Compensatory Tension Training: Build More Muscle With Less Weight

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Today, I want to talk to you about a game-changing training technique that’s helped me build more muscle and strength with less weight: Compensatory Tension Training.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Compensatory Tension Training (CTT), you’re missing out. This technique involves contracting your muscles as hard as possible, even when you’re not lifting a heavy weight. By generating maximal tension in your muscles, you can recruit more muscle fibers and build more strength and size over time.

The beauty of Compensatory Tension Training is that you can use lighter weights and still get incredible results. By focusing on generating tension in your muscles, you can train with less weight and reduce the risk of injury, while still building impressive muscle mass and strength.

So, whether you’re a powerlifter looking to break a plateau or a bodybuilder looking to build more muscle, Compensatory Tension Training is the real deal. Stick around and I’ll show you how to incorporate this technique into your routine for maximum gains.

What is mind-muscle connection?

As a powerlifter, I know the importance of maximizing muscle activation during every rep. Mind-muscle connection is a powerful tool that can help you achieve just that. It’s the ability to consciously focus on the muscle you’re working and engage it fully throughout the movement.

This technique is particularly useful for bodybuilders who want to target specific muscle groups and develop a well-rounded, aesthetic physique. By developing a strong mind-muscle connection, you can ensure that you’re using the targeted muscle to lift the weight, rather than relying on momentum or other muscles to compensate.

To build more muscle with mind-muscle connection, start by selecting exercises that allow you to feel the muscle working. This often means using lighter weights and focusing on the quality of the movement rather than the quantity of weight lifted.

As you perform the exercise, concentrate on the muscle you’re working and visualize it contracting and expanding. This visualization can help you engage the muscle more effectively and maximize its activation.

Another helpful technique is to use slow, controlled movements, particularly during the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift. This not only increases time under tension for the muscle but also allows you to focus on engaging and contracting the muscle throughout the movement.

Incorporating mind-muscle connection into your training can lead to more efficient and effective workouts, resulting in increased muscle activation and growth. So, if you’re serious about building muscle, start connecting your mind to your muscles and watch your gains skyrocket!

What is Compensatory Tension Training and is it associated with Time Under Tension?

CTT stands for Compensatory Tension Training. It is different from the Compensatory Acceleration Training. This technique has been preached by countless bodybuilders for aeons but in these times, it’s often being overlooked by most. It allows you to compensate for the lack of weight by actively and consciously forcing the muscle tissue to contract harder. The method itself is used mostly for bodybuilding but under certain circumstances, it might be also used for building strength. While Compensatory Tension Training can increase Time Under Tension, it is not the same thing.

Different than Mind Muscle Connection (MMC)

Mind-Muscle Connection refers to simply focusing on the targeted muscle groups. CTT allows you to compensate for lack of weight and it can also be used for other muscle groups. If you’re smart, you can figure out how to make your muscles contract much harder than if you simply paid attention to the agonists. I have discovered this technique a couple of years ago. I was working on my deadlifts and thought of what it would be like if I tensed so hard that the lift would slow down as if I was doing a max attempt. It did feel much different than a typical rep and it did feel a bit like going for a 1rm. After a couple of trials, I thought that by doing that, it’s like “pretending to be lifting a 1rm with pussy weight”. I also played around with it a bit to see if I can achieve a similar effect while biceps curling and realised that my biceps got sore the next day even though I was only pretending to be curling the weight, that is, I was not holding a barbell at all, I was just flexing my arms really hard and moving them up and down.

A couple of years later I encountered Scot Mendelson and worked with him for a while. I found that he has also been using this “trick” and called it “flushing”. Scot taught me how can I achieve the same effect in pretty much any exercise. Not so long after, I started utilising this technique in the squat, shoulder press, bench press and many other exercises. Scot would tell me to lift the weight, contract my muscles as hard as I can and stay in the muscle while lowering by keeping the agonist contracted during the eccentric phase. It took me a couple of weeks to make it click but after getting the idea, I discovered that I am getting bigger, stronger and I am able to feel my muscles working more.

