By Greg Merritt Flex
You know where it burns. Take leg extensions—it’s not at the bottom or anywhere on the way up. It’s at the top, when your legs are straight. Hold that position and flex, and it’ll ache like a sadist is scorching your quads with a blowtorch. That’s what peak contraction feels like, and it tells you you’re getting the most out of each rep. So, you know the where. Now we’re going to tell you the why, when, and how of incorporating peak contraction into your routine to fire up the pain and the gains.
Most people chug through sets at a relatively rapid pace. In fact, last month we emphasized the Weider Superspeed Principle, which prescribes that you quicken the positive portions of reps. That’s one valid approach. Another is to utilize the Weider Peak Contraction Principle and perform reps at a regular pace but pause at contractions, holding for one or two seconds. During those holds, flex the targeted muscle(s) as hard as possible. This will increase your time under tension precisely when your muscles are experiencing their most tension, making sets harder and more effective. We mentioned leg extensions earlier. They’re a great exercise for peak contraction reps. However, they’re just about the only quad exercise in which you can hold and squeeze contractions. Leg adduction is another. But what about squats or leg presses or lunges or hack squats? Nope. None of them have points where the reps can be paused and the muscles maximally flexed. This is true of many exercises. Peak contraction works best with lifts for back, traps, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, calves, and abs. There are, however, some peak contraction exercises for quads, chest, and deltoids. Examples are the previously mentioned leg extensions (quads) as well as pec-deck flyes (chest) and machine rear laterals (delts). As these examples show, the gravity-defying tension of machines and cables often accentuate the tension at contraction.
This triceps routine includes two cable exercises. The cable enhances peak contractions because tension is maintained on the triceps when the arms are locked. Hold the arms-straight position for two seconds on each rep of both the pushdowns and the extensions. The routine ends with close-grip bench presses. You can’t do peak contraction reps for chest on bench presses, because there’s not enough tension on the pecs when your arms are either straight or bent. However, you can focus on your triceps in the top position. Technically, this is the beginning (and end) of reps, and not the midpoint. But for your triceps, it’s the contraction. Pause each time your arms are straight and flex your tri’s for two seconds.
ADVANTAGES HERE ARE THE PLUSES OF PEAK CONTRACTION:
ELEVATED TIME UNDER TENSION Pausing and flexing will substantially expand the time you spend working your muscles during sets. In turn, this increased workload will boost growth.
INCREASED FOCUS Too many trainers simply pump the weight up and down with little thought. If you pause to flex in the middle of each rep, it forces you to concentrate on the targeted area. And a better in-rep focus will benefit your entire workout.
DISADVANTAGES THERE ARE TWO POTENTIAL PITFALLS OF PEAK CONTRACTION. HERE'S HOW TO AVOID THEM:
LESS WEIGHT You won’t be able to use as much weight as you could if did the set at a normal pace. Therefore, include some regular sets in your routine or alternate peak contraction workouts with regular workouts.
LIMITED USE To a large degree, the “less weight” disadvantage is alleviated by this disadvantage. There are many exercises that simply don’t work with peak contraction because they lack points where you can safely and efectively stop and flex your muscles.
FRESH TAKE To further focus on tensing the targeted area, combine the Weider Peak Contraction Principle with the Weider Iso-Tension Principle (covered in our September issue). Hold and flex reps for one to two seconds during each contraction. Then, afer your final rep and without using resistance, fully contract the muscle and hold for six to 10 seconds. For example, do a set of cable curls in which you stop and flex your biceps for two seconds each time your arms are maximally bent. Then, immediately afer setting down the bar, fully bend your arms again and flex your bi’s as hard as you can for six to 10 seconds. Combining peak contraction with iso-tension enhances both techniques to better exhaust the targeted area.