I really dislike the word easy, but this little trick of the trade is so easy a caveman could do it.
Whoops, that’s not a caveman. That’s Steven Tyler!
Creating tension in your body prior to moving weight, whether it be external loads (dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, etc) or your own bodyweight, is a sure-fire way to make yourself stronger.
I know that this sounds like voodoo, but it isn’t. Creating body tension before and during a movement will help all aspects of that movement.
*** Please note that this post will heavily quote and reference Pavel’s awesome bodyweight book, The Naked Warrior***
Take an exercise like a push-up. Most of us can perform a single push-up with some kind decent form. If you can’t, it doesn’t take much work to get there. Some simple progressions and frequency of practice will get you performing push-ups in no time.
But anyways, an exercise like the push-up provides one of the best examples of how creating total body tension can improve matters. Whether you are a beginner aiming to increase your reps or an advanced trainee shooting for the single arm push-up, focusing on body tension during the downward and upward phases of the push up will make you feel stronger instantly. When I first messed around with Pavel’s theories almost 5-6 years ago, I added close to 15 reps to my best on the first attempt. This is no joke.
I was a fairly strong kid to begin with, but I didn’t know that I could squeeze even more strength out of my body, which in turn helps everything (body composition, performance, etc).
Creating total body tension was the game changer, because lord knows I didn’t get that much stronger overnight. It doesn’t work that way.
The first lesson was quite simple actually:
You will get stronger by contracting your muscles harder.
I know, it sounds bogus at first. I felt the same way when I read it initially. But I figured that messing around with the concept certainly wouldn’t hurt anything. My results were great. Your’s will be too.
So, first things first. Let’s use the push up example and apply the tension technique.
Follow my lead here… seriously… follow my lead…
1) Get down on the floor and set up for a traditional push up. It should look like this:
2) Once you are in the start position, do the following and don’t laugh… this is serious shit… 🙂
- Grip the floor with your fingertips, until they turn white. (Grip hard!)
- Tense your lats by attempting to twist both hands outward statically. (To clarify your hands should not move at all, creating a corkscrew effect)
- Squeeze your butt hard.
- Brace your stomach hard as if you were going to take a punch.
- Maintain your ability to breathe through pursed lips.
3) As you begin to descend to the floor, actively pull yourself deep into the push up, versus “falling” loosely into it.
4) Now perform 5-10 push ups without losing this muscular tension.
Stay tight! Stay tight! Stay tight!
What do you feel?
Do you feel a difference?
Really focus on all of the above tension techniques, especially gripping the floor with your finger tips and squeezing your ass. Also, the concept of actively pulling yourself into the eccentric (downward) phase of any movement is a great way to keep tension. It’s help my training immensely over the last few years.
The concept of creating tension can be applied to any exercise. That is the pure beauty of the technique. Once you stop approaching your strength training with a loose body and begin contracting hard before and during any movement, you’ll improve your lifts. Improving your lifts will improve your performance and body composition over time. It’s great.
Here’s the stop sign again…
Please don’t do what I did. I messed around with one small set of push ups, felt “kind of” different, than ditched the technique for a few weeks. Big mistake. Once I re-focused on it, and applied Pavel’s teachings, it provided an instant improvement.
Lesson? Don’t even try it if you’re only going to try it once. Keep working at it. You’ll feel a major difference once you connect all of the dots.
If you want a perfect example of an athlete that has to perfect the art of creating total body tension, look no further than the gymnast.
As gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer mentions in The Naked Warrior, “One of the main advantages to these advanced bodyweight exercises is that they require a complete, full body contraction. In fact, at the advanced level, they are so demanding that it is simply not possible to complete them any other way”.
Exhibit A to make Mr. Sommers point:
There are very few people on the planet that can execute this move.
The gymnast has mastered the art of bodyweight control.
I trained a former college gymnast for a while, and these guys are strong as hell. His bodyweight-to-strength ratio, even after being 20+ years removed from competitive gymnastics, was incredible. I could tell that he “set up” before all of the lifts that I was having him do. His grip set up was especially noticeable. No lift was done with a loose body, everything was tight.
Go and try this… tonight. Don’t sit on it and waste time. Try it out, apply it, then come back and learn something else that can help your workouts…
Cheers to the good kind of tension!