Time Under Tension.
What is it?
Time Under Tension is the amount of time a muscle is under strain during a set of weight bearing exercise.
Why is this important?
This is important because the duration of stimulus and tension on a muscle are key factors for growth and strength.
Longer bouts of strain lead to more muscle breakdown during a workout.
This, in combination with the proper recovery techniques and nutrition, will lead to bigger, stronger muscles over time.
The experts agree that for optimal increases in both muscle mass and strength to occur, an average set of 10 repetitions should take between 30-50 seconds.
The average lifter out there takes between 15-25 seconds to do the same amount of reps.
I can tell you from personal experience that I rarely ever see anyone that is not another trainer, or a client of a trainer, using the proper form and/or tempo when lifting weights at a gym.
So, how do we fix this?
First off, we need to define a few terms:
Eccentric Phase –
The eccentric portion of a lift is when the muscle lengthens – this would be the lowering of the weight during a press or squat.
Concentric Phase –
The concentric portion is when the muscle shortens or contracts – this would be the actual lifting of the weight during said press or squat.
When we refer to the tempo of an exercise, we refer to four distinct phases:
- The eccentric phase (lowering the weight)
- The pause at the bottom
- The concentric phase (lifting the weight)
- The pause at the very top of the muscle contraction
So, a tempo of 2-0-1-1 means that we would lower the weight in 2 seconds, not pause at the bottom, lift the weight in 1 second, and then pause for 1 second at the top at full muscle contraction (making sure not to lock out at the joints).
You would perform each and every rep this way for the prescribed amount.
Using the prescribed Tempo above, each rep would take approximately 4 seconds.
Multiply that by 10 and we are at 40 seconds – right in the “sweet spot” of between 30-50 seconds for optimal muscle growth.
This is generally the tempo I utilize in my own training, and with clients.
Not only will training in this fashion yield superior results, but it brings along with it the added – and more important – benefit of making your workouts SAFER.
Think about it.
If you are able to lower a weight in at least 2 seconds, and then pause for a full 1 second squeeze at the top (without locking out at the joints) for each and every rep, this means that you will need to have absolute control and mastery of said weight.
This will limit the weight that you use, and not only ensure that you get extraordinary results, but keep you safe and clear from injuries.
I’ve been a trainer for almost a decade now.
One of the biggest mistakes I witness on a daily basis is guys lifting more weight than they can handle.
They’re the ones that constantly “need a spot,” or ask if you can help them “get the first one up.”
9 times out of 10, they’re also the ones that never get any stronger, and complain about old training injuries that are constantly “flaring up.”
And no, it’s not because they’re getting old, either.
It’s because they let their egos get the best of them, and unfortunately, train with weights that are too heavy and do not allow them to use a proper or safe lifting tempo.
The Takeaway –
Progressive Overload is still the name of the game when it comes to strength and size.
You need to lift heavier weights over time if you ever want to see progress.
However, and this is a BIG however, this should NEVER come at the expense of your form/technique.
Always use a weight that allows you to have complete control over the exercise for the prescribed amount of sets and reps.
Use a tempo of at least 2-0-1-0 when lifting and focus on keeping tension in your muscles throughout the entire set.
If you have been lifting for a while, but have not been adhering to this principle, I suggest you drop the weight you have been using by at least 30%, and focus on complete control over the exercise.
On a set of dumbbell presses, for example, if you cannot lift the weights off of the floor, sit back and perform your reps with perfect tempo, and then sit back up with the weights and place them back on the floor gently, then you have not mastered that weight, and it is too heavy – period.
Check your ego at the door before entering the weight room.
Lower the weight used and focus on the quality of your effort.
While you may experience a short term decline in your numbers by following this advice, I guarantee that in the long run, you will be stronger (and healthier) than ever before.