What Is ‘Time Under Tension’ And How Can It Help You To Blow Through Lifting Plateaus?

Plateaus suck. There’s nothing worse than getting your workouts in, eating right, and limiting your booze, all for no gains. It makes working out seem completely pointless, frustrating, and all for nothing.

This is usually when people start switching up programs, or losing patience with their current one – one of the biggest mistakes you could make. Next time you find yourself in the middle of a plateau, don’t worry about changing your program entirely. Instead, start working in Time Under Tension (TUT).

What is TUT?

Time under tension is the amount of time your muscles spend working during a set. Anytime you lift something, your muscles have to deal with tension. Adding more TUT to your sets is an easy way to start getting in more total work without adding extra weight, extra reps, or extra sets.

TUT is so damn useful because when a muscle spends more time under stress, the more damage it incurs. When a muscle takes more damage, you wind up with some pretty nasty DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). After that soreness though, comes impressive gains.

Slow and steady.

TUT is the most beneficial during the eccentric phase or the negative portion. For example, if you’re doing a dumbbell bench press, the lowering portion of the lift is the eccentric phase.

Forcing yourself to spend more time during this stretching phase will help force harder contractions, and more activation of the muscle. Harder contractions and more activation = more growth and gains.

Some of the most jacked dudes on the planet have used TUT to get that way.

TUT has been around for a long ass time. It’s not anything new in weight training, bodybuilding, or strength circles. However, for the average bro out there, it’s the most often forgotten part of a lifting regimen.

TUT isn’t as sexy as heavy deadlifts or ass to grass squats, but it has its place in a program. Especially in a program designed for growth. Some of the most successful bodybuilders, people who spend their entire career focused on growth of their muscles – and shrinking of their other parts – testify how excellent TUT is for growth.

Jay Cutler, 4x Mr. Olympia, Ronnie Coleman, 8x Mr. Olympia, and Arnold fucking Schwarzenegger, The Terminator are all major fans of TUT and the gains it brings. If The Terminator can check his ego, drop the weight, and spend more time under tension, so can you.

Sure, all of these dudes are well known for their chemical assistance, but they didn’t get to be gigantic without experimenting with different training methods and working their ass off. Or on, however you wanna look at it.

How to implement TUT.

TUT is surprisingly easy to start working into your own routine. There are a couple of few guiding principles to go with though:

  • Count the entire rep as tension. If a bench press takes 3 seconds down, 1 second at the bottom, 3 seconds up, and a 1 second contraction at the top – that’s 8 seconds of tension. The tempo of this lift is described as being 3-1-3-1.
  • When working with 85% or more of your max on a big compound lift like squats or deadlifts, don’t worry too much about working in TUT.
  • TUT can be used on any lift, but for aesthetic purposes start using it with lifts you’re most familiar with. I.e. curls and bench.
  • Don’t overdo it right out of the gate. Making every set of every single workout a heavy tempo workout is a quick way to make you feel like you’ve been run over by a Mack Truck.
  • Barbell work is an awesome way to pack on strength and mass. Barbell work with extra tension? Even better. Drop the weights, and start working in added tension on your barbell lifts.
  • A slow negative portion of the lift, with a 1-2 second pause, and an explosive contraction seems to be the best way to work in TUT. The slow negative and explosive contraction causes a ton of muscle fiber recruitment, leading to more growth.

TUT is one of the various training tools that can be added into your tool belt. Much like Batman and his utility belt that gets him out of sticky situations, your training tool belt gets you out of plateaus and help you get jacked.

Tanner is a fitness professional and writer based in the metro Atlanta area. His training focus is helping normal people drop absurd amounts of fat, become strong like bull, and get in the best shape of their life.