If you want to maximize your results in the gym then you must learn how to manipulate the strength curve. In other words you need to learn how to overload your muscles at different parts of their range of motion.
This is important whether you are training for strength or hypertrophy!
- Part 1: Chest
- Part 2: Back
- Part 3: Shoulders
- Part 4: Biceps
- Part 5: Triceps
- Part 6: Quadriceps
- Part 7: Hamstrings
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to manipulate the strength curve.
The strength curve is a model that shows how much force your muscles can produce at different joint angles. There are three main parts of the strength curve for any muscle group:
- The stretched position
- The mid-range position
- The shortened position
The stretched position of the strength curve refers to positions where your target muscle group is stretched as much as possible. Your triceps are stretched the most when your elbows are bent as much as possible.
For example the bottom position of a skull crusher does a great job of overloading your triceps in the stretched position:
The shortened position of the stretch curve refers to positions where your target muscle group is contracted as much as possible. Your triceps are in their shortened position when your elbows are completely extended.
When you lock out your elbows during a set of rope cable pushdowns you are overloading your triceps in their shortened position:
Finally the mid-range position of the strength curve refers to positions where your target muscle group is halfway between being fully stretched and fully shortened.
The middle position of a close grip bench press does a good job of overloading the triceps in the mid-range of the strength curve.
This is the most important training tip in the entire article, so pay attention:
For optimal results you want to use exercises and training methods that overload all three points of the strength curve: the stretched position, the mid-range position AND the shortened position.
If you learn how to overload all three parts of a muscle’s strength curve then you will be able to build muscle mass and strength at a much faster pace. If you understand this then you are already light years ahead of the average trainee.
Unfortunately things are a little more complicated than this. Before I cover the best training strategies for each body part I need to teach you how the strength curve differs for each body part.
In reality there are three different types of strength curves:
- Ascending strength curves
- Descending strength curves
- Ascending-descending strength curves
An ascending strength curve means that your muscles can produce more force when they are fully contracted than when they are fully stretched. Here is an illustrative picture of an ascending strength curve:
A great example of a muscle with an ascending strength curve is the triceps. Your triceps can produce more force when they are in the shortened position than they can when they are fully stretched.
For example your triceps are relatively weak in the bottom position of a close grip bench press but become much stronger as you approach the top of the exercise.
Other muscle groups such as the lats have a descending strength curve. A descending strength curve means your muscles can produce more force when they are stretched than when they are fully contracted.
Here is an illustrative picture of a descending strength curve:
This means your lats are actually stronger when they are fully stretched and weaker when they are fully contracted.
Finally there are muscle groups such as the biceps brachii that have an ascending-descending strength curve. This means your biceps are weakest when they are fully stretched or contracted. They are actually strongest when the elbow is halfway bent such as in the middle position of standing ez-bar curls.
Here is an illustrative picture of an ascending-descending strength curve:
An ascending-descending strength curve means that your muscles are strongest in the mid-range position and weakest in both the shortened position and the stretched position.
A perfect example of this is the biceps brachii. Your biceps are strongest when your elbows are halfway bent and weakest when they are fully stretched or completely contracted.
As you can see each body part has a unique strength curve. You still want to overload all three parts of the strength curve for each body part:
- The stretched position
- The mid-range position
- The shortened position
However, the best strategies, techniques and training methods for accomplishing this are different for every body part. Some body parts like the triceps respond awesome to bands, chains and partial reps.
Some body parts like the upper back respond really well to the use of momentum to overload specific points in the strength curve. There are even body parts such as the biceps where you have to use a wide variety of exercises such as preacher curls, incline curls and cable curls to overload all 3 parts of the strength curve.
In the rest of this article I will cover the best training strategies, techniques and methods for overloading each part of the strength curve for every major body part. This information can be the difference between getting mediocre results and making screaming fast strength and size gains. Yes, it is that important!
Note: if you have any trouble reading the sample training routines presented here then please read this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Manipulate The Strength Curve For Chest Training
Let’s start with everyone’s favourite body part to train: the chest. The chest has an ascending strength curve. This means that you are far stronger when your chest is fully shortened than when it is fully stretched.
Just think about a bench press: most trainees are much stronger in the top position of a strength curve than they are in the bottom position with the bar on their chest.
Let’s take a look at some of the best chest training strategies to overload all 3 parts of the strength curve:
- The stretched position
- The mid-range position
- The shortened position
Check it out:
How To Overload The Chest In The Stretched Position Of The Strength Curve!
Many bodybuilders have figured out that one of the best ways to stimulate growth in the chest is to place it in a deep loaded stretch while you exercise. Just take a look at the following famous clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger performing dumbbell flyes:
The one thing that stands out to me is the incredibly deep stretch Arnold gets on every rep. He is practically performing straight arm flyes! Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Arnold was able to build the thickest chest of all time?
There are a number of ways to overload the chest in the stretched position to stimulate growth. In my experience one of the best ways is to use partial reps in the bottom position of the exercise. The basic idea is to only perform the bottom two-thirds of your chest exercises.
This is something that Ronnie Coleman was famous for doing. He would only perform the bottom half to bottom two-thirds of the range of motion on his chest exercises. For example:
By avoiding the lockout position Ronnie is keeping a huge stretch on the chest throughout the entire range of motion. This is an advanced bodybuilding technique that should be reserved for trainees with at least 1-2 years of training experience. If you are an experienced bodybuilder then it can be a great way to overload the chest muscles.
IFBB professional bodybuilders Stan Efferding and Ben Pakulski are also big proponents of this system. Here is one of Ronnie Coleman’s chest routines in case you were curious:
Ronnie Coleman Chest Workout
- A1: Flat BB bench press, 1-3 x 5-12, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Incline BB bench press, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Decline BB bench press, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
Another great strategy to overload the chest in the stretched position is to use loaded stretches or “extreme stretching.” The basic idea is to hold a loaded stretch for the chest for 60-90 seconds. One of the most common ways to do this is to hold the bottom position of a dumbbell fly.
For example here is Dusty Hanshaw demonstrating an extreme stretch for the chest:
This extreme stretch is a powerful way to stimulate chest size and strength gains by overloading the muscle in the stretched position. These extreme stretches should only be performed at the end of your training routine when the muscle is pre-fatigued and full of blood.
Here is a sample Dusty Hanshaw style chest routine you may want to try:
Dusty Hanshaw Chest Routine
- A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 1 x 11-15 RP**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Pec dec machine (neutral grip), 1 x 15-25, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: DB fly extreme stretch, 1 x 60-90 seconds, rest as needed
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Train to failure, take 10-15 deep breaths, train to failure again with the same weight, take 10-15 deep breaths, train to failure again with the same weight, done! Your total reps for all 3 attempts should be between 11-15 reps.
There are also ways for powerlifters and other strength athletes to overload the chest in the stretched position. One of my favourite methods is the “dead bench” as popularized by Josh Bryant. The dead bench is essentially a pin press performed just above your chest.
Here is a sample training video of the dead bench:
Normally when you perform a bench press your connective tissues store elastic energy that help you lift the weight off your chest. This elastic energy is known as the “stretch reflex.” The stretch reflex is great for lifting more weight but it actually takes some of the tension off your chest in the bottom position of the bench press.
When you perform the dead bench or any type of pin press you don’t have the stretch reflex to help you off of your chest. This means your chest has to work much harder in the stretched position to lift the weight!
Josh Bryant recommends that you only perform single repetitions on the dead bench. This is important to make sure that the stretch reflex never helps you lift the weight. A great starting point is to perform 10 sets of singles with 60 seconds rest in between each set.
Here is a bench press routine that Josh Bryant had bodybuilder Jonathon Irizarry perform on his quest for a 500 pound bench press:
Josh Bryant Dead Bench Routine
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 3**, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 8 x 3***, 1/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: 30 degree prone DB chest supported row, 8 x 6, 1/0/1/1, 90 seconds rest
- C1: Dead bench press (competition grip, 2 inches off chest), 10 x 1****, 1/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
- D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: DB floor flys, 3 x 8-12, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Dead stop DB tricep extensions, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed with 87% of your estimated 1-rep max.
***Performed with 70% of your estimated 1-rep max.
****Performed with 60% of your estimated 1-rep max.
As you can see there are a wide variety of ways for a bodybuilder or powerlifter to overload the chest in the stretched position of the strength curve. Now let’s look at some strategies for overloading the lockout portion of the strength curve.
How To Overload The Chest In The Shortened Position Of The Strength Curve!
Overloading the chest in the shortened position of the strength curve requires a lot of creativity. This is true regardless of whether you are primarily training for size or for strength.
One of the best ways to do this is with various isolation exercises such as flyes and cable crossovers. Normally chest flyes are very difficult in the bottom position and very easy in the top position.
One of the best ways to switch things up is to perform flyes with chains. For example:
The chains are attached handles that you hold throughout the movement. When you lower the handles down to the bottom position the chains hit the floor so they “feel” lighter. Then when you raise the handles up the chains come off the ground and they “feel” heavier.
If you pay attention to the above video the athletes are actually struggling in the top position rather than the bottom! If you have never tried chain flyes before then I highly recommend you do so. They give the movement a completely different feel.
Another great isolation exercise for overloading the chest in the shortened position is the supine cable fly. For example:
You just lay down on a flat bench and perform your cable flys that way. Unlike a regular dumbbell fly this movement is actually hardest when your hands are almost touching each other in the top position. You can get incredible contraction training flyes this way.
Of course it is also possible to overload the chest in the shortened position with compound exercises. The most obvious way to do this is to perform a bench press with bands. This is a good idea on paper but in reality this exercise primarily works the triceps.
Here are some better options:
- V-bar dips with bands
- Dumbbell bench press with bands
- Hammer strength machines with bands
In my experience performing v-bar dips with bands absolutely thrashes the chest in the top position. For example:
Many people avoid dips because the bottom position of the exercise bothers their shoulders. A great solution to this problem is to use bands. The bands are weaker in the bottom position but much stronger at the top. The contraction you get in your chest as you approach lockout is absolutely insane!
Just make sure that you are leaning forward throughout the movement to keep the tension on your chest and off of your triceps.
Another awesome strategy is to add bands to various hammer strength pressing exercises. This is something that John Meadows often does with his bodybuilding clients. For example:
The bands make the exercise much harder as you approach lockout. If you are looking for a shoulder-friendly exercise that thrashes your chest in the shortened position then this is an awesome exercise to try.
Bonus: Use Isometronics To Overload The Chest In All Three Parts Of The Strength Curve!
Isometronics (AKA “functional isometrics”) is a special training method that you can use to overload the chest in literally every portion of the strength curve. Isometronics is really a combination of two training methods:
- Partial range of motion reps
- Overcoming isometric contractions
Here is what a full isometronics workout looks like:
As you can see the lifter is pressing in between two pairs of safety pins. He first performs 4-6 partial range of motion reps. Then he performs an all-out overcoming isometric contraction against the top pins for 6-8 total seconds.
After the isometric contraction he lowers the weight down to the bottom pins and attempts 1 more partial range of motion rep. All together this counts as 1 isometronics set. A full isometronics workout consists of 10 total sets:
- 3 sets in the bottom position
- 3 sets in the middle position
- 3 sets in the top position
- 1 full range of motion set
As you can see isometronics overloads your chest in the stretched position, the mid-range position and in the shortened position! Talk about a potent training method! Isometronics works best for producing strength gains but it is also quite effective for increasing muscle mass.
Here is a sample isometronics bench press workout you may want to try:
Bench Press Isometronics Workout
- A1: Bench press bottom position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Bench press middle position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Bench press top position isometronics (competition grip), 3 x 6**, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Wide overhand grip cable pulldown, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E2: Decline ez-bar extension with chains (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: T-bar row, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F2: Seated DB external rotations, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
Be warned: this is an extremely advanced routine. I recommend you have at least 2 years of hardcore training experience before you experiment with isometronics! If you are an advanced trainee then this is one of the absolute fastest ways to blast through a bench press plateau.
Part 2: Manipulate The Strength Curve For Back Training
The back is an incredibly complex part of the body. There are many different muscles in the back and many different exercises that you can use to train these muscles. To make things easier I’m going to focus on how to manipulate the strength curve for three types of upper back exercises:
- Vertical pulling exercises
If you are a bodybuilder you may find the discussion on vertical pulls and rows extremely helpful. On the other hand if you are more of a powerlifter then you may find the discussion on deadlifts to be more your cup of tea.
How To Manipulate The Strength Curve On Vertical Pulling Exercises
Vertical pulling exercises include all types of pull ups and chin ups and all types of lat pulldowns. These exercises are primarily designed to train the lats.
The lats are a strange muscle group: they actually have a descending strength curve! This means your lats are stronger when they are fully stretched and weaker when they are fully shortened. In other words you are stronger on pull ups and pull downs when your arms are relatively straight and weaker when your arms are fully bent.
A bodybuilder often has two problems when using vertical pulling exercises:
- If you use a weight that is heavy enough to work your lats when they are stretched then it’s hard to get a full contraction in the shortened position
- If you use a weight that is light enough that you can get a full contraction then your lats are barely worked at all in the stretched position
Bodybuilders have come up with all kinds of strategies to get around these issues and to maximally train the lats. I want to share with you some of the most effective strategies.
One strategy is to perform pulldowns where your partner manually adds extra resistance to the weight in the stretched position. For example here is bodybuilding coach John Meadows demonstrating this technique:
You want to pick a weight that is light enough that you can get a really strong contraction in the shortened position of the strength curve. Then as your arms straighten out your training partner manually adds extra resistance to the exercise.
This makes your lats work much harder and really stretches out your lats in the top position! If you have a training partner then this is a very effective strategy to use to overload the lats.
Another common training strategy is to perform lat pulldowns using a little bit of “body English.” In other words you use a relatively heavy weight and use some momentum to get the bar all the way down to your chest. For example:
Once again this is an advanced technique. If you are a beginner then you should probably avoid it. You are using a little bit of momentum to allow you to get a strong contraction in your lats with a heavier than normal weight. You are also properly overloading your lats in the stretched position as the weight is heavier than normal.
The key is to explode the weight through the concentric range but really control the weight through the eccentric range. You want to think of your lats as being giant brakes that slowly lower the weight back down through the eccentric range. If you just drop the weight back down through the eccentric range then you are wasting your time.
A final strategy to overload the lats in the stretched position is to use a heavier than normal weight and perform your reps through a partial range of motion. You pull until your upper arms are about parallel with the ground and then lower yourself back up.
Dusty Hanshaw often uses this strategy on rack chins to overload his lats in the stretched position. For example:
Now let’s look at some of the best training strategies for rows.
How To Manipulate The Strength Curve On Rows
Most rowing exercises also have a descending strength curve. In other words you are stronger at the start of rows with your arms straight than you are with your arms bent with a full contraction of the back.
Rows are simply fantastic for developing upper back. As John Meadows likes to say, “you have to row to grow.”
One of the only problems with rows is that you can’t use very much weight if you use ultra-strict form. Rows are one of the very few exercises where using some momentum to get the bar moving is not only okay, but optimal in many cases. Let’s take a look at a few ways to do this.
One of the most effective ways to overload the shortened position of the upper back muscles is with barbell dead stop rows. Here is a video of 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw demonstrating this exercise:
The first half of a barbell dead stop row is exactly the same as a conventional deadlift. Once the weight approaches your knees you stop pulling with your lower back and start pulling with your elbows. This lets you use way more weight than you could with a set of strict rows.
Despite the looser form you are still getting a huge contraction in your upper back muscles when the bar hits your hips or stomach.
Another great rowing exercise to develop your upper back is the t-bar row. Many bodybuilders such as Ronnie Coleman have used a ton of momentum and body English to better overload the contracted position of the exercise.
For example here is the famous video of Ronnie Coleman t-bar rowing 9 plates:
Yes, he is using a fair amount of momentum in this video. However this is done for the sole purpose of letting him get a huge contraction in his upper back with a very heavy weight. There is no way he could strict t-bar row 9 plates per side but with a little bit of momentum this becomes possible.
If you are an extremely advanced bodybuilder with a weak upper back then you may want to consider loosening up your form on rowing exercises.
Of course these techniques are also great for powerlifters and other strength athletes. Cailer Woolam says that barbell rows with a lot of body English are his number 1 accessory exercise for the deadlift.
How To Manipulate The Strength Curve On Deadlifts
Unlike rows and pullups the deadlift has an ascending strength curve. This just means that you are stronger in the top position of the exercise than you are in the bottom position.
Most trainees can use far more weight with a rack deadlift above the knees than they can with a conventional deadlift from the floor. This means that the top half of the deadlift isn’t being trained as hard during a regular conventional deadlift.
There are a few ways to go about overloading the top half of deadlifts. The most obvious is to use any type of rack pull or block pull. For example:
Rack pulls certainly have their place in your training. However one of the disadvantages of rack pulls is that they don’t always carry over well to the full range of motion deadlift. Sometimes people change their technique to lift more weight in the rack pull even though their new technique doesn’t improve their regular deadlift.
In my experience one of the best ways to overload the lockout position of deadlifts is with the deadlift against bands. For example:
The deadlift against bands does a WONDERFUL job of overloading the top half of the movement. However, because you are starting this exercise in the same position as your regular deadlift the carryover is much better. In my experience resistance bands help to improve your deadlift more so than any other lift.
Sometimes when you use bands too frequently it negatively impacts your form with straight weight. I have never seen this happen with the deadlift. You can use banded deadlifts as a core component of your training without negatively impacting your technique with straight weight.
If you are trying to overload the bottom position of deadlifts then one of the best exercises you can use is the deficit stiff legged deadlift. For example:
This exercise places your hamstrings under a very powerful loaded stretch. If you have the flexibility to perform this exercise then it is one of the best exercises you can use to strengthen the start of your pull.
Powerlifters such as Paul Carter and Dan Green are huge proponents of this exercise variation.
Bonus: Overload The Strength Curve With Isometric Deadlifts!
Often times lifters have a “sticking point” on the deadlift where they are extremely weak. Some lifters are weak right off the floor while others struggle right below or above the knees.
If you have a specific sticking point where you always miss on deadlifts then you may want to try using isometric deadlifts. Isometric deadlifts involve pulling a barbell as hard as you can against a pair of safety pins. For example:
The safety pins would be set up right at your sticking point in the deadlift. You want to pull for about 6-8 seconds against the pins. You should be pulling so hard that you are trying to break the pins in half!
Isometrics are awesome because they strengthen the exact point in the lift that you are training. In other words if you set up the pins so you are pulling right below your knees then that is the place where most of the strength gains will occur.
Josh Bryant has said that isometrics are the single best tool for blasting through sticking points and I totally agree.
Here is what a sample isometrics deadlift workout might look like:
Isometric Deadlift Routine
- A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 2**, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Conventional deadlift overcoming isometric (2 inches above floor), 2 x 1***, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
- B2: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 2 x 3****, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Conventional deadlift overcoming isometric (2 inches below lockout), 2 x 1***, 10/X/6, 120 seconds rest
- C2: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 2 x 3****, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Barbell bent over row, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Glute ham raise (holding DB at chest), 3 x 8-12, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Standing bilateral barbell shrugs, 3 x 8-12, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed at 91% of your starting 1-rep max
***Performed with 135 pounds
****Performed at 72% of your starting 1-rep max
As you can see there are a number of different strategies for overloading the bottom range, mid-range and top-range of deadlifts. I suggest you experiment with all of them to figure out what works best for you and then hammer them home until you reach your goals.
Part 3: Manipulate The Strength Curve For Deltoids
The deltoids are another extremely complex muscle group. Most trainees know that there are three major parts to the shoulder complex: the front delts, the side delts and the rear delts. For optimal results you want to overload different parts of the strength curve for all 3 regions of the shoulder.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these strategies.
How To Overload The Shoulders In The Stretched Position Of The Strength Curve!
Overloading the shortened position of the strength curve in shoulder exercises is difficult to do. Fortunately there are a couple of bodybuilding-style strategies that work really well. The first strategy involves performing partial reps on various dumbbell isolation exercises.
Here is an example of partial reps performed on the dumbbell lateral raise:
You want to pick a weight that is significantly heavier than what you can use through a full range of motion. If you normally use 20 pound dumbbells then try using 30-40 pound dumbbells for your heavy partial lateral raises. Then you simply raise your arms out to your sides as far as you can and lower them back down.
On partial lateral raises you want to use a controlled tempo on both the concentric and the eccentric range. This is extremely important for maintaining tension on the working muscle. Due to the shorter range of motion this exercise should be performed for at least 20-30 reps per set.
Another great variation of this exercise is partial rear delt raises. For example here is John Meadows perfectly demonstrating this exercise:
Normally it’s very difficult to emphasize the fist half of the range of motion with rear delt raises. This exercise solves that problem!
Once again you can use a weight that is 50-100% heavier than what you use through a full range of motion. Many trainees who have a hard time feeling their rear delts working get a great contraction with this movement.
Another great way to overload the bottom position of the strength curve for shoulders is to use cables. For example here is Dorian Yates performing the cable lateral raise in his Blood And Guts training DVD:
The cable lateral raise is actually hardest at the start of the movement and easiest at the top. This is the complete opposite of a dumbbell lateral raise. I strongly recommend you try this exercise if you are stuck in a rut in your shoulder training.
How To Overload The Shoulders In The Mid-Range Position Of The Strength Curve!
Most compound pressing exercises such as barbell overhead presses, dumbbell overhead presses and machine overhead presses work the shoulders in the mid-range of the strength curve. You don’t have to do anything fancy to overload the muscle this way. However I do want to talk about dumbbell lateral raises.
Most trainees look like they are having a seizure when they perform dumbbell lateral raises! They hoist the weight up using their lower back and barely stimulate the side delts at all! The typical trainee is trying to overload their side delts at the mid-range of the strength curve where their elbows are straight out to their sides.
Rather than using the pink dumbbells and actually stimulating the target muscle they use a weight that is way too heavy and lift with their ego.
I understand their intention: they want to overload the muscle with a heavier weight to stimulate more growth. If this describes you then I have a solution: Poliquin lateral raises. For example:
To perform a Poliquin lateral raise you bend your elbow to 90 degrees during the concentric range and straighten them out on the eccentric range. This makes the weight feel lighter on the way up and feel heavier on the way down.
I think you will find that you can use MUCH more weight than normal with this type of form. In other words you get to use a really heavy weight to overload the muscle but your form is much tighter so you actually work the target muscle rather than your lower back. Talk about a win-win situation!
I highly recommend you experiment with this exercise if you have not already done so. You can expect some serious side delt soreness the next day!
How To Overload The Shoulders In The Shortened Position Of The Strength Curve!
There are a number of ways to overload the shoulders in the shortened position of the strength curve. The exact strategies that you can use differ depending on whether you are using compound or isolation exercises.
If you are using compound exercises then a great strategy is to use weightlifting chains. 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw is a huge fan of using chains to overload the lockout portion of his overhead presses. For example:
The chains allow you to overload the top half of the movement while still training through a full range of motion. When you use chains the center of mass of the exercise is actually below the point of force application. This gives the exercise a completely different feel. In my experience this strategy works particularly well when training the shoulders. Some other strategies that you can try include banded overhead presses, pin presses and push presses.
There are a number of ways that you can overload the shortened position of the strength curve for the rear delts. Two of the most effective exercises involve nothing but band tension. The first exercise you should know about is the infamous band pull-apart. For example:
This exercise was made famous by Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell training club. It is a fantastic way to train your rear delts. As you pull the band apart the band tension gets stronger and stronger. By the time your rear delts are fully contracted with your arms by your sides the band tension is out of this world!
Many strength coaches such as Christian Thibadeau consider band pull aparts to be a lifesaver in terms of keeping your shoulders healthy.
The only downside to this exercise is that it can be difficult to measure your progress. Some strategies include holding your hands closer together or progressing to a stronger band.
Another great band exercise for the rear delts is the banded face pull. For example here is Matt Wenning demonstrating this exercise:
Research done by Bret Contreras shows us that the banded face pull is awesome for overloading the rear delts, side delts and the scapular retractors. Talk about a slam dunk! Make sure that you pull your hands apart while pulling the band towards you. This will maximize your results from this exercise.
Part 4: Manipulate The Strength Curve For Biceps
The biceps are one of the most interesting body parts to train from the perspective of overloading different parts of the strength curve. With the possible exception of the underhand grip chin up there just aren’t any really great compound exercises for the biceps.
If you want big, strong biceps then you are going to have to perform plenty of isolation exercises. In your training you want to select curling exercises that overload all three points in the strength curve:
- The stretched position
- The mid-range position
- The shortened position
Most trainees only target the mid-range position of the strength curve. This is a huge mistake! In reality you will make faster progress if you overload all three parts of the strength curve. This means using specific exercises that target these different areas.
How To Overload The Biceps In The Stretched Position Of The Strength Curve!
Preacher curls are by far the best exercise for overloading the biceps in the stretched position. A preacher curl is any type of curl performed on a preacher curl bench. Here is what a preacher curl looks like:
Of course the preacher curl can be performed with a variety of grips using either dumbbells or an ez-bar. There are two reasons why preacher curls overload the biceps in their stretched position.
First of all there is an enormous stretch on your biceps in the bottom position.
Secondly the hardest part of a preacher curl is when your forearms are parallel to the ground. This is the spot where the weight will “feel” the heaviest.
On a preacher curl your forearms are parallel to the ground near the bottom of the movement! Many of my online coaching clients have reported much faster progress and much deeper muscle soreness after focusing on preacher curls in their bicep training routines.
The first-ever Mr. Olympia winner Larry Scott found a creative way to overload his biceps even more using preacher curls: he performed partial reps out of the bottom position!
Larry would go to failure in the 6-8 rep range and then perform several partial range of motion reps out of the bottom position. This is a fantastic way to overload the biceps in their stretched position and stimulate hypertrophy gains.
Here is Larry Scott’s favorite bicep workout in case you were curious:
Larry Scott Arm Workout
- A1: Dumbbell Preacher Curls, 3 x 6**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Barbell Preacher Curls, 3 x 6**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Reverse Ez-Curl Bar, 3 x 6**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Perform 6 full range of motion reps then 4 partial “burns” out of the bottom position.
This workout features three different types of preacher curls performed back-to-back as part of a tri-set. Tri-sets are easily one of the most effective training methods you can use for building muscle mass.
How To Overload The Biceps In The Mid-Range Position Of The Strength Curve!
Overloading the biceps at the mid-range of the strength curve is very easy. All forms of seated and standing barbell and dumbbell curls will work. For example here is the standing ez-bar curl:
As long as your upper arm is perpendicular to the floor (pointing straight down to the ground) then you will overload the mid-range.
In general these types of curls aren’t as effective as preacher curls or incline curls. They don’t place the muscle under a loaded stretch at any point in the movement and it is very easy to cheat during standing curls. Still they are a warranted exercise that you can use.
How To Overload The Biceps In The Shortened Position Of The Strength Curve!
The best exercises for overloading the biceps in the shortened position include incline curls, spider curls and different types of cable curls.
Incline curls are right up there with preacher curls as one of the most bang-for-your-buck exercises. Here is a video of incline curls:
You simply lay down on an incline bench and curl with your elbows pointing straight down to the ground. For various reasons this exercise is hardest at the top of the movement.
If you are someone who likes to “squeeze” their biceps on every rep then you will love incline curls. They also do a fantastic job of overloading the long head of the biceps.
Another great exercise for overloading the biceps in the contracted position is spider curls. Spider curls are performed with you laying down on an incline bench. For example:
The tension on your biceps is greatest at the very top of this movement. This is another exercise where you can really “squeeze” your biceps if that is your thing.
Finally there are many versions of cable curls that are fantastic for overloading the biceps in the shortened position. One of my absolute favorites is the incline cable curl. Here is a video of this exercise:
The key is to keep your elbows held back and behind you throughout the entire movement. You should find that the hardest part of this exercise is the end-range where you fully bend your elbows.
IFBB professional bodybuilder Ben Pakulski does a great job demonstrating proper form on this exercise. It is quite challenging so don’t be afraid to drop the weight down in order to use proper form.
Bonus: Use Tri-Sets To Overload The Biceps At All 3 Points Of The Strength Curve!
Charles Poliquin Biceps Tri-Set Routine
- A1: 45 degree incline DB curl (offset grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Perform a 2-second isometric pause on the concentric range at 30 degrees of elbow flexion
All three exercises performed in a row count as one complete tri-set. Charles recommends that you perform anywhere from 3-5 total tri-sets depending on how you are feeling that day.
If you are having a so-so training day then you may want to stop after 3 total tri-sets. On the other hand if you feel better than Eddie Hall as he trains to box The Mountain then go ahead and perform 5 total sets.
Part 5: Manipulate The Strength Curve For Triceps
The triceps have what is called an ascending strength curve. In other words the triceps are weakest when the elbow is fully bent and strongest when the elbow is fully straightened. If you want to maximally train the triceps then you need to use different training methods and techniques that target each part of the ascending strength curve.
Let’s look at some of the best strength and hypertrophy training strategies for accomplishing this.
How To Overload The Triceps In The Stretched Position Of The Strength Curve!
The triceps are one of those muscle groups that respond really well to exercises that emphasize a deep stretch. Most forms of triceps exercises such as upright v-bar dips, skull crushers and french presses do put a good stretch on the muscle.
In my experience one of the better ways to further emphasize this stretched position is to perform Ronnie Coleman style partial reps.
I discussed in part 1 of this article how Ronnie Coleman performed partial reps in the stretched position for most of his chest exercises. It turns out that Ronnie used that same technique on almost all of his triceps exercises!
For example here is Ronnie performing a set of lying ez-bar extensions:
And here is Ronnie performing some seated DB french presses:
This is an advanced bodybuilding style technique that you may want to play around with to increase the size of your triceps. For inspiration here is one of Ronnie’s triceps routines that he used to become 8x Mr. Olympia champion. Check it out:
Ronnie Coleman Tricep Workout
- A1: Lying ez-bar extension (behind head), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, no rest
- A2: Close grip bench press (with ez-bar), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Seated DB french press (with one dumbbell), 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Bilateral bent-over DB tricep kickbacks, 1-3 x 8-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
Another incredible training method for overloading the triceps in the stretched position is to perform an “extreme stretch” at the end of your workout. The basic idea is to hold the bottom position of an overhead triceps extension for 60-90 seconds at a time. For example:
This kind of extreme triceps stretch has many advantages for building muscle mass and strength:
- It upregulates mTOR, the on / off switch that regulates protein synthesis
- It increases the release of anabolic hormones including IGF-1 and MGF
- It improves the sensitivity of your IGF-1 receptor sites
- It *potentially* stretches your muscle fascia and facilitates muscle hyperplasia
There are a variety of ways you can program in an extreme triceps stretch.
Christian Thibadeau likes his athletes to perform 3-4 hard but slightly submaximal sets at the end of a workout. On the other hand Dante Trudel likes his athletes to perform 1 all-out set to failure at the end of their workouts.
Dusty Hanshaw is probably one of the biggest proponents of extreme stretching amongst professional bodybuilders. Here is an example of how Dusty incorporates extreme stretching into his tricep routines:
Dusty Hanshaw Tricep Routine
- A1: Dead stop skull crusher, 1 x 25-30 RP**, 2/1/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Hammer strength dip machine, 1 x 20-30, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Triceps extreme stretch, 1 x 60-90 seconds, rest as needed
Of course there are some other methods that you can use to overload the triceps in the stretched position. Some of the more effective methods include using 1-3 second pauses in the stretched position and using 1.25 reps in the stretched position.
How To Overload The Triceps In The Mid-Range Position Of The Strength Curve!
Most compound and isolation exercises such as close grip bench presses and lying extensions already do a great job of overloading the mid-range of the strength curve. Of course there are some ways to make these exercises even more effective.
One of the best methods is to attach lifting chains to the bar. For example here is a video of Mike Keck performing the close grip bench press with chains on either side of the bar:
Chains are fantastic for overloading the mid-range of the movement. This is especially true if you only use 1 pair of chains on the bar. As you can see Mike is struggling the most right at the middle of the lift. The bottom and top parts of the movement are a bit easier in comparison.
Of course you can also use chains on various triceps isolation exercises to overload the mid-range of the strength curve. The world’s greatest strength coach Charles Poliquin believed that decline triceps extensions with chains were the single greatest tricep exercise that you can do. For example:
The chains do a wonderful job of overloading the entire movement. The middle portion of the exercise is the hardest but you still have to work extremely hard in the stretched and shortened positions.
This is definitely one of the best exercises for the lateral head and short head of the triceps.
How To Overload The Triceps In The Shortened Position Of The Strength Curve!
The triceps are very strong as you approach the lockout position of any pressing or extension exercise. If you want to overload the triceps in the shortened position (and you should!) then you have to get creative. Some of the best methods include heavy band tension, partial reps and isometrics. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
One of the best ways to overload the triceps in their shortened position is with heavy band tension. Bands are normally used on compound exercises such as bench presses but they can also be used on isolation exercises such as tricep pushdowns.
Here is Marc Bell of Super Training giving a perfect demonstration of the banded bench press:
As you can see the top of the movement is where the barbell really starts to slow down. You do have to be careful with how often you use bands. A lot of powerlifters who abuse them find that their technique with straight weight suffers if they use bands for too many weeks in a row.
Another fantastic training method for overloading the lockout position is powerlifting style isometrics. The idea is simple: you take an empty barbell and press it against a pair of safety pins that are set 2 inches below lockout. For example:
You want to press as hard as you can for 6-8 total seconds. You are literally trying to break the pins in half! The triceps are heavily recruited during this type of isometric contraction.
In fact the scientific research shows that isometric sets recruit up to 5-7% more motor units than either concentric or eccentric contractions! They also allow you to produce up to 15% more force than regular sets.
In the above video Josh Bryant uses the isometric set as part of a tri-set routine. Here is the full routine in case you were curious:
Josh Bryant Iso-Dynamics Triceps Tri-Set Routine
- A1: Close grip bench press overcoming isometric***, 3 x 6 second hold, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Close grip bench press against bands, 3 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Decline DB extension, 3 x 12, 3/0/1/0, 4 minutes rest
***Perform an overcoming isometric with an empty barbell. The pins should be set up 2 inches below lockout in a power rack.
This is an extremely advanced routine. I recommend that you have at least 2 years of training experience before you attempt it. If you have less than 2 years of training experience then you will make faster progress using less complicated programs.
Part 6: Manipulate The Strength Curve For Quadriceps
Most quadriceps exercises such as squats and leg presses have an ascending-descending strength curve. In other words they are hardest when your thighs are parallel to the ground. Above and below this point the movement is much easier.
Any type of compound quadriceps exercise such as front squats, back squats, leg presses, hack squats etc. will overload the mid-range of the strength curve. The real challenge is finding exercises and training methods that overload the stretched or shortened positions of the strength curve.
How To Overload The Quadriceps In The Stretched Position Of The Strength Curve!
If you want to overload the quadriceps when they are stretched then two of the best methods include isometric pauses and 1.25 reps. Dmitry Klokov is famous for using long isometric pauses in the bottom position of squats to develop his super-human leg strength.
Dmitry sometimes uses pauses as long as 4-7 seconds! For example:
Many strength coaches call a squat performed on a 7/6/X/0 tempo a “Klokov squat.” In other words you would lower yourself down over 7 seconds, pause in the hole for 6 seconds and then explode all the way to lockout.
One of the reason Klokov squats work so well is they completely eliminate the stretch reflex in the bottom position. You have to rely on nothing but your muscles to power your way out of the bottom position.
Here is a sample Klokov squat routine that you may want to try:
Klokov squat routine
- A1: Back squat (medium stance / heels flat), 6-8 x 1, 7/6/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / neutral), 4 x 5-7, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Triple jumper’s step up (holding DBs), 4 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- C1: 45 degree back extension (against bands), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
Another great way to overload the stretched position of squats is to use 1.25 reps. 1.25 reps, or one-and-a-quarter reps, are a great way to accumulate extra time under tension in the stretched position.
Here is a video demonstration:
To perform a 1.25 squat you lower yourself all the way down, squat up a quarter of the way, lower yourself all the way down again and then explode up to lockout. All together this counts as 1 single rep. 1.25 reps are a great way to build muscle mass on your thighs. They are particularly effective at overloading the vastus medialis, one of the quadricep muscles.
Here is a squat routine featuring 1.25 reps that you may want to try. Check it out:
Lower Body 1.25 Reps Routine
- A1: Back squat (Close stance / heels flat)**, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
- A2: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in)**, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Leg press, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Romanian deadlift, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Walking DB lunges, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Sumo leg press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 1.25 reps in the bottom position on every rep
This routine is much tougher than it looks! I recommend you use a relatively light weight for the squats until you get the hang of this squatting style.
How To Overload The Quadriceps In The Shortened Position Of The Strength Curve!
If you want to overload your quadriceps in the shortened position then bands are probably the most effective way to do it. There are two training methods that I find particularly effective: reverse band squats and banded leg presses.
Reverse band squats were largely popularized by the Westside Barbell training club. You hook a pair of jump stretch bands around the top of your squat rack and then attach them to either end of your barbell.
For example here is Justin Harris performing a reverse band squat:
The bands assist you in the bottom position of squats but do very little to help in the top position. This means the top part of the squat is actually the hardest part! This is a very effective and safe way to overload the top position of squats.
Reverse band squats work extremely well for both bodybuilders and powerlifters.
Another awesome training method is to use banded leg presses. Many trainees find that leg presses bother their knees. This is especially true if they try to use a full range of motion. The bands are great because they increase the tension at the top of the movement more so than the bottom.
For example here is Shelby Starnes demonstrating some banded leg presses:
Many bodybuilders such as Stan Efferding have actually used banded leg presses as a form of rehabilitation for their knees. It is just a great all-around bodybuilding style movement that you can incorporate into your own training.
Part 7: Manipulate The Strength Curve For Hamstrings
Most hamstrings exercises fall into one of two categories:
- Isolation exercises such as leg curls
- Compound exercises such as stiff legged deadlifts
The strength curve for compound and isolation exercises is completely different. Leg curls have a descending strength curve. This means you are strongest when the hamstrings are fully stretched and weakest when they are fully shortened.
Stiff legged deadlifts and other compound exercises are the opposite: you are weakest when the hamstrings are stretched and strongest when they are shortened. Let’s take a look at how to overload different points in both of these exercises.
How To Overload The Hamstrings In The Stretched Position Of The Strength Curve!
One of the most effective ways to overload the hamstrings in the stretched position is to use post-failure partial reps on leg curls. This training method was popularized by John Meadows and other bodybuilding coaches.
The basic idea is to perform several partial reps in the bottom position on leg curls after first reaching muscular failure. For example:
These are absolutely brutal! Your hamstrings will be extremely fatigued and absolutely engorged with blood after one of these sets. John Meadows likes to perform this type of high-intensity set on his last set of leg curls.
For example you might perform 4 sets of leg curls and perform the post-failure partial reps on your 4th and final set. This is also a great way to warm up your legs for heavier quadriceps work later in the workout.
Another great strategy is to perform stiff-legged deadlifts exclusively out of the bottom position of the exercise. You would come up about two-thirds of the way and then drop back down into the bottom position. For example:
This absolutely murders the hamstrings! Performing stiff-legged deadlifts in this manner allows you to keep a deep stretch on the hamstrings throughout the entire range of motion. You are essentially accumulating an incredible amount of time under tension with your hamstrings in a loaded stretched position.
If you need to pack some size on your hamstrings and don’t have a lot of time to do it then this is a great option.
How To Overload The Hamstrings In The Shortened Position Of The Strength Curve!
Many trainees are very weak in the top position of leg curls. They have a hard time fully contracting the hamstrings against a heavy weight when their knees are fully bent. If this describes you then you want to address this muscular weakness so that you can start progressing on leg curls again.
In my experience one of the best methods is to perform overcoming isometric contractions against the machine in the contracted position. You simply curl the weight until you hit a “stopping point” against the machine. Then you continue contracting as hard as you can against this stopping point. Just like with a powerlifting style isometric you are literally trying to curl right through the stopping point!
Here is a video demonstration:
I recommend you perform a 1-3 second isometric contraction against the stopping point on every rep. This is one of the fastest ways to overcome this sticking point on leg curls. Do not be surprised if the weights you can use on leg curls skyrocket after 3-4 weeks of using this training technique!
If you are trying to overload the hamstrings in the shortened position then one of the best exercises you can do is the stiff legged deadlift with bands. This exercise absolutely murders the hamstrings – the next day it will feel like a team of ninjas were beating your hamstrings with bamboo sticks for 1-2 hours!
Here is Josh Bryant coaching his bodybuilding clients through the banded stiff legged deadlift:
It is entirely up to you whether you want to perform these on your back day or your legs / hamstrings day. There are good arguments for either one of these set ups.
Of course rack pulls and other short range of motion deadlifts can be used to overload the hamstrings in the shortened position. However, in my experience the banded pulls are much more effective for both strength and size gains.
Bonus: A Giant Sets Hamstrings Routine!
Here is a giant sets hamstrings hypertrophy routine that you may want to try if you are an advanced bodybuilder. It features a variety of exercises designed to overload all parts of the strength curve with both isolation and compound exercises. Check it out:
Hamstrings Giant Sets Routine
- A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointing out), 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 90 degree back extension (holding DB), 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 10 seconds rest
- A3: 45 degree back extension (holding DB), 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointing in), 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A5: Dumbbell stiff-legged deadlift, 3-4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
I recommend you perform anywhere from 2-4 rounds of this giant set.
If you are feeling better than Kel drinking a bottle of orange soda then go ahead and perform 4 rounds. On the other hand if you feel worse than White Goodman on a bad day at work then you are probably better off sticking with just 2 rounds.
If there is one thing you should take away from this article it is this: for optimal results you must overload all parts of the strength curve! This means using exercises and training methods that overload the stretched position, the mid-range position and the shortened position of the strength curve.
This is a complete game changer if you are serious about building muscle mass or strength.
Coaches such as Louie Simmons and John Meadows have gone a long ways in showing how effective and important manipulating the strength curve can be.
If you want more help with overloading different parts of the strength curve in your own training then check out my online coaching program. I use these training concepts with all of my clients to maximize their results.
“A lifter must raise his mental and emotional limits, or he won’t raise his weights.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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