The Weider Principle #28: Peak Contraction

How focusing more on contracting each rep can stretch your gains


You know where it burns. Take leg extensions—it’s not at the bottom or anywhere on the way up. It’s at the top, when your legs are straight. Hold that position and flex, and it’ll ache like a sadist is scorching your quads with a blowtorch. That’s what peak contraction feels like, and it tells you you’re getting the most out of each rep. So, you know the where. Now we’re going to tell you the why, when, and how of incorporating peak contraction into your routine to fire up the pain and the gains.

Most people chug through sets at a relatively rapid pace. In fact, last month we emphasized the Weider Superspeed Principle, which prescribes that you quicken the positive portions of reps. That’s one valid approach. Another is to utilize the Weider Peak Contraction Principle and perform reps at a regular pace but pause at contractions, holding for one or two seconds. During those holds, flex the targeted muscle(s) as hard as possible. This will increase your time under tension precisely when your muscles are experiencing their most tension, making sets harder and more effective. We mentioned leg extensions earlier. They’re a great exercise for peak contraction reps. However, they’re just about the only quad exercise in which you can hold and squeeze contractions. Leg adduction is another. But what about squats or leg presses or lunges or hack squats? Nope. None of them have points where the reps can be paused and the muscles maximally flexed. This is true of many exercises. Peak contraction works best with lifts for back, traps, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, calves, and abs. There are, however, some peak contraction exercises for quads, chest, and deltoids. Examples are the previously mentioned leg extensions (quads) as well as pec-deck flyes (chest) and machine rear laterals (delts). As these examples show, the gravity-defying tension of machines and cables often accentuate the tension at contraction. 

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