Brandon's Notepad

March 5, 2013

Max Contraction Protocol

Home > My Research > Improvement > Weightlifting / Weight Training > Max Contraction Protocol

In my notes for Weightlifting / Weight Training, I mentioned John Little’s “Max Contraction” training methodology, a technique he developed by the author with weightlifting champion and trainer Mike Mentzer. The protocol is described in Little’s book, Max Contraction Training: The Scientifically Proven Program for Building Muscle Mass in Minimum Time [ISBN 0071423958]


I’ve read the book and the theory seems logical. In a nutshell, this program advocates:

  • Maximum-intensity, low-repetition weight training
  • Infrequent workouts that allow the body to respond fully to the exercise
  • Whole-body workouts that exercise the body as a unit
  • Isolation exercises that maximize muscle contraction and muscle fiber recruitment
  • Single reps of up to six seconds per muscle is optimal given maximum contraction

The Basics

The first ten chapters discuss the origin and philosophy of this protocol and the science that backs it up. The rubber meets the road in chapters eleven and twelve, which provide practical information, including an “ideal” workout program, which consists of the following exercises:

  • Leg Extensions (Quads)
  • Leg Curls (Hamstrings)
  • Standing Calf Raises
  • Max Straps Pulldowns (Lats)
  • Shrugs (Traps)
  • Pec Deck (Pecs)
  • Lateral Raises (Delts)
  • Bent-over Laterals (Rear Delts)
  • Max Straps Kickbacks (Triceps)
  • Closegrip Underhand Chin-ups or Preacher Curls (Biceps)
  • Max Straps Crunches (Abs)

The program includes a full-body workout consisting of isolation exercises only. Compound exercises, negatives, plyometrics, etc. are suboptimal. Also, the duration of the exercises must remain short to trigger the anaerobic metabolism (lactic acid fermentation) and not the aerobic metabolism (cellular respiration).

Moreover, he provides the following tips:

  • Longer hold times (~60sec) are recommended for the first four to six weeks
  • Keep a log book to help identify trends in strength growth
  • Be careful! If using a partner, weights should not be dropped into your control
  • Shaking by the end of an exercise – even violent shaking – can be normal
  • Workouts (any) should be no less than 48 hours apart, a week for advanced lifters
  • Increase intensity marginally, staying between 1 and 6 seconds

Little stresses the importance of rest throughout the book. Not only must the muscles recover, but the other systems involved in recovery as well (e.g. kidneys).

Max Straps

Notice that three exercises require Max Straps, a branded attachment for cable machines. These straps resemble the more generic tricep and ab straps. Apparently, these sold for approximately $70 and were available on the official Max Contraction website (inactive as of October 2012). Spud Inc. Straps and Equipment manufactures long ab straps that appear to fit the bill and are available from numerous online stores at the time of this writing for approximately $35.

Remaining Chapters

Seven chapters are devoted to body part specialization exercises, followed by special-topic chapters on Max Contraction for women and nutrition, and some information on rational expectations and answers to frequently asked questions. The FAQ chapter has a few good nuggets, especially some insight on exercise selection.


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