“A lot of us make the mistake that we have to use either dumbbells or barbells to stimulate new muscle growth,” says Cavaliere. “But your own bodyweight is an amazing way to build muscle—if you know how to use it.”
According to Cavaliere, one way to achieve this is to implement a technique known as dynamic tension. “It uses constant tension applied to more than just the muscles you are trying to build in order to amplify the effects of the exercise on your entire body,” he says. “The key to the effectiveness of this is to be sure you’re not focused on counting reps, but rather making your reps count.”
You can look to the legendary actor and martial artist Bruce Lee for guidance. Cavaliere says that he used this technique to amplify the effectiveness of all the bodyweight exercises he did.
Here are 7 moves that you can integrate dynamic tension into, and how to do it.
Instead of just pumping through reps quickly until failure, you want to dramatically slow down the pace of the exercise.
“Both on the way up and down on every rep, you want to squeeze every muscle in your upper body,” says Cavaliere. “Don’t think of it as just a chest exercise but an everything in your upper body exercise. The shoulders should light up. The triceps should be tensed. The lats should be engaged. Everything should be working to stabilize your body hard as you move through every rep of the exercise.”
He notes that while you may be able to do upwards of 30 or even 50 pushups, by implementing dynamic tension, you are going to struggle to get even 20 percent of that number.
“The key is just to drive as much muscle tension into the exercise you are performing and let the reps fall where they may,” says Cavaliere.
To get an even more intense muscle build, Cavaliere says that Lee applied an intra-set isometric hold that increased the intensity of the bodyweight exercises.
“On the pushup, as soon as you finish you would come to a kneeling position and cross your arms across your chest,” says Cavaliere. “The adduction on the chest muscles is enough to create an intense contraction. Hold it for up to 6 seconds with the goal being to increase the strength of the contraction every second. Rest and repeat for 1-2 more times.”
Cavaliere also points out that using dynamic tension, your overall workout is going to be shorter in length, but much more intense.
“On the dip, I’m really squeezing in on the handles,” says Cavaliere. “Once again, not just performing it like I normally would but really squeezing in to try to create that isometric adduction and activate the shoulders. And in this case, even activate the biceps. I want to generate tension wherever my body is willing to give it to me.”
And instead of resting between sets, you can add additional tension by engaging your muscles at a low angle, holding your arms from high to low, to mimic the mechanics of the dip. This will hit more of the dominant head fibers of the lower chest.
“Go for the strength of contraction, increasing it every second to six seconds, and do either two or three of these,” he advises.
“You slow down the speed and increase the tension in your entire body,” says Cavaliere. “I start by squeezing the bar as hard as I can. I want to generate tension down through my wrist, my arms, into my back, through my core. And I want to make sure that I’m squeezing the muscles I’m trying to work, most importantly, which is the lats. As I come down to the bottom, I go back up at the same cadence up and down.”
Between sets, keep the tension going 2 to 3 reps by squeezing the back.
“I bring those elbows back and I really just squeeze and hold for that 6 seconds, three times,” says Cavaliere.
“I treat it as a chin curl. As I come up I almost want to close down the angle just a little bit,” says Cavaliere. “You do the constant tension version of a chinup. So I go down really slow and try to fight the eccentric, but at the same time generate as much tension through my entire arms and back as I can. And as I come up to the top, I’m really focused on closing down the angle of the elbow and really trying to flex the bicep as if I’m curling my body up to the bar.”
Between sets, the six second biceps squeeze is enough to make sure you leave everything on the table.
“I squeeze every last bit of tension I have into extension into the top of the cobra pushup. I follow the same cadence up and down with every repetition until my body taps out. My focus is to make sure at the top of the rep, I’m squeezing as hard as I can through my triceps,” says Cavaliere.
Between sets, he puts his elbows behind his body and straightens them out to get that intense contraction on the triceps for 6 seconds at a time for 2 to 3 reps.
“I’m thinking about almost pushing my hands outward on every repetition here to activate the delts even more, right into abduction,” says Cavaliere.
Between sets, he puts his hands together and pulls apart, creating isometric contraction of the delts.
Eccentric Step Up/Downs
“I push up at a slower cadence, really trying to drive tension through the entire leg from the calf all the way up to the pelvis. And as I come down, I’m focusing my effort through the quad, but I’ve got tightness in tension through the glutes and hamstrings as well,” says Cavaliere.
Between sets, he drives tension through the quads by taking that flexed knee and straightening them as hard as he possibly can.
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