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The strongest lifters in the world have a secret that they use before they even lift a weight: They create tension in their muscles.
The good news: Learning to create tension isn’t a skill that takes decades in the gym to hone. In fact, you’ll know exactly how to do it by the end of this article, and you can use it in the gym to become stronger today.
Think of creating tension as getting your muscles “tight” before you do a big lift.
“It’s like towing a trailer,” says Pavel Tsatsouline, chairman of StrongFirst. “If you don’t take the slack out of the tow line, it’s doesn’t transmit power efficiently. The same happens with your muscles. Tightening them before a lift leads to better transmission of power.”
In the same way, tightening your muscles signals your brain to activate more muscle. The result: “It allows you to use more weight before your nervous system shuts you down,” he says.
Tsatsouline also believes that there’s something about “getting tight” that, psychologically, makes the weight feel comparatively lighter.
Pat Davidson, Ph.D., the training director at Peak Performance, says that leveraging tension forces your body to work the way it’s supposed to during a heavy lift.