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Time Under Tension

by Carmen Grange

 

I get asked the question often: “how much do you bench?” when someone finds out that I resistance train and compete.  The truth is, I have no idea what my max bench press is…Or my max anything for that matter.  Unlike Olympic weight lifting or power lifting, in the sport of bodybuilding, it isn’t about how strong you are or how much weight you can put up.  It’s about the appearance of musculature.  Because of that, I don’t bother to establish personal records for the maximum weight I can lift. Instead, I focus on making my muscles get bigger over time.  And that applies to the sport of bodybuilding in general.  You will see variations in lifting speed across the board, and while it is tedious and can be monotonous at times, increasing your Time Under Tension pace will help elicit greater gains in muscle hypertrophy compared to smaller amounts of Time Under Tension.

 

Time Under Tension is the amount of time any given tissue undergoes strain during a set.  Increasing the amount of time the muscle undergoes stress can break it down more so than lifting faster with heavier weight; thus, increasing muscle size following recovering.  To sufficiently obtain the desired outcome, a set of 10 reps should last from anywhere between 30 and 40 seconds; whereas, typical lifters will perform the same set for approximately 15-25 seconds.  By increasing the Time Under Tension, you will be focusing on intensity rather than worrying about hitting a certain number of reps.

 

There’s a lot of debate about the whether increased Time Under Tension promotes greater muscle hypertrophy, but most of the research supports the notion under various findings:

 

  1. The slow-twitch muscle fiber cross-sectional area is significantly increased, leading to maximal stimulation of these type I muscle fibers because they have a high fatigue threshold level, promoting a greater hypertrophic response.
  2. Greater mitochondrial density, sarcoplasmic, and myofibril protein synthesis after increased time under tension training.
  3. Vascular occlusion as a result of the promotion of compressed blood vessels for long periods of time following training.
  4. Increased lactate threshold leads to increases in cellular swelling and mediates anabolic hormone levels; thus, increasing protein synthesis.

 

TIPS for GREATER Time Under Tension:

 

  1. As goes with all styles of training, periodization will elicit greater strength and hypertrophic gains over a period of time.  When beginning to employ increased time under tension, it is no exception.  It will allow continuous training adaptation to occur, creating greater muscle hypertrophy gains.
  2. While focusing on maintaining muscular strain for 30-40 seconds, you may find that the weights you began with become increasingly heavier, so much so that you can no longer lift them by the 20th second.  Now is a good time to employ drop sets.  Maintain the intensity and push through the increased Time Under Tension by continuing the set with lighter weights.
  3. Focus on eccentric loading.  Gym patrons tend to ignore the eccentric phase of the workout by simply allowing the weight to return to the starting position without sufficiently controlling it, but in doing so, they are eliminating the greatest potential for hypertrophic effects.  While the concentric phase of motion is essential to hypertrophy, the eccentric phase provides more significant strain on the muscle.  Not only is the muscle working to support the loaded weight, but it is also working to resist the effects of gravity.  Do not ignore the eccentric phase of motion.  It is not a time to rest.  It is the time to concentrate on using the weight to achieve your intended purpose hypertrophic muscular enhancement.

 

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