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The Power of Tension

August 30, 2002 04:09 PM

I recently reported the results of a crude experiment on the effects of tension techniques on strength performance. Since Pavel asked me to write an article, I decided to repeat the experiment with a better design and more precise measurements.

The strength exercise that I used was the Iron Cross. I stood on a bathroom scale while pushing down on the rings to measure the amount of my own bodyweight that I could lift off the scale with a variety of tension conditions. I rested my hands on the rings and extended my locked arms to an angle approximately 20 degrees above perfect Iron Cross position (a slight Y instead of a T shape). This angle increased the leverage disadvantage of the exercise and I was fairly certain that I would not be able to lift my body completely off the scale. I used four tension conditions:

(1) pushing down on the rings as hard as I could without any of the following three tension techniques,
(2) squeezing the rings as hard as I could,
(3) tensing my abdominal muscles,
(4) tensing my glutes.

I repeated all four of these conditions six times. I always started with condition number one and then varied the order of the remaining three conditions. For example, the first sequence was 1,2,3,4 and the second sequence was 1,3,4,2. Each sequence, I would add one tension technique at a time so that I could measure their cumulative effects. On the first sequence I measured strength:

(1) with no tension technique,
(2) with hand squeeze,
(3) with hand squeeze +ab squeeze,
(4) with hand squeeze+ab squeeze+glute squeeze.

All sequences were done in that manner. I decided to measure six sequences so that I performed each possible order of the three tension techniques. This allowed me to calculate the individual as well as the cumulative strength contributions of the three tension techniques and gave me more data to visually examine for patterns.

In each condition, I pressed down on the rings as hard as I could. I attempted to utilize only the prescribed tension technique(s). This was challenging because I was accustomed to utilizing all of them together. I pressed down for approximately three seconds and watched the needle on the scale. Although the needle was shaking (a range of 4-6 pounds), it was pretty easy to find the center point. I recorded the weight and rested for one minute before the next condition. I observed my scores on the first and last condition of each sequence to make sure that my performance was not affected by fatigue. These scores were almost identical throughout the experiment.

Now for the good stuff! The average strength increase from the use of the 3 tension techniques combined was 40.33 pounds. The average cumulative strength increases for the separate conditions were: hand squeeze-8.5 pounds, ab squeeze-20.33 pounds, and glute squeeze-11.17 pounds. There were two sequences where each of the tension techniques was the first and, therefore, the only one used. The average strength increase for each condition when it was the only technique utilized was: hand squeeze-10 pounds, ab squeeze-30 pounds, and glute squeeze-13.5 pounds.

In conclusion, I knew that the tension techniques increased strength but I was surprised by the size of the increase. I imagine that the strength increases of the individual and combined tension techniques vary depending upon the selected exercise and the athlete. I realize that I committed all kinds of experimental errors but the results were more than enough to convince me of the POWER OF TENSION!!!

I hope that this report of the experiment was clear. If not, I would be glad to answer any questions about it on the Dragon Door Forum.

Brad Johnson