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Tempo Training for Muscle Growth | Time Under Tension

Writer and expert7 years ago
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By Myprotein Writer

Simon Byrne

  Lifting weights produces microscopic tears to your muscles, the body's response to this is for the muscle tissue to repair itself both larger and stronger than before. This is so the muscle is better able to handle the weight that caused the initial damage, it’s the body's way of adapting and surviving and is the process that weightlifting is centered around.

Whether for strength, performance or aesthetics the process of breaking down muscle tissue through weight training is the same and Time Under Tension (TUT) is a technique that can be used to fully utilise muscle growth.

Time Under Tension

Time under tension is not a new concept to the weight training world, it is however one that is not widely understood or fully utilized, meaning the average gym goer is short changing themselves for potential progress with both gym progression and body transformation.

TUT is the time in which your muscles are being actively worked during any given exercise (one set of repetitions specifically). Your muscle is active during the repetition of any particular exercise, for example, during a pull up the back is the primary muscle being worked (other secondary muscles are active however the back is the targeted muscle being trained).

TUT Pull-Up Exercise Example

pull up

1) Start from a hanging position grasping the bar with a wider than shoulder width position and arms fully extended (start with resistance band if necessary).

2) Pull yourself upwards squeezing your shoulder blades together whilst pulling your shoulders and upper arms back and downwards.

3) Touch your upper chest to the bar and hold this position for a second. (Really squeeze your shoulder blades together in this position to fully contract the upper back muscles)

4) In a slow and controlled motion lower yourself to the initial hanging position.

5) This is one repetition, repeat this for a prescribed number of reps to finish one set.

So in this example of a pull up, performing 10 pull ups would be one set and the time it takes to complete this set is essentially the time under tension for the back muscles during a pull up.

This is a basic example however it is necessary to further explain the importance of time under tension!

Time Under Tension |

The Idea Behind It

TUT is based around the tempo of your repetitions and the overall time it takes you to finish a set.

Tempo of reps is something you might not be familiar with, or even consider when training but it plays a crucial role in both TUT and overall gym progress. Most people new to lifting weights and even some with more experience perform exercises with the aim of moving the weight from point A to B and concentrate solely on the lifting portion of the exercise (I’ll explain the importance of the lowering portion later on).


Using the pull up as an example, if you take one second to lift yourself, one second holding your position/contraction at the top of the movement and then one second to lower yourself your tempo for that set is 1-1-1. If you do 1 set of 8 reps following a 1-1-1 tempo then the set will take 24 seconds meaning your TUT is 24 seconds.

In order to train for maximal muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth) you need to place the muscle under stress for an extended period of time, this is to ensure that you actually damage the muscle enough in order for it to repair itself larger and stronger than before.

TIP - If you don’t put a muscle under enough stress then there is no reason for it to adapt and grow!

Maximal hypertrophy occurs when a set lasts approximately 45-90 seconds, anything under this doesn’t fully stimulate the muscle and sets lasting longer than this fatigue the muscle too much to have any real hypertrophic benefits.

This is why TUT is so important and following a proper rep tempo will see you take massive strides in the gym.

In every exercise the lifting (concentric) phase of the movement should be performed with explosive and controlled speed so a one second concentric lift is the standard time and most people perform this. Then a one second squeeze at the peak contraction of the muscle is also common practice and is widely followed. It’s only when we get to the lowering (eccentric) phase of the movement that people are not well informed and where the greatest potential for growth lies.

Example | Bicep Curl

  During a bicep curl many people focus on curling the weight up and once this is achieved drop the weight without control, ready to focus on curling the next rep, this is a mistake many make and is also the one that once rectified will see the greatest improvement in size and strength.

Not only are you roughly 1.75 times stronger on the eccentric phase than the concentric, but the eccentric is also the phase of the lift that puts the muscle under the most stress and causes the most microscopic tears to the muscle fibres.

TIP - More stress and damage to the muscle fibres means more future growth and strength gains!

The Importance of Tempo

biceps tut

Therefore with this in mind, let’s go back to the earlier pull up example and see how altering the tempo of the reps can change the TUT - and ultimately allow you to get the maximum benefit from every rep and set.

We can keep the one second concentric portion and also the one second squeezing/contraction portion at the top of the movement. This time however we will take 3 seconds to lower ourselves (eccentric phase), so our new tempo for the pull up will be 1-1-3.

If again, we perform 8 reps at a 1-1-3 tempo our set time and TUT for the pull up will be 45 seconds. This puts us inside the maximal hypertrophy range and means you will see greater gains in strength and size than if you followed a 1-1-1 tempo giving a TUT of just 24 seconds!

Take Home Message

  There is not yet a 'defined' tempo or TUT that will yield the greatest results.

However, if you choose a tempo that suits you (2-2-2, 1-1-4, 2-1-3…) and aim for a TUT between 45 - 90 seconds then you are pretty much guaranteed to see new results both in the gym and in your physique!

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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

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