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Time Under Tension Training Explained: How to Use TUT to Your Advantage

Check if this technique is best for you.

If you are serious about building bigger muscles, time under tension (TUT) training is what you are looking for. Here is an overview of everything you need to know about TUT training.

What Is Time Under Tension Training?

Time under tension refers to a type of training technique most common for people who frequent the gym, and popular among bodybuilders.

Time under tension refers to the amount of time a muscle is being activated during a set.

The basic knowledge of how muscle building work states that when you place your muscles under tension during resistance training, the muscle tissue tears apart and during the process of healing it grows. Time under tension training increases the amount of time your muscle stays activated, meaning that you are likely to effectively break more muscle tissues.

This training method commonly means you will lift a lighter weight than you are accustomed to on any given exercise, but by doing the movement standard slower, you are effectively engaging your muscles.

Time under tension training is usually applicable for people who want to increase the size of their muscles. However, if you want to be stronger and lift heavier weights, TUT training is not your best choice – sorry powerlifters.

How Long Should You Apply Time Under Tension Training?

Train to Failure How to Get a Stronger Lower Back Back Exercises Ranked Best to WorstSource: Ryan Snaadt / Unsplash

Basically, TUT training means you are slowing down the tempo of your reps. That doesn’t mean you should make each rep as long as possible. That is not what this technique is all about, it is not static strength training.

The common approach is to measure how long your muscles are under tension on any given set. Since we are focusing here more on hypertrophy and getting bigger muscles, the optimal range of your time under tension training should be 40-60 seconds per set. That means that during a set of bench press, for example, you need to have your chest muscles under tension for at least 40 seconds and not above 60 seconds during one set if your goal is hypertrophy.

Of course not all your sets need to fall in this category, but it is important to try and keep most of your workouts within these parameters. Anything above 60 seconds of TUT training becomes more of an endurance workout, while shorter sets (4-20 seconds) are reserved mostly for powerlifters looking to increase their one-rep max.

How to Read The Tempo Of An Exercise

If you get into TUT training, you will likely see suggestions on how slow you should do an exercise. The tempo of an exercise is usually expressed as a sequence of four numbers. Check down below an example:

Each digit of the tempo above means how long you should perform a portion of the exercise in seconds.

  • First number: eccentric phase (lengthening)
  • Second number: pause after eccentric phase
  • Third number: concentric phase (muscle shortening)
  • Fourth number: pause after concentric phase

Sometimes there won’t be a number in one of the digits but rather an “X,” which means to perform this part of the exercise with explosiveness. However, since we are dealing with time under tension training, you will not see an X in this type of strength technique.

In the example above, one rep of your front squat should take around 5 seconds in total – 3 seconds to lower your body until your quads are parallel to the floor, pause at the bottom for 1 second, go back to the initial position taking another second, and make little to no pause before beginning the next rep.

Bethany Shadburne performs a heavy front squat Time Under Tension TrainingSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Since each set is comprised of 10 reps, and each rep should take around 5 seconds, it means, in the example above, that each set would take around 50 seconds, which falls within the optimal TUT training mentioned earlier.

Tips On How To Maximise Time Under Tension Training

Although it sounds simple enough, it is also easy to accidentally cheat while doing TUT training. Keep in mind these tips next time.

  • Watch out for the lockout – the lockout is the easiest portion of an exercise and it provides little stress on your targeted muscle group.
  • Maintain a steady tempo – don’t rush through a few reps only to try to slow it down significantly on the last two reps.
  • Focus on the eccentric phase – by spending more time on the hardest phase of the movement, the eccentric phase, you will be damaging your muscles even more which will increase their size in the long run.
  • Use drop sets if needed – if you are struggling with the last few reps, lower the weight and continue the exercise to keep your muscles under tension with proper form.
  • Don’t go too light – in every exercise, try to lift a minimum of 60% of your 1-rep max to keep your gains.
deadlift variations

Pros and Cons of Using Time Under Tension Training

Pros

  • Gain muscle size with lighter weights
  • Allows you to focus on form and technique
  • Increase mind-muscle connection

Cons

  • Conflicting science reports (this 2019 study says it is useless, while this 2016 study states that it is a powerful training technique)
  • Not advised for people who want to build strength instead of increasing muscle size
  • TUT training does not tap into fast-twitching muscle fibres
  • It can lead to more muscle soreness, which means more time to recover which, in turn, could mean you go less to the gym

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