You might not have heard the term “peak contraction movements” but I’ll bet you’re already using them. Peak contraction training involves incorporating exercises in which the muscles are fully contracted under maximum load at the finish point of the movement. Basically, the muscles are at full flexion and as isolated as possible (like lying leg curls as opposed to stiff leg deadlifts). This type of training allows the ability to create greater time under tension by holding those finished positions for 1-2 seconds. It’s believed to help the trainee connect better with the target muscles both physically and mentally. Many people believe that it can create improved muscle activation and help encourage greater visible muscle detail. Peak contraction training is popular with physique competitors looking to bring out greater separation and detail in their physique. Obviously, this wouldn’t even be an option without first reaching the right level of leanness via diet.
I’m not aware that there is any scientific data either supporting or refuting the effectiveness of peak contraction training. Muscle activation can be measured and even felt. It’s a bigger challenge as to how one would measure mind/muscle connection or increased muscularity separate from other leanness improving factors. But the popular belief in the physique community is that having the muscle fully contracted under resistance creates not only a great ability to control and feel that contraction, but adds an improved overall look and quality to the muscle. So how do we know if it works? To quote Mr. World Berry DeMey, “Sometimes the feeling is greater than the proof.”
Typical peak contraction exercises would be; leg extensions for the quadriceps, leg curls for the hamstrings, preacher curls and concentration curls for the biceps, pec deck or cable crossovers for the chest, various types of rows and pulldowns for the back, DB kickbacks and pushdowns for the triceps, lateral raises and reverse pec deck for the shoulders, and leg raises and crunches for the abs. As you can see, these are all common movements. To perform them using the peak contraction principle, do 2-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions each set, pausing and holding the finished position of the movement for 1-2 seconds. Focus on really feeling the contraction. You may be required to use slightly less weight than normal. Another option is to hold the final rep of each set for 5 seconds with the muscle under full tension. You will definitely feel this principle in the target muscle and will understand immediately why there is a belief that peak contraction training is greatly beneficial.
Peak contraction training can definitely be used as a way to isolate specific muscle groups or body parts. It is also a good way to help create greater focus on how a movement should feel. The feedback you get from holding the contracted position may help you get better results for a lagging area if you are able to feel it properly during a movement. Will it help bring out greater muscle detail due to this isolation and increased time under tension? That’s difficult to measure. I can offer that the contest prep athletes I’ve coached seem to have greater muscle quality and separation when we employ peak contraction than when we don’t. For now, I’m leaning to the side that it does work to bring out detail beyond normal dieting and cardio. At the very least, it’s in the category of may help and won’t won’t hurt. The prep industry’s belief is that you diet for definition, but you can train for separation. But like Berry says, the feeling may be greater than the proof at this point. (Principles like iso-tension/contraction and super slow repetitions are also used – but those are articles for a later date.)
Give peak contraction training a try and see what you think. Does it help you feel the target muscle better? Does it help you get a better response with troubled areas? Do you think it creates visual improvements in muscle quality or detail? The beauty of training is that we can accept or discard the things that we hear, decide what sounds reasonable or dismissible, and then either give it a try or throw it away. At this point, the peak contraction principle continues to be field tested in gym labs around the world.
Photo: Terry Goodlad