Time under tension is something which you’ve probably heard of if you have been going to the gym for some time. For others, it is a completely new concept.
The idea behind it is to keep your muscles under tension for as long as possible to recruit and damage the most muscle fibres, thus building more muscle. How effective really is it for building muscle?
What is time under tension?
Essentially, time under tension is a term for how long your muscles are under the stress of lifting a weight. For example, if you complete a set which lasts 30 seconds, then the total time under tension (or TUT) would be 30 seconds.
You should also consider the tempo at which you are performing the movement. For example, if you are using a 3-1-1 tempo (3 seconds for the negative part of the movement, 1 second to pause, 1 second for the second part of the movement) then your total time under tension for 1 repetition would be 5. You can use this to work out the total time under tension for each set.
You can then use this number and multiply it by the number of sets you will perform by each exercise. Doing this for each exercise will give you a total TUT for your entire workout.
What is the best rep range?
It is well known that in order for your muscles to grow, you need to shock them with progressive overload. This allows them to adapt and consequently grow.
It is the general consensus that for hypertrophy, meaning muscle building, that the optimal rep range is between 8 and 12 reps. However, there is somewhat of a grey area over what is the best rep range for time under tension based hypertrophic training.
Coach Charles Poliquin has concluded that 30-70 seconds per set was optimal. However, for strength, he recommends to keep between 30-50 seconds. If you want to train solely for hypertrophy, then stick to 50-70 seconds.
What are the benefits?
✓ Increased muscle building
The first main benefit of TUT is enhanced metabolic response. The more TUT you put your muscle under, the better the hormonal response will be.
✓ Increased fat burning
Alonger TUT will create more micro tears in the tissues, forcing the body to use more calories at the end of the workout, thus you burn more fat.
✓ Increased ability to deal with fatigue
Since you are putting the muscles under more stress, you are depleting it of all of its resources. Over time, this can help improve it’s ability to deal with fatigue quickly, meaning an better chance of experiencing less muscle soreness the day following a workout.
Tips for utilising time under tension
It can be tough at first to implement TUT into your workout, but with these tips you should find it much easier, and will be able to reap the benefits in no time.
✓ Try to avoid locking out
When you completely lockout your muscles, you are taking the stress of your muscles and transferring it over to your joints. Whilst this reduces your TUT, it also damages your joints.
✓ Concentrate on the eccentric
You should focus on the eccentric portion of a movement, rather than the concentric, since this is where you will create the most micro tears.
✓ Keep a tempo
You should find a tempo and stick to it. This will not only ensure that you are getting the right TUT, but can help you focus and push more weight.
✓ Use drop sets and supersets
Drop sets and supersets are a great way of increasing your TUT as well as including more volume in your workouts. They are a great way of building muscle, especially if you are short on time.
✓ Keep it intense
You should try to keep your rest periods between sets relatively short. This ensures that the workout is intense and that you are putting your muscles under stress for a larger proportion of the time that you are in the gym.
✓ Focus on form
Whilst this should be a main focus anyway, it is particularly important if you are trying to maximise TUT. By keeping your form correct, you can maximise your TUT and build more muscle. Leave your ego at the door when entering the gym.
You could try adding a few seconds on each week to your lifts in order to increase your TUT!
Take Home Message
Time under tension is a very powerful tool for building muscle if you use it correctly. You should try out some of the tips I outlined in this article and see if TUT works for you.
Remember, you should combine it with a good routine and meal plan, and you will see results in no time.
Why not check out some of the other articles and recipes here on The Zone!