Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What are the best body hacks that people should know about? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
1. Static Stretching Inhibition
The reason many people will advise you NOT to do static stretching before a workout is because static stretching causes a temporary ‘numbness’ in the muscle that can last up to 20 minutes.
This hack is useful for muscles that ‘cramp often’ when you lift or complete certain exercises (often a result of hypertonicity).
It is also useful when certain muscle groups elicit a certain amount of hypertonicity and impede performance in other ways or increase injury potential.
For example, many people have anteriorly tilted hips, pulling the glutes out of an optimal line of pull (the largest muscles in your lower body by volume…), creating greater stress on the hamstrings. In an effort to reduce the impact of the hamstrings on certain lifts like deadlifts, hip hinges, glute ham raises, etc…
I can get more nervous system activity in the gluteals merely by statically stretching the hamstrings between sets.
2. Reciprocal Inhibition
Stretching the opposite muscle group (an antagonist to the agonist) yields more optimal development and electrical activity to the opposite muscle group.
For example, want to put more muscle on your glutes? Stretch your hip flexors (the muscles in the opposing position) between sets of deadlifts.
Want to develop your lats more? Stretch the pectorals and anterior shoulder statically between sets of pull-ups.
3. Low-Threshold Tension Activation
You can create another quick cheat through low level nervous system intervention.
Want your glutes to fire a little bit better, try using low threshold activation exercise like a basic body weight glute bridge for 6-12 reps. The intensity is low enough, not to cause fatigue for the consequent lifting, but high enough that you ‘widen’ the neural highway so to speak and greese the groove of your nervous system, making it the tiniest bit more efficient.
Low threshold activation drills in a warm-up, can improve workout performance as much as 10% in my experience.
4. Muscle Receptor Pressure Activation
Somebody patented this under the name of MAT (Muscle Activation Technique), really all it is, is the use of pressure to increase the nervous systems response to certain muscles within certain movement patterns.
i.e. if I want the gluteals to fire better, I can take my elbow and apply pressure for 10 or so seconds, or sit on a lacrosse ball for that length of time.
When I go back to completely an exercise, I will feel the areas where I applied pressure more, signaling that those muscles are most likely working better or more effectively. ‘Tapping’ a muscle can also work to engage a muscle in the desired fashion.
This has a similar effect to the above activation hack but the mechanism is slightly different. Your nervous system has a difficult time consciously processing too many receptors at once, so one will almost always over-ride the other. This is why it’s difficult to feel heat when you’re in pain, why you don’t feel cold if there is too much pressure, etc…etc… Your body has a hierarchy of responses to different feedback mechanisms (pain usually takes precedent). Pressure in this case, buffers the nervous system to that particular point of contact. Unlike tension, in the case above.
5. Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP)
Lifting something very heavy, leads to an increase in nervous system irradiation effect, recruiting more motor units, leading to more muscle recruitment and consequent force production.
This could be applied to a hypertrophy context, whereby someone quickly works up to a heavy set (maximizes nervous system involvement) of 2 or 3, takes a rest of 3-5 minutes, dropping the intensity to a more appropriate 6-12 rep range, and completes another 3-5 sets of the exercise at the lower intensity but with greater recruitment.
This phenomenon is far more likely to be used for training speed though. Typically you’ll find (this was a common training modality in the eastern block for many years) that people lift heavy, immediately followed by speed-strength or explosive strength work. i.e. 2 Reps of Squats, followed immediately by 3-5 depth jumps or 5-8 reps of jump squats.*
*Note this more true for highly trained individuals and should not be attempted by novices, beginners and most intermediate level lifters. Depth jumps are one of the most neurological taxing exercises and may pose a health-risk if done incorrectly, proceed with caution if you do attempt.
Muscle tension, and consequent strength will increase through a neurological chain when tension is applied through the entire system.
Hold your hands loosely and notice the tension in your arm.
Then squeeze or pinch all your fingers together and notice how now some of the muscles in your forearm engage.
Then squeeze your hand into a fist firmly and notice how that tension moves up a little further, maybe up into your upper arm.
Now squeeze your fist until your knuckles turn white and notice now that the tension is probably all the way up into your shoulder girdle or even as far as your chest and back.
Try loosely holding a barbell and executing a deadlift, it will seem harder, than if you squeeze the barbell as hard as you can.
This is irradiation. Tension through the trunk while lifting, yields a similar effect, as would squeeze a chin-up bar while executing chin-ups or squeezing the bar during a bench press. Tension = improved strength.
7. Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT)
I use this ‘hack’ all the time to make people move in the desired manner. If I want someone to get more out of something like a glute bridge or a deadbug for instance, I could set them up so they have to press into a wall or bench. This push creates a reactive response in the trunk musculature (which helps us transfer energy from lower to upper body and vice versa), in the same way one might respond to protecting themselves from a punch in the gut.
I could also put something between someones legs in the glute bridge so they can’t use their external rotators to execute hip extension, it creates a similar reactive component in the core at the same time.
If someone is caving their knees in a squat, lunge or other upper body closed chain movement, I can pull them with a band further into that bad pattern and the body will respond by pushing back against it. Thus creating the desired movement. I use this method a lot with novices and beginning weight training clients. It is excellent for getting muscles to fire in a stability environment and react appropriately to their environment, however, like everything else you eventually have to take away the training wheels.