Skip to content

Tips of the week Curls with constant tension

Tipps der Woche Curls mit konstanter Spannung

Do you want to use muscle tension, isometric potentiation and unilaterally enhanced neural drive to your advantage? In other words - do you want to build bigger biceps? Then try the following.

Alternating curls with constant tension

Start with both arms in the fully contracted position - the top point of curls. Lower the working arm while keeping the non-working arm tensed near the highest position. Curl the working arm until both arms are contracted again. Then switch arms and perform one repetition with the other arm. Continue alternating repetitions until you have completed the set.

The benefits of this are as follows:

  1. The biceps are under constant tension. While the non-working arm is waiting to be used, it remains isometrically tensed, which recruits more motor units.
  2. You are performing a unilateral, dynamic movement. This increases the activation of the motor units of the working muscles, which means that recruitment and stimulation of more motor units is promoted.
  3. The dynamic action is followed by an isometric action. The disadvantage is that you can't use as much weight, so you can't cause as much muscle damage. That's why it's important to use this exercise as a secondary biceps exercise after a heavier exercise.

Want some variety? Use the same technique with dumbbell Scott curls.

Tip: Perform deadlifts - shoulder raises for a big trapezius

Build up your stubborn trapezius, combine trap bar deadlifts with shoulder raises (shrugs) in one effective exercise

By Dr. John Rusin

Want to build a thick trapezius? By combining two proven trapezius building exercises into one exercise, you'll shock your entire trapezius into new growth. The upper, middle and even that stubborn lower trapezius will be pushed hard with a heavy old-school load. Perform trap bar deadlifts with shoulder raises to train the trapezius from all angles and with different types of contractions.

Deadlift with shoulder lift

  1. Move the trap bar upwards with a deadlift movement.
  2. Raise your shoulders up to your ears in the top position and hold the top position for a full second before lowering the weight slowly and in a controlled manner.
  3. After 3 to 5 shoulder lift movements, lower the trap bar back down to the floor. This is one repetition.
  4. Perform 5 to 8 repetitions per set in this way.

Aim for some serious volume. The trapezius responds very well to isometric and constant muscle tension. Perform this exercise on an upper body day or a specific back training day, progressively increasing the weight over the course of 4 to 5 sets until you reach a weight that allows you to perform 3 to 4 work sets with perfect rhythm and tempo.

Remember that tempo is key - so don't fudge the shrugs at the highest point or artificially reduce the range of motion by arching your upper back or retracting your neck. Move the weight as slowly as possible, keep your neck and upper back in a neutral position and tolerate the pain.

Why does this exercise work?

This exercise incorporates isometric, concentric and eccentric actions of the trapezius, but also targets the secondary muscles that play a role in stabilizing the spine, which increases the amount of tension generated by all three aspects of the trapezius muscle. Holding this tension for 45+ seconds will also get your heart rate racing, giving you a huge conditioning component in addition to strength and hypertrophy training.

Tip: Take the 30 second front squat challenge

Test your guts and improve your squat weights with the help of this brutal challenge

By Ben Bruno

This challenge is simple, but far from easy. You've done wall sits ( before, right? Take this exercise, multiply it by 1,000 and you've got isometric holds on front squats.

Front squats with isometric hold

  1. Get into the lowest position of a front squat - just before the point where your hamstrings touch your calves.
  2. Hold this position for as long as possible. Ideally, do this in a power rack so that you can drop the bar onto the rack pins when you're done.

Start with 50 kilos on the bar until you can hold this position for at least 30 seconds. Once you have reached this point, you can increase the weight to 65 kilos. From then on, start increasing the duration of the hold. Anything over 30 seconds with 65 kilos is pretty damn impressive. Do this exercise at the end of your training session as your legs won't be able to do much after this. Interestingly, after performing this exercise twice a week for 6 weeks at the end of my lower body workouts, my front squats felt much better and I felt much stronger at the bottom of the movement. So this exercise has value beyond the challenge.

Tip: Improve your pull-up performance with the "Hang an Pack" method

Stop jumping into your pull-up start position. Get strong at the bottom of the movement with this method

By Kelli Keyes, Abby Keyes

Struggling with pull-ups - especially when it comes to getting out of the starting position? Try a hanging lowering of the shoulder blades. The cool kids refer to this as a "hang and pack."

The hang and pack method

This exercise will improve your grip and help you get stronger from the bottom position, which will help you with full range of motion pull-ups.

1. pull your shoulder blades down and together without moving your arms as you hang from the bar with your arms straight.
2. hold this position for a few seconds and release the bar to allow your shoulders to relax and stretch.
3. repeat this for several repetitions and work on increasing the sets/repetitions you perform.

