Muscle-Building: Constant Tension Training

Now that I’ve covered pre, intra and post training nutrition for fat loss, as well as for strength and performance and muscle-building, I originally was going to do a summation of the three and offer my opinion on what would be the best of all methods to use over all. Being biased to my own goals and preferences, as is anyone, I basically would have re written my carb back-loading article, as I feel this method is probably the most beneficial regarding all of the above, especially when maximizing your hormonal output is concerned. Taking in more carbs to increase your strength is one thing and clearly effective for strength, but increasing your overall testosterone levels I feel has more value if muscle gains are your goal. There are of course methods of doing both, and I touched on that previously in an article series about systemic athletic dominance, as well as in Part Two and Part Three. I intend to expand on this for our purposes at a later date.

What I next wanted to discuss is the training method that I am currently employing along with a modified carb back-loading plan (that I will get to soon, after a decent period of ‘testing’) that I am having tremendous success with. This training method is what the title of this article suggests – constant tension training. I have seen dramatic results quickly and I am not one to make this claim lightly. Feel free to find another reference in any other articles if you wish. My point being that if I am seeing results quickly and they are noticeable, then this is something you probably want to look into doing yourself.

Before I get to what this method is, and the ways that I have found the most success with the variations that can be used, I need to talk a little about muscle-building. There are two things that science knows that are necessary in order to stimulate a muscle into growing larger and stronger and those two factors are time under tension and muscle fatigue. In my experience with all of the various techniques available, no other method accomplishes this more effectively than constant tension training.
The reasons being that by putting your muscles under constant tension means that they are not ever given a rest so both time under tension is constant, and muscle fatigue will occur most effectively and thoroughly. There are several ways to accomplish this and I’ll take you through them, and then I’ll explain what is working for me. Sound ok?

One of the old-school methods that are still used to train in this manner is to perform partial reps. Examples of this include rack pulls (the style of deadlifts that I see every trainer have their client perform and that I’m not a fan of at all, unless used for this purpose), quarter squats, quarter bench press or any press for that matter, 21’s for biceps and so on. The idea being that by removing the top, or lock out portion of the rep, and the bottom, or the full stretch, the muscle is placed under constant tension. This is true, however, I always believe a muscle should be worked in its full range of motion for both results and functionality, so while this is an effective method, it isn’t the technique I’m suggesting.

Then there is contrast training, and this is getting closer to what I’m getting at. This is where you continue to do your big, free weight, compound lifts to build muscle, because I’m not going to argue their value (although I am going to suggest a slight modification in a moment), and you compliment that by using machines for the constant tension portion.

Machines you ask? Do I mean those things in the corner of your gym that used to be used by every gym newbie before cross fit came along and has everyone that has been lifting for two weeks or less performing overhead squats and cleans, hogging the squat racks while I cringe waiting for the inevitable injury due to dangerously poor technique and insufficient muscle development? Yes, those same machines. Those machines that are so passé offer what free weights can’t: constant tension over a full range of motion. Simply adding in a few sets of laterals on shoulder day, for example, done at the cable station and done under a controlled tempo will serve to keep those delts under constant tension the entire duration of the movement.

I just mentioned tempo and for good reason. When performing these cable or machine lifts, there has to be as little momentum generated as possible in order to remove any part of the lift that will have less tension. This is achieved by simply lifting slowly. A good tempo to begin with is two, zero, two, zero. A two count for the negative portion, a brief stop at the bottom, but not long enough to take tension off, and then a two count for the concentric portion of the lift, and repeat with a short pause at the top. This means that there is no explosive component to the lift at all, which means the weight you use will have to be lighter. The entire lift is essentially the sticking point, and that ‘s the idea. To make it as difficult thought the entire range of motion as the most difficult portion of a regular lift.

I have found that this very same tempo and practice can be applied to free weight also. By removing the explosive portion of the lift, you can keep the tension constant throughout the movement. By pausing only briefly at the bottom of the lift, the tension will remain constant and by squeezing hard in the lock out position, you will find that there is no point where the muscle isn’t working extremely hard.

You will also find that just like with the machines, the weight you use will have to be lower. This is not strength training, but purely hypertrophy training. If building muscle mass is what you desire then I suggest you not only give this a try, but continue to work with it until you perfect it. Like anything, doing this technique effectively will take some practice. When you notice that you are lifting in this manner and your strength is improving, then you’ll really be on your way to some very noticeable progress.

If you are lifting to impress, then this is not the method for you, but if you are lifting for results, then this is indeed the way to proceed.

Happy Lifting!

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