Incorporating Time-Under-Tension Workouts in Your Gym Routine

Time Under Tension Workouts for Your Strength-Training Program

When we get to the gym, it’s normal to feel a little rushed as we work through our exercise program for the day. While we may take the time to prioritize rest between each set, that’s often the only occasion we consider checking the clock. 

However, when it comes to building muscle, most lifters don’t take into account the importance of our loading duration. A time-under-tension (TUT) workout is an underutilized training style that, when performed correctly, confers numerous benefits.

Read on as we uncover the purpose of the time under tension technique, how to implement this method into your training routine, and some helpful tips to consider for long-term muscle growth. 

What Does “Time Under Tension” Mean?

Time under tension, or TUT for short, is a style of strength training that requires sustained mechanical tension on a muscle group for a longer period of time. During TUT workouts, the lengthening or eccentric phase of your muscle contraction should be slightly longer than the shortening or concentric phase. 

Let’s use a bicep curl as an example. Using the time under tension method, you’ll want to lift the weight of the dumbbell up for 2 seconds before lowering down for 3 full seconds. With a total of 12 reps, you’ll reach 60 seconds per set.

Benefits of Time Under Tension Training 

Giving our muscles time to adapt to the change in resistance training stimulus - or in this case, a slow and controlled lifting speed - can elicit a range of physiological benefits. 

1. Increased muscle growth potential 

Time-under-tension workouts are designed to increase tension in your muscles for a prolonged period of time which can promote muscle growth. Studies have found that while performing workouts that create muscle fatigue, such as TUT workouts, all the motor units and muscle fibers recruited in a given exercise will grow over time to adapt to the increase in stress [1].

Research shows that in order for time-under-tension training to result in muscle hypertrophy, lifters must be using heavy weights. In this case, sufficient TUT gains can be achieved when lifting 60% or more of your one-rep max [2]. 

Another strategy for building muscle is through a process known as progressive overload. Studies have found that increasing weight, frequency, and/or reps progressively over time promotes muscle growth [3]. 

2. Improved proprioception, focus, and form 

Time under tension training emphasizes slow tempo and controlled movements which both help to improve form and stimulate proprioceptive awareness. Developing greater muscular control while lifting weights using the TUT method can also correct posture and help minimize your risk of injuries [4].

As a result, time-under-tension exercises will help you focus more on your mind and body with each exercise, helping you to react and stabilize different muscle groups and joints as needed. Ultimately, this can help you establish the proper form and lifting mechanics. 

3. Helps you push through training plateaus 

Pushing past training plateaus can be quite a challenge for many lifters. Using a slower speed can help you level up your training program since it focuses less on momentum and more on total strength. Without having to add any weight, your muscles will have to work harder for a longer period, resulting in greater gains!

How to Perform a Time Under Tension Workout

There are two common methods of time-under-tension workouts. The first is done by setting a timer for a specified duration of time and performing as many reps within this timeframe without stopping. 

The second time-under-tension method is more effective for building muscle and optimizing strength gains. Using lighter weights to start, you’ll focus more on the tempo during both the “up” and “down” phases of the lift with more emphasis on a slow and controlled lowering movement. The eccentric or lowering phase of an exercise is shown to cause more muscle damage, which is important for promoting muscle hypertrophy

According to experts, the ideal training volume is about 10-20 sets per muscle group per week for novice and advanced lifters, respectively [5]. Taking into account that each rep should take about 5 seconds, the time under tension is significant to optimize muscle gains over the course of several months.

Helpful TUT Training Tips

Here are some beneficial training tips to help you get the most out of your next TUT workout.

Tip #1: Maintain a steady tempo

As mentioned earlier, the slow tempo TUT technique is one the best way to build muscle strength and mass over time.

The optimal time under tension duration is around 40-60 seconds. Anything below this may not qualify as a ‘tempo prescription’ while anything above this will stimulate strength endurance [6].

Tip #2: Prioritize form over heavy weights

When you’re getting started with time under tension, each resistance exercise will require longer sets. As you dial up duration, fatigue can severely compromise your form and may increase your risk of injury. 

You may also notice that with heavier weights, you’ll spend more time in the easiest points of the exercise such as at the top of a bench press while your elbows are locked out.

We recommend dropping down to a slightly lighter weight than usual for the first few weeks of training. This can also help you maintain proper form with each rep while maintaining a full range of motion.

Tip #3: Consider drop sets to maximize strength gains

Drop sets are a beneficial technique that can be combined with the TUT method to help increase the intensity of a workout. A drop set refers to the addition of a set that is typically performed on the last set of an exercise to fatigue the muscle group completely. 

As you perform your reps at a slower tempo, perform your sets as per usual. Once you reach the point of burnout, drop your weight down by 10-20% and immediately continue the exercise.

The Bottom Line

If you want to level up on your fitness goals, start incorporating TUT training into your exercise routine!

When we manipulate time by slowing down the exercise during the concentric and eccentric phases, time-under-tension workouts force our bodies to work harder to maximize muscle growth, endurance, and strength.

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