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Time Under Tension Training

Time Under Tension for Hypertrophy

Time under tension is a training method that basically states that a muscle (or muscle fiber) must be kept under high tension for a certain amount of time for adaptations (such as strength, hypertrophy, or muscular endurance) to occur.

The three major fiber types (Type I, IIa, IIb) differ in terms of their recruitment thresholds and fatigue patterns led to a general conclusion that the optimal growth stimulus will occur in Type IIb fibers with a time under tension of 20-40 seconds, Type IIa fibers 40-70 seconds, and Type I fibers 90 seconds or more.

Bodybuilders, who seek muscle growth, should utilize time under tension in all ranges to maximize hypertrophy through all possible mechanisms. However, time under tension should be individualized based on fiber typing and muscular specificity. Someone who is predominantly Type II muscle fibers will benefit from spending most of their time at a lower time under tension. As well, some muscles are known to be predominantly Type II (e.g. hamstrings) or Type I (e.g. soleus) and should be trained accordingly. The final topic to discuss with regard to time under tension is the impact of rep speed on the adaptations seen.

Time Under Tension vs Reps

There are many ways to delineate rep tempo. The method which will be used in this article will be to use a format of X/Y/Z where X is the lifting speed (in seconds), Y is the pause, and Z is the lowering speed.

Generally speaking, the pause occurs in the contracted position but this is not always the case. So, 2/0/3 would indicate a lifting speed of 2 seconds up, no pause at the top, and 3 seconds down. X/0/3 would mean lift as fast as possible using compensatory acceleration training (CAT), no pause at the top, and lower in three seconds. A tempo of X/2/4 would mean to lift as quickly as possible, pause for 2 seconds, then lower in 4 seconds.

Many publications (and strength experts) will frequently make the proclamation that one should do 4-6 reps for size, 12-15 reps for 'tone' and 25+ reps for endurance. This is overly simplistic in that it ignores rep tempo and time under tension. Performing 4 repetitions with a 5/0/5 tempo (40 seconds time under tension) will have a much different effect on the muscle than would performing 4 reps on a X/0/2.

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