Workout Tips

How to Use Continuous Tension to Build More Muscle

This is the right way to use the lifting technique for bigger, better gains.

Man performing barbell back squat
Mike Kemp / Getty

On any given day you can read, hear, and see conflicting information on best training practices.

A big one: whether or not to lock your arms out on every rep of the bench press.  

Well, for the most part, whenever greater strength and muscle mass is the goal, a full range of motion is typically always recommended. This will develop your muscles to their greatest potential and accelerate your gains. However, there are a couple of things you must consider.

Bodybuilders who've been training for many years understand the importance of keeping tension on the working muscles and increasing the time under tension for each and every set—and how critical this is for building muscle. One advanced method they use to achieve this is called continuous tension sets, which is a technique that's in direct contrast to locking out every rep.

Continuous tension sets are defined as “any set in which each repetition is done smoothly without ballistic bounce, cheating or significant pause at either end of the motion," according to Mel Siff's strength development bible Supertraining. "Characteristically, the movements are executed fairly slowly without the joints locking completely at any stage of the exercise.”

Continuous tension sets can be used for both isolation and compound exercises and will keep your muscles active at all times. If we're talking about barbell bench pressing or dumbbell bench pressing, the way to perform this technique is to stop right before the weights are locked out at the top of the movement and move immediately back down into the next rep.

To further facilitate greater muscular tension and metabolic stress, a slow negative (lowering weight for a count of 3-5 seconds) can also be used with this technique.

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