There are many different ways that you can complete the same goal – such as with tearing down muscle fibers in order to effectively build lean muscle mass. While there may be one way that works better than others, that doesn’t mean you should forgo using different methods like time under tension (or “TUT” for short) when they are your only option.
For instance, when you think of hypertrophy, most would say the answer is a rep range between 8-12 repetitions using a heavy weight that you can control. But that’s not the only way. Time under tension has been shown to be a great way to help build a bigger, better physique.
For hypertrophy to take place and muscles to grow, you need to first put your focus into tearing down the muscle fibers. Through creating tears in the fibers, your body can repair them and have them come back bigger and stronger than before. But what if you either don't have access to a gym or the equipment you have in front of you is not the heavy weight you are accustomed to using? That's where time under tension would be a great training strategy to implement.
The nice thing is, you can even utilize TUT in your home if you have a small set of dumbbells or a barbell but not a lot of weight. Or simply implement it into your training to provide your muscles with a different stimulus.
What is Time Under Tension?
Time under tension is nothing more than a training technique that maximizes how long your muscle(s) is under strain during a set. Think of this as the opposite of explosive movements. Rather than completing a repetition as quickly as possible (such as with training for specific athletic performance), each repetition is done slowly and deliberately during both the concentric and eccentric portion of the movement.
The goal with time under tension is that while you don’t need a lot of weight, the slow tempo used is enough to cause muscle tears and damage that can promote growth. Research has shown that when you slow down the exercise movement (specifically the eccentric portion), you have a greater ability to build muscle tissue.
How to Effectively Implement TUT into Your Training Routine
If you want to get the best results from utilizing this training technique, there are a few things you are going to want to pay close attention to. Below are some key aspects of time under tension and how you can get the most benefits from its implementation.
1. Use Lighter Weights
This isn't what you are used to hearing but to effectively use time under tension during your workouts, you're going to need to lighten up the weight a bit to allow for a slower and more controlled repetition. Try to use a weight that is around 60% of your 1RM. A heavy weight may work during the concentric portion of the movement, but the eccentric is going to be your limiting factor. Utilizing time under tension is not an ego builder so keep things in check.
2. Keep Things Moving
As the name implies, you want to keep as much tension and load on the muscle as possible. Stopping to rest between reps defeats the purpose and you’re only cheating yourself out of potential gains by taking tension off of the muscle(s). You want to keep things moving and save your rest period for when the set is actually complete.
Far too many people are in a rush to get through their set. You simply cannot do this with a time under tension training technique. Therefore, the best strategy to use for time under tension that can provide you with the best results is a two-second concentric portion of the rep and a four-second eccentric portion of the rep. This provides you with a total rep that takes six seconds to complete. When you complete a total of 10 reps, it will take you 60 seconds which is drastically different from a normal set which tends to be around the 30-second mark.
Note for those who are unfamiliar with the terms concentric and eccentric: The concentric portion of a movement is when the muscle is contracting and shortening. The eccentric portion of a movement is the elongating and stretching portion of the rep.
3. Focus on Slowing Down the Eccentric Portion of the Movement
Despite what many believe, the concentric or flexing portion of a repetition is not what causes the most damage to a muscle – it’s actually the eccentric portion. For those who have implemented time under tension know just how hard it is to slow down the eccentric movement. Slow down the eccentric portion of your rep to around four seconds and resist the weight.
According to the research, the eccentric portion of a movement has shown total strength improvements and increases in muscle mass and muscle cross-sectional area.
4. Include Other Training Methods Within Time Under Tension
Just because you're using TUT doesn't mean you can't include other means to help fatigue and further break down the muscle fibers. In fact, if you've been implementing a time under tension technique, your muscles could already be adapted to the training style if you haven't made any changes. Therefore, consider using progressive overload, drop sets, or cluster sets to add some variety and really challenge the muscles. Or, if you want to kick your eccentric portion up a notch, extend the time under tension by resisting the weight for 6-8 seconds instead of a count of four.
5. Never Compromise Your Form
When form is compromised there are a few things that can happen. If you are using a time under tension method, it’s easy to want to cheat on your form to help assist you with the movement and repetition. When you do that, you risk injury. Not only do you risk injury, but you could also be taking the tension off of the muscle(s) which is counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish through TUT training.
If you find yourself cheating on reps or compromising your form, lighten the weight and keep going. Keep things nice and smooth without any jerky motions and make sure every repetition is completed in a controlled manner. Go through the entire range of motion and don’t short-change a rep by shortening its path. You get out of time under tension training what you put into it.