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Research by a sports scientist in the Stuart Phillips stable, Nicholas Burd, may be changing how we understand the concept of strength training. ‘Muscle time under tension’ brings to the table some interesting data that can’t be dismissed!

In the summer of 2010 one of Burd’s studies was held in which men who had trained with just 30 percent of their maximal weight – doing 20-30 reps – had built more muscle proteins than men who had trained in the traditional way.

The researchers’ theory is that weight isn’t the most important factor in strength training, or at least not the only important factor. Equally important is ‘muscle time under tension’: the amount of time that muscles are placed under tension during weight lifting. Elite trainer Charles Poliquin has been telling that for years. []

The researchers will be soon publishing the results of their latest study in The Journal of Physiology, in which they subjected the left and right legs of strength athletes to two different workouts. They got the men to train one leg on a leg-extension machine, using weights at 30 percent of their 1RM. The men performed each of the movements slowly, taking 6 seconds for both the concentric and the eccentric movement. The men trained until failure and did 3 sets. [SLOW]

With the other leg the men had to perform the same number of sets, with the same weight. But they performed these movements ‘normally’ and therefore didn’t train at failure. [CTL]

Immediately after the workout the subjects drank a 20g whey protein shake and another one 24 hours later.

The workout performed in slower reps produced the highest muscle protein synthesis, which was concluded by examining cells extracted from the leg muscles of the test subjects. This was true for both the contracting myofibrillar protein [the protein in the muscle fibres] and the mitochondrial protein [the cells’ power packs].

Endurance athletes may very well benefit from this also!

The figures show how slow-rep strength training benefited in enhanced muscle protein synthesis.

“These results suggest that the time the muscle is under tension during exercise may be important in optimizing muscle growth”, the researchers write. “This understanding enables us to better prescribe exercise to those wishing to build bigger muscles and to prevent muscle loss that occurs with aging or disease.”

J Physiol. 2011 Nov 21. [Epub ahead of print].