Working Out with Weights: Tension Vs Load

By Kelvin Garner

Most people that meet me say: “Wow you must be strong!” simply due to having a little extra muscle then the common male in the gym. I have to say my days of being strong are gone in a way, since that is not what I plan my workouts around. In my days of being a bodybuilder the one key thing which has been extremely hard is to get the numbers out of my head.

Weight training can be done in various ways and two that I will explain today is Tension Vs Load. I have been able to produce amazing results in both aspects and have had totally different outcomes.

Tension or Time under tension is a commonly used term by many coaches and gym members. I can honestly say 9 times out of 10 most people I come across either can’t maintain tension for the whole set or don’t actually understand what it is. Now don’t get me wrong I have had my days of not understanding it as well but the main aspect of it is practice and also understanding how to be comfortable when you’re uncomfortable eg in PAIN!

My personal tip for understanding tension is to be able to create it without weight and do a similar movement without weights. When you have mastered this you will be able to mimic the same movement under a type of load (dumbbell, barbell, machine).

Tension, when done right, will create a tight painful contraction and stretching of the muscle. With each rep the contraction generally gets more painful but also gives you the understanding that you still have tension and you have not relaxed your muscles.

If you do relax we move into the load aspect (i.e. using weights). Now I am not saying this is wrong but in relation to bodybuilding or generally changing body composition the load aspect doesn’t work as you would hope.

Yes it will make your stronger.

Yes it will break down muscle fibers.

Yes your muscles will still be under load for 40-90 seconds.

Yes it will still burn.

But it won’t optimally create the change your looking for in my opinion.

You can use various ways to incorporate Load and Tension in a superset type workout. For example you can use the 6-12-25 or 8-15-30 rep breakdown (it doesn’t matter if your numbers are slightly different) as per the below:

6 reps of heavy tension, for example: Bench Press, Front Squat, Deadlift, Standing Shoulder press, BB Curl

12 reps of constant tension, e.g.: Incline DB press, Back Squat, Upright row, Preacher Curl

25 reps under load, e.g.: Machine chest fly, Leg Extension, DB Lateral raise, DB Hammer curls

Remember to be focused and aware of your body during each rep – are you squeezing your muscles? Are you keeping proper form? Numbers don’t matter unless you do it right.

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