hHave you been working out in the gym but not achieving the results you hoped for? It can go back to your style. What if, instead of worrying about the number of repetitions, you focused on the number of seconds your muscles were working?
This shift in focus is what some professional trainers call the next frontier in fitness.
The concept is referred to as “time under tension” or TUT for short. Sebastien Lagrecreator lajri method (The Giant Workouts which presents a major challenge) is a major supporter of this concept. “TUT is the amount of time a muscle works during a set of exercises,” he explains. Instead of calculating reps — something Lagree says is “actually unhelpful” due to the many variables in personal speed and day-to-day performance, rep to rep — “you determine when a muscle contracts, and that becomes the new measure of gain.”
Rob Darnbrough, co-founder of Smart Fit methodSincerely agree. “The time under tension is when the muscles are fully challenged for their full range of motion,” he says.
This works both while concentric phase– When a muscle shortens – and Eccentric Phase – when the muscle lengthens. (Think about the biceps exercise: When you lift the weight inward, it’s a concentric contraction; when you lower the weight again, it’s the eccentric contraction.) The goal of both phases is to get enough tension to fatigue a muscle.
“If you are locking your joints or taking breaks during the exact time you allocate for the exercise, you are not using the time under stretch method,” Heather Perrin, chief instructor at Lagree and co-founder of Lagreeing at Home. “The time under tension is exactly what the name implies: you keep the muscles under tension for the duration. No breaks!”
Benefits of time under stress
Efficiency is really the name of the game here. In theory, the concept reduces “down time” during workouts. (One might argue that the mental health and recovery benefits of rest time during exercise are not necessarily lostbut in order to minimize the input to the maximum output, we’ll take it.)
“Strength training comes down to three things,” Darnbrough says. “Mechanical load, muscle damage, and metabolic stress.” Applying the right amount of time under tension will increase the results you get from each of these factors.
“The body doesn’t care how many sets or repetitions you’ve done,” Darnbrough continues. “It only matters how much time the muscles are really stressed.”
Experts at the Lagree Method point out that TUT forces your muscles to work harder, thus improving muscle strength, endurance, and growth. “It’s a great way to give your body a hard, intense workout,” Perren says. “Because the TUT is done with timekeeping, not repetitions, you can slow down, which makes your workout safer as well.”
Lagree himself also adds that TUT is a “more accurate measure of improvement at the expense of just iterations.” You simply can’t speed your way through a challenge or abuse momentum – when you’re able to spend more time contracting a muscle, you really know it’s getting stronger.
How to apply time under stress to your workouts
The TUT can be used for any type of strength training, including Pilates, mega workouts, classic weightlifting and strength training.
“In Pilates, this is why we emphasize slow movements,” he says Adriana VargasPrincipal Pilates Instructor and Founder Live + Love Pilates in La Jolla, California. “It not only allows you to focus on your form and breath, but also on muscle connection and tension. The pace of movement — or control — with that specific resistance is very important, as it will allow you to focus and build those long muscle fibers that we develop with Pilates.”
Lagree says this concept has been a part of his method for nearly 20 years. His classes use at least one minute for core and upper body workouts, and at least two minutes for lower body workouts. “We never count class repetitions, we just keep track of time,” he says. “You can easily incorporate the TUT into other forms of exercise with a stopwatch instead of counting the reps to failure. Each time you make a movement, try to increase the set so that it takes a little longer than the previous time.”
If you use hand weights, dumbbells, or a traditional gym machine, Darnbrough says a TUT can be achieved by “slowing down the movement,” essentially holding it where you feel the burn a little longer.
Are you looking for a general guide? Darnbrough says the ideal time under tension is between 90 seconds and two and a half minutes for most exercises. “This will lead to increased muscle damage and hypertrophy, strength and metabolic conditioning.”
Are you ready to get stronger? Try testing time under tension with Arnold Press: