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Time Under Tension for Better Strength Results

Updated: Oct 14, 2023

I've long been passionate about the benefits of the time under tension principle for best results in strength training. 10 reps over 20 seconds or 10 reps over 40 seconds… Which method do you think will yield the best results?


Too often in my career have I seen people (mostly young men!) try to bang out a set number of reps as fast as possible with the heaviest weight possible. Great for the ego, maybe not so great for the form and the long-term result.


Time under tension has been the secret behind our STRONG strength training program here at ReDefined. These sessions are the most popular workouts of the week and follow a strict 2:1:1 or 3:1:1 Tempo….2 seconds down, 1 second hold, 1 second up. It really engages the muscles, and just like many of our Pilates sessions that follow the same principle, really creates muscle burn and fatigue. Have you been to one of Sam Burch’ Pilates classes and listened to him count down from 10? Say no more…


Let's dive deeper into the science behind it. By understanding the core principles that drive this approach, you'll be better equipped to harness its benefits and optimise your strength gains.


At its core, Time Under Tension revolves around the idea of maximising the time your muscles spend under stress during each exercise. By intentionally slowing down your movements and controlling the tempo, you create a greater workload on your muscles, leading to increased muscle fibre recruitment and overall strength development.


This technique operates on the principle that longer periods of tension stimulate greater muscle growth and adaptation. To achieve this, you'll focus on executing each repetition with precision, emphasising the eccentric (lowering) and concentric (lifting) phases of the movement. By prolonging these phases and minimising rest periods, you'll provide your muscles with a constant challenge, forcing them to adapt and grow stronger.


Also, Time Under Tension enhances your mind-muscle connection, heightening the level of focus and control you bring to each movement. By consciously engaging your muscles throughout the entire exercise, you activate more muscle fibres, ensuring a more comprehensive and effective workout.


While Time Under Tension is commonly associated with strength training, its benefits extend beyond just building muscle. By emphasising control and tempo, this technique can also enhance muscle endurance, improve overall athletic performance, and even aid in injury prevention.


As you continue exploring the Time Under Tension technique, remember that it's not about mindlessly rushing through your workouts. Instead, it's an intentional and disciplined approach to training that demands focus, patience, and precision.


The Science Behind Time Under Tension


To fully grasp the potential of Time Under Tension, it's essential to recognise that the adaptations it induces go beyond simple muscle hypertrophy. This approach promotes neural adaptations, such as improved muscle recruitment patterns and increased motor unit activation, which ultimately lead to enhanced strength and control.


Time Under Tension works by extending the duration of each repetition, increasing the time that your muscles are under stress. This prolonged exposure to tension forces your body to adapt, activating a cascade of physiological responses that contribute to muscle growth and strength development.


One of the key mechanisms at play during Time Under Tension is an increase in motor unit activation. Motor units are the nerve cells responsible for signaling your muscles to contract. By prolonging the time your muscles are under tension, you engage a greater number of motor units, leading to more comprehensive muscle activation.


Furthermore, Time Under Tension promotes improved muscle recruitment patterns. This refers to the specific sequence and synchronisation of motor units firing within a muscle during a contraction. With traditional strength training, you may not always activate all the motor units within a muscle. However, by incorporating Time Under Tension, you can recruit a larger pool of motor units, resulting in more coordinated and efficient muscle contractions.


Another benefit of Time Under Tension is its ability to stimulate metabolic adaptations. The extended duration of each repetition increases the metabolic stress placed on the muscles, leading to the release of metabolic byproducts, such as lactate. This metabolic stress triggers a cascade of signaling pathways that promote muscle growth and enhance endurance.


Practical Tips to Supercharge Your Strength Gains


First and foremost, it's crucial to prioritise form and technique. While it's tempting to focus solely on the amount of weight lifted or the number of repetitions completed, it's important to maintain proper form throughout your TUT workout. This ensures that the tension is applied to the targeted muscles, minimising the risk of injury and maximising the effectiveness of each movement. Take the time to learn and perfect the correct form for each exercise you incorporate into your TUT routine.


Consistency is key when it comes to strength training, and this holds true for the Time Under Tension technique as well. Aim to incorporate TUT workouts into your training routine on a regular basis, ideally two to three times a week. Consistently challenging your muscles with prolonged tension is what will ultimately lead to substantial strength gains over time. Make TUT a consistent part of your fitness journey and reap the rewards.


Another tip to elevate your strength gains is to progressively increase the time under tension. Start with a moderate tempo, focusing on controlled movements and prolonged muscle tension. As you become more comfortable with the technique and your strength improves, gradually increase the duration of each set. This progressive overload stimulates muscle growth and forces your body to adapt, resulting in enhanced strength gains. Remember, though, that safety should always be a priority, so never compromise form for the sake of increasing tempo.


While the TUT technique mainly focuses on extended muscle tension, don't overlook the importance of variety in your workouts. Incorporate a diverse range of exercises that target different muscle groups to ensure balanced strength development. This not only helps prevent muscle imbalances but also keeps your workouts engaging and enjoyable. Experiment with different exercises and techniques to continuously challenge your body and maximise your overall strength gains.


You will see all of the above tips implemented into our STRONG strength training program, here at ReDefined Health Wellbeing Movement in Papamoa. If you are looking to change up your strength training routine try an 8-12 week cycle of Time Under Tension and track your results.


Or feel free to drop in and try one of our STRONG workouts for a tester of how TUT is applied!


Jimmy - ReDefined Founder




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