Time under tension is commonly overlooked in many muscle building programs. In fact, a lot of people have no idea what time under tension means or how it relates to building muscle.
When people talk about muscle growth, they tend to emphasize performing 12 reps for about 4-6 sets. What they fail to talk about is how you should be performing those 12 reps and how long each set should take you if you want to build the maximum amount of muscle that you can. Are time under tension and muscle growth related?
Throughout this article, I will inform you a little about what time under tension is and try to answer that question the best that I can.
What is Time under Tension?
Time under tension is the amount of time that your targeted muscle is under tension while performing a rep. Sounds self-explanatory right? Well let me give you an example to make sure you understand what I’m saying.
If you are performing a bench press, you lower the barbell to your chest and then push it back up. This motion is very simple but there are two ways to do it. The first way, what most people do, is try to get the bar up and down as fast as they can so that they can bounce bar off their chest to help them get the weight up. There is nothing wrong with this way if you are trying to get stronger. If you are trying to build muscle, however, the best way to perform this motion would be to do it as slow as possible.
In this case, performing slow and controlled reps, would increase the amount of time under tension that your pecs are receiving. This allows for more muscle fiber activation and a larger workload because the muscle is lifting the weight for a longer period of time.
Suggested Article: How to Increase Calf Muscle Size – EASILY
How to Perform a Rep for Max Muscle Growth
A fast and controlled rep takes about 2-4 seconds. This, like I said, is great for building strength and making sure you are lifting as much as you can. To maximize muscle activation and time under tension, I like to perform a rep for about 6-8 seconds. You will soon see that this is much harder than doing a fast rep and you will definitely not be able to do the same amount of weight that you do on a fast rep.
My recommendation would be to pick a weight that you can do for about 12-15 reps normally and then perform a set of slow controlled reps for about 6-8 (if you do it right, you definitely won’t be able to do 12-15).
After trying this, I guarantee your muscles will literally be shaking and you will feel a much better pump than if you performed a normal rep.
How Long Should a Set Last?
If your main goal is muscle growth, your sets are probably not long enough. An average set time that I see a lot of people at the gym utilizing can be anywhere from 10-15 seconds. This is far too short. If you are performing 12 reps, that’s almost one rep a second and you are barely getting the time under tension needed for full muscle activation.
A set time that I recommend for optimal muscle growth is 30-45 seconds. This isn’t counting the super slow reps that I talked about earlier, but this should be your normal set time. Anything less, and you really aren’t doing anything beneficial for your muscles (unless you are giving yourself very short breaks in between sets, which is a whole different topic).
No matter if you are working biceps, triceps, back or any muscle group, if your sets are in the 30-45 second range or longer, you will be walking out of the gym feeling WAY more accomplished than if you completed your sets like the average person in just under 15 seconds.
Slow Workouts for Every Muscle Group
Before I conclude this article, I wanted to give you some exercises that I usually perform at the end of my workouts to ensure that I gave my muscles enough time under tension for maximum fiber activation.
Chest: Get your self on the flat bench press and perform 6-8 slow reps with a lighter weight. Do this for about 3 sets and you might even have to take some weight off by the last set. You can either go down slow and explode up or go down slow and come up slow. Your choice. The latter will give you more tension but going down slow and exploding up is a great way to combine time under tension with strength training.
Back: Hop on the lat pull down machine or, if you don’t have one, a pull up is fine and perform 6-8 reps of slow and controlled pull downs or pull ups for 3 sets. I favor the lat pull down machine for this because you can set the weight that you want to use and it is easier to control than a pull up.
Legs: Get on the squat rack and put lightweight on the bar that you can easily squat for 12 reps and perform slow squats. If you want to increase the muscle tension even more, you can stop at the bottom for about 1-3 seconds making your leg muscles hold you in place before standing back up. Try this for about 3 sets for 8 reps each.
Shoulders: For shoulders I like to perform olympic 6’s. This a workout that constantly keeps tension on your shoulders. To perform olympic 6’s, get some light dumbbells and I mean light, like around 8 pounds and start with your arms hanging the dumbbells on your thighs. From your thighs, lift the weight straight up with your arms slightly bent, then once you get parallel with the ground, bring them out like you are about to fly away. After this, bring the weights down to your side and then reverse all your movements until you get back to where you started. All of this is ONE rep. This is an absolute killer workout that you should definitely utilize if you want big shoulders. I recommend doing 2 sets for about 8-12 reps each.
Biceps: For biceps, I like to perform incline dumbbell curls and focus on going slow on the way down. Meaning I like to curl the weight as fast as I can, but on the way down, go as slow as possible and fight gravity to increase muscle tension. This will ensure that your bicep gets a workout while curling and straightening your arm. Once again, perform this workout for about 3 sets with 8-10 reps each.
Triceps: For triceps, I like slow tricep pull downs. Pick a lightweight and go as slow as possible both while pulling down and reversing back up to where you started. Performing 8-10 reps for about 3-4 sets will give you a great tricep pump.
Time Under Tension DOES Matter
If your goal is to build muscle and look incredible, you NEED to be incorporating time under tension workouts into your routine. You don’t have to perform every exercise this way, but you should at least be performing a couple every time you step into the gym.
The best way to utilize these workouts would be to compliment them with strength training. I like to do my heavy strength training in the beginning of my workouts and end my workouts with time under tension exercises that burn whatever energy I have left. Do this and I can guarantee that you WILL see progress both in your strength and muscle mass!