Time Under Tension: A Mechanism For Growth

time under tension

Your workouts are hard and frequent but you still fall short of reaching your fitness goals. The truth is your workouts may not be as effective as you first thought. While your training sessions may be packed full of exercise routines, sets, and reps, they may not be actively engaging the target muscle to the fullest. What this means is that you may not be maximizing the growth potential.


The Solution To Maximise Muscle Growth

What could be your solution for maximising muscle growth? Time under tension (TUT). Time under tension refers to the amount of time that a target muscle or group of muscle is weighted under constant tension throughout a set. Let take a close look at time under tension between these two scenarios:

Scenario one: You do 10 reps of an exercise taking 45 seconds to complete the set.
Scenario two: You do 10 reps of an exercise taking only 30 seconds to complete the set.

The number of reps remains the same for both but the first scenario consists of 15 seconds of extra time that the muscle is under tension. This means that the muscle is being stimulated for a longer time than in the second scenario.


What Is Muscle Stimulation?

In this instance, the stimulation refers to the increase if blood flow to the muscle, a high volume of muscle fibres being engaged within the target muscle – meaning more muscle fibres are being torn in the process. The process of these muscle fibres tearing induces new growth toward these muscle fibres, eventually leading to increased muscle mass over time – providing that other factors are met i.e. adequate rest and diet.

Remember that time under tension means that the entire set must be performed under constant tension, and at no point during the set should the target muscle/s become relaxed. The most likely point during a set where the tension could be transferred to another muscle or muscle group other than the intended would be at the top of the concentric phase and the bottom of the eccentric phase


What Happens If I Increase Time Under Tension?

Increasing the time under tension would likely lead you to maintain better control over the weight, leading to better stimulation. Less momentum may be used as the weight is controlled. This means moderately heavy weight rather than heavy weight should be used, as it is unlikely that you could maintain full control over a super heavy weight load and second you may not be capable of extending the time under tension.

However, the need to find the optimum weight is imperative for muscle hypertrophy, as the ultimate goal is to increase the amount of weight lifted over time; known as progressive overload. Due to longer time under tension, you will likely perform fewer reps per set. There may be a downside to this; the total volume lifted over a workout will be reduced.

Volume can still be a crucial factor is muscle stimulation and muscle growth. To this extent, the TUT method does have a benefit and drawback in this instance. We can work around the drawback for this situation by simply increasing the total number of sets.


Is Time Under Tension A Critical Method For Muscle Growth?

As a whole, TUT may not live up to what we expect. Its main advantage is that it reduces bad form, and pushes you into focusing on the target muscle with more precision. The second benefit is that it potentially reduces mechanical stress on the joints; as with this workout method, you would not hyperextend your muscles to the fullest. However due to this, you may not be utilizing other key stimulating factors, such as mechanical tension; experienced using heavy weights or moderately heavy weights, performed at a high tempo, i.e. 5 sec TUT for 10 reps. This is especially useful for strength development. And if the number of reps is reduced to compensate for the extra time, then the peak concentric tension is lower too.

Peak concentric tension refers to the tension a muscle incurs during the concentric (extension) phase of an exercise. The tension in this circumstance is transferred through the loaded muscle as the muscle is being extended. This can have a physiological benefit and therefore must not be overlooked.

Ultimately, you must consider your fitness goals. Strength goals require about a 20sec TUT, mass building about 40sec, and endurance over 70sec. But these are not definitive lengths of time or method to induce these physiological adaptations, at least not the only approach. It may be beneficial to vary TUT in different workouts or routines, depending on your personal needs and goals; and to get out of any plateaus you may be in. In that respect, TUT should be used as a tool in your workouts to progress, but consider it alongside other training methods for you to advance in your personal fitness goals.


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