Constant Tension

Constant Tension

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Experts in bodybuilding can quickly differentiate a bodybuilder from a power-lifter and a weightlifter, even if the workout is done using the same exercises. Actually, this can be determined very easily, by just looking at the dynamics of the given person’s exercise execution.

Weightlifters and power-lifters create strong inertial movements to overcome the limiting points of the exercise amplitude. Unlike them, the intelligent bodybuilder maintains an even pace throughout the whole movement, even though such execution limits the weight that can be used.

If the exercises are completed with a fast/changing pace, explosive strength, as well as power and speed will be developed- Essential qualities for many sport disciplines that don’t require significant muscle growth.

From a bodybuilding perspective, an even pace with maximum and/or limited amplitude, that helps us maintain the constant tension is far more effective.

As we already noted, increasing intensity is directly linked to increasing the working weight, while the individual’s functional capabilities go up. This alphabetic truth is important for all strength-oriented sports. However, while it’s the only defining thing for power-lifters and weightlifters, it’s not the first and foremost factor for people who aim to build muscle mass.

When the goal is overcoming bigger and bigger weights, the methodologies used to achieve that is perfected. This way, we reach the so called automated motor habit, during which, we focus solely on our willpower to overcome the given weight.

We also reach an economization and perfection of the working efficiency, during which, the slight inertial movements in the first third of the working amplitude, allow us to successfully overcome the limiting points of the exercise.

This bio-mechanical approach, used by weightlifters and power-lifters, is far from effective for bodybuilders. Even more to that, the constant strive for heavier weights directly affects the overall bodybuilding preparation in the following ways:

  1. Subconsciously, we create inertial handicaps, during which we reach a “loosening” of the working musculature, in a sense.
  2. The relatively bigger weights force the bodybuilders to have longer rest times between reps, which takes the working set to a total of more than 20 seconds (Remember, our aim is to work within the 15-20 second range)
  3. The working amplitude of the exercise is limited. This leads to decreased flexibility of the joints and musculature.
  4. It is not possible to complete little details like supination and pronation, or focusing on certain muscle sectors.
  5. Last but not least- Higher injury risk.

The constant tension principle, which is the epitome of the bodybuilding workout, helps us overcome the disadvantages listed above. Technically, constant tension is achieved through relatively lower intensity (~70%). Using this lower intensity, we go through a set, using an even pace and focusing on muscle contraction and stretch.

This fashion of working out allows the athlete to focus on the muscle that is being trained. Unlike the fast/ explosive muscle contractions, where the processes of muscle contraction and relaxation alternate, during constant tension, muscle loosening is not observed. This leads to an energetic deficit in the musculature, which is a hypertrophy stimulus.

Practically, this method’s effectiveness can be easily felt during the off-season, combined with exercises for muscle mass. Here are some compound and local exercises that play an important role when trying to realize this method.

Biceps

  1. Incline bench DB curls
  2. Preacher curls
  3. Concentrated curls

Triceps

  1. Kick backs
  2. Skull crushers with a Z bar
  3. Rope push-downs

Shoulders

  1. Front, lateral raises
  2. Smith machine shoulder presses

Chest

  1. DB flys
  2. Cable flys
  3. Pec deck

Back

  1. Barbell pullover
  2. Cable rows

Quadriceps

  1. Hack squats
  2. Leg presses
  3. Leg extensions

Calves

  1. Standing/seated calf raises
  2. Donkey calf raises

Constant tension can successfully be used with almost every other exercise, as an indicator for it’s effectiveness, can be the feeling of constant control upon the whole exercise amplitude.

Let’s trace how this method is realized with the exercise “Incline dumbbell bicep curls”. Let’s accept that the arms are relaxed on the side. Making the upper portion of the arm static, we slowly start raising our forearms to the shoulders.

When we reach a 90-degree angle in the elbow, we supinate the wrist, concentrating the movement towards our biceps. After completing this, we slowly let the weight down, keeping constant tension upon the muscle fibers. It’s recommended for the effort-involving part of the exercise to last around 3-4 seconds, while the negative part (where we let the weight down) lasts about 4-6 seconds.

Throughout the whole exercise, our thoughts must be focused on the working musculature, maintaining constant tension.

If there’s a constant link between the concentration of thoughts and muscle activity, we wouldn’t need high intensity as it can be reduced to 60-70% of the usual intensity used.

When using this method, it’s recommended to have about 10 repetitions in a set, without a significant change in the rep range. The goal is to attack the muscle in depth, which requires an average of 8-10 reps as we said above.

In conclusion, we can remind you that constant tension causes stress in the activated musculature, which needs an adequate time window for recovery and supercompensation, in response to the unknown form of stress upon them.

The appropriate exercises are the ones completed through the classical full range of motion principle, without reaching failure. At the same time however, the constant tension method is a perfect prophylaxis for the joints, ligaments and tendons, due to the steady muscle activity it demands.

Even more, the optimally dosed workout, done using this method, is the only gentle training tool when slight joint/tendon pain exists.

Summary

This method is quite universal, simply because it can be exploited through the off-season, as well as the on-season. The strive for optimal hypertrophy is well balanced through the principle of constant tension with the methods of incomplete amplitude and peak flexion. The workout focused on shape, separation, detail and proportion requires full contraction and extension of the musculature.

Even though this method requires reduced working weight, progressive overload can be mainly looked for in the lack of inertial powers that help us overcome the limiting points of the movement.

This method can be used for both compound and isolated exercises, which gives it all-embracing, De-adapting and priority capabilities.

The constant tension method is universal, mainly because it allows the effective combination of almost all specialized methods, applicable through both periods (off/on season).  However, it’s preferable to use this method when your main goal is muscle hypertrophy.

When you have that goal in mind, it would be especially effective to combine this with intense methods like peak flexion, pre-exhaustion, incomplete amplitude, etc.

It’s accepted that the constant tension method is combined with quality methods as a muscle-preserving tool.

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