Abandon all weakness, ye who enter here.

Lean Functional Muscle pt. 1
Muscle Contraction

You’re so much weaker than you look, and even more so than you could be.

Full stop, period.

Jarring words, perhaps, but bear with me.

Bioelectricity pulsing through every neural pathway to render any ores of the earth immediately malleable: that is the intensity of muscle contraction you seek to achieve in your training.

For clearer phrasing, historically notable strongmen have already reached a muscle strength of this level, bending nails, then metal bolts, then iron bars, and even steel with the power vested in their supposedly mortal frames.

There is a technique to this, a style of training that can further grant others such legendary, historic power, and such technique is not antiquated. Bud Jeffries, Melody Schoenfeld, Dennis Rogers, and more have the muscle contraction power it takes to bend all kinds of metals, and that is an abbreviated list.

When Bud Jeffries touches steel, it bends on its own for fear of his grip strength

Yet, bending steel may not be your kind of party. Well perhaps you’ve seen men and women of the calisthenics realm of fitness doing handstand pushups, planche holds, front lever pullups, and bodyweight exercises nothing short of phenomenal for the human body to achieve. Well, such feats are generally more difficult for someone of a heavier set, but men like Memnon TeZe Zaahir and Bud Jeffries conquer all kinds of bodyweight training feats, but that is not the bottom line. The bottom line is the training that they employ to achieve those feats, and the training that you too should learn to incorporate.

The powerful Memnon TeZe Zaahir demonstrating a casual planche pushup. When you can fully contract your muscles to their maximum power, you'll be on the road to this level of strength.

Finally, my favorite example and resource to go to is the world of martial arts. I’m forever amazed at the prowess that martial artists the world over have shown in their displays and fights, often while being of average or smaller size.

My mentor Batman is a martial artist of such amazement; the incredible feats of strength and martial skill he displays at his size is profound, and he taught his training methods to me, with great if not equal success. Yet, why is such success not more common throughout the strength training world? I’ve met people who’ve made less strength progress in their 5+ years of lifting than I have in less than a year. What factor in our strength training makes the difference? The weights? The programs?

Perhaps. Honestly, the training method can make a difference. No matter the training program however, you’ll fall short of true potential strength goals if you neglect these three aspects: muscle contraction, consistency, and proper breathing technique. This article will cover the first aspect.

What makes a truly lean, functional muscle? Well, there’s dense myofibrils, differentiation of muscle fiber types, yadda yadda, but your true strength is in the intensity of your muscle contraction.

I’m willing to bet money that you’ve flexed a muscle before. Perhaps to check the progress of your biceps, or to attempt to reduce the pain of a cramp, or any host of reasons. Flexing a muscle means consciously controlling your muscle contraction. How hard can you flex your muscle? Can you flex your biceps so hard that they shake? If you can do that, you’ve completed a part of this training.

The term dynamic tension may ring a bell. Charles Atlas taught a series of bodyweight movements that involved tensing the muscles against each other. Whether or not his program was effective, the idea of employing tension into your movements is definitely effective. Try picking up a soda can while flexing your arm muscles; the can will feel much lighter than usual, or you may accidentally crush the can (I claim no responsibility.)

The harder your muscle contracts, the more raw strength you recruit in your movements. If you lift a weight while contracting your muscles, your strength results with improve further beyond what they ever could without knowing how to contract in this manner.

Max effort and max contraction are not one and the same. You may know how to put a great amount of force into your movements, but do you know how to contract your muscles to their fullest potential? That's what it takes to bring your strength to the next level.

I promise you, go and do whatever exercises you normally do on a daily basis, but next time you do, purposely try to contract your muscles as hard as you can. If you’re a lifter, practice lifting while contracting your muscles to their shaking point. I guarantee that you’ll feel the true difference in your physical might. This is only a part of the equation, more on the rest later.

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