Time under tension

Time under tension

A common complaint heard by many gyms all around the world, is that members feel like they have plateaued in their training. They either find that the exercises they are doing have grown stale and need some variation or that they simply cannot continue to grow or progress in strength.

The first thing that many people fail to consider is that adding extra resistance to an exercise is not the only way to make an exercise and stimulate muscle growth. When planning on how to progress an exercise there are a few options to consider:

  • The level of resistance (which is common).
  • Volume of the workload (sets and reps).
  • Time spent under tension.

The third example (time under tension: or TUT) is one variable that is commonly overlooked by people in the gym.

Put simply, time under tension refers to the amount of time the working muscle spends under tension due to the load applied by the weight being lifted. If you’ve seen people doing fast reps or cutting down the full range of motion of the exercise, these people are not spending a lot of time under tension.

For example: If the tempo of a squat was to be written as 2-0-1-0 this would refer to the timing of the different phases of an exercise. Two seconds would be spent in the easy down phase of the exercise (the eccentric phase), with no pause at the bottom and one second would be spent on the harder up phase of the exercise (the concentric phase), with no pause at the top. In this example, once the person has completed ten repetitions they have spent thirty seconds under tension.

An example of a person doing the same exercise during time under tension training would be six repetitions at a tempo of 4-2-4-0 meaning that this person has now spent sixty seconds under tension. Due to the increased time completing the exercise, weight should be lowered considerably.

Other examples of TUT training that are worth exploring are:

  • Drop sets
  • Pause sets

A research team from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, studied the benefits of TUT training for increasing muscle size compared to standard resistance training. They found that when one leg completed increased TUT training and the other completed standard resistance training, the leg that experienced more TUT showed significantly greater muscle protein synthesis (49%) over the course of the study.1


  1. Burd NA, Andrews RJ, West DW, et al. Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub-fractional synthetic responses in men. The Journal of Physiology 2012.

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