Static Contraction (Isometrics) Transfers to Full Range Strength? A Post on Pseudoscience

Posted on 08 May 2010 15:56

This was several years back, but still a great example of the kind of thing that goes on in this industry, which is just as plagued with pseudoscience as any other. Did I just state the obvious? I think I did.

An article by Dinis Antonio, “Static Contraction and Strength Training"

In this article Antonio relates the ‘great news’ from one such book. Here is an excerpt from the article, which talks about a "study".

To briefly give you an idea of how this training pans out in real life, here is a summary of the results of those subjects after 10 weeks of training on static contraction training: There were substantial increases in static strength; dynamic, full-range strength; lean mass; and muscle size. THE FACT IS, 100 PERCENT OF THE SUBJECTS GOT STRONGER!!! The average static strength, measured on all exercises, increased 51.3 percent, and, in what will be a major surprise to some people, dynamic strength - over a conventional full range of motion - also increased. Bodybuilding has many myths. Here is one that seems to be a myth upon the completion of this study, “When you exercise a muscle statically at only one point, you only get stronger at that limited range…” Ask anyone with a degree in exercise physiology if static strength transfers to full-range strength. You will most likely get a “NO WAY!!!” answer.

Again in this study the fact is 100 PERCENT of the subjects had a positive, significant transference to full-range strength from gains that they made in static strength. The transference averaged 60 percent.

How Important is Range of Motion?

Here is another interesting myth, or at least it looks like it after looking at this study: you need a full range of motion in the muscle in order to stimulate growth. Guess what? The importance of range of motion is somewhere between little to none. Every gain in mass, strength and size achieved by every subject in the static contraction training research study was achieved with no range of motion. The fact is that one could make some gains with no movement (static training), some movement partials), and full movement (conventional training). Therefore I would like to safely concluded range of motion contrary to popular belief has little to no significance.

Needless to say, that surprised the heck out of me. But then, as always, I read the citations. The first one was "Static Contraction Training", Contemporary Publishing/NTC.

That was the original book written by John Little and Peter Sisco. It was their "research" and Of COURSE this was the data they got. They were writing a book on static contraction training. The conclusions of the book were based on nothing more than their 'research study" which was most likely done via long distance monitoring of subjects, which is, in itself always questionable, even with qualified researchers. The only other published data was something from 1953 and was done on forearms and a spring device. There was, conveniently, no mention that this study produced changes in full-range strength. It was done on forearms, for God's sake.

Better performed studies, including Johnston1 which was intended to test the "findings" of Little and Sisco by investigating the fatigue affects of exercise at certain joint angles, found that the affects of limited range of motion exercise were primarily localized. This means, in simple terms, that exercise performed at one joint angle primarily has the most impact at and around (to a small degree) that joint angle with very little transfer to full range performance. What's more any transfer there is is highly individualized.

Static Contraction Book Cover by Peter Sisco and John Little

Strength and Smith Machines.
Need I say more?

Static Contraction Book Cover by Peter Sisco and John Little

Strength and Smith Machines.
Need I say more?

Yes, I have the book, there is a place near my house where you can get free books and donate books. I am able to pick up all sorts of crap like this for free. I'm glad I didn't pay for it. There seems to be no other footnotes in the entire book. But there sure are plenty of charts and photos of huge bodybuilders.

I am not posting this, however, to say that you can't get any benefits from static contractions. There are benefits; they just have little to do with full-range strength and force production over distance.

Now, we've all seen these books claiming to be based on original "scientific research" and the latest "knowledge" etc. They're a dime a dozen (or should be!). The fitness industry has glorious notions of being scientific, and I have my doubts that it ever could be truly scientific.

Most so called scientific books like this are based on people taking what they already believe or would like to be true and conducting experiments around it, then using the results that support their belief while ignoring the results or info that refute it.

How are Research Findings Announced?

They are not announced in paid advertising specials on "public" television. They are not announced in seminars to the lay-public. They are not announced in Youtube videos. They are not announced in point of purchase magazines and they are not announced via books published in the popular press.

I just said this in A Bit About Specificity and Transfer of Training Effect and here I am saying it again. If it ain't in a peer reviewed journal you can pretty much ignore it as a "study" because chances are it was performed by a person who knows nothing about the intricacies of designing such a study. Please notice that I am talking about "studies" and "experiments". By no means am I suggesting that everything you read in the popular press is bunk. Only those works claiming to report the results of "studies" that were never reported to the scientific community at large.

Doesn't any one ever tell these writers you need more than one source to support your primary conclusions? Don't answer that it's "rhetorical". Yes, the article mentions two or three others. They are not supporting to the primary conclusions, however, but supplementary.

Most of the statements in this article are downright ludicrous, such as range of motion having little to no importance. The importance of range of motion is not, as the author states, "popular opinion" but is the conclusion of our best scientific evidence to date. That this book is not science is clearly based solely on it's vastly misleading premise. That is, the authors rely on the meaningless argument that what they say is "different" and therefore must be better.

Different than mainstream is superior. That is a primary stance of the pseudoscience crank. They are banking on mass mistrust of the "establishment".

Another question. Are legitimate scientific inquiries published in the popular press in advance of the the scientific press? Not usually! As a matter of fact one of the ways to spot pseudoscience is when claims or findings are "announced" to the public or popular press in advance of the scientific community through peer reviewed publishing of some kind. Legitimate science is not announced on Youtube videos or published in the popular press before other "scientists" have ever heard a thing about it. My apologies to Mike Boyle and the other people I will insult in this post. The peer review process has a purpose.

What is this purpose? Well scientists are not super-human. They are not immune to human biases and they cannot always guarantee complete objectivity and open-mindedness, no matter how hard they try. The peer-review process is a system of checks and balances. This process of criticism is what keeps science "honest". Most of the "science" being performed by the strength training and nutrition lay public would be laughed out of scientific community by this process.

