37 Technical Tips for Stronger Muscle Contractions (more muscle growth) - Phil Hawksworth

37 Technical Tips for Stronger Muscle Contractions (more muscle growth)

The previous article, ‘33 Tips, Tricks and Hacks to Be Instantly Stronger‘ was a popular post, so I thought I would do another. This time with a focus on muscle growth and stronger muscle contractions.  Read on for 37 technical tips for stronger muscle contractions and more muscle growth. All broken down by body part.

General Stronger Muscle Contractions

    • Slow a movement down, and focus at all points on controlling and initiating movement through the primary target muscle. For example, on a squat, there is a big difference between ‘standing up’ and flexing the quad as hard as possible, focusing on extending the knees to achieve a standing position. The joint or muscles which you give your attention to will do the brunt of the work.


  • Tension is king when it comes to developing stronger muscle contractions. This is well covered in my post on my friends Aaron’s site, ‘The Secrets of Effective Muscle Building‘. Read that post, then come back for a breakdown of tips by body part.

Legs: Stronger Muscle Contractions

Phil Hawksworth Squat: Stronger Muscle Contractions

    • Where you place the center of balance on your feet will alter muscle activation. To hit the quads more, shift weight to the forefoot. For hamstrings and posterior chain, shift weight to the heel.


    • To activate the glutes more in squats and deadlifts, contract them before you initiate movement. Focus on driving through the hip, rather than standing up/picking the bar up.


    • Single leg training will overload the stabilising muscles more than dual leg training. If you want to build the adductors (inner thigh), outer glutes, forget the ridiculous adduction/abduction machines and do single leg squat, lunge, deadlift variations.


    • The shoes you wear will alter muscular activation. It’s easier to activate the posterior chain barefoot or in thin, flat soled shoes. Raised heel (weightlifting shoes) will push the weight forwards toward the toes and therefore activate the quads more.


    • To fully develop the quads, ensure you include exercises that work in a stretched range of motion, such as rear foot elevated split squats. A light weight and high reps will quickly give a huge quad pump.


    • On hamstring curls you are stronger with your legs externally rotated (toes point out sideways). To overload and develop the inner hamstrings, perform the lifting part with toes rotated out, then turn toes rotated in to each other and slowly lower.


    • To maximise hamstring development from Romanian deadlifts, you do not need to use more weight, or lower the weight further down. You need to not bend the knees. I guarantee if you drop the weight 30% and focus on zero change of angle in the knee, you will feel it in the hamstrings more, even though you probably only lower the bar just below your knees.


  • Hamstrings are predominantly fast twitch muscle fibers. Sprinting is the single best exercise for hamstring development.

Back: Stronger Muscle Contractions

Phil Hawksworth Back: Stronger Muscle Contractions

    • The lats are internal rotators. Performing pull ups or pull downs behind the neck puts your shoulders in a more internally rotated position, creating a stronger lat contraction. Make sure you have the mobility to do this safely. You will be weaker like this anyway, so stick to lower reps, higher weight (8-20 reps). Continue to do heavy pull ups to the chest, to protect your shoulders.


    • Stretch the lats at the opposite end by letting your shoulders shrug up. A greater stretch will bring a subsequently stronger contraction, let the weight/gravity take your shoulders right up to your ears.


    • To keep the focus on the back, and off the arms, on both vertical and horizontal pulling, never let the arms fully straighten at the end of the range. Let the shoulders move fully as mentioned in the previous tip, but keep the arm bent. Straightening the arm will take the tension off the back and instead creates a mechanical/skeletal lock – instead of the tension in the back muscles supporting you.


    • Do move the shoulder blades to focus work on the rhomboids and mid-traps during horizontal pulls (rows). Do not move the shoulder blades to focus on the lats and rear delts. Lats and rear delts move the arm in this plane, not the shoulder blades. (read How to Isolate Rear Delts).


    • Breathe in during pulling movements. The back muscles contract during breathing. A breathe in = stronger contraction.


    • Use a thumbless grip (thumb same side as the fingers) to reduce the power of the biceps and forearm muscles, focusing more weight on the lats.


    • The back muscles are predominantly slow twitch fibers. They grow better with high rep, high time under tension. Look at strong men, they have huge back and traps, predominantly from carrying heavy things – the natural function of the back muscles. For the same reason, isometric holds work well when fully contracted (top of a pull up/row).


  • Use lifting straps. If your grip or forearms fatigue, you are not overloading the back to its fullest potential.

Chest: Stronger Muscle Contractions

Phil Hawksworth Dips: Stronger Muscle Contractions

    • The pecs (like the lats) are internal rotators. On dumbbell and cable exercises, external rotate at the bottom for a bigger stretch and internally rotate at the end for a stronger peak contraction. This means little finger in to the ribs at the bottom, thumb in to the ribs at the top.


