Time under tension. It’s a training method used to increase muscle mass, strength or endurance by simply timing the concentric (lifting) and eccentric (returning) portion of a repetition. By measuring the time that the muscle is held under tension while incorporating adequate resistance and proper form, growth and/or strength can be stimulated.
Generally we are taught that in order to gain strength we should lift very heavy weights, using a rep scheme of roughly 2 to 6 for only 2 to 4 sets and take long rests in between. For hypertrophy the ‘golden’ rule is to lift moderately heavy weight for a rep scheme of 8 to 12 and anywhere from 3 to 5 sets, taking half the time to rest compared to the strength training guidelines. Although sound advice and albeit effective, it only works for so long. At some point you will need to add a different stimulus in order to continue to progress. This would be a good time to try time under tension specific workouts. By switching to this format for one week out of every 6 or so, your muscles will get that much needed ‘shock’ and the stimulus will prompt more growth and/or greater strength gains.
Here’s how it’s done. First of all you’ll need a clock. You may also need to abandon that whole cookie cutter rigid rep scheme too. Let’s go with the formula for strength first. Sticking with 2 to 4 sets and a rest period of 2 to 4 minutes in between, instead of counting reps you’re going to count the seconds it takes to complete those reps. The total time under tension should be in the range of 5 to 30 seconds per set. Let’s say you’re performing Barbell Curls for 2 reps. The lifting phase of each rep could be 4 seconds with a 1 second pause and 3 seconds to lower the weight, for a total of 8 seconds. Simple math says 2 to 3 reps per set will keep those biceps under tension for a total of 16 to 24 seconds. Perfect.
Now for hypertrophy, the time under tension should range between 30 and 60 seconds per set, with 3 to 5 sets and a rest period of 1 to 2 minutes in between. If you use the same time under tension formula as above you would perform a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 7 reps per set.
You can manipulate the time per reps as much as you’d like, for example you could use a 4-1-4, 2-2-2, 3-0-3, etc. The only thing that matters is the total time under tension per set. Of course you will have to adjust the weight you lift to accommodate the amount of time you use for both the concentric and eccentric phases. If you choose a 2-1-2 formula, you will be able to lift a heavier weight than if you use a 4-1-4. Another bonus of slow lifting…if done properly it completely eliminates the use of momentum. If you are lifting a heavy weight very slowly you simply will not be able to use momentum and therefore will place additional stress on the specific muscle you are working.
Once in a while slow it down a bit and add a week of time under tension training to your workout routines to really see some progress!Found this post useful and want more? Subscribe to our Blog feed
About TravisTravis Steffen is a Master Trainer and founder of WorkoutBOX. After years of experience training professional athletes and thousands of others just like you, he knows exactly what it takes to get you in serious shape. Follow his expert guidance and you're guaranteed to get amazing results.Want to hear even more of what Travis has to say? Keep in touch with him on Facebook and Twitter!
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