When I was introduced to Kettlebell Exercises in 2003, the very first thing that I learned was a phrase that I now use throughout my daily life. That phrase is “Pinch The Nickel”, and refers to increasing glute activation when lifting weight by imagining that you are squeezing a nickel, or whatever denomination you like, between your buttocks in order to engage those muscles. In addition to engaging the glutes, this visualization allows you to contract the musculature of your entire lower body- from the crest of your hips to the soles of your feet- and apply the force created to every lift you perform. Pavel Tsatsouline wrote about this concept, also known as radiant tension, in his popular book, Power to the People. The concept is also the basis for Tsatsouline’s Kettlebell Training Certifications, as well as the foundation for all elite level weightlifting.
Later in my Kettlebell lifting career I had the opportunity to attend a couple of Tsatsouline’s certifications and was blown away by how much more there was to the visualization of pinching a nickel with my butt. In fact, pinching the nickel was merely the beginning. I came back from those certs with many of the tools that I use today to create strength in myself, as well as all of the classes that I teach.
It really is simple once you get down to it. Since childhood we’ve been taught that the seemingly separate parts of our bodies are actually connected to each other, at multiple points, through bone and muscle. In weight lifting this means that if I am performing an action to target one muscle group, the lift will invariably effect and be effected by the contraction, or lack there of, in corresponding muscle groups. The key then is to link the various muscle groups into every action, to support the primary muscles involved so that they aren’t being overstressed, but also so that the supporting muscles themselves are strengthened in the process.
In my time as a trainer I have learned and explored many effective ways to build on radiant tension as a strength skill. Like all other strength skills, the ability to engage more of the musculature is a feat to be practiced and improved upon. I find Kettlebell Exercises to be my favorite medium for training radiant tension because the design of the Kettlebell makes it so that the lifter acts as the counterbalance, and thus must maintain a level of tension in the body in order to avoid a constant struggle against gravity. With practice, this counterbalancing ability becomes second nature to the lifter and is easily applied to heavier weight lifts, more difficult body weight exercises, and the physical demands of everyday life.
Below is a video of Benedikt Magnusson performing his World Record Deadlift of 1015lbs. If you would like to see the concept of radiant tension applied then take a moment and watch this video a few times.
It’s easy to see here that if any one part of Magnusson’s body was not engaged, the weight would have pulled him right back to the ground, most likely with a few serious repercussions. In other words, this lift would not have been possible if the lifter was not aware of how to make every part of his body activate in order to perform such a momentous feat of strength.
In part 2, I will go deeper into the concept of radiant tension and how you might apply these techniques to whatever exercise program you are currently involved in. Until then, stay safe in your workouts and remember, if nothing else, to pinch that nickel!