#1 Most Common Gym Myth That Is Making You Weak – Time Under Tension
Time under tension (TUT) – Myth or fact?
Time under tension is a training concept that started getting promoted back in the 90s. Everyone started timing their reps with a stopwatch hoping for strength gains. But what is time under tension and is it a myth or a fact? Time under tension (TUT) refers to how long a muscle is working or contracting under strain during a set. This depends on a number of things namely, the amount of repetitions in a set, tempo of the repetitions and whether you lock out at the end of each repetition or not. When working with time under tension, the amount of weight used for every lift is fairly limited because if you are looking to work for a prolonged period of time, your muscles won’t be able to endure a very heavy load. Otherwise, you’ll fail relatively quick and not be able to carry out the desired amount of repetitions and tempos. For this reason, time under tension training can elicit two things:
- Myofibrillar hypertrophy or
- Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy
In myofibrillar hypertrophy, there is greater actin and myosin fiber breakdown hence, increased protein synthesis and an increase in muscle size. Whereas, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is a build-up of fluid around the muscle that will not last.
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What research has shown
Research has shown that time under tension training can be used to fatigue Type 1 or slow twitch muscle fibers as they are more resistant to fatigue hence, need to work for longer periods of time for their growth. Furthermore, in time under tension training one can look at the total working time for a specific exercise or muscle. As described above, time under tension is a good method if you are looking to increase the size of your muscles but the question is do we want bigger muscles or stronger muscles?
How to become strong
To become stronger, we need to lift heavy with a load of 80-90% 1RM most of the time and even go close to 1 RM at some point in your training. To do so, you need to cut the repetitions down to anything between 3 and 6 with 4-5 sets. This is necessary to recruit all muscle fibers and larger motor units via the central nervous system which, is only possible if the load is heavy enough. This is known as the ‘all or nothing’ principle. Keep in mind that when training for strength, you also need to take plenty of recovery, 3-5mins, for the central nervous system to recover between sets as this type of work is very taxing. Moreover, strength training needs to be carefully periodised to allow for sufficient recovery between sessions. Other training methods for strength training include using the big compound lifts mainly, the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press as well as rowing and pull ups as they work the core movements and bigger muscles in the lower and upper body. These should be the foundation and building blocks of each training programme. On top of that, make sure to use barbell training as this will allow for the heavier load. Make sure you split the main lifts between sessions and try to increase the weight on the bar slightly every week by a small increment for the body to keep adapting to the new stimulus.
As we’ve discussed above, time under tension training is not necessarily a wrong training method but it will not get you very strong as it only works on making your muscles bigger while using light loads. Therefore, we suggest using compound lifts with heavy loads and lower repetitions for the main part of your training and using more repetitions for assistance and single joint exercises. This way you are focusing on becoming stronger but also increasing your muscle mass.