You may have read several articles or watched videos and became aware of the phrase “time under tension” or the acronym “TUT” in recent months.
While the term isn’t new to the training community, it does appear that it’s becoming more popular than ever.
The simple definition of TUT is the duration that the focused muscle group is feeling strain while working with resistance.
On the surface, some lifters and trainers may think that there is one way to work this into a workout but that would be shortsighted.
There is more to time under tension than that and hopefully, this will shed light on the subject so not only will you have a better understanding of what it is but how you can work it into your plan.
Why Does Time Under Tension Matter?
The major reason we train to begin with is to challenge the muscles we’re training. If we do exercises with very light resistance for a low rep range, then the muscles won’t benefit much. The fibers won’t break down as we need them to so they won’t recover, grow, and become stronger.
Kind of defeats the purpose, right?
TUT forces the muscles to work in ways they are not accustomed to for a longer time so not only will muscle fibers break down, more fibers will be recruited overall. This is of course what we want.
Also, blood vessels will be condensed and oxygen deprivation will occur during the set. So when you start to recover, there is an anabolic environment that allows the muscles a greater opportunity to recover and improve once the training ends. Ultimately the result will be a stronger and better-looking physique.
Below, there are five TUT strategies so you have a variety of challenges to try out. Some you might be familiar with and others will be somewhat new concepts.
1. Changing the Speed of the Reps
This is the most popular and widely covered strategy to incorporate TUT. Instead of performing the reps at a normal pace, you slow the reps down so they take as long as six, eight, or ten seconds to perform. In some cases, they are even longer.
Let’s say you were to perform a ten-second rep. Four seconds can be used to lift the weight, one second to hold the weight at the top, four more seconds to lower the weight, and finally another second to hold the weight with the muscle in the stretched position. This is one way to perform a standard TUT rep. Of course, you can change the numbers to suit your needs but the overall premise is the same.
2. Doing More Reps
What is another simple way to increase time under tension? Do more reps of course. If you maintain the normal rep speed, then fifteen reps will obviously be a longer time for the muscles to be under tension than ten reps. This will add overall volume to the plan which is also very effective. As long as the muscles don’t get a chance to relax at any point then doing more reps will be very beneficial.
Not only will the tension be greater but the odds of hypertrophy and an increase of endurance are better too. All of that being said, don’t force yourself to do more reps with a weight you can’t lift. If you can only lift 100 pounds for 10 reps with good form, then trying to perform five more with bad form isn’t going to serve you well. Don’t be afraid to reduce the weight a little if you want to do more reps. You’ll still see benefits.
3. Holding the Rep at the Top and Bottom
This is a popular method used by bodybuilders and physique athletes but not specifically because of TUT. Think about when they are competing at a show and have to complete several poses in the prejudging or during their routines. Those muscles are under tension a lot throughout the show.
One way they can help master that practice is to complete exercises and hold the weight at the end of the concentric (positive) portion of the rep when the muscles are flexed. If they can hold this position for a few seconds longer than when they perform a normal rep, that can transfer to when they have to hit the different poses in comparisons.
Holding the weight at the top of the rep with muscles contracted for an extended length of time is also believed to help give the muscles a more dense, thick, and harder look.
While doing the same thing at the bottom of the rep may not provide those same exact benefits, there are reasons to do it.
Holding a rep at the bottom can increase the stretch which can help improve the overall health of the muscle. The negative portion of the rep is actually when the muscle is challenged the most and that includes when the weight is in the stretched position. You don’t have to go for a minute in this position but if you can hold on for a few extra seconds, you’ll see the benefits in strength, endurance, mobility, and hypertrophy.
4. Partial Reps
All of the above methods are great but what if you get to the point in the set that you can no longer complete full reps? You can still find ways to prolong time under tension. One way is by doing partial reps. Let’s use lateral raises here as an example - You grab the 20’s and perform 20 reps before reaching positive failure. You can’t complete another full rep with proper form.
Can you still do half reps? Yes, you can. Lifting the weight from the bottom to the halfway point is still challenging the muscles and keeping them under tension. Perform as many partials as you can before reaching form failure again.
Keep in mind that part about “form failure”. If you get to the point that you have to generate momentum and recruit other muscles to do the work, then you’ve gone past the point that TUT is effective. Cheat reps have their place but not if time under tension is the priority.
5. Forced Reps
If your goal is to get stronger as well as bigger then this is the method for you. Let’s say you’re working on the bench press and are using a weight that you can only get five reps with. It should make sense that your strength is increasing if you can do that same weight for eight reps, right? But how can you do that if five is all you’re able to do now?
This is where forced reps come into play. You will need a spotter for this one of course. Once you reach that fifth rep, have your partner or spotter at the ready. You’re going to lower the weight on your own to your chest. Your partner then helps you lift the weight back up to the top. Repeat this for a few reps until the partner has to do more lifting than necessary.
You’re going to maintain time under tension while working with the weight yourself on the negative. Even though the spotter is assisting you on the lifting, you’re still doing a lot of the work and training the muscles without them resting. The long-term result will be greater strength.
Find different ways to incorporate these TUT methods into your workouts so you can feel and eventually see the results for yourself.