Use Constant Tension For Increased Muscular Results
Anyone who has been training for a while understands the importance of keeping tension on working muscles and increasing the time under tension for each set. It’s a critical formula for building muscle and one advanced method used to achieve this is called continuous tension sets.
So what exactly are you getting yourself into? Continuous tension exercises simply involves maintaining tension on the muscle throughout the entire range of motion of an exercise, for the complete duration of a set. This training technique that can can really help to accelerate your muscular growth, and whether done in the gym with weights, or at home with bodyweight, it simply works.
Continuous tension can help you:
1) Increase the intensity of your workouts and speed up your muscular results
2) Save your joints from excessive wear and tear
3) Keep you from possibly injuring yourself
Now lest you think this is easy, think again because you are going to be humbled. It can take a normal 15 rep exercise down to a 5 rep range just because how much the tension makes you work.
The beauty of the constant tension method is that it can be applied to virtually any exercise. That said, you’ll find it’s most useful when applied to free-weight movements.
Let’s take the squat to illustrate this technique.
Normally, most people perform a set of squats in a “stop and start” fashion, that is, they pause at the top of the movement doing a lot of huffing and puffing for a moment, before beginning their next repetition. This is done to take tension off the muscle, giving the legs a brief rest, and therefore, intensity is compromised.
The key to constant tension technique success is utilizing a full range of motion, without pausing, without ballistic bounce and without cheating, before starting each rep. So basically, you are stopping each rep just a hair shy of lockout, which keeps the tension on the muscles, and off the joints.
(Note: Think of a piston continuously moving up and down with no built-in rest periods – that's what you want your reps to look like. You’re throwing out the top and bottom ends of the range of motion to maintain constant tension with partial-reps.
Maintaining continuous tension can be achieved in several ways:
By avoiding rest periods at the top or bottom of an exercise.
By avoiding the top range of motion during certain movements.
By minimizing momentum – excessive momentum can cause a considerable deceleration phase at the top of a movement, characterized by decreased muscle activation.
The result: Research supports that lifting with continuous tension can provide a potent stimulus for muscular hypertrophy, even when relatively light loads are used (Tanimoto et al., 2008). The true benefit probably has less to do with reduced momentum and more to do with an acute restriction of circulation to the working muscles.
For many exercises, using partial reps merges well with continuous tension as some movements lead to a complete drop-off of joint torque and muscle activation in the targeted region. For example, the top of a chest flye or dumbbell pullover fails to place adequate tension on the targeted musculature. Therefore, partial reps that only rise two-thirds of the way up may be ideal for these movements. It allows for more consistent tension on the muscles.
Check out this video for a great explanation of continual tension on muscles;
When performing movements such as chest flyes, pullovers, hip thrusts, and certain types of curls and triceps extensions, focus on keeping continuous tension on the muscle. Don't rely on momentum, don't be afraid to limit range of motion, and simply squeeze your muscles against resistance. (T-Nation.com)
Keep in mind, however, that the mid-range partials used in constant-tension training aren’t something you should be doing for every set. If you never force your muscles to work through a full range of motion, you can expect losses in mobility, which is why the accompanying workout calls for a few mid-range partial sets and a few full-range sets for many of the lifts. (muscleandperformance.com)
Add Time Under Tension
If you want to really take “Constant Tension” to the next level, use a “Time under Tension” technique. When performing mid-range partials as timed sets, don’t worry about your total number of reps or rep speed — these factors won’t matter. All that counts with constant-tension training is that each rep within a set remains within the middle range of the movement. Make this your priority and maintain strict form on each exercise, and you can rest assured that your working muscles will receive some serious stress regardless of how many actual reps you perform.
Keep in mind, however, that you’ll be performing two-three seconds for the positive/lifting (concentric) contraction, and up to six seconds for the negative/lowering (eccentric) contraction. Basically, you are slowing down the exercise while utilizing continuous tension. You can try this training with various time periods… 90 or 120 seconds, if you’re brave, or just for as many reps as you possibly can. (Labrada.com)
So a typical bodybuilding routine will be done without counting reps, and performing the mid-range partial movement for the prescribed time. Rest one minute between sets.
Constant Tension Workout
Day 1: Chest & Tri’s - For the mid-range reps, lower the weights until your elbows reach a 90-degree angle, and never lock out your arms at the top.
Day 2: Legs: For the mid-range reps, descend until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and stop a few inches short of lockout in the top position.
Day 3: Back & Bi’s: For the mid-range reps, pull the close-grip handle all the way into your midsection during the concentric portion, but stop a few inches short of locking out on the negative.
Day 4: Shoulders, Traps & Abs: For the mid-range reps, maintain at least 5 inches between the dumbbells and your thighs in the bottom position, but still go slightly above parallel in the top position. (muscleandperformance.com)
Try it. It will give your training a nice change. Remember that it’s all about keeping your body guessing so that it won’t adapt to your training routine too quickly. Change is needed to nudge a muscle group out of a plateau.