Time Under Tension: The Exercise Technique You Should Practice

by Evelyn Valdez

The number of ways you can switch up your resistance training is why so many people love bodybuilding as a form of fitness. Muscle building isn't easy, so you need a strong understanding of different techniques and methods if you want good results. Bottom line: if you want to increase muscle hypertrophy, strength, and endurance, you'll need to practice progressive overload. Increasing the resistance and training volume are the best and most common ways to drive progress, but one progressive overload technique that is underrated is time under tension.

Time under tension (TUT) workouts are beneficial for any lifter, from the casual weightlifter to competition powerlifters. TUT exercises put a bigger emphasis on keeping your muscles in a constant strain rather than the amount of weight you're lifting or your rep range. Timing your sets will heighten the intensity of the movement and have you working your muscles to their max. Without a doubt, time under tension is a key element to building muscle and should never be overlooked when developing a proper workout program.

What are TUT workouts?

Time under tension training refers to the length of time a muscle is under strain during a set. On average, the amount of time it takes bodybuilders to complete one workout set is about 15-25 seconds. TUT exercises require more time, typically 30-40 seconds. For example, if you were doing squats, you would hold the move at the bottom of the squat for a longer period of time. 

Let's break this down even further: say you're doing barbell rows. In a typical rep, it might take you two seconds to lift the barbell, another two seconds to pause at the top, and three seconds to lower back down to the starting position. Therefore, your total tut equals eight seconds per rep. If you complete five sets, this means it takes 40 seconds total. 

Putting your muscles under intense resistance will break down your muscle fibers more and lead to better muscle growth and endurance. By slowing down the movements and spending more time in the difficult phase of the exercise, you'll yield better results. 

How effective and beneficial are TUT workouts?

There's been some debate over the effectiveness of TUT exercises. Some even go so far as to call it a myth. Are they wrong? Does time under tension really matter so much? The answer is absolutely!

Many personal trainers agree that TUT exercises are a great strength training technique to improve hypertrophy and gain more muscle mass, and the science says so too. Research shows spending more time in the eccentric phase (lengthening) increases muscle activation.[1]

TUT exercises also encourage you to be more mindful of your movements. Oftentimes, we get so used to a particular workout that we end up going through the motions. But if you're not paying better attention, you could get seriously injured. Controlling your movements and slowing things down keeps you aware of how your body moves, your breathing, and can help you catch mistakes in your technique. 

Another benefit is that TUT training can fit just about any routine you currently have! Whether you're a beginner or an advanced powerlifter, time under tension can enhance your workout in some way. You won't get too bored with one standard program and you can switch things up as often as you need to accommodate any challenges or physical limitations you may have. 

Tips on how to start performing TUT workouts

It's important to do your research anytime you alter your training program. Your weightlifting experience will always be different from someone else, so only you can know what's best for your body. These are a few pointers to remember when beginning TUT workouts.

Start off your TUT training using lighter weights 

What you need to remember with TUT training is that the weight you're lifting comes second to the movements. Using heavy weights will make it harder to control your form. Since most TUT sets last between 30 to 60 seconds, you'll want to start off using lighter weights until your body gets adjusted. You can gradually increase the weight over the next few weeks.

Don't rush through the movements

This tip goes hand in hand with the first one. Your tempo directly relates to time under tension. The point of TUT exercises is to challenge yourself, fatigue your muscles, and get the most out of each rep. Rushing through the movements defeats the purpose. It only works when you extend the eccentric phase and keep your body smooth and controlled. The difficult part of the exercise won't last forever!

Mix TUT with other training techniques 

If you feel like you're ready for a greater challenge, you can combine TUT with other training techniques to further break down the muscles. Some things you can try include progressive overload, cluster sets, and drop sets. We recommend this only if you have experience with practice with TUT training. 

Progressive overload is gradually increasing the demand on your musculoskeletal system to improve muscle size, endurance, and strength. This involves decreasing rest times between sets, upping the reps, and increasing the resistance, volume, and frequency of your training. Ultimately, it helps you avoid a plateau in your progress by ensuring your workouts continue to improve as you do. 

Cluster sets are built upon smaller sets and several rest intervals to create one complete set. Here's what that looks like:

If you were doing dumbbell bicep curls, you would do three reps, rest for 30 seconds, three reps, rest for 30 seconds, and finish off with four reps. This would amount to one full set. 

These numbers can be modified to however you need for your training. Essentially, the overall volume is the same but you're lifting more weight in the process. Cluster sets help build short-term power and improve your body strength. 

Drop sets are a tried and true method for muscle growth in the fitness world. For drop sets, with each rep set you do, you reduce the weight bit by bit and do as many reps as possible until failure. Another way to do drop sets is by changing the tempo, angle of the exercise, or switch to a different exercise altogether. Drop sets allow you to accumulate more volume, get a better muscle pump, and induce metabolic stress. 

Add in some isometric exercises

Resistance exercises don't only involve lifting weights. Your own body weight is the perfect workout tool. Some isometric exercises include:

  • Wall sits
  • Pushups
  • Lunges
  • Plank hold
  • Squats

Starting out TUT training by incorporating isometric moves first is good practice and a great way to build muscle strength.

Plan out your workout schedule to allow for plenty of rest and recovery time 

Getting enough rest in between workouts is going to be even more important with TUT training. You know by now that your muscles are being worked to their max. Not only does rest and recovery promote hypertrophic activity, but it's vital to preventing injuries. The worst thing you can do is overtrain and overuse them. A serious injury could keep you away from the weight room for months. If you feel like you need more rest then take it. The gym will always be there, and you won't lose all your progress by having an extra day off. 

Most trainers recommend alternating between the muscle groups so another one can rest. You should also allow for at least one minute of rest between sets. Your muscles will need the extra time to recover before working through another round. 

Work with a personal trainer if you're having trouble keeping time

No weightlifter on this planet has ever crushed their goals without some kind of help from a personal trainer. Building muscle takes meticulous planning to ensure you're receiving the most benefits from all your hard work. A professional fitness instructor can show you where you're going wrong and how to best improve your workout plan. They'll instruct you on the right exercises for different muscle groups, the number of reps for maximum output, and will even advise you about your diet. However, a personal trainer can be pretty expensive, there are plenty of fitness apps that can provide you with great workout plans designed for your goals - like the Fit With Iulia app!

You can count on time under tension workouts to bring the heat!

Time under tension is a gateway to larger muscles and more endurance and strength. Slowing down your workouts may even help you catch mistakes in your form that you were unaware of before. You can do TUT exercises anywhere, without using weights, so you can start improving your muscle gains right now! 

If you prefer working out at home, it's good to have some standard equipment that's versatile for multiple exercises. Complete your home gym by checking out our fitness gear collection – We have resistance bands, lifting belts, lifting straps, and ankle straps!

Why shop at UPPPER?

Founded by Iulia Danilova (Fit With Iulia), we strive to make fitness gear that is high-quality, durable, comfortable, stylish, and most importantly, designed to help take your workouts to the next level. 

Find what your gym bag is missing at UPPPER Fitness Gear.

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