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Time Under Tension

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

Many of us have heard the term “Time Under Tension.” It has largely been associated with bodybuilding culture, feeling pumps, and getting a burn within the muscles you are training. In simple terms, time under tension refers to the duration that a muscle is being worked while moving a weight/load. This will lead to a combination of mechanical tension, muscle damage, metabolic stress, which will promote a favorable response that will help to increase your muscle size.

If you are reading this, you likely want to know how to implement this into your training. Well, here are a few strategies that are likely to help just about anyone looking get some juicy pumps by increasing time under tension!

Manipulate the tempo

You can manipulate the tempo by one of 3 ways

  1. Slow down the eccentric or lowering (a.k.a negative) portion (the part where the angle of the joint moving is getting larger). Perform 3-4 sets of anywhere from 8-15 reps and take 3-5 seconds to lower yourself down and you’ll feel a perfect storm of muscles working. The rear foot elevated split squat is an exercise that works really well with this method.

  2. Adding isometrics. You can add a pause at a part of the movement so that the joints are not moving. In order for the joint to stay still, the muscle has to stay engaged. This is going to a great new way to train if you have never done isometrics before. As an example, perform a 3 sec hold every 3 reps for 12 total reps, and repeat this for 3 sets. Click this link to view this method using a dumbbell lateral raise

  3. Full on tempo sets. Think of these as like 95% range of motion in both directions. This will give you a good one two combo by going slow on both the eccentric and concentric portion of each muscle, as in the example of the tempo TRX row. 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps will give you a good burn.

Manipulating the tempos can be super effective for trying to increase the amount of time your muscle is working. An added bonus is by slowing things down, it will help build a “mind muscle connection”, and help to practice quality technique and get you feeling all the right muscles.

My favorite part about this strategy is that you do not need any other piece of equipment to add more time under tension.

Drop set method

The premise behind drop sets is stressing both types of muscle fibers; the more strength-oriented type II fibers, and the more endurance-based type I fibers. There are many different ways to use drop sets, and which one you use will largely be determined by training history, training age, and training goals.

In the most basic example, you will perform an exercise for a set of anywhere from 8-15 reps while maintaining good form, and immediately after you will drop the weight by 10-30% and knock out another set of the same exercise anywhere from 12-20 reps or until technique breaks down.

Simple and effective!

The amount of training experience you have will determine the exercise selected, the reps, rest, and also weather or not you go take a set to failure or not.

Here is an example of bicep curl drop set!

2 down 1 up method

In this method of increasing time under tension, you will perform the eccentric portion with both limbs, and perform the concentric portion with one limb. Straight forward and simple.

Check out the example in this shoulder press version of it!

Also, you do have the ability to switch up which part of the lift you perform with one limb or two limbs. For lower body exercises, like a leg press, a 1 down 2 up approach can be a great way to eccentrically torch your quads!

Time under tension is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to building muscle. There are many other ways that will be discussed here in the future. No matter what, remember that good training is composed of good form, good recovery, and a good plan.

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