We talk about tension all the time: tension at home, social tension, sexual tension, even shoulder tension. And despite our negative associations with the word, sometimes tension is a good thing – as with fitness training, for example. Whether a brand new or experienced lifter, full body tension, AKA: irradiation, helps to break through training plateaus by increasing loads and reps being lifted. It can also help to protect the body from injury, as well as support joint health by increasing range of motion and overall useable mobility.
Those new to training have enough to think about when they start an exercise program, but I find that when beginner clients understand how to create full body tension as they prepare for an exercise, they’re both safer, and enjoy a decreased learning curve for future exercises.
For experienced lifters, you may not be creating the necessary tension at the right time. For instance, in the Bench Press, you may create tension far too late in the lift – you know when you’re grinding out that last repetition and your scalene muscles are spread like the Dark Knight’s magnetic cape? Well, all you’ve signaled is a sore neck and no gainz.
To try irradiation, focus on crushing whatever you’re holding; and when you think you’re crushing it, crush it even more. When you grab a bar in the Bench Press exercise, for example, a crushing grip creates muscle tension in your forearm, biceps, rotator cuff, and even the chest. Follow that with squeezing your glutes as hard as you can, and this will activate your core and lower extremities, allowing individual parts of your body to act as one. You’re also creating more tension in the surrounding musculature, allowing for greater motor unit recruitment and increased strength to the specific muscle group.
Check out this Bench Press Tutorial
Personally, the day after a chest and back workout, I’ll often find my glutes are as sore and fatigued just from irradiation. This is especially true when training gymnastic-type movements that require the body to act and function singularily.
Instantly Improve Mobility
Irradiation is one of the most important aspects of actually increasing flexibility and mobility. It should be used when performing proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching (PNF). The benefits of PNF stretching are night and day compared to the lack of results produced by passive (or static) stretching. Static stretching only increases flexibility for roughly 30 minutes post-stretch. Not only are the results temporary but the new range of motion isn’t ready to function, and because it’s untrained, nor is it prepared to be under-load.
On the other hand, PNF stretching can be enhanced further and provide an even greater increase in flexibility and useable range of motion when one adds regressive isometric contractions (see next paragraph) to their progressive PNF stretch (at various angles). They will also benefit from a new useable range of motion, which will allow them to get “unstuck,” decrease tightness and/or stiffness and any other of the terms commonly used to describe our limited range of motion.
An example of a regressive isometric contraction is a person is lying on their back with one leg elevated to stretch their hamstring muscles. Having completed the progressive isometric contraction, commonly referred to as a PNF stretch, and instead of pulling on the leg to increase the stretch, you irradiate and then use the hip flexors to pull the leg back towards your body for roughly 20-30 seconds or for as long as you can. Once completed, then you can grab your leg and passively stretch it within its new range of motion.
Hamstring PAILs & RAILs
There you have it – a simple tip that can either add a few extra pounds, or reps, to your lift, help maintain safety and if used with a progressive and regressive stretching protocol, increase useable mobility.
1. Depino GM, Webright WG, Arnold BL. Duration of maintained hamstring flexibility after cessation of an acute static stretching protocol. J Athl Train. 2000 Jan;35(1):56-9.
2. Scott G. Spernoga, Timothy L. Uhl, Brent L. Arnold, and Bruce M. Gansneder. Duration of Maintained Hamstring Flexibility After a One-Time, Modified Hold-Relax Stretching Protocol. J Athl Train. 2001 Jan-Mar; 36(1): 44–48. PMCID: PMC155401
3. O’Sullivan K, Murray E, Sainsbury D. The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009 Apr 16;10:37. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-10-37.