By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS; Photography: Robert Reiff; Model: Gary Strydom, IFBB Pro
Seldom can you get from point A to point B without moving a muscle, but that’s exactly what static training allows for the strongman. If your goal is strength, putting a zero-movement strategy into your repertoire could be exactly what you need.
By way of review, a static contraction, also known as an isometric contraction, is one in which the muscular force equals the external resistance, producing no movement whatsoever. For example, if you loaded up a barbell on the bench press with much more than your 1RM and began pressing against it with all your might, you’d have a static contraction. Even if the bar didn’t budge, despite the lack of movement a ton of muscular activity would be going on inside the muscle.
Research confirms you can produce more force and strength statically than you can during positive contractions. But how can it help you as a strength-minded bodybuilder? You need to look no further than your nearest sticking point. A static-training plan can help you blast past those sticking points that usually act as roadblocks. The good news is that you can apply the technique to just about any exercise from squats to overhead presses, even to biceps curls. Be warned, though: It’s more difficult than it looks. Applying continuous maximal effort without movement is brutal and effective.
One key factor to keep in mind is that, although strength increases are associated with static training, they are angle specific. When you train statically at a particular angle, you gain strength and size only at that angle. Take for instance the overhead press. If you worked statically at one particular point along the path of the ROM, you’d gain strength there and nowhere else. The gain in strength isn’t necessarily distributed along the entire range of motion. For that reason you need to apply static training at various places. That’s where the power rack or Smith machine comes in handy, as they offer so many angles to work within.
THE WEAK LINK
So where do you start? Easy. Go straight to the weakest point of your range of motion, which is near the bottom of most exercises. If you’re working on the bench press, set the safety bars of the power rack to that sticking point and load up the bar. Forget about it being your “weakest point,” and be sure to load more weight than you could normally move so that you’re certain to have absolutely no movement.
If you’re working at peak gym hours and can’t monopolize all the plates, or perhaps you don’t feel comfortable putting that much weight on the bar, you can also work with an empty bar, but from underneath the safeties. Simply press the bar up into the safeties as hard as possible. That mentality also works well with pulling exercises like rack pulls and bent-over rows. All you do is hold an unloaded bar under the safety bars and pull up against them as hard as you can. You’ll get the same static effect despite the fact the bar is unloaded. As long as zero movement occurs, you’ll reap the benefits ob this technique. Working with an empty bar also saves you time as you move from one angle to the next, having only to change the safeties and not all the weight.
This technique is so beneficial that you could spend an entire training session using nothing else but static moves. To that end this month we’ve assembled a zero-movement workout. Using the bench press, squat, rack pull, overhead press and skullcrusher, we’ve laid out a static-specific training session. All you need to do is hunker down inside a Smith machine or power rack and work through a number of angles (we’ve chosen four setting positions) for each exercise, beginning with your weakest point along the ROM. You might be wondering how to count a rep if the bar isn’t moving. Basically, you use a “thousand one, thousand two” sequence in your head, considering each second as a single rep. The sets for your first angle will always be longer than for subsequent angles. For example, on the bench press you’ll set the safeties very low (angle #1) and press for 15 seconds, take a 15-second rest, then repeat that sequence four more times for 15-second presses. As you move the safeties up 1-2 notches for the next angle, you’ll press for only 12 seconds, but your rest periods will also be reduced to 12 seconds, and you’ll do four total sets. On the next angle you’ll press for 10 seconds with 10-second rest periods, doing just three total sets, and finally at the last position you’ll press for just two sets of eight seconds with an eight-second rest period. Be sure to carefully time yourself as each set progresses fairly quickly.
A couple of items to note: On your pressing movements, be very careful not to allow your hands to slip. Using chalk during static training is a good idea because if your hands slip, even though the bar isn’t moving, your wrists can sustain severe injury. Second, for your pulling movements throw on your pulling straps to make sure your pulls aren’t hindered by your grip strength. If you don’t normally wear straps, use chalk instead.
Adding a static day a couple of times a month into your routine across all bodyparts will help trigger serious strength gains. The better able you are to blast through sticking points, the more weight you’ll ultimately move during standard weight-training sessions.