What ‘Time Under Tension’ Means In Fitness\u2014And How To Do It During Workouts

If you’ve long been quickly trying to squeeze in as many reps as humanly possible before your muscles fatigue, you might want to literally slow your roll. There’s a new(-ish) strength-training practice to get familiar with, and it has nothing to do with speed, and everything to do with slow, controlled movements. Learn this phrase: time under tension (TUT).

Trainers everywhere agree the time under tension (TUT) technique is one of the most effective ways of increasing hypertrophy, the term for increasing strength and muscle. “TUT is a type of exercise technique that aids in stimulating muscle fibers and leading to a more sculpted physique,” says Jessica Mazzucco, certified fitness trainer and founder of The Glute Recruit. “Instead of focusing on the number of reps of an exercise, TUT training aims to make athletes slow down and perform an exercise with less momentum.”

If this is sounding familiar to you, that’s because you may already be doing it. Mazzucco explains that, similar to other types of resistance training, TUT keeps muscles under resistance for a longer amount of time, which helps improve muscle strength and endurance.

And science is on her side: Research from the Journal of Physiology found that athletes who performed eccentric and concentric movements at six seconds each, versus one second each, “increased the acute amplitude of mitochondrial and sarcoplasmic protein synthesis and also resulted in a robust, but delayed stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis 24 to 30 hours after resistance exercise.” In other words, you get those same metabolic benefits post-workout as you would a day after performing short, powerful bursts of high-intensity intervals.

The best part of TUT is that you can practice it anywhere and everywhere, with or without weights. Gillian Dalby, executive founding instructor at CAZ Training Club, says it’s also super-common in Pilates-inspired classes that use static or isometric holds.

The Benefits Of Focusing On Time Under Tension

So, why would anyone want to incorporate time under tension into their training routine? Katrina Pilkington, certified personal trainer and diversity educator, says focusing on TUT “allows the body’s proprioceptive responses to endure a challenge in cohesion with the weight or resistance being used.” So, instead of focusing on simply your ability to lift the weight itself, you can slow down a movement and challenge yourself even more during each phase of that movement, she explains.

Ultimately with TUT, you get more out of each rep, which can be super beneficial if, say, your heaviest 10-pound dumbbells are starting to feel a little light and you’re looking for a new challenge to gain strength.

The Effectiveness Of TUT Training

There are numerous reasons why TUT training might be worth your time—whether you’re a beginner or seasoned athlete. Compared to other types of resistance training, TUT forces muscles to work harder and in turn, improves endurance, strength, muscle tone, all while preventing said muscles from adapting to regular resistance training and plateauing, according to Mazzucco.

Unlike dreaded large muscle tears, like injuring an ACL, TUT training can cause small micro-tears within the muscle to form, she says, “which cause the body to focus nutrients toward the muscles to repair them, leading to growth and boosted metabolic response.”

How To Focus On TUT In Your Workouts

Using the TUT method will look a little different for each workout, but here are some pointers to keep in mind:

When To Work With A Trainer

Because you’ll be engaging each muscle through a deeper contraction, proper form is paramount in warding off injury. According to Pilkington, it’s always a safe bet to have an objective third party monitor your form and offer technique guidance no matter where you’re at in your fitness journey.

Consult a trainer if you’re looking to use heavier weights than usual so as to ensure you’re performing the correct number of reps to maximize muscle growth and endurance, says Mazzucco. And hey—there’s absolutely no harm in hiring a trainer to help you stay accountable to TUT or discover more exciting, creative exercises to incorporate into your routine that’l actually motivate you to try TUT, Dalby says.

If, however, you’ve injured yourself either due to improper technique or too much weight too soon, Mazzucco suggests stopping immediately and consulting an appropriate healthcare professional.

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