One of the most under-managed and as a result under utilised components of resistance training is time under tension. Even those that factor it in as a variable to their programme design, often fail to understand the significance of the term or its real world application.
The purpose of this article is to explain what time under tension actually means from a practical perspective, what the significance is from a coaching standpoint and how it can be manipulated to produce different training or hormonal outcomes.
What is Time under tension (TUT)?
From a truly technical standpoint, time under tension refers to the length of time a muscle is active (i.e. under tension) during an exercise. This is usually calculated by multiplying the number of repetitions by the time taken to perform each rep. For example, if the tempo for an exercise was 3010, that would represent a 3 second eccentric, followed by a 1 second concentric, which in turn would result in a 4 second rep. Therefore a set of 10 repetitions would give a time under tension of 40 seconds.
The Practical Significance
Although technically a set of ten repetitions using the above tempo would generate a time under tension of 40 seconds, many clients will rush both the eccentric and concentric phases, so it's important to ensure they stay on the count. It's also important to ensure that there are no pauses during the movement, as whilst technically under tension, the active muscles can actually reduce their involvement in the exercise slightly.
One possible strategy that is incredibly effective at helping clients to adhere to a given tempo is the use of a metronome set to 60bpm. Not only does this ensure consistency from rep to rep, but it also helps clients to even out their movement by helping them break it into manageable and quantifiable sections.
It is also important to stress the importance of focussing the effort on the target muscles, as purely from a biomechanical standpoint, there are often many ways to elicit the same overall movement. The simple act of consciously and exclusively trying to use a particular muscle can change the clarity of the signal from the brain to the body and result in a greater level of activation.