Co-Contractions For More Stimulation

This is something that I do with each contraction. I call it co-contracting. But before I get into telling what a co-contraction is, I want to give you a brief understanding of skeletal muscle. Every muscle has an origin and insertion. The origin of a muscle is the point at which it attaches to a bone (usually) or another muscle. The structure that the origin is attached to is not moved by the contraction of the muscle. The opposite end of the muscle is called the insertion. This definition means that there is a functional aspect to the definition of a muscle’s origin and insertion. Both origin and insertion are important for understanding the physiological function of the muscle. It is important to know the origin and insertion of every muscle that you train. If you know where the tendons attach to the bone then you can get more out of the exercise. When I train I try to bring both tendons of the muscle as close together as possible. This will force the myofilaments (actin and myosin) to fully engage. During the lengthening of the muscle I get as much stretch as possible to active the stretch reflex. This allows the crossbridges to re-align and re-load. I call this cocking the muscle. Similar to cocking a gun. When a gun is cocked the hammer provides the power to ignite the bullet. It has to be forceful to cause tremendous power to project the bullet. When getting the muscle to stretch as much as you can will provide more power in the muscle. When stretching the muscle there is an increase in kinetic energy. ATP is released and is ready to provide energy for the contraction. If the muscle is not fully stretched before the contraction then some of the energy is lost and the contraction is not as full.

Now co-contracting. I experimented with changing the tempo and sequence of a muscle contraction and found that if I focused on contractig the muscle in addition to providing resistance to the muscle with weights that I could get a greater burn and pump. Here is how it works. Let’s take a barbell and perform a bicep curl. Start with the bar on the thighs arms fully extended. Getting as much stretch as possible. Now before even lifting the bar contract the biceps as hard as possible. Try moving the bar up with just the biceps in total contraction without using the forearms, holding the bar lightly with the hands. Now begin curling the weight up. Still concentrating on the tightness of the biceps pulling in. Focus on bringing the tendons in closer. Now when you get to the complete end of the movement, contract the biceps as hard as you can, little pulses. Perform 4-8 of these small pulses. These are co-contractions. Because the muscle is already in a contracted position, you force more contractibility by just focusing on pumping the muscle more with hard small pulsating contractions. Bring the bar down and stop half way and perform more pulses (co-contractions) and then return to the fully extended position and perform 4-8 more co-contractions. You won’t believe the pump you get. In fact, you will be taxing the muscle so much that it might be hard to finish a complete set of 12 reps. You might have to reduce the weight you normally use to do this. You can do this on all exercises. Co-contractions also engages a greater neural response eliciting more motor unit recruitment. Give it a try I am sure you will feel a huge difference in your muscles from doing co-contractions.

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Daryl Conant, M.Ed

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