There’s a game my friend used to ‘play’ at high school because he had a screw loose that involved tension. He tensed his abs as hard as he could and dared people to punch him there as hard as they could. Because he was in great shape, it would almost hurt the person’s fist more than his stomach.
It would’ve been a different story if he didn’t create tension.
There is a time and a place for muscular tension, and when you are holding a weight in your hands is one of those times. Now there is one ‘trick’ that will instantly make you stronger while improving your technique and preventing injury.
Let me introduce you to muscle irradiation. Irradiation comes from Sherrington’s Law of Irradiation which states:
“A muscle working hard recruits the neighboring muscles, and if they are already part of the action, it amplifies their strength. The neural impulses emitted by the contracting muscle reach other muscles and ‘turn them on’ as an electric current starts a motor”.
Here’s an example of this law in action requiring audience participation. Yes, that means you. So, stand up for a moment and perform this simple test.
Squeeze your butt together as hard as you can. I’m refraining from all butt jokes here but feel free to insert your own. Then clench your fists as hard as possible, digging your fingernails into your palms.
Can you feel it?
If you did this right, you would notice an increase in your glute muscular tension, and this is Sherrington’s Law in action. Now let’s put this to good use to help you lift stronger with improved technique.
Rooting your feet to the ground, as demonstrated by my friend and super-coach Tony Gentilcore, means you’re creating a foot arch, which, when done correctly, you’ll feel all the way up to your hips. And making this arch puts your ankles, knees, and hips in a better lifting position.
Maintaining active feet while performing any lower body exercise helps keep your ankles, knees, and hips in better alignment, putting you in a stronger position to make the lift.
Use Your Lats
If you like to squat and deadlift (like I do), this tip is for you.
When you pull the barbell down into your upper back/traps while barbell squatting, you’re engaging the lats, which provide the tension required to keep your back neutral and not to lean too far forward when rising from the squat. When performing any deadlift variation, ‘squeezing your armpits’ together during the setup and lift keeps the bar close to you and the spine in neutral during the pull.
Creating and maintaining muscular tension with your lats ensures a straight and efficient bar path for both exercises, making it safer for you and your spine.
Unilateral Presses And Rows
Unilateral rows and presses strengthen imbalances between sides and improve core strength; both lead to better flex times. But clenching your free hand into a fist will signal your working hand to grip harder, providing more stability in the wrist, forearms, and shoulders. Doing this trick will help you lift with better form and hopefully for more weight or reps.
Active Hands and Feet
Gripping the barbell hard (or ripping the barbell in two) to create tension sends your muscles a signal that you’re ready to press. This muscle irradiation helps tightens your upper body, which creates a torque on the barbell and puts you in a better and more stable position to press. But this doesn’t stop with the hands.
Your feet are part of the bench press too.
Pushing yourself back with your feet while pressing will engage the glutes, helps put an arch in the lower back, and acts as a counterbalance to the barbell. Both combined will ‘turn on’ the chest, shoulder, and arms muscles to press the weight with better form.
And hopefully, for more weight and reps.
The point of lifting weights, except for looking sexier, is to get stronger and stronger, IMO, is always better. Creating muscular tension instantly makes you stronger and in a better position to lift safely. It’s what’s called a win-win in my book, and it is better than a punch in the guts.