We all know lifting weights is about progress, right? You're working your way up that dumbbell rack, increasing reps, increasing sets, increasing weight. You know how it is, you and dude hombre having a curl-off trying to impress the mirror in front of you. Yeaaaa babay! Well that's all fine and sexy until that shoulder starts to hurt, you develop muscle imbalances, results plateau, and you're doing 15 sets of bench press while spending 2 hrs in the gym. If any of this sounds familiar, over the next few weeks I'll show you 5 weight training variables you can manipulate to help revolutionize your workouts and skyrocket results. And ladies, do not think this is just for the bro chacho's out there – weight training should play a fundamental part in your fitness routine as well.
I'm not going to harp on the traditional reps / sets resistance training variables most of us are familiar with – that's boring stuff. Today's article will be looking at what I believe is the most underutilized weight training variable, specifically if you want to build some of that precious muscle: time under tension. Let's get started.
Time Under Tension (TUT)
One bad ass SOB. That's what this is. Time under tension is referring to how much time a muscle is exposed to tension (in our case, weight or load). This may seem like the most fundamental weight training variable known to anyone who's stepped foot in a gym, right? Maybe so, but most of us, myself included, are vastly underutilizing this bad boy. If any of you have seen the tempo of an exercise written out in a number format (for example, 4-0-1-0), that is referring to TUT. These numbers are how long (in seconds) each phase of the exercise should take. The 1st number refers to the eccentric / stretching phase of the movement (4 seconds), the 2nd sentences to the maximum stretched position (0 seconds), the 3rd referees to the concentric / contraction phase (1 second), and the fourth reiter to the maximally contracted position (0 seconds). If we were to look at bench press, with this example, that would be 4 seconds lowering, 0 seconds at the bottom (no pause), 1 second pushing up (controlled power), and a 0 second pause at the top. That means a single repetition takes 5 seconds. If you were to do 8 reps at this pace, that would be 40 seconds of total TUT. Now ask yourself, when was the last time a set of bench press took you 40 seconds? Probably never. That's because most of us completely ignore 3 of these phases (eccentric, maximally stretched, maximally contracted) and only concentrates on the lifting phase. Hypothetically, if all these sentences played an equal role in us building our dream body (which, thankfully, they do not), that would mean we're ignoring 75% of the exercise, W … T … F. If you still think this has no implication on your ability to build muscle or burn fat, which I'm assuming are your goals since you're lifting weights – that's where you're wrong. For muscle hypertrophy (growth), sets should last between 30-70 seconds. And I'll let you decide which method, if done correctly, could potentially burn more fat: 8 reps taking 40 seconds or 8 reps considering 15 seconds? Time under tension is a weight training variable we need to take into consideration if you're looking for dem gainz. Now, there's a lot of science and experts out there looking into what total TUT is best and it's pretty straight forward depending on your goals, here's a chart that gives us a good generalization:
So as you can see the above guidelines have quite a large range within them. That's perfect for a Da Vinci like yourself, get creative and freshen up those boring ass workouts. So that brings up the next question, what rep tempo is best? I'll be honest, the hell if I know what's the best. This is something I'm experimenting with constantly; you have dozens of combinations to choose from and every individual will respond differently. Although, here's a few guidelines to get you started, but remember, they're just that – guidelines. These suckers are meant to be bent, twisted, and broken.
• 4-0-1-0: A tempo that exaggerates the negative phase, which is a phase that contributes the most to strength and muscle tears, while focusing on controlled power in the concentric phase.
• 3-0-3-0: A tempo which still controls the negative phase while having a controlled concentric phase.
• 8-0-2-0: This is also known as a 'negative'. You could go about performing these in many different ways. Using extremely heavy weight, more than your 1RM (and a spotter), where you only perform the negative (8-0-0-0), a regular hypertrophy set where you go beast-mode cowboy for 8-12 reps (8- 0-2-0), or forced reps after you've completed your regular set (again with a spotter, 8-0-0-0).
• Manipulating full stretched and fully contacted positions: These are the toughest to manipulate because most people have difficulty keeping tension on the muscle in these positions. Let's look at the notorious bench press. At the fully stretched position, if you were to pause here, most people would just rest the bar on their chest. If you were to pause at the fully contracted position, most people lose all tension in the chest as their wrist, elbow, and shoulder are stacked because the joints are holding the weight. As you can probably see, manipulating these sentences are exercise-dependent. I would only recommend manipulating these phases if you're able to maintain tension on the muscle (which is something I highly suggest learning); otherwise we're just cheating ourselves into having a rest, which is the exact opposite of tension! Examples of exercises which it would be beneficial to exaggerate the fully contracted position (4-0-2-3) would be tricep kickbacks, lateral rises, cable flies. Try it and this will quickly make sense.
• A decent rule of thumb to remember is the hardest phase of any given exercise is probably the best phase to exaggerate.
There's no possible way I could cover rep tempo or time under tension in just one article. This is partly because it's such a massive weight training variable to manipulate, but mainly because I'm constantly learning about it. I'll be experimenting with this puppy for the rest of my life. My next article will be looking into another weight training variable that's completely ignored, but has some of the biggest returns on your fitness goals. Stay tuned.