Of all the training principles to have made the rounds of the fitness industry in the last decade, time under tension (TUT) has the most merit. What makes it effective is that there is solid science to back up claims about its effectiveness. In fact, modern time under tension workouts are simply a rehash of a long known training principle about muscular contractions. Incorporating time under tension components to your workouts are a fantastic way to improve your results. Here we will explore how to do so.
What is time under tension (TUT)?
The time under tension principle can be simply defined as physical exertion over time. As opposed to performing predefined sets and reps, this principle requires a timer. For example, rather than rush through a set of ten reps on bicep curls, perform the movement with less weight and more slowly. The key is to keep the muscle under tension for a specific length of time, most commonly one minute. Perform your movements slowly and with total control over a length of time.
You probably already use this principle.
You probably already do time under tension exercises. A common exercise among gym-goers is the plank, in which one must hold their abs under tension for a length of time. What time under tension does is apply this same style of training to every other muscle group as well. The only difference is that a plank is an isometric contraction, meaning the muscles contract without shortening. Conversely, a bicep curl requires you do effect a concentric contraction, meaning the muscle shortens. Time under tension requires you to perform concentric contractions slowly and over time.
Why time under tension is useful.
In a normal bicep curl, the biceps perform a concentric contraction to lift the weight, and an eccentric contraction to lower it. Your muscles devote special types of muscle fibers to each type of contraction. Around 70% of the fibers in your biceps are devoted to the eccentric contraction, and as such it is important to focus on the way down to build more size. Time under tension is useful to slow you down so that you put more emphasis on these muscle fibers.
The amount of time under tension also changes the dynamic of how your muscles will respond to an exercise. Normally, lifting weights utilizes short bursts of energy. These bursts are fueled by two energy pathways: stored energy and the creatine pathway. Without getting too technical on these (we have a whole article devoted to energy pathways coming soon), time under tension actually forces your muscles to burn through these two pathways and move into the oxygen pathway (used for endurance), but the length of time is short enough to where during your rest period the body can replenish the first two. This means your workout remains anabolic (to build muscle) and engages the muscle on every possible level.
Why you don’t only want to do time under tension.
As with everything, the body adapts quickly to this type of training. Therefore, it is best to make it part of your overall routine. The easiest way to incorporate time under tension is to do your normal routine, but at the end of one or two sets when your muscle is brought to its failing point, hold the weight as long as you can while the muscle is still under tension. Another way to incorporate it is to do one warmup set where you perform your movement slowly for one minute with lighter weight. This serves the dual purpose of warming you up for the heavier weight and leveraging this principle to boost your progress.