Movement Basics: Tension

I’m excited! This week marks a safe removal of some shelter in place, and social distancing restrictions, which means… We get to return to lifting heavy! Lifting heavy is an immensely important tool to further your movement and athletic potential. The benefits are widespread and for most, readily available. Plus, when we are returning to loads this week, we need to be extra careful of how we do so. Do not jump straight back into the heaviest weight you can do, or super high volume! Create a plan of progressive attack and stick to it.

I digress, what’s this week’s blog about? Tension during heavy lifting. 

There are so many ways to approach a heavy lift. What’s your approach?  There’s the checklist method (my preferred method), the step-by-step approach, a ritualized approach, and of course there’s always that crazy guy grunting at the rack, shaking his head, and snorting smelling salts. Regardless of your approach, or anyone else’s for that matter, a common theme should be to build ample tension and pressure throughout your body. This will help your lift and provide safety to your posture through elasticity and rigidity.

Elasticity and rigidity are common attributes of muscle and tendinous tissues. Rigidity is the aspect of the muscle that makes it resistant to deforming, and elasticity is the ability of the muscle to recoil and shorten to its original length. First, rigidity protects your individual joints and total posture from collapsing. You are able to maintain a position globally by organizing your breath and body together, but also locally by ensuring each joint shares a strong position. Secondly, elasticity works to provide a boost to performance. Elasticity multiplies its effect when combined with rigidity to give the ultimate safe and effective lift. (Stretch Shortening Cycle

The simple metaphor I ask the athletes is “ Do you want to organize your body like a bouncy ball, or like a handful of jell-o?”  Organizing like a handful of jell-o leads to getting squished, collapsing and deforming. Where organizing like a bouncy ball (rigid and elastic) gives more power and speed. The bouncy ball also deforms less, so it is less likely to break! 

Organizing your body with tension before maximal effort lifts ensures that you can perform to a better ability than if you hadn’t. Creating this tension is multifaceted, and as I said before, happens at each individual joint as well as globally throughout your body. Covering all of the mechanics of creating tension before a lift is beyond the scope of this blog, but what I can cover is two basic principles that help. 

For the first principle you will have to look all the way back to the second blog on breathing. The Valsalva Maneuver is the best way to create intra-abdominal pressure, which is rigidity through your torso. Some lifters use belts to compound the effect of this maneuver. Your breath is a great weapon in stabilizing against heavy loads. For the specifics of this refer back to Mastering Movement Basics: Breathing.

The second of the two principles is torque which is not an active rotation, but a stable isometric rotational force. In the third edition of this blog we cover body positioning. Much of this positioning, through the foot, and shoulder have to do with external rotation. This sets our joints up to be more stable, and handle loads. Think of corkscrewing your foot in the ground or, bending the bar as winding up the spring that is your body.  See the principles of this torque in the Movement Basics: Body Organization and Posture blog or the accompanying video here.

These principles work to add tension to your body and to prepare for the battle against heavy weights.

When you are preparing to lift a heavy load, you want to create a strong base that is resistant to deformation, and allows you to use the elasticity of your muscles. To understand more of the small points around building tension, contact strength coaches who study and practice these principles professionally every day. *whispering* Outlaw SFR is a great source of these types of individuals!  

Building tension before heavy lifts is another movement basic that will reduce the risk of injury and increase performance. 

-Alex Friedman CSCS

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