Dynamic tension is something I have a mixed history with.
Like body weight exercise, it promises the world of strength and fitness can be had with little to no equipment and less of a cost upon the lifestyle. So naturally, I’ve been interested in it as a training method for Fitness Independence.
When I went to study in Japan I didn’t have access to any equipment, and my knowledge of body-weight exercise was a fraction of what it is now. Lacking any sort of equipment I used dynamic tension exercises as my bread and butter strength and conditioning workouts for 6 months.
While the exercises were certainly better than nothing, I can honestly say that they were not an optimal vehicle for strengthening and conditioning my body. I did dynamic tension exercise 30-45 minutes every day but I made little to no progress in building up my body.
When I came back to the United States, and started working with actual weight, my strength and size increased far beyond what I was able to achieve with dynamic tension within a a couple of months.
This experience led me to believe that dynamic tension was a good warm-up exercise but not very good at improving one’s strength and muscle mass.
Recently however, I have had a change of heart as I prepare to test for my fifth degree black belt this fall.
Dynamic tension has a long history in eastern exercises such as yoga, qigong and of course martial arts. Part of my strategy to prepare for my testing has been to practice going through my punches and kicks with dynamic tension.
What I’ve discovered is that while my total strength has not increased, the strength and control of the specific techniques has dramatically improved. In fact, I dare say that my strength in kicking and punching has never seen such a surge in power and coordination in nearly 25 years of training!
My theory is that while dynamic tension may not be an optimal way to produce raw strength and power, it is a great way to train the strength you have developed through conventional strength training to be used more efficiently with sport specific movements.
For example I can do my pull-ups to build up the strength in my pulling muscles. While throwing a back fist does use those same pulling muscles, the fiber recruitment pattern and timing is very much different. By using dynamic tension through a back fist motion, I can train the strength I’ve built through my pull-ups to flow into the movement of the back fist more efficiently and effectively.
Therefore, it’s my honest belief that dynamic tension isn’t the best at producing raw strength and muscle. However it’s a fantastic way to train your muscles to use that raw strength in the most effective way towards sport specific movements.
I highly recommend trying a few dynamic movements to warm up before any activity like running, golf, skiing or anything else where you need to apply strength in a very specific and skillful way.