How to Use Time Under Tension for Bigger Muscles, Quicker

This is your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

Tension is likely something you try to avoid in most areas of your life—relationships, work, Instagram comments. But in the gym, things are different. If you pump iron and want your muscles to grow big and strong, you need to create as much tension as possible.

You’ve likely heard the term time under tension” (or simply “TUT”) kicked around the weight rack. It refers to how long a muscle is under load or strain during a set. If you do 10 reps per set, you’re looking at about 30 seconds of tension each time. As long as the load is challenging, that’s typically enough to cause the kind of metabolic stress and microscopic damage that spurs the body to both repair the muscle and increase its size and strength in anticipation of lifting that load again. But when it comes to muscle building, more tension is even better.

Generally speaking, the greater a muscle’s TUT, the greater its potential growth stimulus is. But simply increasing the duration of each set isn’t enough; you also have to increase the amount of tension your muscle experiences.

Your move: Lift slower for longer. Shoot for a total set length of about 50 to 60 seconds using a weight that challenges you to complete around six reps during that time. Focus on the eccentric phase of each rep, taking five to six seconds to lower the weight, and then three to four seconds to lift it.

To be clear, that’s not the only lifting strategy you should follow. If you want to optimize muscle growth, you need to incorporate a range of rep schemes (low weight/high rep, high weight/low rep, etc.), lifting tempos, and set durations into your workout plan. But if TUT training isn’t one of them, you’re shortchanging your results.

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