Dude Slow Down: Why The Right Time Under Tension Workouts Will Help You Get A Better Physique Faster

“If I pump the weight faster it will make my muscles work twice as hard, which means I will get bigger faster!”

Ok not so fast.  This kind of approach is something I still see and maybe I was once guilty of this twisted thinking.  I had not been exposed to the concept of time under tension early on but hopefully you have been.  If not then here it is.

What Is Time Under Tension?

Time under tension is the amount of time the muscle is placed under stress when it contracts.  In other words, it is the amount of time it takes from the point of beginning a repetition or set until it is completed.

So doing a super slow rep and set will help you get leaner and have bigger muscle right?  Well not so fast.  More is not always best.  Getting lean and lifting the right amount of weight is what will give you the best results.

Muscle Growth Is A Combination Of Factors

The two things to consider at this point are that heavy weight plus time under tension will trigger muscle growth.

MG= Weight + Time Under Tension

If you can keep the muscle under a long period of tension this may mean that you are lifting weight that is too light.  As you can see this does not help with muscle growth.  By the same token, lifting TOO HEAVY to the point that you cannot keep the muscle under enough time in tension will not be enough to trigger muscle growth.

It is easy to feel tempted to do a workout at a fast pace. Doing a fast paced set gives the feeling of getting more done and also leaves a pump in the muscle.  If you find yourself doing this fast pumping action it is best to evaluate exactly how light the weight you are lifting is.

What Is The Proper Pace For Lifting Weight?

Here is where there is debate.  There are different theories as to what is slow enough versus too slow.  The pace that is best to follow is performing slower on the negative range of the repetition.  For best results it is best to do a pace of 2-3 seconds on the negative movement of the rep and 1-2 seconds contracting the muscle.

Here are some examples:

  • Biceps Curl:  1 to 2 seconds on the way up and 2 to 3 seconds when going down with the weight.
  • Chest Press:  It should take 2 to 3 seconds to lower the weight to your chest and 1 to 2 seconds to bring the weight up.
  • Pull Downs:  1 to 2 seconds to lower the weight and 2 to 3 seconds to bring the bar back up.
  • Squats:  2 to 3 seconds on the way down and 1 to 2 seconds when coming up.

These are some examples but you get the idea.  The point is to move a bit faster when contracting the muscle.

What About The Number of Repetitions?

Well when it comes to building muscle you want to make sure you are performing each rep with proper form and using a full range of motion.  The next thing you want to do is perform in a rep range of 8 to 10 if you want to increase muscle size.  If you want to get a lean look then go with a lower rep range of 4 to 5 reps.

The time under tension in a workout should be around 30-45 seconds per set for muscle building and 15-25 seconds per set for muscle toning.  However don’t focus too much on time to complete each set.  As long as you develop this slower than usual pace you will be around this proper range.

Try to do your time under tension workouts as outlined above and you will see that you will get a better physique faster than you expected.

Comments

  1. Good post! I am glad you addressed TUT because a lot of people in my school gym is not aware of that, thus why their physiques never change. Another thing that I utilize, that I wonder what you think about, is isometric holds or holding the weight in a certain position for a prolonged period of time. For instance, yesterday, on my last set of chin-ups, I stayed in the top position for 40 seconds. So what is your opinion on doing isometric holds?

    • Sam Munoz says:

      Hi Marcus,
      I like doing isometric holds once in a while when I’m trying to add some mass (8-10 reps per set). Holding the weight at peak contraction is not a bad idea on the last repetition of a set. This approach works best if you are taking your sets to failure. If I am trying to get lean and I am doing low reps I won’t do isometric holds because I don’t want to go to failure as I am keeping my rest periods shorter between sets.

      However, I do not practice “static holds” or one rep/ one set isometric holds as I am a firm believer that doing full range of motion reps are the best way of achieving muscle growth. I know there is some controversy regarding this subject but that is my opinion.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      -Sam

  2. Really well written post,

    i ignored this area for the longest time, but when I really began to understand how to make use of time under tension I felt as though I’d just taken up training for the first time. Its a great tool to get the most out of your workouts, and your body.

    Michael

    • Sam Munoz says:

      I agree with you. I also did not pay much attention to this aspect of training when I was starting out. Ever since I did I noticed the difference in my workouts almost immediately.

      -Sam

  3. It’s nice to see someone finally cover the concept of time under tension (it was in my plans) because it’s an important concept to understand.

    However, studies show that eccentrically loading your muscles for an extended period does not cause muscle growth. It causes inflammation which blocks any growth.

    Increasing time under tension with the right weight is more inclined to boost your strength because you’re making your nervous system work (to recruit more muscle fibers).

    What are your thoughts?

    • Sam Munoz says:

      I agree that the right time under tension along with the right weight will boost strength and muscle growth in order to adapt to the changes. I just feel that if anyone is doing reps at a quick pace then chances are the weight is too light and that won’t help increase strength and growth.

      With regards to eccentrically loading muscles… I believe it is necessary to load the muscle within a given rep/ set. Putting the muscle under stress is a good thing because of the micro tears it causes which subsequently lead to new fibers developing. However, unless the right amount of rest is given to the muscle (days of rest/ sleep) the workout will be pointless as the muscle will not repair and grow.

      The other point I want to make is that rep count makes a big difference in muscle growth. I always practice time under tension regardless of the rep count but I don’t stay within the same rep range and weight for extended periods. Every 2-3 months I like to change the rep and weight as this also helps me from plateauing.

      -Sam