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Irradiation is the process of tensing all the muscles surrounding the ones you’re working during a lift, says Tony Ponte, a Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox Flatiron in New York City. This helps you be more efficient while preventing injury.
The easiest way to understand irradiation is by trying it: Squeeze your fist as tightly as possible, then engage your biceps, shoulders, and back. You’ll notice the muscles begin to tense on their own simply because they’re getting a signal from your fist, which will get even tighter as a result.
The technique is important when doing exercises that put high demand on your spine, like deadlifts, planks, hollow holds, and push-ups. Irradiation makes these moves more efficient and safe because even if your form is otherwise perfect, you can still get injured or lose power if you don’t create a stable torso and spine, Ponte says.
Irradiation should come after you set up your lift but before you pick up any weights. Here’s how Ponte teaches it for a deadlift: Step up to the bar, position your feet, and hinge at the hips. Tense up your body slightly, reach for the bar, grip it as hard as you can, take a deep breath, and squeeze your core and lats as hard as possible, locking your shoulders into place.
“You want to keep that tension until the weight touches the ground again,” he says. Beginners should reset after each rep.