A Little Tension Goes a Long Way: Part II
In the first installment of the Tension Series we talked about applying appropriate tension to improve strength output and muscle coordination. By keeping ones body tight and engaged when doing any exercise one can achieve a significant increase in power almost immediately. In this second part, I will explain a principle that became popular by strength coach Charles Poliquin; the concept of the Time-Under-Tension Principle and how it may relate to strength and muscle growth.
The Time-Under-Tension Principle (TUT) refers to the amount of time the muscles are actually working while moving weight for a given number of sets and repetitions. According to the TUT principle; when comparing 10 repetitions of 30% of your 1-repetition maximum (1RM) in the squat to 5 repetitions of 80% of your 1RM; the set with the 5 reps at 80% may take longer to complete because the load is higher therefore it moves much slower.
According to Poliquin, “Muscle is not going to grow when your time under tension is inordinately low. Typically, and depending largely on your muscle fiber ratio (some people have more fast-twitch fibers than slow or vice versa), your time under tension should be anywhere from 30 seconds to about 70. Any more or any less is counterproductive over the long run.” Contrary to popular training techniques that stress more reps with lighter weight, Poliquin emphasis that muscle growth is stimulated when doing heavier weight with fewer reps if the time it takes you to complete the reps is longer. Meaning, the longer your muscles are under maximum tension the more muscle you can build.
In the training world, the TUT principle comes with mixed reviews. The jury is still out as to its overall effectiveness and its benefits for muscle growth and or athletic performance. I find that this principle works well with beginning lifters who are learning technique with lighter weight. Many beginning lifters will lower the weight too quickly and not learn how to load their muscles properly and execute lifts with proper mechanics. The TUT principle gives them a parameter to stay within while they are lifting so the weight moves smoothly and technique is not rushed. As the trainee gains more experience they can begin to experiment with different lifting speeds using different loads depending on what their training goals are.
If your goal is to get bigger, faster, you should definitely try this technique. I use to implement the TUT principle in my training methods when my primary goal was to gain muscle mass. I still use it from time to time when I’m learning a new movement or exercise. Stay Strong and let me know what you think.