Time under Tension Part 1: What is it?

In part 1 of this series I will explain what Time under Tension and Tempo are:

One question that always pops up when I'm explaining a program to a client or athlete is what is tempo and what is Time Under Tension or TUT for short

To put it simply, it is how long a muscle is under load, or is lifting the weight. Depending on the goal of the lift, program and desired outcome of the training session, this varies. TUT is how long the muscle is under tension for an entire set. It's an easy calculation, take the Tempo for each rep in a set and multiply by the number of reps! The rep tempo I divide into 4 different components (i.e. 4-1-1-2) and I learned this from Charles Poliquin. The first number is the eccentric (lowering) of the weight. 2nd number is the pause at the bottom of the range of motion. 3rd number is the concentric (raising) of the weight. The final number is the pause at the top of the movement.

Regardless of your training goal, TUT is essential for achieving the goal. There are time ranges for different goals, a simple breakdown of TUT for various goals would be:

Maximal Strength: 1-20s, typical of low rep very high intensity schemes. (Power lifting, Olympic Lifting, max effort)

Functional Hypertrophy: 20-40s (building strength and muscle at the same time)

Hypertrophy: 40-70s, ideal range for most muscle groups to undergo hypertrophy and melt fat. The zone most associated with "the PUMP"

Muscular Endurance: Over 70s

When it comes to building muscle, improving body composition or fat loss, the range to be working in predominantly is hypertrophy. This is because encouraging some muscle growth will in turn increase your resting metabolism. An increased base metabolic rate causes you to "burn" more calories and energy daily! Future articles in a series will address training in each range.

An added benefit of keeping a tempo in a lift is that it enforces much stricter and safer form. For example not bouncing the barbell off the chest on a bench press! Next time you are in the gym, as opposed to just banging out the number of reps, I challenge you to control each rep and you will see greater benefit from it. And for more on this see Charles Poliquin's explanation on tempo.


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