How to build more muscle with Compensatory Tension Training?

What I do to make use of this technique is I try to produce as much torque as I can. Actually, when I first talked to Scot about it, he explained it to me by using the example of a coiled cobra, ready to strike. He said to me that if I am to press the weight up (that was the bench press we were talking about), I should not focus on my wrists but instead, use my entire body (he called it the body drive) to transfer the energy from my feet, through the whole kinematic chain, to my lats and arms and then simply contract the triceps and think of getting my inner triceps closer to my torso. That’s as far as it goes for the concentric phase but what about the eccentric? Well, I was instructed to actively contract my pecs and triceps while lowering the weight down. That obviously made me unable to touch my chest (because contracting my chest and triceps made me press it upwards. Crazy? Not really. In order to bring the bar down, I had to row it down using my lats. That enabled me to stay in my pecs and triceps. As I was lowering the weight down, the agonists were being stretched while actively contracting. This, in turn, allowed me to expose the working muscle groups to more tension, inducing more hypertrophy. At first, this technique seemed really hard but then I got used to it and realised it was not hard at all. Instead, I was rather contracting my muscles as hard as I would with much heavier weights. To put it simply, it allowed me to generate the same tension that I would produce while lifting a much heavier weight. By using just ~70% of my 1rm, I was able to actually get the work done and experience tremendous hyperemia (muscle pump). After a couple of weeks more, I realised that I am able to achieve the same effect with as little as 60% of my 1rm. It turned out that it was me producing the tension and the weight was only the amplifier.

Gym tips

The method can be used to teach your athletes how to drive through a very heavy and slow repetition, how to contract their muscles harder and it will allow them to build more muscle and maintain producing force throughout the whole range of motion. To put it simply, they will get bigger and stronger by exposing their muscle tissue to the torque created by actively contracting the agonists against the antagonists.

To wrap it up, there are a couple of simple cues that I teach to my athletes to help them correctly apply this technique. Some of the are:

Squat

Contract the quads while going down, plant your feet into the floor, try to push yourself away from the ground and simultaneously imagine that you are pulling yourself towards the ground using your knee flexors.

Bench

Contract pecs and triceps while going down, row the weight down to your chest, keep the elbows close to your torso. When pressing the weight up, focus on contracting the triceps and pushing yourself into the bench as if you were trying to get away from the barbell. If you find yourself struggling to lockout, focus on bringing your elbows together.

Deadlift

Squeeze the bar as hard as you can, brace yourself as hard as you can by contracting the abs and spinal erectors, lock the lats tightly and imagine that the weight is pulling you down and you’re trying to resist it. The trick is to go slowly and focus on the tension. Tense up your quads against your hammies, your glutes against your hip flexors, plant your feet into the ground, contract your traps, neck and even the muscles inside your head. Imagine that you’re lifting a tonne until the repetition actually resembles a maximum effort lift.

Biceps Curls

Squeeze your triceps as hard as you can and try to work with your biceps against your triceps. Grip the bar firmly and imagine you are trying the crush the barbell. Add wrist flexion to the equation (or wrist radial deviation if you’re doing hammer curls).

Triceps Extensions

Do exactly the same as in biceps curling but the other way around. Squeeze the bar and contract your biceps along with your brachialis and make your triceps work against them. Also, add wrist flexion (or wrist ulnar deviation if you’re doing neutral grip DB skullcrushers).

DB Shoulder Presses

Keep your arms in front, elbows relatively close to each other, shrug your shoulders up as if you were trying to touch your shoulder to your ears. Contract the triceps and press the weight up to soon realise that you can only move for a couple of inches when holding the elbows in front, shoulders shrugged up. It happens so because your lats are pulling your humerus down. It’s ok, we actually want that to happen. Now, contract your lats and work against them to accumulate more tension in your front deltoids.

Summary

This is a great technique if you want to add some rock-solid muscle mass and work on your mind-muscle connection but bear in mind that it’s more than just MMC. You are working your muscles against each other and you are trying to produce the force and create the torque with just your bodyweight. Remember, weight is only the amplifier there.

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