Exercise execution and how we apply tension within our training will play a pivotal role in determining the results we achieve. Executing a movement effectively will have a number of benefits ranging from injury prevention, full range of motion (ROM), maximising results and efficiency. Poor execution will lead to below average results and leave you scratching your head wondering why progression feels very slow or non-existent. Within this 3 part blog post I will be discussing both exercise execution and how to effectively apply tension to certain muscle groups. I will be covering the majority of the main muscle groups from chest, back, shoulders and legs, with some slight coverage on arms.
The Importance of applying tension:
When we think about tension, common sense will tell us that the faster you move a weight the lower the muscle tension will be. Using a controlled tempo and reducing the speed of the movement will inevitably increase the muscle tension. There is a time for moving a weight from A to B where the focus may be to develop speed, power, and overall strength. However, applying and maintaining tension when performing an exercise is crucial if the goal is to mindfully contract muscle against load. I highly recommend taking a look at Mark ColesÂ video demonstration on tension and contraction for optimal muscle development.
When are we most likely to lose tension?
There are a number of different ways in how we can lose or shift tension elsewhere when performing an exercise. Tiredness and an unbearable build up of lactic acid are not only common but inevitable as we churn out rep after rep. Our bodies begin to fatigue making us vulnerable to losing tension on the working muscle.
If we use the lateral raise as an example; starting with the dumbbells directly by your side you’ll notice that there is no direct load and very minimal tension coming through the lateral deltoids. If we want to start with tension, by moving the dumbbells slightly away from the body (about an inch ½) you will automatically feel tension on the delts. Shifting or losing tension can happen when you start rounding or leaning forwards, arching your back and rotating and lowering the dumbbells past the starting point of an inch ½ away from the body where there is no tension.
How do you make a lighter weight feel heavy?
When it comes to physique development there are a variety of training systems and variables to consider that can become quite overwhelming at times. We know that in order to grow, change, develop, our training protocols must have a progressive overload structure in place. Can we really expect our bodies to change if we are going through the motions using the same weight, same tempo, same workout routine, same program etc. I think we can all more or less agree one of the most effective ways of progressive overload is adding more weight. However, pushing for personal strength records all year round without cycling intensity can lead to injuries so be mindful of how your body responds to the demands you lay upon it.
One way you can increase intensity and provide a progressive overload is by manipulating the speed and tempo at which you perform the exercise. If we take the incline bench press for example; you may decide to use the following tempo in order to present a different stress in terms of time under tension.
Eccentric phase (lowering weight) = 4
Stretch position (bottom position) = 0
Concentric phase (raising the weight) = 2
Contracted position (top position) = 0
Exercise execution (Back) – Can we make the Lat pull down more effective?
If the goal is to mindfully contract muscle against load wouldn’t it be more effective to activate and initiate movement with the lats?
Some people when performing this exercise just tend to aimlessly pull with no particular intent or understanding of what muscle group needs direct attention. Here’s how to effectively activate and initiate movement with the lats!
Lat pull down: (supinated grip variation)
- Engage abdominals, chest up
- Scapula depression, drop the shoulders (activate lats)
- Initiate movement with the lats, pulling with the elbows
- Squeeze tight, release slow (eccentric)
- Stretch at the top
Exercise execution (Back) – Chin up positioning for lat recruitment?
When performing an exercise do you ask yourself where you would like to feel tension? As you can see from the picture above I have put my body in a position where I’m slightly leaning back which will minimise elbow flexion. This will effectively recruit the lats more than if I was closer to the bar where there would be a higher recruitment of forearms/biceps.
Exercise execution (Chest) – Looking for optimal pec recruitment?
If you want to isolate your chest a good starting position would be to ensure placing your hands slightly outside of your elbows forcing the pectorals to work harder thus taking the triceps out of the focus. If you position your hands slightly inside of your elbows you will notice more of a tricep recruitment and therefore chest will be doing less work. If you want to see a video tutorial of how to perform this exercise optimally, check out Ben Pakulski youtube video.
- Engage the working muscle first
- Shoulder retraction
- Depress your shoulders
- Hands slightly outside the elbows
- Big stretch at the bottom
- Push the elbows together