If you’ve long been quickly trying to squeeze in as many reps as humanly possible before your muscles fatigue during a strength workout, you might want to literally slow your roll. There’s a new (-ish) strength-training practice to get familiar with that 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 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,” says Jessica Mazzucco, a New York City-area certified fitness trainer. “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: You get those same metabolic benefits post-workout as you would a day after performing short, powerful bursts of high-intensity intervals, according to research from the Journal of Physiology, in which athletes performed eccentric and concentric movements at six seconds each, versus one second each.
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 and strength 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 causes 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:
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): 3 seconds down, 1-second hold at the bottom, 3 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 holding your isometric holds—like planks or wall sits—for longer periods of time.
“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.”
Start with lower weight.
Mazzucco suggests starting off with lighter weights that allow you to move slowly. Increase the weight as your endurance improves.
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.
Too much of a good thing can’t be that great at all—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 (if you’re able) to help you stay accountable to TUT or discover more exciting, creative exercises to incorporate into your routine that’ll 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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