Don’t think of a deadlift as just a deadlift. Or a squat as just a squat. And the same goes for a press, pull-up, and any other exercise you can think of. If you want to get strong, you must learn the irradiation principle. The irradiation principle will enhance and boost your strength and power. And it is excellent to use to develop your body for sports and athletics.
What is the Irradiation Principle?
The irradiation principle comes from Charles Scott Sherrington from the 1890s. His principle states that when neural impulses contract, they send a signal to each other, like when an electric current starts a motor, as he referred to. A muscle that creates high tension will recruit the surrounding muscles and amplify their tension.
Donald Hebb, a psychologist known as the “father of neuropsychology,” also made significant discoveries in neurophysiology. For example, he said, “Cells that fire together wire together.” He was explaining that any two cells or systems that are repeatedly active at the same time will become associated and activate together. Therefore, the activity you are doing or that is happening facilitates the movement, activity, or action of the other.
Try this. Put one hand on your triceps, and the other hand will make a fist. Start to tighten your fist as hard as you can. When you make a fist, make it tighter and tighter. You will feel your triceps contract. In addition, more and more muscles will get recruited all the way up to your back. You can even touch your chest, shoulder, and back muscles too.
Are you having difficulty feeling it? Well, then try this. Stand up and squeeze your glutes as tight as you can. You can do a slow contraction that leads to maximal tension so you can feel what is happening. As you contract your glutes, you will feel your abdominals and your leg muscles all contract down to your feet. You will have your feet grip the floor.
So, when muscles generate maximal tension and force, they irradiate greater tension, supplying and innervating the surrounding muscles. As a result, you are feeling enhanced isometric contraction and stability.
An Important Note about Stability
To generate maximal power and force, you need alignment and stability. When joints lack stability and your hips and spine are not aligned, you will have a lower strength potential. You can force and force to get stronger. But that will only lead to injury. From a stability standpoint, your nervous system knows the correct position to move and create tension safely. If there is a lack of stability, the nervous system will diminish the amount of power output you can produce.
So, if you want to get stronger, think about stability! As I describe to people, it is the difference between jumping into the lake from the dock and out of a canoe. The dock is stable, and you can jump high and with power. The canoe, you can’t. And that is why stability is the gateway to maximal strength, power, and explosiveness.
What Does this Mean?
When you perform a squat, dead-lift, shoulder press, or bench press, you actively engage your lats, core, glutes, and grip using irradiation. Irradiation produces isometric contraction that increases stability. That stability signals to the nervous system, “all systems are a go,” permitting the increase in power. So based on your five-rep max, applying the irradiation principle allows you to do extra reps.
So, understand that your lack of stability and misalignment can be the reason for not maximizing your strength.
As the neuromuscular condition and coordination improve, your chances of injury decrease because you switch on the mechanisms to increase power.
How to Use Irradiation Tension in Exercises
When you pull the bar down into your upper back, you activate your core and lats, which provide stiffness and stability to the spine.
By squeezing your armpits like trying to pull your elbows toward your body, you will engage the lats in the deadlift. At the top of your deadlift, squeeze your glutes. As you lower down, slightly lean forward into your big toe, and you will feel more muscles working. You can do the same for your squats too! Activating the foot position stimulates your ankles, knees, and hips
Sometimes it is about clenching to create tension. And sometimes, it is just shifting your weight and position.
Clinching the bar with your fist as hard as possible will activate all the muscles in your arm up until your back. So, when you row, you will augment your power.
Unilateral Shoulder Press
The first way to augment your press is by tightening and clenching your fist on your non-working hand. And squeeze your glutes. This way, you get your whole body to work with your shoulder press and not just your shoulders. The isometric contraction signals your working arm and grip to increase the tension and force, increasing your reps.
The second way is to use a resistance band. Hook it up high so it has a lot of resistance when you pull it down. Then, hold the isometric single-arm lat pull and do your shoulder presses on the other arm. I like doing this way because it is highly effective!
When doing a bench press, grip the bar hard and try to bend it like a strongman. This irradiation signal travels all the way to your shoulders and upper back muscles. And as for your feet, drive your feet into the floor during the concentric part of the press. This will activate your core, glutes, and hips, so the whole body is working in your bench press.
So now you know what irradiation is and how it works. Try to incorporate it into all your exercises.
Check out the book INSTANT STRENGTH for more info about strength, speed, power, and explosive training.
Or, to see more great videos to develop your sport and training, watch the BALANCED BODY channel.