Preload Your Muscles for Increased Strength | STACK

Preload Your Muscles for Increased Strength

January 18, 2011

Must See Strength Training Videos

If the first rep of an exercise feels like the most difficult of the entire set, you're not alone. However, there's good news: you can preload your muscles to avoid this phenomenon.

Preloading occurs when a muscle is stimulated to contract in order to resist or control a weight before the actual exercise begins. For example, consider a Bicep Curl. When holding the dumbbell in a start position, your biceps are firing and prepared to lift the weight, and you are able to apply near maximal force when beginning the Curl. To feel how neglecting to preload your muscles limits your strength, try performing a Bicep Curl by lifting a dumbbell directly off a bench.

When a muscle must work against weight—whether it’s contracting or immobile—the nervous system fires to activate the muscle. This causes cross-bridges within each muscle fiber to form, pre-setting to shorten the fiber when called upon to contract the muscle. Preloading the muscle allows more time for it to form cross-bridges for optimal strength.

The key here is that if you don’t preload your muscles before beginning a set, they will not be fully prepared to apply maximal strength during an exercise. This reduces the challenge to the muscle, potentially sabotaging strength gains.

Most free weight exercises incorporate a degree of preloading, so they are good choices for developing your strength. On the other hand, machines and cables are designed to begin exercises with zero resistance, throwing you into a potential trap of neglecting to preload before your set. To avoid the  trap, apply some force to the machine or cable and lift the weight off the stack slightly before carrying on with your exercise. Also, do not lower the weight all the way to the stack during the exercise. This will ensure your muscles remain activated and prepared for the following repetition.

This technique should also be applied to exercises that involve pulling weight from the ground, such as the Deadlift or Power Clean. Instead of immediately performing the exercise from the resting position, assume your start position and apply force to the bar before exploding into the movement.

Topics: BUILD MUSCLE
Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is an Associate Content Director at STACK Media. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science...
Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is an Associate Content Director at STACK Media. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science...
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

The 4 Rules of Bulking Up

Well, it's that time of year again. You know, turkey dinners and family get togethers. The time where NOT putting on weight is considered a success. The...

The 8 Craziest Things People Do to Build Muscle

The Food Rules for Building Muscle

Why You

5 Food Swaps that Help Athletes Bulk Up

Get Strong and Thick With Strongman Exercises

How to Strengthen Small and Weak Muscles

Why Hard Work May Not Always Beat Good Genes

How the Actors of 'Blue Mountain State' Get in Shape

Increase Metabolic Stress for Size and Performance

3 Simple Moves for Bigger Triceps

Get a Big Chest With 5 Stand-up Exercises

Build Muscle Faster With This Simple Weight Room Trick

Why You Need to Change Your Workouts More Often

Build Bigger Arms With This Bicep Workout

Keys to a Successful Full-Body Transformation

I Lift Weights But Can't Build Muscle. What's Wrong?

5 Tips to Increase Lean Body Mass

5 Easy Muscle-Building Tips for Hardgainer Athletes

Pack on Muscle by Wave Loading

Pressed for Time? Try This 20-Minute, 200-Rep Workout

Quickly Build Muscle for Football

Build Bigger Biceps Without an 'Arm Day'

Mechanical Overload: A Strategy for Bigger Muscles

Can Your Diet Prevent Sports Injuries?

Tips for Healthy Weight Gain

You Need Rest Intervals. Here's Why

Build Muscle in Less Time With Massed Practice

3 Reasons Why You're Not Getting Stronger

When to Use Isolation Exercises for Growth

5 Reasons Why You're Not Ripped

What You Need to Know About Gaining Muscle Mass

A Simple Strategy for Serious Muscle Growth

5 Reasons You Can't Build Muscle

The Weakling's Guide to Working Out

6 Skinny Pro Athletes Who Dominate Their Sport

The 15-Minute Beach Muscle (Plus Hustle) Workout

Shoulder Workouts for Mass: 3 Tips

Q&A: Brad Schoenfeld on Maximizing Muscle Growth

How to Build Muscle: A Game of Angles