by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS
Anthony “Manchild” Valdez
Harnessing muscular tension is requisite to executing a variety of physical tasks. This brief review examines the importance of generating muscular tension while engaging in resistance training which increases force output, thereby improving the expression of certain biomotor qualities, particularly strength.
Before you read any further, I want you to participate in a rather impromptu and somewhat unorthodox experiment. Scan your surroundings for a moderately heavy object with a handle. If you’re in a gym, you’re in luck, as you’ll be in close proximity to dumbbells, barbells, and handles attached to the pulleys and levers of machines.
First, attempt lifting, moving, or hoisting that object in a casual manner, almost half-heartedly – as if your significant other is asking you to hold onto their wallet or handbag while shopping. Place the object back down or return to starting position. Next, without altering the load, try to squeeze the object with all of your might as you attempt to move it. It should be pretty evident during which attempt the object felt lighter and easier to move.
Vise Grips for Big Lifts
The load seeming lighter during the latter attempt can be attributed to a creating a higher degree of radiant tension. Radiant tension, or irradiation, is described as the development of tension which spans a collection of muscle groups to produce desired movement, resist unwanted movement, and increase force development. Techniques to create radiant tension are often practiced in therapeutic settings as they have been shown to overcome overactive antagonists or synergistically dominant muscles while increasing the response of inhibited muscles.
Many coaches and top lifters advocate building tension while setting up for a big lift and often utilize the cue “crush the bar” which ignites a volley of neuromuscular engagement throughout the kinetic chain.
During a squat, employing a crushing grip, will not only engage the muscles of the forearms, but will also activate the external rotators of the shoulders, upper back, and lats, and in concurrence proper breath patterning, will facilitate the necessary intra-thoracic tension to keep the spine long thus preventing the lifter from tipping forward and missing the lift.
Similarly, a tight grip on the bench press with trigger a torrent of muscular activity throughout the upper body, such as activating the lats, upper back, traps and rotator cuff muscles, which help keep the bar stable, allowing the agonists of the pectoralis, deltoid, and triceps muscles to better display their force development properties.
Lastly, a firm grip on a deadlift, whether using a double overhand or alternating grip, will activate the rotator cuff muscles – which keep your shoulders externally rotated and the lats – which keep the arms extended closer to the body – collectively keeping the bar in closer contact with the body, which provides a distinct biomechanical advantage by shortening the moment arm during the lift.
• While direct grip work is helpful, it is not a prerequisite to employing tension building tactics
• Creating and maintaining tension during movements will take some time getting accustomed to as it may elicit extreme discomfort initially. As such, it would be a prudent suggestion to practice this technique with lighter loads. If any pain is experienced, the technique should be discontinued.
• For strength athletes, an equivalent amount of tension should be summated during lifts, whether it is a warm up or a supramaximal attempt.
• Employing this technique may be contraindicated for those with inflammation of the epicondyles of the elbow and shoulder impingement issues. It would be best if these individuals check with a physician or rehabilitation professional to review their abilities. Further, these individuals should seek the advice of a qualified coach who will help them find an orthopedically safe technique, including a setup, to ward off exacerbation of injury.
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