Tip: Perform pulldowns with straight arms for the latissimus

Challenge your latissimus and improve your V-shape with this exercise

By Christian Thibaudeau

Most people find it difficult to push their latissimus really hard. Aside from those exercisers who are already latissimus dominant, pull-ups and lat pull-downs quickly become more arm exercises than lat exercises. Similarly, if you are not already latissimus dominant, rowing exercises will mainly work the middle back rather than the latissimus. The solution: Use a shoulder extension exercise to train the latissimus. In a shoulder extension, the biceps and middle back are not involved, so they are not used to compensate. In a shoulder extension exercise, the arm is moved from top to bottom in the direction of the body. The exercise that utilizes this movement pattern is called extended arm pulldowns.

Pulldowns with outstretched arms

While overpulls also use this feature, extended arm pulldowns are superior when it comes to maximally targeting the latissimus, as the tension is more constant throughout the range of motion, whereas dumbbells or a barbell only provide overload for half of the movement.

Pulldowns with arms extended also include the teres major, which is a good thing as this completes the look of the latissimus and increases the width of your back while also working the posterior shoulder muscles. However, these two muscles are not strong enough to relieve the latissimus, so the latissimus will do most of the work.

Grip and angle of the trunk

A shoulder extension is stronger and more effective when the shoulders are rotated inwards, as is the case when you use an overhand grip (palms facing down). So always use the same type of grip (overhand grip) but vary the grip width. Also change the angle of your torso for more variation. A more upright posture of the torso will put more strain on the lower part of the latissimus. If you lean slightly forward, you will feel this exercise more in the upper part of the latissimus and the teres major. Try both versions.

And here's the key aspect: if you're doing an isolation exercise to target a specific muscle group, then you should experiment to see in which position you feel the most tension in the muscle you want to stimulate. Remember that the goal is not to perform an exercise from point A to point B - it's more about using the exercise to load the muscle you want to train. So the most important thing will always be to feel the right muscle doing the work.

The advanced version

Once you have mastered the basic technique, you can use the advanced version, which combines both positions. Initiate the pulldown with your torso leaning forward. As you approach the point in the middle of the range of motion, slowly lift the torso to finish the movement in an upright position. When you do this, you will feel the strongest possible tension in your latissimus.

To learn how to perform this exercise, you should use a slower speed of movement than usual and focus on maintaining tension in the latissimus. Try to keep the speed constant throughout the repetition. It should take about 2 seconds to perform the concentric part of the movement - maybe even three.

"Wait, I can feel my triceps!"

The long muscle head of the triceps is also involved and may take some of the stimulation away from the latissimus, which means you really need to focus on your latissimus. Only use weights where you can focus the tension on the latissimus. Keeping your elbows very slightly bent (just hard enough to prevent hyperextension) and not changing the elbow during the set will also help to minimize triceps involvement.

Tip: Take on the 30 kilo goblet squat challenge

Get stronger and improve your mobility. All you need is a kettlebell or dumbbell.

By Eric Bach

With heavy weights, goblet squats become a brutal exercise that tests the strength of your legs, front core and upper back. Add isometric holding on the front end and you've got the fight of the century.

The challenge

1. grab a dumbbell or kettlebell. Between 20 and 40 kilos is plenty for experienced exercisers.
2. keep your chest up and move into the bottom position of the squat movement. Hold the bottom position for 15 seconds.
3. after 15 seconds, move up to the fully extended position and then perform as many goblet squats as possible - up to 15 repetitions. If you can do more than 15 repetitions, increase the weight.

Start with 20 kilos and stick with this weight until you can perform the isometric hold and a full 15 repetitions. At this point, increase the weight in 2.5 to 5 kilo increments.

Exercise form is the determining factor - if you find that you are not getting all the way down and/or your exercise form is slipping, reduce the weight and work on your technique. If you manage to perform a set with over 30 kilos, this is a sign of impressive mobility, stability, mental strength and endurance.

Tip: Use descending sets for mass gains

This classic training technique can help anyone build muscle - including you.

From John Meadows

Descending sets have been around since the invention of the dumbbell. The concept is amazingly simple, yet effective. Train to exhaustion, then immediately reduce the weight and perform more repetitions. Continue in this way until complete failure. Obviously this technique works exceptionally well with dumbbell exercises such as side raises or bicep curls and the same applies to exercises such as cable tricep presses where you use a cable pulley. Barbell exercises are also possible if you have a training partner to help you reduce the weight on the bar.

How much should I reduce the weight?

A good rule of thumb is 20% of your working weight per reduction. So if you perform 8 repetitions of an exercise with 100 kilos, you reduce the weight by 20 kilos or 10 kilos per side. This should allow you to perform 3 to 4 more repetitions depending on the exercise used, your training experience and your muscle fiber composition.

By T Nation | 01/30/16

Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss