What is Mechanical Tension? - Definition, Example and Info

What is Mechanical Tension? - Definition, Example and Info

  • By - eddie bye
  • 05 March, 2021

Mechanical tension is something that is essential to the development of new muscle tissue in the gym.  So, understanding what it is, is just as essential for aspiring athletes and those looking to build up strength and size.

Mechanical tension is a fairly recent term to crop up, but directly relates to hypertrophy. Which is the process of building new muscle tissue. 

Mechanical Tension Definition

Mechanical tension is the force that you apply to muscles through a form of resistance or weights, to create tension. 

If you live heavier weights, you're applying more resistance and therefore greater resulting force to a muscle group. It's this force applied to the muscle that is mechanical tension. 

Let's take the bicep curls as an example. Curls do get the girls after all. 

If you were to grab a dumbbell that's around 80% of your 1RM, there is a lot of force just there. When you perform reps with this weight, let's say 40kg (lol), that 40kg is pulling the weight down to the floow. Your grip, and indeed your arm and biceps are required to tense up and pull that load up. Creating tension within that particular muscle group. 

Why is Understanding Mechanical Tension Useful?

Understanding how to create tension in a muscle can be useful. As this will mean you can constantly strive to achieve maximum tension within a muscle group. 

The three main ways that you can increase the mechanical tension applied to a muscle are: 

Eccentric Action

Eccentric actions are basically the movements where you lower a weight whilst keeping the muscle under tension.  Examples of these would be; the downward part of a bicep girl, downward part of a squat, running downhill. 

Concentric Action

A concentric action is raising a weight under tension and the opposite of the eccentric action. An example here would be; the first part of a bicep girl, standing in a squat and also lifting in a deadlift.

Increasing Time Under Tension 

Increasing the time a muscle is under tension would increase the mechanical tension of a muscle. To do this, you'd need to perform either the concentric or eccentric action of a movement slower. You can do both too. Lowering the weight slower and keeping the muscle under tension is more commonly known as a negative rep. 

Optimising Mechanical Tension - Building a Workout

So now you understand that mechanical tension is a key part of hypertrophy or muscle growth. In order to make the most of it, here's some key changes you can make to your routine.

Remember, to grow you need to adapt, so switching up your workouts, by changing loads, volume and timings every few weeks can lead to big benefits. 

Use Weights that Get Heavier

An obvious, yet crucial part of maximising mechanical tension. Lifting weights between in 3-12 reps and at 70%-90% of your 1RM has been found to be the best way to load up muscles and increase mechanical tension.

Using progressive overload and adding 1.25kg or 2.5kg to the bar every session is a great way to capitalise on this and build up lean muscle mass. 

Change /Choose the Right Exercises to Maximise ROM 

ROM is the range of motion that a certain exercise causes a particular muscle to go through. 

When building your workout routine, use exercises that work muscle groups through a full range of motion. And, also use weights that allow you to achieve this. A rep with a complete ROM will put a greater amount of mechanical tension onto the muscle. 

Mechanical Tension Definition Conclusion

Remember, variety isn't just the spice of life, but also crucial to help develop your muscle and help you force your body to adapt and achieve results.

Mechanical tension is just one aspect of achieving muscular hypertrophy, albeit a crucial one. 

Change up exercises to maximise ROM, change up exercises that increase passive tension in muscles and try force those adaptations and you'll find you're on a much quicker road to success.