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Time Under Tension And Muscle Growth: How To Accelerate Your Results

Time under tension or ‘TUT’, relates to the amount of time a muscle is held under strain or tension during a set. By incorporating TUT into your workouts, you are extending each phase of the movement to make your sets longer.

There is a direct correlation between time under tension and muscle growth as the idea is that this technique forces your muscles to work even harder which, in turn, helps to optimise strength, endurance and, ultimately, growth.

During TUT workouts, you concentrate on slowing down the movements of each rep, spending more time on the difficult phase of the exercise. In slowing down your movement, you hold the muscle under tension for much longer, which may produce better results.

Let’s look at the benefits of TUT and how it could help to spur much bigger gains in muscle size and strength.

Time Under Tension – The Benefits

Changing up your routine by incorporating TUT could help you experience greater results in strength and muscle gain, it could also be your answer to overcoming plateaus in your training.

As TUT forces your muscles under tension for longer periods, you’re making your muscles work harder. The harder they work, the better results you’ll see as long as you’re also providing your body with the right nutrition and adequate periods of rest in between workouts.

The advantages of having dense muscle are many – bigger, stronger muscles improve our bone mineral density, help increase our metabolism for better fat burning, and enhance overall muscular control.

Perhaps some lesser-known benefits of TUT training is the effect it can have on you mentally. Slow, controlled movements can help you to be more purposeful whilst also helping your mind relax – stimulating awareness and concentration and leading to more mindfulness. When you pay more attention on your movement you also allow yourself to focus on good breathing techniques, better alignment and correct posture which all help to stabilise your body and help prevent injury.

Just How Effective Is It?

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There have been mixed results from studies into TUT, but these have tended to hinge on what phase of the move people focus on lengthening. One particular 2016 study revealed that doubling time under tension in the eccentric part of the movement (as you lengthen the muscle on the way down) compared to the concentric phase (shortening the muscle) can spur positive change in muscle growth.

Those who took part in the study and increased TUT during the eccentric phase of a bench press appeared to increase muscle activation and blood lactate response. By adding around two seconds to this eccentric phase, it stimulated increased physiological demand, making the move not only more challenging but subsequently more effective.

How To Incorporate ‘TUT’ Into Your Workouts

Essentially it’s about making your sets longer. Typically, a set for an average lifter lasts anywhere between 15-25 seconds depending on the speed at which they lift. Try timing your sets and increasing the time taken to between 30-40 seconds which is enough time to ensure your muscles are getting enough stimulus to grow. You may have to adjust the weight down to begin with as the increased time under tension will be more challenging to sustain. Remember this can be done with both weightlifting and bodyweight training.

Here’s how:

  1. Slow down the eccentric phase (the lowering part of the movement when the muscle is lengthening) in each rep by around 2-6 seconds, or at least double that of the concentric phase
  2. Focus on your form. Ensure you’re lifting and lowering in a smooth, controlled movement. With longer sets you’ll tire more quickly and fatigue can compromise form. Don’t cheat any part of the move by breaking form or doing partial reps.
  3. Choose your tempo and make sure you stick to it for the lifting, lowering and pause phases and make sure you move through the entire movement without stopping short of a full contraction. A typical tempo for each rep would be 2/4/ 0 (2 seconds lifting, 4 seconds lowering, and 0 seconds pause at the bottom)
  4. Focus on timed sets rather than hitting a certain number of reps. This will help you increase the intensity of the set and it’s this intensity that will spur greater results. Set a timer and focus on performing the set for that particular amount of time without a break (aim for between 30 to 60 seconds).
  5. Maintain high intensity. Time under tension alone won’t work if you aren’t challenging yourself with adequate weight and exercises that will combine to create muscle fatigue towards the end of each set. Try to use around 60% of your 1-rep max to help maximise muscle growth.
  6. Use drop sets. If you’re struggling to finish off the last few reps then drop down the weight and immediately continue to the end of the set. This will help you last the duration of the exercise and help prevent cheating the moves to get through the final part of it.
  7. Finish your last set at an even slower tempo to increase intensity further
  8. Make sure you rest between sets. Aim for between 1-2 minutes to give your muscles enough time to recover before hitting the next set.

A Small Change Can Lead To Big Results

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Incorporating time under tension into your workouts can lead to greater muscle gain which in turn can greatly improve both endurance and performance. You don’t need to change your current exercise routine, just start incorporating it into your workouts to shake things up a bit. If you’re currently experiencing a plateau then this small but powerful change to your routine could be just the thing you need to spark your progress and send you on your way to muscle and strength gains once again.

What do you think about time under tension and muscle growth? Do you have experience using TUT in your workouts, if so how has it worked for you and did you see greater results from it? Perhaps you hadn’t heard of it before reading this article and you’re now thinking of applying it to your workouts to get better results? Either way let me know by commenting underneath and let’s talk!

4 Comments

  1. Hey thanks for this useful information!

    I was thinking about adding or changing my exercise routine to something a little challenging and came across this article. I didn’t have TUT in mind but glad I can now add this in to my exercise. I was wondering if this probably also means more calories burnt which I’m totally fine with!

    Like you have discussed a break between each set is a good idea to not damage any muscles!

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Sariyah. Increasing the time spent under tension does indeed increase the amount of calories you expend as you’re essentially spending more time ‘under the weight’ and forcing your muscles to work harder. It also helps to increase calories burned post exercise to repair the added micro-abrasions in your muscles due to the increased intensity. I hope you experience great results trying TUT out. Let us know how you get on!

  2. Having spent many years working out with barbells, I have been told, as I get older, that I needed to stop working both shoulders at the same time so dumbbells were the answer for me.  Of course I had used them for lots of different exercises but now I use them for things like shoulder and bench presses.  The guidance you have offered is great.  Over the years, I have slowed down my reps and focused a great deal on the negative movement as well as the positive movement.  I  didn’t use the term Time under tension, but that’s what it is.  Now, I used more reps with less weight using TUT.

    • Good to know you’re already using TUT in your workouts Anastazja. Would be great to know what difference it’s made to your training!

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