One of the hardest parts of strength training is hitting a plateau. Use hyper-irradiation to keep your workouts going strong.
People lack tension; it doesn’t matter if it’s a new client training for the first time or someone who is no stranger to throwing the iron around. Therefore, you’re likely to be guilty of this as well, and over the years, I found this to be especially true if you are female. Sorry, ladies, just my observation. The good news, though: after reading this piece, you will now be in the know.
Creating tension throughout the body may help you break through training plateaus by increasing the loads and reps being lifted. It can also help protect the body from injury. Full-body tension, otherwise known as hyper-irradiation, is also an important factor in joint health, assisting in increasing range of motion and useable mobility.
Those new to training already have a lot to think about when they start an exercise program. However, I find that if beginner clients can understand how to create full-body tension when preparing for an exercise, they can protect themselves from injury and accelerate their learning curve for future exercises.
For those who are experienced lifters, you may not be creating the necessary tension needed right from the start of a lift. For instance, in the bench press you may be unknowingly trying to create tension far too late in the lift—you know, the point when you’re grinding out that last repetition and you find your scalene muscles are spread like the Dark Knight’s magnetic cape. Instead, you needed to create the tension throughout the entire body, not just in your neck (which doesn’t provide any benefit other than a sore neck), right from the start.
Irradiation is the tensing of muscles throughout the entire body, becoming strong as one unit. Start by focusing on crushing whatever it is you’re holding on to with your hands and when you think you are crushing it, crush it even more. When you grab a bar in, say, the bench press exercise, using a crushing grip creates tension in the muscles of the forearm, biceps, rotator cuff and even the chest. This is a great start, but follow that up with squeezing your glutes as hard as you can, this will activate the core and lower extremities and allow your body to act as one.
Be careful though not to elevate your rib cage too high and hyperextend your lower back (power lifters will disregard this tip, but then again, if you are a power lifter, chances are you already know about irradiation). More tension is created in the surrounding musculature when you irradiate, allowing for greater motor unit recruitment and resulting in increased strength to the muscle group being trained.
Oftentimes I have trained the muscles of the chest and back but the next day my glutes are just as sore and fatigued from irradiating. This is especially the case when training gymnastic type movements that require the body to act and function as a single unit.
Instant (Improved) Mobility
Irradiation is one of the most important aspects of actually increasing flexibility and mobility. It should be used when performing proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching, or PNF for short. The benefits of PNF stretching are night and day compared to the lack of results passive (or static) stretching produces. Static stretching only increases flexibility for roughly 30 minutes post stretch. Not only are the results temporary, but the new range of motion isn’t ready to function, meaning the new range is not trained and isn’t prepared to be under load.
On the other hand, PNF stretching can be enhanced further to provide an even greater increase in flexibility and useable range of motion. Combine irradiation with progressive (PNF) and regressive isometric contractions within your stretch (and do so at various angles) and benefit from your new useable range of motion which will allow you to get “unstuck,” decrease “tightness/stiffness,” and any other terms we commonly throw out to describe our limited range of motion.
An example of a regressive isometric contraction would be when a person is lying on their back with one leg elevated to stretch the “muscles of the hamstring.” After completing the progressive isometric contraction, commonly referred to as a PNF stretch, instead of pulling on the leg to increase the stretch, you irradiate and use the hip flexors to pull the leg back towards your body for roughly 20–30 seconds or for as long as you can. Once completed, you can then grab your leg and passively stretch it within its new range of motion.
There you have it, a simple tip that can add a few extra pounds to your lift (or a few extra repetitions), and also helps to create useable mobility.
Train hard, but train smart!