Slowing Down In Your Workouts Can Fast-Track Your Results (Really!)

·7 min read
Photo credit: Mireya Acierto - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mireya Acierto - Getty Images

It's time to slooooow down. If most of your workouts include quickly trying to squeeze in as many reps as humanly possible before your muscles fatigue, there's a better way to get results. It's time under tension (TUT), and this efficient training style is all about slow, controlled movements.

Trainers everywhere agree the time under tension (TUT) technique is one of the most effective ways of increasing hypertrophy, the technical term for upping strength and building 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.”

Meet the experts: Jessica Mazzucco, is a certified fitness trainer and founder of The Glute Recruit. Gillian Dalby, is the executive founding instructor at CAZ Training Club. Katrina Pilkington, is a certified personal trainer and diversity educator.

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.

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? Allow me to share the many perks of TUT, whether you're just beginning your strength journey or prepping for pro status.

  • Challenge muscles more. 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.

  • Up your body awareness. The slow tempo of TUT allows you ample time to focus on your form and positioning. It also makes the method ideal for newbies, who can create a strong foundation for future results.

  • Push through a plateau. If you're stuck and not seeing the results you want, TUT can help you level up. “Lift a little less weight and take the pace down a notch,” says Heather Giordano, performance scientist at CanyonRanch in Lenox, Massachusetts. The slower speed takes momentum out and makes each move a totally fresh, more strenuous exercise. “Your muscles work harder without adding weight,” says Giordano. You're holding the weight in the muscle for a longer period of time, so you’ll make greater gains.

  • Train effectively without equipment. 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 or you're away from your weights. “The method challenges your body and allows you to tire muscles at specific points in the full range of motion of an exercise,” says Miami-based trainer Jacqueline Kasen, CPT.

  • Better muscular control and form. With TUT, there’s more time for the muscles and mind to fully process the exercise, react, and stabilize the joint. What you see is improved form.

Is time under tension training effective?

Yes. There are numerous reasons why TUT training might be worth your time—whether you’re a newbie or seasoned athlete. Compared to other types of resistance training, TUT forces muscles to work harder. And in turn, this type of training 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, she says, "which cause the body to focus nutrients toward the muscles to repair them, leading to growth and boosted metabolic response."

And science supports TUT, too. Athletes who performed eccentric and concentric movements at six seconds each, versus one second each, were able to build more muscle faster because they recruited all the muscle fibers. The time the muscle is under tension is key to optimizing muscle growth, according to research from the Journal of Physiology. Plus, they lifted a much lighter load with the slower pacing.

Tempo training is especially effective with big functional movements (think squat, lunge, deadlift, or overhead press), per Kasen, but you can follow a slow time scheme in a wide variety of exercises and routines to reap the rewards.

How To Do TUT Workouts Properly

Using the TUT method will look a little different for each workout. Here are some general pointers from trainers to keep in mind as you start playing with rhythm:

  1. Slow down. You’re looking for that slooooow burn. “For example, you may be used to doing 10 squats in 30 seconds, but try slowing that down by using a count,” says Dalby. Try moving at this pace (using the squat example): three seconds down, one second hold at the bottom, three seconds up. "It will take you longer to complete the reps, but you’ll be in your eccentric phase of the repetition for a longer period of time," Dalby says. Using this pace, 10 squats should now take you between 60 to 90 seconds instead of 30 seconds. No weights? No problem. Dalby says if you’re performing bodyweight workouts, try extending your isometric holds—like planks or wall sits—for longer periods of time.

  2. Prioritize safety. “The main goal is safety,” says Pilkington. “Someone wants to be sure to use proper form and alignment through the phase of their exercise. The tension’s slower pace can allow for muscle fibers to trigger a response that isn’t felt when speeding through a movement.”

  3. Start with lower weight. Mazzucco suggests starting off with lighter weights that allow you to move slowly. Increase the weight as your endurance improves.

  4. Embrace the challenge. It’s tough to willingly lean into the discomfort, but that’s where all the strength magic happens. “We’re looking for fatigue,” says Dalby. “Using weights can help increase muscle fatigue more quickly, so don't be afraid to pick up heavy weights,” she says, adding that you should look to increase weight weekly if possible.

  5. Dedicate time to recovery. Too much of a good thing is possible—especially when it comes to TUT. Mazzucco suggests alternating between other methods of training so as to allow your muscles time to recover. “Focus on different muscle groups each day you use TUT training, as well as rest at least one minute between sets to ensure that you don’t injure yourself from overuse,” she says.

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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