Strength is built by tensing the muscles harder, not by exhausting them with reps. Now, in order to achieve high tension, you need:

  1. High resistance.
  2. Mental focus on contracting the muscle harder.

You want to treat your training as a practice rather than a workout.

High resistance

With heavy weights, high resistance can be achieved by the powerlifts such as bench press, squat, deadlift, and so on. However, without heavy weights, high resistance can be achieved by:

  • Redistributing your weight between your limbs: lifting your feet higher in a pushup focuses the weight more on your hands.
  • Manipulating the range of motion: doing one-leg squat on a bench instead of a full squat.
  • Training in an unstable environment: doing one-arm pushup or one-leg squat adds quite a lot of instability.
  • Varying the leverage: hanging straight leg lift is much harder than a tucked leg lift.
  • Minimizing bounce and momentum: doing dead-start one-arm pushup from the ground, or adding a long pause in between.

Mental focus

To better demonstrate how important mental focus is on contracting the muscle, let’s look at different high-tension techniques for improving your strength instantly. The fact is, one of the most crucial skills in the performance of any strength athlete, whether it’s a gymnast, a powerlifter, or an arm wrestler, is the ability to contract a muscle to stay tight. Whenever a muscle contracts, it irradiates a nerve force around it and increases the intensity of the neighboring muscles’ contractions.

  1. Make a fist. Note that as you grip harder, the tension in your forearm overflows into your upperarm, even your shoulder. Now, try to do push up with a tight grip. You’ll feel a lot stronger and be able to do more reps.
  2. Feel your abs. Tensing your abs will amplify the intensity of the contraction of any muscle in your body. Martial art masters have been practiced this for years. This also explains why they are super strong even though they don’t look as big as powerlifters'. Now, contract your abs flat and strong but no need to pull in or push out. Two good ways to practice doing so is to do the back-pressure crunch where you try to press your lower back down hard against the floor in a normal crunch position and act like you’re about to get punched in the gut.
  3. Strengthen your hips. Experienced fighters knows that real striking power is generated in the hips, rather than the knuckles. Now to strengthen your hips, contract your glutes by imagining pinching a coin with your cheeks.
  4. Static stomp. Focus on applying maximum pressure to the deck with your foot when doing the pistol and with your palm when doing the one-arm pushup like you are stomping down. Feel the steady build-up of tension.
  5. Tense your lats and keep your shoulders down while doing one-arm pushup, punch, and bench press. You want to push from the armpit, rather than the shoulder. This helps you put up heavier weight and suffer fewer shoulder injuries.
  6. The corkscrew principle says that rotation, or spiral tension, increases the stability and power of almost any action. For a pushup, apply the inside-out corkscrew tension to the ground by twisting your arms while keeping your hands static.

Power breathing

Bruce Lee used to say that martial arts rely more on breath strength than body strength. Indeed, power breathing is one of the most powerful way of increasing muscle strength where it maximizes the intra-abdominal pressure in order to amplify your strength.

Inhale through your nose and send the pressure to your stomach, not your chest or head. Instead of focusing on where the air flows, focus on the compression. The quickest way to learn to pressurize is through the reverse power breathing technique:

  1. Perform the anal lock by contracting your sphincter and keeping your pelvic diaphragm pulled up.
  2. Pretend that you’re straining to have a bowel movement while maintaining the lock.
  3. Send the pressure down low while keeping your abs flat, bracing it for a punch.

“Fail to master breath control and you can do nothing in karate except possibly a few cute tricks.” - Mas Oyama


  1. Focus: Do not practice more than 2 exercises but really focus on masterting them, which are one-arm push up and pistol squat in this case.
  2. Flawless: Practice using these 5 conditions: significant external resistance, application of the High Tension and Power Breathing techniques, limiting the repetitions to 5 per set or less, approaching each set relatively fresh (rest 5-10 mins between sets), and moving fairly slow.
  3. Frequent: Since low reps are easier to recover from, the more frequent you practice, the stronger you become. It could be 6 times a week, in multiple mini sessions. Just make sure to avoid fatigue and overtraining.
  4. Fresh: Do as much as you can while staying fresh (doing too little slows down your progress while doing too much makes you sore and weak) and do not push to failure. Remember, strength is a skill, treat it as a practice, not a workout.
  5. Fluctuating: Put variety into the training. Constantly vary the sets, reps, and proximity to failure. Precede a strength test with one or two easy days and one day off. However, the less frequently you try for a PR, the better (every 2 weeks for beginner, every 2 months for experienced athlete).

In short, you want to minimize the number of exercises and fatigue, maximize tension and frequency.

Exercises, from zero to hero

Pistol squat

  • Bos pistol
  • Airborne lunge
  • Pistol classic
  • Negative-free pistol
  • Renegade pistol
  • Cossack pistol
  • Dynamic isometric pistol
  • Isometric pistol
  • Weighted pistol

One-arm pushup

  • Elevated one-arm pushup
  • Isometric one-arm pushup
  • One-arm dive bomber pushup
  • One-arm pump
  • One-arm/one-leg pushup