    • Keep tension in the chest by never locking the elbow. This will take the triceps out of pressing movements to an extent, making the focus more on the chest, as in a flye movement.


    • The chest moves the arms across the body, not in front of you. When moving the arms in front, they naturally come across the body, so the chest is working – but the anterior delts and triceps are driving. Focus on moving the arms together, across the body, to focus on the chest. Do dumbbell and cable pressing in an arc the same way you do a flye – wide at the bottom to stretch, hands coming together at the top for maximum contraction.


    • Most people suck at activating their chest when benching. Forget about moving the weight and focus on squeezing the chest together as though posing in the mirror.


    • The best way to bench for chest development is slow and light, with a wide grip and the bar coming down to the neck. Shoulder abduction (elbows flared to shoulder height) maximises the stretch on the pecs, and minimises triceps and shoulder leverage.


  • Pec minor (which sits underneath the main chest muscles) moves the shoulder blades forwards. To train through  full range of motion, when doing push ups, cables – or other exercises where you are not laying on the shoulder blades – allow them to move in to full protraction (forwards) and retraction (backwards).

Shoulders: Stronger Muscle Contractions

Phil Hawksworth Shoulders

    • Flex the delts as though you were posing in the mirror before you move the weight on any shoulder exercises. (Also practice the mind-muscle connection by flexing in the mirror. Most people suck at activating the delts).


    • On lateral raises, keep the elbows bent at the same angle throughout. Bending/extending is cheating and using momentum, but equally keeping them locked straight is creating a lot of tension through the biceps/triceps and forearms to help with the movement. Keeping the elbow loose but consistent in angle will maximise the work performed by the shoulders.


    • Change angles on shoulder work regularly. The deltoids are actually 9 separate muscles, different angles will predominantly target different heads of the muscle. A slight change in angle will be enough.


    • Press behind the neck to build rounder shoulders (if you are flexible enough). Pressing from the front works the front of the shoulders more, especially at the bottom which is the worst leverage and thus where the muscle works hardest. You are already hitting this area plenty with bench and dips.


  • Lower the weights all the way down on presses. Most people cut the range short because they want to lift more weight. The higher you are on the movement, the more your triceps are doing the work. Drop the ego, drop the weight and lower it all the way down. Don’t lock out at the top, to keep the tension in the shoulders.

Arms: Stronger Muscle Contractions

Phil Hawksworth Arms

  • Don’t bend/extend the wrist on biceps or triceps exercises. This uses the forearms and momentum at the hardest point, ruining peak contraction in the desired muscle. Drop the weight a bit and lock the wrist in place. Focus on contraction strength. There’s no competitions for who can do the most weight on a preacher curl or triceps push down.


  • Flex the opposing muscle to fully stretch the working muscle on arm isolation exercises. For biceps exercises, at the bottom, flex the triceps to fully open the elbow joint and get the greatest possible stretch on the biceps. For the opposite, flex the biceps to fully close the elbow joint, to stretch the triceps at end range.


  • Squeezing the bar predominantly through the little finger will work the short head of the biceps more. Squeezing through the fore-finger, for the long head.


  • Most people neglect stretch movements on arms, and under-develop the long head of both biceps and triceps. The long head (of both) crosses the shoulder as well as the elbow, so target it by moving the arms at the shoulders. For biceps, put the arms behind the body with a seated incline curl. For triceps put the arms in front of the body with overhead triceps extensions.


  • Don’t neglect reverse grip arm work to fully develop the arms. Curls with palms facing away will work the short heard of the biceps, as well as the forearms and brachiallis (which sits underneath the biceps – so development will make the biceps look bigger). Triceps with palms facing you will work the short head, creating a stronger ‘horseshoe’ look.

Core: Stronger Muscle Contractions

Phil Hawksworth Abs

    • The inner core is for stabilisation – not movement. Don’t think because you do crunches you are fully working the core. Resisting movement is often the best way to train.


    • When doing crunches, leg raises, etc. breathe out as you contract and in as you lower.


    • On hanging leg raises, squeeze the glutes at the bottom to fully stretch the abs. On incline sit-ups, lift the arms over the head to achieve the same.


    • On rotational work, such as woodchops, point the feet in to each other, in a split stance, rotating in to the front foot; to lock the hips and focus on twisting at the waist. Most people are actually just rotating their hips, minimally working the obliques.


  • You should feel the core working. Just like any other muscle. If you’re trying to work your core and you can feel your back or hip flexors, you are doing something wrong!

There we go! 37 tips for stronger muscle contractions. Give them a go over the coming weeks in your workouts and let me know how you get on. Have additional tips to add? We would love to hear them.


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  • Dman

    Really great and detailed stuff. I’m going to try some of this for sure.

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