85 SECONDS TOO LONG | ViiV Fitness Blog


By Brian Murray, M.Ed.
Director of Clinical Research, ViiV Fitness

Timed Static Contractions TSC

You can give it everything you've got for 5 or 10 seconds. Those are your options with the ViiV-Rx.
However, we occasionally get questions about why there aren't more options for longer durations. 

Most often the people who ask this question have heard about something called Timed Static Contractions (TSC). This practice generally involves 20-30 second stages of subjective sustained effort progressing from 50% up to 75%, then on to 100%. Although there is nothing wrong with doing TSC, I'm going to tell you why the ViiV-Rx options are just right, and why TSC is mostly a waste of time if you want optimum benefit.

Consider the following data comparing maximum force generated going all-out during the final 30 second phase of TSC vs. going all-out over 10 seconds (one week between measurements):

GENDER          AGE                90 SECONDS               10 SECONDS
1. Male             Age 72                    460                                  570
2. Male             Age 90                    260                                  400
3. Male             Age 70                    507                                  612
4. Male             Age 45                    650                                  775
5. Male             Age 65                    280                                  600
6. Male             Age 60                    450                                  570
7. Female        Age 75                    400                                  505
8. Female        Age 72                    201                                  400
9. Female        Age 62                    560                                  695

Disclaimer: No human beings were harmed during 10 seconds of maximum effort.

I have been publicly criticized by a small contingent (a badge of honor I wear proudly) for practicing and advocating going all-out for 5 seconds right out of the gate. They feel my approach is "dangerous." 


This group continues to abide by a "theory" that fatiguing your muscles is a requirement prior to exerting maximum effort, and that this practice offers some kind of injury-preventative effect. They say this makes isometrics "safer."

Save it.

Over the past 17 years, I have worked with hundreds of people of all shapes and sizes, fitness levels, and ages, and not one musculoskeletal injury has resulted (see my previous article Why Short Duration All-Out Isometrics Are The Natural Thing To Do).

There is simply no evidence to support the claim that 90 continuous seconds of slow ramping effort is any safer than 5 seconds of all-out effort. None

This leads me to a few other observations about TSC as taught by this contingent:

First, it plants a seed of doubt. People learn to be afraid that if they exert force quickly they will get hurt. Here's an excerpt from a response to one of my past articles that is a perfect case in point:

"I would be very concerned about having a client put in a position of maximum muscle torque (pulling or pushing as hard as you can from the jump)
Not something that I would be willing to do to myself. I think a 90 second repetition...would be a much more appropriate way to approach these static exercises." 

Is this advice and concern based on experience? Nope. Why? Because this person was told it is dangerous. There is an expectation that injury will occur. 

Second, it creates a habit of slowly applying force. I recently had a conversation with someone who has practiced this slow, gradual ramping of effort in his workouts for 20 years. When I reassured him he could go all out right from the start he told me, "I've been doing this for so long that it's been hard to break the habit." Others are challenged by this as well, but it's not because they can't do it. It's because they think they shouldn't.  

This practice is unnatural. You aren't going to win any gold medals by training to apply force slowly, unless your sport is curling! Nature favors power, and we are hardwired to go from 0 to 60 just like that at any time, at any age. 

Third, the above two factors keep people from learning what it feels like to be powerful. They don't obtain maximum neurological impact and tap into their true strength potential. 

Obviously all of the people in the data above are capable of so much more than TSC allows. What they thought was their best effort during the last 30 seconds of TSC wasn't even close to their true maximum capability. 

BTW, Which number do you think these people were more proud of? 

I know. Dumb question.

Getting to the highest load is important. As I wrote in ViiV-Rx Makes Weight Lifting Obsolete?, higher loads lead to significantly higher increases in the ability to voluntarily activate your muscles, greater changes in neurological efficiency, and greater strength increases.  

Getting to the highest load quickly is so important, that you don't want fatigue to get in your way. The rate of force development is a huge determinant of muscle contraction force; this determines motor unit (MU) recruitment and firing rates. 

In a review by D.G. Sale titled INFLUENCE OF EXERCISE AND TRAINING ON MOTOR UNIT ACTIVATION, it was found that a 3-4 times larger fraction of the MU pool is engaged in producing a fast contraction than in achieving the same force in a slow ramp or sustained contraction. Maximum firing rates are also highest. 

With ViiV the 10 second option is a great starting point for most who are learning how to approach maximum effort. It allows enough time to ramp more slowly, while testing new sensations of higher exertion but not too much to be wasteful of nervous system energy. After a few weeks of this, however, it will be time to shift gears to something even better.

The 5 second option is perfect because you can have a fast rate of force development, but not so fast that you cannot achieve maximum force before time is up. As you become more neurologically efficient and comfortable, you will achieve peak force within 2-3 seconds.

With the ViiV-Rx, you will train your clients/patients to improve their power to weight ratio. This is what matters most. The 80 year-old woman who stumbles and needs to quickly break a fall, or to punch someone who is trying to take her purse, will be so much more thankful she knows how to quickly fire, activate, and develop force, versus being a tentative, slower, weaker reactor. 

As I wrote in Age-Related Weakness: Nerve or Muscle?, voluntary inactivation is largely responsible for the decrease in strength with age. The MUs most affected are the larger, stronger units, and the best way to activate those is by developing maximum force rapidly.

Be powerful. Five seconds will get you everything you need. TSC is 85 seconds too long.