Time Under Tension (TUT)

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Being around some commercial gyms recently I got to witness some insanely stupid lifting techniques. One thing I noticed is that everyone’s idea of building more muscle is to load up as many plates as possible and try to hit some wildly random number of reps for their lifts. Many guys just seem to go for weights that „feel good“ and solely concern themselves with moving the weight from point A to B.


It seems like most of these hypertrophy-chasing trainees have forgotten or don’t even know what the real purpose of  their workout is – breaking down muscle tissue to stimulate muscle growth. This concept is fundamental and yet so simple that most trainees think that building muscle is more complex than simply trying to induce  sufficient growth stimulation. A concept that overcomes some of the shortcomings of just moving the weights is the idea of  Time Under Tension (TUT).


Time Under Tension


With TUT, the main goal is to increase the total time that a muscle remains under tension. TUT is often overseen by trainees who are mentally fixed on merely moving the weight. Feeling the „squeeze“ inside the muscle and actively focusing on how long this contraction endures seems to induce more effective muscle stimulation than simply building a workout around random numbers (sets, reps, weights) and letting the ego-driven desire to lifit heavier dominate. Most trainees use a rep cadence of roughly 2/0/2 which makes for 4 seconds per rep. At the same time a fair amount of momentum is  built which makes the weight „easier“ and more manageable to lift. They swing forth and back while only partially contracting the main muscle involved in the movement.


TUT is really useful as you experiment with various schemes that determine how long a muscle stays contracted. For example, using a rep cadence of 5/0/10 is almost 4 x times as long as using a conventional 2/0/2. Most trainees would be surprised how much less weight they could lift if they slowed down their repetition and really put their intention on just contracting the muscle while reducing momentum. I have found it really useful to use a stopwatch to measure how long a muscle stays under contraction. Using TUT for strength progression goals is also really helpful as you measure by how much longer your muscles were under tension as compared to the last workout using the same weight.


Concept of Intention


An idea that is closely related to TUT is the concept involving INTENTION when lifiting weights. Putting your mind to using the weight as a means to contract a muscle rather than using the weight as the ultimate goal that needs to be lifted can be a really helpful trick in everyone’s toolbox. Again here, you will use the much lighter 20-pound dumbbell rather than the 35-pound one you have been using for the past few months in your pursuit for bigger arms.


Developing what bodybuilders have coined the „Mind-Muscle Connection“ is part of the intention you give to your muscles and is being practiced by a bunch of elite bodybuilders, most noticeably Kai Greene using his power of the mind. Read THIS article by Ben Pakulski which better explains the subject of the mind-muscle connection.


I couldn’t resist embedding CT Fletcher’s video which displays the intense interplay between his mind-muscle connection and his active act of intention:

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  • http://twitter.com/CriticalMAS Michael Allen Smith

    Great video.

    I love TUT, but I vary it and never measure.