Time Under Tension

by Paul Young, BS, CPT

When I ask clients about their goals, it seems that almost everyone wants to get stronger. Most people know the benefits strength training has on bone density, fat burning, and all around movement. However, strength training is often associated with “getting bulky”.  I have clients tell me that they either want to get bigger, or they definitely don’t want to get bigger.

The misconception in both cases, is you get stronger you get bigger. This is not true. Hypertrophy is muscle growth, which definitely can come with strength, but you can also get stronger without increasing muscle size. One of the biggest factors in training for size or no size is what we call Time Under Tension (TUT).

So what is TUT? It’s the amount of time the muscle or muscle group resists the weight applied to it in a given set. If you were doing a bicep curl, typically you would be curling for 1 second to get the weight up, and then lowering it for 2 seconds. If you did a set of 8 reps, that would be a TUT of 24 seconds.

If you would like to see muscle growth, it’s recommended to have TUT at about 60-90 seconds. Now that doesn’t mean that you have to do 45 1 second down 1 second up dumbbell chest presses. You can do 10 reps of 3 second eccentric phase (lowering weights), 3 second isometric hold at the bottom, and a 3 second concentric phase (pushing back up). Both of those still equal 90 seconds of TUT.

If you’re not in to looking big but wanting to be strong, keep the TUT around 20-40 seconds. The most important thing to remember that adding weight to an exercise does not mean the muscle is going to grow, it means it’s going to get stronger.

Try thinking of new timing patterns in your next workout. By changing time and tempo, your muscles are then asked to adapt to a new stimulus. This is great for the brain and the muscle alike! Now get out there and kill it!