Contraction Focused Training For Optimal Results

What is the most effective exercise model to see optimal results?

The answer to this question is largely dependent on the individual’s health history and goals. Although exercise techniques will vary based on the individual, they all have one thing in common:

Optimal physical results are dependent upon neuro-muscular strength and force output.

Most people are attracted to concepts and processes that yield quick results. Quick results appear more attractive but unfortunately, when it comes down to achieving optimal lasting results, the fast track is not the best road to take.

For optimal results consider some of the following variables within your workout:

  • Exercise intensity
  • Ranges of active joint motions
  • Exercise skill requirements
  • Type of Resistance (i.e. dumbbell, elastic tubing, selectorized equipment)
  • Duration of set (repetitions vs. time, how long should it be?)
  • Support system in an exercise (how stable is your foundation?)
  • Where is the primary sensation? Is it in the muscle or near the joint?
  • Resistance profile of the exercise
  • Strength profile of the muscles being challenged
  • Number of exercises
  • Rest time (do all muscles need the same rest?)
  • Level of awareness of muscle contraction

These variables are just a few that need to be considered when designing an exercise for an individual. Its important to be mindful with when and how these variables are adjusted within an exercise. Patience during the process of progression is critical in order to maximize results and sustainability of those results.

The problem with Over-training:

  • How can you train smarter?
  • Is your exercise right for you and your goals?
  • Are you maximizing each repetition in every exercise?

Over-training is a common problem amongst fitness enthusiasts. People often think that the more they do and they harder their workout is the better their results will be. This couldn’t be furthest from the truth. Doing more then what your body can handle only shunts your progress towards your goals.

There’s value in training hard. But before you can train hard your must first train smart.

Be attentive, mindful, consistent, and determined during your workouts. You do not need to beat your body into submission in order to see progress. Over-training results in a cascade of deleterious effects to a person’s metabolic health and their muscular health and strength.

Over-training leads to:

  • muscle loss
  • increases in body fat
  • joint pain
  • and many other unwanted pathologies

With that said don’t let this be an excuse not to work hard. Just recognize you have to develop the skills, and progress your body to adapting to working hard. You must earn the right to do those intense workouts.

Exercise Intensity: What is appropriate for you?

How do you determine the appropriate level of intensity for an exercise and a given day? Consider muscular contraction and associated sensations it provides as an internal barometer for selecting exercise intensity level. Muscular contraction is one of the most important tools to master using to optimize results from exercise; it will tell you when to push harder, back off, or abort the exercise entirely.

Your neuro-muscular system’s motor and sensory receptors are constantly relaying valuable information to you. Practicing mindful exercise means you are accessing, observing, and using that information to elevate your exercise experience and results. Learning how to feel muscular contractions while understanding the different qualities and intensities of those contractions are immensely valuable skills for producing results in the gym. Based on what your body is telling you, you can decide when to progress or regress within an exercise. Very few people recognize the value of these skills and many people are unwillingly to be present enough to acquire them.

Exercise is not about movement: It’s about muscular contraction!

A vast majority of the fitness industry thinks that exercise is about movement. These people believe that movement alone will produce the physical results people seek. Just solely performing movements does not guarantee that positive physical change will occur and it certainly doesn’t yield the best possible result.

For example: consider the traditional low barbell squat. Many people will argue and say that a barbell squat strengthens your glutes, some say your quads, others might say its for your entire lower body. All of this could be true, or none of them could be true. So then:

What dictates which muscles will be working hardest during a barbell squat? The answer is: it depends on the individual, their mechanics, and many other factors. Consider:

  • muscular inhibition
  • movement mechanics, skill level
  • deconditioning
  • weakness
  • poor execution of the squat
  • protective mechanism to prevent injury
  • limb length relationships
  • range of motion limitations

When executing an exercise, the movement is an important part because it allows the opportunity for tension to be put through specific muscles. However, the movement, independent of the other variables within an exercise, tells you very little. It is the arrangement of all the variables within an exercise that creates the stimulus. Understanding the movement isn’t nearly as important as: understanding the properties of the applied resistance, how it relates to your joints, its direction, and its magnitude.

The Applied Resistance is the dictating factor for which muscles will be stimulated and challenged. Ultimately, the Applied Resistance will be the vehicle that leads to physical change and success. Thus it is favorable to be mindful and exercise with Strategically Applied Resistance.

(Consider an overhead barbell press. This motion is almost identical to a pull up, but the involved musculature is entirely different. The direction of resistance is the delineating factor that differentiates the two exercises.)

Building an exercise: What do you want your exercise to do for you?

Decide what muscles you want to challenge. Then, pick an exercise you think will best challenge those muscles. Determine the range of motion you’re going to perform, and always stay within a range you can control. Picking exercises that you can perform well with stable supports (foundations) will provide the best opportunities for you to build strength. If you’re unsure what exercises to do then it is best to find a qualified exercise professional to teach you (be very selective in who you choose as a teacher).

Don’t be to worried about choosing the best possible exercise. There are still plenty of other things to focus that will yield great benefits. Start focusing on creating the movements with muscular contraction and maximally control every inch of the movement. You will immediately have an enhanced and more engaged exercise experience, and you will begin to see better results in your training overall.

Exercise Control: Eliminate compensation and your default cheating mechanisms

Ways people compensate to make an exercise easier and what to avoid doing to see better results:

  • throwing and catching the weight
  • using momentum
  • bouncing out of the bottom
  • exceeding your active range of motion
  • being fast and out of control
  • adding in other body parts that aren’t meant to be part of the exercise to get more reps

Take the ego out of your workouts and work within what you truly can do. Strategically progress towards where you want to go. Be mindful and own every inch of every repetition with muscular contraction. The results will speak for themselves.

Contraction Focused Training is hard work.

It is strategically progressing someone towards skillfully executing extremely challenging exercises. Placing attention and focus on controlling the exercise with muscular contraction. In this method of exercise you are strategically making an exercise more difficult to create a more efficient and effective stimulus.

Outside of the gym, our brains want to accomplish movement challenges the most efficient way possible, using the least amount of energy. This innate quality is great for survival. It makes sense that this behavior would naturally carry over into the gym. You have to break out of the belief system that just moving weight is good enough to obtain results. Stop compensating your way through exercises just to cross the finish line. Focus on the process of exercise and all its intricacies.

If you want the most impactful exercise model that provides the most efficient, effective, and optimal training stimulus, then you must learn to practice mindful exercises centered around control, attention, and intention on muscular contraction. Get away from just moving weight and counting reps. Your exercise has so much more to offer you. Paying attention to your body and the details within an exercise will catapult you towards achieving your goals and improving your health.

Written By: Erick Holtzman