If your goal is to increase strength, or your sport requires you to have elite levels of strength, then you need to understand and master one concept shared by the Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press.
It has nothing to do with the use of a barbell; rather, it comes down to being able to create tension throughout your body and maintain that tension through the lift.
I know, not as exciting as you hoped, right? But stick with me for a few more moments; it's worth your time.
What is Tension?
Tension is a contraction of muscles for a period of time with the goal to produce stability throughout the tensed joint.
Consider the elbow. If I want my elbow to resist movement (flexion and extension), I squeeze my fist, which causes my forearm muscles to contract isometrically along with the muscles of my biceps, triceps and shoulder stabilizers. When enough tension is created, my elbow will be able to resist forces that are trying to flex and extend it. This is exactly what we are trying to do when lifting weight, but instead of creating tension and stability in the elbow, we do it in the legs, upper back and abdominal region.
How Does Tension Increase Strength?
Some of you are probably thinking, "OK, that was a somewhat interesting point about the elbow, but how is this relevant to my lifting massive weights?"
I would argue that most people miss lifts, don't progress in weight and get injured because they either didn't create enough tension or flat out didn't know that creating tension is important when lifting weights.
If you don't create enough tension through bracing your core and pulling the bar tight against your upper back, you will end up leaning too far forward at the bottom of your Squat. This will result in a missed lift or an angry lower back; you don't want either.
If you don't think about gripping the bar, squeezing your lats tight and bracing your core, you will wind up trying to pull the weight off the floor with a rounded back, which will again lead to an angry lower back and a possible missed lift.
If you don't drive your feet into the ground, engage your glutes and squeeze your shoulder blades tight to make a strong base to press from, you will end up with the bar stuck on your chest when you try to lift heavy.
The more tension you can create, the more strength and stability you will have to push from, leading to a more advantageous position to be able to:
- Control more weight
- Lift more weight
- Do more sets and reps safely, with higher percentages of your one-rep max
You'll see results and increase your strength when you properly use tension.
Exercises to Develop Tension
When you break it down, if you want to create tension and increase strength, you really need to focus on three areas.
Dumbbell Standing Plank
Lat Engaged Hip Hinge
Make sure you work these exercises into your routine to increase your ability to create tension. Remember, more tension results in bigger and better lifts.
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