100% intensity (i.e. reaching Momentary Muscular Failure) or 0% intensity. In other words, everything in between is at best a rough guess. This problem is exacerbated with Static contractions. At least with normal methods the number of repetitions, or time under load can be used to monitor and evaluate progress.
It cannot be denied however; they certainly have the ability to increase one’s strength, as a number of our clients have clearly demonstrated over the years. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Static contractions is that they can be done without any actual weights. For example, the positive resistance of one muscle can be used against the negative resistance of another muscle. A bicep contraction of one arm against the triceps’ contraction of the other arm is one method that can be used without 3rd party weight! It is normal that Static contractions are performed against an immovable resistance, rather than the customary weight stack
Static contraction duration
There is a great deal of conjecture regarding the duration a Static contraction should be maintained, however, it is likely that between 1 and 2 minutes is a good starting point. No actual repetitions are performed so there is no training cadence or speed. One approach is to break a 2-minute set up into 4 * 30 second intervals. The first 30-second quarter is sometimes referred to as ‘minimal effort’ or about 25 % of the trainee’s maximum effort. The second quarter is labeled ‘moderate effort’ or about 50% of the maximum effort. The third quarter is to be completed at 75% effort, or ‘almost as hard as possible’ and the final quarter is to be completed at 100% effort! Again the difficulty is in approximating one’s “intensity of effort.”
When should Static contractions be used?
In summary, Static contractions are not something one would likely use as an ongoing methodology for training and its usefulness is probably limited to people who are looking to introduce a short-term variation to their workout. In an extreme situation, perhaps financial hardship for example, where it is not possible to access a fitness facility, a Static Contraction workout could easily be done at home using opposing muscle groups as resistance.
Final comments and use in rehabilitation
Finally is should be noted that Static contractions are useful for clients with special problems such as poor motor control or joint problems. Clients who have injuries can also find them useful. For example clients who have injured their shoulder and who find the fully stretched position, in a normal range of motion, uncomfortable can maintain their strength by using a Static Contraction. However blood pressure problems are always a concern, especially in exercises, or positions, that require a grip.