Lately, a number of people have been asking me about muscle control. So, I figured it was time to give my unabashed opinion on it.
Muscle control is great…and, at the same time, it’s not quite all it’s cropped up to be.
Back around the early 1900’s, there were a number of oldtime strongmen that promoted muscle control as the best way to get stronger. Most notably among these was Maxick, later along with his partner Monte Saldo.
Maxick claimed that this and only this was the best way to get strong. Based on his results in weightlifting, at a very small size, you have to at least look at these claims.
For example, at a bodyweight of just 147 pounds, he military pressed 230 pounds!
Or a right hand only jerk of 240 pounds!
His routine was predominately muscle control…but then he also practiced the weightlifting in order to be skilled in it.
So how much of this came from muscle control? And how much came from lifting weights? He discusses this in his books, but it’s hard to say for sure.
Nor was Maxick the only one.
Eugene Sandow grew famous mostly from his posing ability…which is all about muscle control. In his book, Strength and How to Obtain It, he advocated lifting light dumbbells (like a couple of pounds each) essentially while practicing flexing and relaxing the muscles, aka muscle control.
Was this the secret of his great strength? No, it was not. Yes, he absolutely practiced muscle control a lot, the story goes he would flex his individual muscles all across his body while reading the morning newsletter.
Then again, this was done in addition to other methods of strength training. A pattern starts to emerge…
You can bet that based on these claims and the notoriety of these strongmen people followed these systems. Most of which focused just on the muscle control. But if this was the end-all, be-all of strength it would have trumped any other system. We’d all be practicing muscle control today.
But are we?
No. In fact, very few people are. It has largely become a lost art.
So it sounds like I’m coming down hard on muscle control, right?
Although all of the above is true, I still think that muscle control is a lost art that is worth practicing.
Learning how to tense muscles, and more importantly to relax them, both in groups and in isolation is a great skill set to have. It absolutely will make you stronger because of two things:
- Your mind-muscle connection is stronger, thus you can drive more nerve-force to the muscles so they can flex harder.
- You can relax those muscles that act as brakes on the system (like your triceps resisting the biceps or vice versa).
For instance, Otto Arco, another great practicer of muscle control had this to say, “It is even more helpfulness to the nervous system than to the muscles; because as each muscular contraction is the result of a nerve message your practice brings the nerves under control; not only gives you the power to stimulate the muscles to greater effort, but also enables you to relax, at will, both the nerves and muscles.”
Ah, the nervous system an often neglected part of strength as everyone focuses on the muscles themselves.
Plus, some of the exercises from muscle control, such as the abdominal vacuum, come with tons of other benefits that I don’t see being gotten any other way.
So is muscle control worth learning about and practicing? Absolutely.
I just don’t think that the best benefits come from doing it exclusively. Instead, the best results will be gotten when you do muscle control along with normal, moving exercises, whether this is weights, bodyweight, kettlebells or anything else is fine.
In other words, muscle control is great as an adjunct to other training. As such it is worth doing for a while then moving onto other things…and then coming back to it down the road. Or doing a bit of it mixed with your current training.
That’s my opinion on muscle control, one refined after years of training doing muscle control and other forms plus reading all these strongmen’s books.
If you’d like to add this to your routine you can check out the most in-depth course on muscle control, the only one which features video, here.
Maxick actually does state in all of his books does state that muscle control alone will not give you the best results but in combination with other exercises.