Thursday, January 04, 2007


When one is trying to increase their strength in a powerlift, whether it is the squat, deadlift or bent press the key ingredient as everyone knows by now( or should know) is tension. Tension is synonymous with strength and increasing one's ability to produce tension( all other things being equal) increases ones strength.

If you want to take your squat from 300 pounds to 350 or 400 pounds you have to be able to generate more tension to be able to apply the appropriate force to get it going.But there is another, hardly ever mentioned aspect to strength and tension that is as or more important than tension. That is pressure.

I could never tell the difference in "weight", in a numerical sense, between 400 and 500 pounds on my back when I was squatting. What I was aware of, keenly, as the weight climbed was the increase in pressure. You would literally feel like you could explode if you didnt get tight enough to compensate for the added plates.You wouldnt feel " man I can feel those two new 25 's on the bar, just that it was much harder than last set to stay upright and not collapse.

This increased pressure would be the signal that you better get seriously tight and FAST if you wanted to go down and actually come back up with it. Add in a power belt and even worse, a tight compressive super suit with the straps up and you can't BELIEVE how much pressure you generate throughout the whole body.Not to mention how much you have to push back against that in order to stay tight and hold your position for the whole lift.

Bent over good mornings could make your eyes feel like they are going to pop out of your head and max effort deadlifts would always create "silver fish" flying fish that I saw after the lift, floating around your head. LOL, no one said anyone who craves super human strength is entirely sane.

The best squaters( and strength lifters in general) will get super tight BEFORE the lift, not needing the feedback of the pressure first, and "absorb" the shock of the weight right from the start and getting more tension early.
Having to unrack the bar, let the bar settle, walk back to your setup position, lockout your start postition and wait for the command,try to sip in some more air before take it down deep all as the pressure builds to its greatest levels in the hole, and then explode against that pressure to come back up has one handing alot of pressure for a long time. Oh yeah, then you have to maintain enough to walk it back in to get credit for your accomplishment. Staying calm under prolonged pressure is a skill.

This isnt so bad with submaximal loads but bump that puppy up to 101+ percent of your current best and watch the sparks fly!So one has to learn how to create the pressure, feel the pressure and NOT give in to it at the same time ,do the task UNDER pressure and stay calm the entire time. All the while getting ready for even MORE pressure for the next attempt.

As a powerlifter you learn its all about tightness and NOT giving in to the load .Not losing position.Handling the pressure and controlling it.One learns to generate tons of pressure and tension in a moment.I got so used to generating max force for one rep that if I even climbed under an empty bar and got set my heart rate would soar from the anticipation ! Potential metaphors abound but learning to handle ever increasing pressure while staying calm and strong has life lessons for everyone.

I was reminded of this as I was practicing my presses yesterday. Even with the 12 and 16 kg weights I was creating full body pressure for the press and it brought back many happy memories of getting tight for a heavy squat, bench or deadlift.Of connecting all the pieces of the body in one seriously tight block.
Of losing myself in my body and NOT thinking of the weight but just getting tight, and then tighter; of feeling my strength grow as I did,knowing I could make the lift if I could just handle the pressure.

Being able to practice that regularly, in the relatively safe environs of the gym, lets you learn about pressure and tension for the real world where it's not always safe, and the need for the ability to be strong, to handle the pressure and stay calm is paramount. To feel the pressure and not be moved.To push back hard enough to stay your course.To challenge yourself to handle even more pressure, even if it's just a little, than the last time and knowing you are getting better.I loved that about powerlifting and missed it for the last year or so when I cut totally back on tension exercises.
Being able to touch that aspect of training again, even if just a little, is very satisfying on many different levels.Its always good to know that you can handle the pressure and stay standing.


Franz Snideman said...

Cool. It is interesting to hear the you talk about pressure and the ability to tolerate pressure as an essential quality. I too have seen the white objects after deadlifting, fun stuff. Very addicting. Can that much pressure on your vascular system be good for you long term?

Mark Reifkind said...

dude, I beleive high level competive ANYTHING is not good for you in the long term. that being said I dont think the goal of ones life should be just to make it as long as possible.its what you do and who you are during your time that counts to me.
it's up to each individual to place the correct value and to assess whether the price is too high or just right for the experiences they choose to create.
plus it changes over time too eh? What was worth it when I was twenty is definitley no longer worth it now.
does that mean I would not do the same thing thrity years ago? No, I probably would. Ain't no free lunches and man I've had some times,lol.

Pete Diaz, RKC said...

Hi Rif,

Happy New Year, bro! Been away from the blogs and give you a shout out.

Funny the connect with tension and pressure. I know since I have hurt my back more times squatting and deadlifting, I am always more focused now on how tight I can remain during the lift than the weight itself. If I can keep the tension strong, I will attempt heavier weights, if I am not totally focused, I know to get in a longer rest period, or stop altogether.

Looking forward to what the new year brings. Take care!


Tracy said...

hey pete, welcome back.and yes its way more important to focus on tightness and technique than what is on the bar. that cant help you but being tight sure can!