My point? Check the sources. And don't be easily taken in by articles such as these. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Speaking of pseudoscience here is a list I put together a while back to help you recognize pseudoscience. Of course I borrow from Sagan for this as well but there may be some things you haven't considered here.

Yet Another Pseudoscience Checklist

1. Pay close attention to things like maverick, lone wolf, unconventional, or "outsider" used to describe a so called scientist and his claims. The implication being that the claims are being suppressed by some scientific fraternity for selfish reasons.

2. Watch for reference padding, especially with shorter articles. This is the practice of including hundreds of references to support a claim although only a few are necessary. Be aware that most of the references are probably unrelated or only loosely so.

3. Be aware that "alternative" is usually a euphemism for untested. In that vane watch out for science based on conspiracy: Anything that is alternative to "mainstream" information must be superior because the mainstream, or "they" are out to get you!

4. Be wary of people who simply attack existing scientific explanations without offering any new explanation. This tactic is meant to prey on your doubts - not to enlighten but to attract your money for some dubious product or service. Or just to attract attention.

5. "They don't want you to know" is THE number one pseudoscience assertion. ALWAYS view this statement as suspect. It does nothing to verify a claim, even if true, which it is not very likely to be.

6. The mysterious "they" is usually not given concrete identity but the scientific or medical "establishment" is a frequent target, along with "big pharma" or "big oil"; portrayed as secret and select entities where membership is exclusive.

7. Remember the rule of falsifiability. For claims to be scientifically valid, rational counter-arguments must be possible. A claim that cannot be falsified is invalid. "We are unhealthy because we have stopped relying on our instincts" is such a claim.

8. Real scientists seek out contradictions to their theories. Cranks tend to take contradictions to their claim as a personal attack. That is not to say that scientific debates, when the stakes are high, cannot become heated. It is a question of method.

9. Pseudo-scientists often confuse many theories with great understanding. For instance, there are so many theories regarding time travel that today we know more about time travel than ever before. When of course we know nothing about time travel.

10. Be skeptical of discoveries that are announced to the public in advance of the actual scientific establishment (a peer reviewed journal). Or never presented to the scientific community at all. Real science is not done on YouTube. Yet!

11. Science is not about being a list of facts that you pull out of a hat to show knowledge. Far from it…it deals with questions and possible answers. This is frequently misunderstood.

12. Beware of websites dedicated to one proposition or belief whose only purpose is to "prove" this proposition by rejecting all other alternatives. Rejecting alternative explanations does not automatically "prove" that their proposition is "true".

13. A common bias among pseudo-scientists is confirmation bias. This is marked by selective recruitment of evidence that confirms an already entrenched position while ignoring any counter-evidence…even when that evidence is more abundant.

14. One of the things that makes pseudoscience successful in influencing people's minds is WISHFUL THINKING. Don't engage in wishful thinking. Engage in CRITICAL THINKING.

15. Pseudoscience sets a trap for itself by accepting conjectures and, through belief perseverance, rationalizing their great power. Thus every new experience is seen in light of this power or "previous experience". But the original conjectures are bunk!

16. As Karl Popper said: "A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is nonscientific. Irrefutably is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice." Take that to heart!

17. "We wish to pursue the truth no matter where it leads, but to find the truth we need imagination and skepticism both. We will not be afraid to speculate, but we will be careful to distinguish speculation from fact." –Carl Sagan, Cosmos

18. Sagan spoke of Bozo the clown. Remember, Bozo himself could post his speculations on the Internet. Never before has it been easier for everyone to get a fair hearing. And never before has it been harder to separate science from piles of…pseudoscience.

19. A distinguishing characteristic of real science is that it is constantly in flux. Self-correction is built in and everything is "provisional". Pseudoscience, in contrast, is stagnant and rarely waivers from one central point of view.

20. The two number one laws to apply to outrageous claims and products: 1. You can't get something for nothing, and 2. If it sounds too good to be true; it probably is!

21. In the past, skeptical scientists were slow to accept outlandish theories that were later accepted; after rigorous proof. But these are exceptions. They "laughed" at Copernicus but as Carl Sagan said, "They also laughed at Bozo the clown."

22. To me, language: terms and their definitions are the breeding ground of most fallacies and obfuscation (misdirection through jargon) is a main ploy of pseudoscience. Read this article by Frederik Bendz. Learn to recognize rhetorical devices. Someone hawking a cancer cure will ask, "Has medical science managed to cure cancer?" This way, they avoid making a direct statement and imply that where medicine failed, they succeeded.

23. Claims of ancient knowledge are central themes in pseudoscience. In nutrition, a favorite is the claim that the hunter gatherers had "perfect" diets due to some "primal" knowledge, instincts, or lifestyles. Pseudoscience in its purest form.

24. Beware of the Galileo Argument, which appeals to your sympathy. "I am persecuted and suffer for my claims and therefore must be right". The fact that folks like Galileo and Copernicus suffered for their claims does not lend credence to the claims.


1. JOHNSTON, Brian D. "THE EFFECTS OF FATIGUE FROM LIMITED RANGE EXERCISE ON FULL RANGE FUNCTION." Journal of Exercise Physiologyonline 8.5 (2005). Web. <>.
2. Stanovich, Keith E. "OBJECTIVITY AND INTELLECTUAL HONESTY." By Paula J. Stanovich. Using RESEARCH AND REASON I N E D U C at Io N: How Teachers Can Use Scientifically Based Research to Make Curricular &Instructional Decisions. RMC Research Corporation, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, May 2003. Web. 11 May 2010. <>.

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Last updated 06 Aug 2016 19:22

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