This technique from Arnold Schwarzenegger will help you get the most out of every rep.
For me, developing each bodypart – and, as a result, my entire body – to its full potential was all about going the extra mile in every workout, every set and, more specifically, every rep. That’s where peak contractions came into play.
Peak contractions entail consciously flexing and squeezing a muscle at the point it’s under the most stress during a rep. Flexing your biceps at the midpoint of a curl, for example, is a peak contraction and should be held for anywhere from a brief moment to several seconds.
The primary benefit of executing peak contractions on a given repetition is that you’re able to intensify the contraction and therefore the stress on that particular muscle. The more stress you place on the muscle, the more muscle growth you stimulate.
With most exercises, the best way to achieve peak contraction is simply to pause at the top of the movement and mentally “squeeze” the muscle. For example, when doing dumbbell lateral raises for deltoids, I recommend holding the weights at the top position (arms parallel to the floor) and pausing for a second or two before lowering. While in this position, flex your delts as intensely as possible. Just this extra moment of pause will considerably intensify the repetition.
To achieve peak contraction, oftentimes you’ll need to use less weight than you usually do. Rowing exercises provide a good example: Many bodybuilders have big, broad backs but no middle- and inner-back detail. This is likely because they use too much weight on machine and cable rows and cannot bring their shoulders back far enough to achieve peak contraction. To avoid this, try using a little less resistance on rows, and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of each rep, holding this position for a moment to maximize the peak contraction.
To get maximum intensity when doing peak contractions, I suggest the following tips:
>> For a period of quality training, try performing peak contractions for entire workouts (using appropriate movements); remember, you’ll have to decrease your poundages. Alternatively, you might prefer to use peak contractions on only the final few reps of the last two sets of an exercise.
>> Achieve peak contraction by squeezing your target muscles at or near the apex of each rep for anywhere between one and several seconds. This is the basis of the peak contraction principle, so it’s worth repeating.
>> Some free-weight exercises, like curls and flyes, require you to stop short of the top of the rep to get the most benefit from peak contraction. Others, like lateral raises and rows, allow you to continue to the very top.
>> Cables and machines are a great way to utilize peak contractions because they provide constant tension on your muscles.
>> Practice flexing and contracting your muscles between sets or workouts, using isotension to subject your muscles to additional peak contraction intensity.
>> Remember that intensity techniques like peak contractions are for quality muscle-building. They’re not usually applicable to heavy strength-training movements such as the bench press, overhead press and squat