A couple weeks ago I attended the Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) seminar, which focuses on training mobility. The course was a solid reminder and in some cases a perception-altering experience about human anatomy, physiology and functional movement. I’ll break down some of the components, theories and principles of FRC at a later time but for now, I want to focus on tension, a key principle in the FRC system. However, for the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on how tension can increase general strength and performance.
How can tension take your lifts next level?
Tension – not to be confused with the general bodybuilding idea of “time under tension,” which usually is referring to keep a prime mover under tension, such as the pectoral during bench press. Irradiation is rather the isometric contraction of the non-prime movers and the prime mover along with the necessary contraction to produce movement or not; it depends on the situation.
Tension is a common word for “irradiation,” is often overlooked during training. Irradiation comes from Sherrington’s Law of Irradiation which states:
A muscle working hard recruits the neighboring muscles, and if they are already part of the action, it amplifies their strength. The neural impulses emitted by the contracting muscle reach other muscles and ‘turn them on’ just as an electric current starts a motor.”
Simply put, the more motor units recruited to produce movement or reduce movement, the better neural activation to help you control the weight or load.
Example: Think about a time when you had to push a car or lift a heavy object.
How did you prepare for the push or pull of the car or whatever that heavy object was?
Did you only concentrate on using your legs (prime mover)?
Or did you create tension throughout multiple muscle groups, possibly every muscle group (irradiation)?
More than likely you used irradiation. Why? Because your primal instinct kicked in and you realized to move that car or heavy object, it would take a lot of effort (neural drive) and you called on your central nervous system to recruit all the potential strength you possessed to apply maximal force.
Incorporate irradiation in your training
If done properly, irradiation can yield some quick gains to your lifts and increase strength simply by increasing neural muscular efficiency – the ability for the central nervous system to recruit the muscle required for your desired movement when called upon. The greater efficiency you have in recruiting motor units to produce movement or resist movement, the greater your force production or strength/power application will be.
How to perform irradiation
It seems easy but easy is not simple and simple is not easy. With that said, create tension throughout the entire body. For example, if you’re performing standing biceps curls, you create an isometric contraction throughout your entire body; feet (ground contact), quads, glutes, abdominal complex, forearms, scapulae retracted and of course tension and controlled movement in/with the biceps.
Although the primary focus in the above example is to perform a biceps curl, the irradiation effort thorough out the body is also training the nervous system to produce activation in all muscle groups more efficiently.