It sounds like something you should avoid at all costs—like riding a bus that’ll blow up if it goes under 50 mph, or being the only non-zombie at a brain-eating buffet. Continuous tension is a negative if you’re a hapless character in a summer blockbuster, but it’s a positive when you apply it to every rep of a set. In the latter case, it’s a means of keeping the targeted muscle ﬂexed while moving the resistance, thus making the set both more difficult and more effective. We’ll explain how to best utilize the Weider continuous tension principle for gains so good they’re scary.
To reap the beneﬁts of an exercise, make sure to maximize stress within your targeted muscle(s) through the fullest possible range of motion. Most trainers realize this, but the problem is many exercises don’t create this continuous stress, and lifters often use poor form to displace the stress. The Weider continuous tension principle prescribes that you ﬂex the targeted muscle’s antagonist muscle throughout the set. Enhance this tension by performing each rep slowly and fully.
For example, before a set of barbell curls, ﬂex your triceps (the biceps’ antagonist) and keep ﬂexing throughout the set during both the positive and negative halves of each rep. Notice how tensing your triceps also activates your biceps and focuses the resistance on them. You won’t be able to use as much weight as you could without ﬂexing, but your bi’s will work harder. Switch this around to hit triceps. Throughout every rep of triceps pushdowns, ﬂex your biceps. For deltoids, which have no obvious antagonist, ﬂex your upper back to keep the entire shoulder area tense.
Though continuous tension is easily achieved with one-joint muscles, like bi’s and tri’s, and muscles that work through a very limited range of motion, like abs (tense your spinal erectors throughout each set), it’s more difficult to apply it to larger muscle groups, like lats and quads. However, as our sample back routine illustrates, there are ways to use continuous tension on even your biggest and most complex body parts.
H.U.G.E.® CONTINUOUS TENSION ROUTINE
It’s easy to apply continuous tension to a one-joint muscle like biceps. To demonstrate that this principle can be used with any body part, we’ve devised a continuous tension routine for your most complex body part: back. Flex your chest (upper back’s antagonist) throughout every set of the ﬁrst four exercises. Back extensions target your spinal erectors, so ﬂex your abs (lower back’s antagonist) throughout every set of this exercise. Do the reps of all ﬁve exercises slowly to accentuate the tension.
These are the pluses of using continuous tension:
- PROPER FOCUS: Have you ever driven home and then realized you don’t recall anything about the drive over familiar roads and streets? You were on auto-pilot. Too often we can slip into a similar mode when training. We’re technically doing every exercise correctly, and we may even be hitting personal bests—but we’re not thinking about maximally stimulating our muscles. Continuous tension forces you to stay out of autopilot and concentrate on the technique and purpose of every rep.
- MIND-MUSCLE CONNECTION: The increased focus on your targeted areas strengthens your mind-to-muscle connection. You may have heard the M-to-M term bandied about. It means you’re more in tune with how your muscles are reacting to stimuli and better able to control those muscles—factors that can make all your workouts more effective.
There are two potential pitfalls to using continuous tension:
- COMPOUND DISTRACTIONS: Sometimes attempting continuous tension will just distract you from staying in the groove and moving the weight. Don’t attempt to ﬂex any antagonist muscles when doing compound exercises that depend on multiple muscles and ballistic movements. Examples: deadlifts, power cleans, jump squats, and push presses.
- LIGHTER RESISTANCE: Flexing the antagonist and performing each rep at a deliberate pace will generally reduce the amount of weight you can use. The muscular tension you gain will make up for the iron resistance you lose. Still, you may want to keep maximum weights in your workouts. To do so, include some compound exercises performed without continuous tension.
Continuous tension isn’t just for weights anymore. Phil Heath is just one of the bodybuilding legends who does a form of continuous tension cardio. He ﬂexes his glutes while stepping on a StairMaster and credits that for accentuating his posterior development. The same can be done while walking or jogging on a treadmill. And you can get an isometric ab workout with your cardio or at any other time by keeping your spinal erectors and abs tensed for extended periods. FLEX