A member of the fitness center I manage recently came to me seeking advice.
He explained that he’d been working out for months, and he’d tried it all: Increasing the weight lifted; increasing the number of reps and sets performed; increasing rest time; decreasing rest time; and taking more days off, then fewer. Yet he saw no significant muscular gains.
After assessing his conundrum, I recommended that he increase his time under tension when lifting.
Time under tension is the time your muscle experiences force during your workout. Most people make the mistake of performing reps too quickly, so they cheat themselves out of the portion of the lifting phase most effective for muscular growth.
To effectively incorporate time-under-tension training into your workout routine, set your focus on the muscle lengthening portion of the exercise (eccentric phase). Spend as much time as you can in this phase, before quickly transitioning to the muscle shortening phase of the exercise (concentric phase).
For example, when performing a barbell bicep curl, aim to curl the bar towards your body in about two to three counts. Then, take about six counts to release the bar away from your body, making sure to exhale as you release.
I use time-under-tension training during my own workouts, as well as with my clients seeking significant muscular growth. The biggest thing to remember when performing this type of training is to focus on your form. Time-under-tension training is only effective if you move through the entire range of motion with correct alignment.
It’s also important to maintain a consistent tempo when increasing your time under tension. It helps me to count quietly out loud or in my head to make sure I maintain a steady pace, especially as my muscles start to fatigue.
When beginning time-under-tension training, you may notice you can’t lift as much as you typically do. This training forces you to work through the most difficult phase of the exercise for an extended period of time, so more rapid muscular fatigue is inevitable.
By initially decreasing your weight, you will increase the amount of reps you’re able to complete with correct form, through the full range of motion — and that will maximize results. As you become stronger to this type of training, you can increase your weight again.
One final piece of advice I have for anyone beginning time-under-tension training is beware—it’s going to burn. You can also expect more muscle soreness than usual in your first few days of training.
This is a normal part of the process as it signals you’ve effectively challenged your muscular system. Once the initial soreness wears off, expect to see gains.