The Load: Exercise form

Fatigue/tension level during 3 exercises; Short rests between sets; short rests between exercises.

S = Set
R = Rest

Fig. 3-6 Fatigue/tension level during 3 exercises;
Short rests between sets;
short rests between exercises.


Now let's turn to the question of tension within the Fatigue/Tension concept.

The tension generated within a muscle during exercise depends on four things:

  • exercise form,
  • the load (amount of weight) you are lifting,
  • the leverage associated with the exercise movement,
  • and the mental focus-the oomph!you put into your effort.

We covered form in the previous section. For simplicity's sake, let's assume you are going to put an all-out effort into every rep you do; this will keep mental focus constant. So let's take a look at load and leverage.


The relationship here is simple: greater load (more weight), more tension ... up to a point. As the weight approaches the maximum you can lift, tension within the muscle levels off:

Peak tension VS load
LOAD (Weight you are attempting to lift)

Fig. 3-7 Peak tension VS load

Now, experience suggests heavy weights are required for building strength and bulk. But as we've mentioned, weight isn't the only factor involved.

Studies have been done in which a group of athletes/bodybuilders did 3 to 5 sets of various exercises with about 80% of the maximum weight they could lift. Each set consisted of one all-out rep followed by five minutes of rest, then another rep and another rest, and so on until each test subject had performed ten reps total. The athletes followed the regime three times per week for several months. Then everyone was tested for changes in strength and bulk. The results? Practically no gains! Only a small percentage showed any signs of improvement.

The reason this approach failed is clear in light of the Fatigue/Tension Principle: even with high tension, low fatigue from long rests held the combined Fatigue/Tension level below the Threshold. **

** It is possible to generate a tension level sufficient to compensate for the low fatigue from long rests. This requires using 95% to 100% of the maximum weight you can lift. Power lifters use this sort of workout. It is not recommend, for two reasons: (1) it puts potentially injurious stress on joints and ligaments; (2) it is not the most effective training program for the combined goals of strength, bulk. and definition.

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