The basic building block of strength training is the individual repetition.
If you perform each rep the way I describe here, you will never have to worry about injury. Also, this approach to lifting will insure that you get maximum muscle definition not just on the muscle being worked, but over your entire body. Performing each rep properly makes all the difference in the world when it comes to looking sleek and defined.
[You have probably noticed by now that I don’t include a lot of sweaty people in spandex lifting weights. I’d rather chose inspiring photos like people sun bathing on the bow of a Mega-Yacht. My blog is just trying to make the Internet a more attractive place.]
Fake Strength Versus Real Strength
Who do you think is stronger, someone who can bench press 275 pounds for 5 reps using a slow pace -or- someone who can lift the weight for 5 reps at a fast pace? I am much more impressed with someone who has complete control of a weight during the entire lift and lifts the weight in a slow manner.
In fact, the biggest problem with ballistic and explosive lifting is that you are asking for injury. The other problem is that you are building more tendon strength than actual muscle strength.
The third problem is that you aren’t generating enough muscle tension to really get the maximum return out of every rep.
Explosive Lifting…Using Your Tendons Like a Rubber Band
Want to know why you see many people explode the weights out of the bottom of a bench press? Well they are taking advantage of the stretch at created in the muscle and tendon at the bottom of the lift.
Just like stretching a rubber band, they are using this force created to assist them in lifting that weight. They can use that stretch combined with a strong push to basically sling that weight up. This way of lifting is asking for a bad injury.
Also, it is kind of like “fool’s gold”…it isn’t true strength.
Take Momentum Out of The Equation for Long Term Benefit
The ironic thing about lifting weights at a fast pace is that it limits the amount of strength you can gain. Make no mistake about it, when you are a beginner at strength training you will make fast progress when you lift the weights in a ballistic fashion.
The big problem that happens is that you quickly reach a sticking point.
The amount of weight you lift is largely limited by tendon strength. As mentioned before, it is also asking for a muscle tear.
Take One Step Back to Take 3 Steps Forward
If you are lifting in a fast and explosive manner, I recommend that you stop. I want you to slow it down to get stronger and more defined in the long run. At first you are going to lose a bit of strength, but if you think about it…that isn’t true strength anyway.
The strength you lose now will come back as you learn to lift weights properly. Then you will surpass your previous strength levels.
The Skill of Generating Tension in the Muscle
Strength is largely determined by your ability to generate tension in a muscle. The harder you can contract a muscle the better strength you can demonstrate in that muscle.
Did you know that you can contract a muscle much harder if you also contract the muscles surrounding it? I learned about this principle called “Irradiation” from Soviet Special Forces Trainer, Pavel Tsatsouline.
Here is how he explains it.
- Try flexing your bicep as hard as possible without making a fist.
- Now try and flex your bicep as hard as possible while making as tight as fist as possible and squeezing.
- You should be able to contract your bicep much harder when making a tight fist.
- This is called “irradiation”…what is happening is that the nerve impulses of surrounding muscles can amplify the effect of that muscle.
How to Become a Master at Generating Tension
Here is the craziest thing about the principle of Irradiation.
You can actually create stronger contractions in a muscle by flexing a bigger chain of surrounding muscles.
Take that bicep example above. Try contracting you bicep as hard as possible but this time don’t only squeeze your fist, but contract your pecs and abs as hard as possible as well. Did you notice a difference? After a while you will become a master at irradiation to reach high levels of strength.
Irradiation Develops Muscle Definition Over Your Entire Body
Imagine flexing your Abs hard every time you do curls, bench press, dips, etc.
You are actually increasing your ability to contract your abs hard, while getting stronger in these lifts. All of these tension generating sets are going to create an outstanding level of definition, provided your body fat is low enough.
I started doing this 10 years ago and the first thing I noticed was that my arms had a crazy degree of definition, next came the abs, and after that all the muscles in my torso stood out. Every rep is working many more muscles than before.
You Can’t Use the Principal of Irradiation While Lifting Quickly
That fast explosive way of lifting, doesn’t give you time to generate tension. The only tension generated is right at the bottom when the weight gets reversed quickly. It takes about 2-3 seconds to really generate a lot of tension in the muscle.
Using the bench press as an example, I recommend taking 2-3 seconds to lower the weight before lifting the weight back up. I’ll break down an ideal rep on the bench press in detail.
- Lift the bar off the rack and lock out your arms and prepare to lower.
- Squeeze the bar hard increasing the tension as you lower it.
- Feel the tension work its way down your forearms past your elbow.
- The harder you squeeze the bar the further this tension travels down your arm.
- At the same time you are doing this you are contracting your pecs shoulders and upper arms as hard as possible.
- At the bottom of the lift contract your abs hard while slowly blowing out.
- By the time you reach the bottom of the lift your entire upper body should be rock hard.
- Now purse your lips and blow out slowly as you lift the weight. You will be able to keep your abs flexed hard by pursing your lips as you let out the air.
- The more tension you generate the lighter the weight will feel when you slowly lift the weight back up.
- The better you get at building tension and enlisting help from surrounding muscles, the stronger you will become.
It is Hard to Do More Than 5 Reps in This Manner
One of the reasons I recommend 3-5 reps is that it is tough to do more than this while keeping the quality of each rep. Also, make sure that each rep is almost a separate entity.
What I mean by that is pause a second in between each rep and let the tension out for a second. Then grip the bar and begin building tension for the next rep.
The reason you “pause and reset” a bit is that you will be unable to effectively generate maximum tension for the entire set. You need to rest a second let your nervous system recharge and get ready for the next quality rep.
This is much different than those “pumping” non-stop bodybuilding sets you see 80% of gym members doing.