How Important is Muscular Contraction During Training?
Article by Dave Groscup, IART/Med-Ex HIT Trainer
As you stroll through gyms and observe trainees of all types and persuasions, you will encounter many different methods of training. You will also observe terrible exercise form used in the exercises, such as barbells swinging with arched backs in the barbell curl, bars being bounced off the chest during bench presses and rapid downward movement in the barbell squat. Most of this is the result of attempts to stroke their ego(s) by using heavier weights than the next guy or gal in their exercises.
The problem with this is the extreme force it places on your joints and tendons which can lead to career-ending injuries, including muscle tears, ripped tendons and the like. Not very conducive to a healthy training career is it?
This lack of proper exercise performance also leads to a lesser-than-ideal stimulation of the muscle, which undermines the main focus of bodybuilding training, which is to build bigger, stronger muscles.
In this article we will take a look at the best way to maximize the benefits of your training by increasing the intensity of your working muscle’s contractions, thereby utilizing the most fibers you can during an exercise.
The benefit of maximizing your muscular contractions in your training
Using proper exercise performance to increase muscular contraction in your exercises activates more muscle fibers than normally possible, leading to far more muscle exhaustion. More muscle exhaustion equals a greater response from your body to rebuild your muscles from the micro damage that occurred during exercise.
Remember, the main concern with bodybuilding training is not how much weight you can lift but how a weight is lifted. After you have been training for a while you will be able to focus the resistance on the muscle and make the weight seem much heavier than it actually is. This is a skill that most trainees lack but is essential if you want to make it to the advanced ranks of bodybuilding.
To practice this lift a weight, and while slowly raising it, relax all of the muscles not involved in the exercise and concentrate all of the resistance on the muscle being trained. Lower the weight in much the same fashion. With time, you will become skilled with this and experience new results while not straining yourself continuously to lift heavier weight.
Ways to increase muscular contraction
The way you perform exercises makes a big difference in the results that you experience from your training. When training, make sure to perform exercises in a slow, deliberate fashion to keep pressure on the muscles. I list some examples below:
Using the dumbbell concentration curl as an example, curl the dumbbell up toward your shoulder in the typical fashion. Instead of using a rapid motion, curl the weight to a count of six. At the top of the movement do six short “burn reps” and hold the weight at the top for ten seconds before returning it to the beginning position. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
By performing concentration curls in this fashion, you increase the contraction force in your biceps muscles. When you begin an exercise, your body uses an initial muscle fiber bank to begin lifting the weight. As you progress, those muscle fibers tire and new ones take over the effort. This effect is magnified by the use of slow speed during exercise. The burn reps at the top of the rep cause a cramping effect, leading to additional fiber stimulus. And finally, the static hold exhausts nearly all of the muscle’s remaining fibers.
An exercise combination that is effective at activating maximum muscle fibers for Biceps training is:
- Standing barbell curl-1 set of 8 individual static holds done in the following fashion. Pick a weight that allows you to hold the barbell at the point of maximum contraction (the point ¾ of the way up) and hold the weight motionless for 20 seconds. Return the weight to the start position and after resting for ten seconds, repeat for a total of 8, 20 second holds. After the initial 2-3 holds it will be necessary to reduce the weight so you are able to complete a full 20-second hold.
- Partial cable pulldowns-1 set of 12 reps. Using a palms-facing grip pull the bar to your midsection. Let the bar back one third of the way and do two reps in that zone. Beginning at the middle third position, do three reps before completing a final three reps in the top third zone. Use weights that cause you to go to complete muscular exhaustion in both exercises.
- Behind-head cable curls-1 set of 10 reps. Sitting on a bench, grab a two-handed rope attachment using a hammer curl grip and curl the rope along the side of your head to the back. Go to failure using a random series of “burn” reps at several different areas of the movement.
Moving to the shoulder muscle group, use the following effective routine:
- Bent-over dumbbell laterals- 1 set of 12 reps. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and lean over until you are parallel with the floor. Keeping your arms slightly bent, raise them until they are even with your shoulders. Return to the start position and repeat for the desired rep count. The temptation is to use momentum with this movement, but don’t! Go to muscular exhaustion before moving to the next exercise.
- Front cable raises- 1 set of 12 reps. Grab a stirrup handle after selecting a weight that causes exhaustion at 12 reps and raise the handle up to a point six inches higher than the top of your head. Your arms should be slightly bent and out in front of you throughout the exercise.
- Seated machine presses- 1 set of eight static holds with a 10 second rest between reps. Select a weight that allows you to barely hold the press arm for 20 seconds at the point just prior to lockout. Hold the machine press arm in this position for 20 seconds before returning it to the start position. You will need to reduce the weight with each succeeding rep or you will be unable to complete the 20-second hold.
These variables can be used with all body parts to increase training results. Some variations will need to be made at times due to body mechanics but through experience that will become second nature.
Hopefully, you have gained some new tools from this article to use in your training. Best of luck in your bodybuilding efforts!
David Groscup has over 35 years of training experience in HIT, or High Intensity Weight Training. He is certified as a High Intensity Trainer by the IART/Med-Ex Group and has trained many people successfully in this protocol. He has authored several books on the subject of high intensity training, which are available at:
You can read his blog on High Intensity Training at: http://drhitshighintensitybodybuilding.blogspot.com/
How Important is Muscular Contraction During Training?,