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Why Time Under Tension is Overrated for Building Muscle (And What Matters More)

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Why Time Under Tension is Overrated for Building Muscle (And What Matters More)

According to some, more “time under tension” means more muscle growth. It’s not that simple.

 

“Your muscles don’t know weight,” many bodybuilders say, almost waxing philosophic, “they only know tension, and that’s what stimulates growth.”

Well, in case you’re not familiar with this line of thinking, it’s been around the bodybuilding world for decades and what it refers to is the amount of time your muscles are working during a given set. If you perform one set of 8 reps and it takes 45 seconds, the time under tension is…you guessed it…45 seconds.

For a while this was just another theory. It didn’t go mainstream until a couple of flawed studies like this popped up with abstracts that made it sound like time under tension might play a vital role in muscle growth.

Suddenly, fitness gurus everywhere were sharing the “breakthrough” that the amount of weight you’re lifting is less important than the amount of time you keep your muscles under tension, and thus the “time under tension” school of thought was born.

Entire training methodologies were quick to follow that involved manipulating tempo to meet training goals and guys everywhere started incorporating “super-slow training” to reap the (apparent) benefits of increasing time under tension instead of weight lifted.

Well, like the many “weird little tricks” of the fitness space–you know, the ones that are supposed to increase your bench press or melt off belly fat–time under tension is not important enough to warrant special attention and is simply a byproduct of proper training that can, more or less, be ignored.

Let’s find out why.

The Time Under Tension Trade-Off

What weight did you squat last week? How many reps did you get? What do you think would immediately happen to those numbers if you doubled your time under tension by slowing your reps down to half your current speed?

That’s right–the amount of reps that you could do with that weight would plummet. Depending on how slow you went, you might get half your normal reps or even less. And herein lies the big problem with emphasizing time under tension over load…

You see, the primary driver of muscle growth is progressive overload, and this means lifting heavier and heavier weights over time. If you want to build a big, strong physique, your number one goal in all of your weightlifting should be adding weight to the bar over time. 

This is especially true for intermediate and advanced weightlifters who can no longer rely on their “newbie gains” to make progress.

Now, when you reduce the amount of reps you perform, you also reduce the total work performed by the muscle; and when you reduce the amount of work performed by a muscle, you reduce the muscle- and strength-building potential of the exercise.

The question, then, is if the “trade-off” of time under tension for total work is worth it. Does increasing time under tension “make up for” the reduction in work performed and result in more strength progression and muscle growth?

The research says no. For example…

  • This study conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney found that subjects following traditional “fast” training on the Bench Press gained more strength than slow training.
  • This study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut found that very-slow training resulted in lower levels of peak force and power when compared with a normal, self-regulated tempo.
  • This study conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin found that even in untrained individuals a traditional training tempo resulted in greater strength in the Squat and greater peak power in the countermovement jump.
  • This study conducted by researchers at the University of Oklahoma found that 4 weeks of traditional resistance training was more effective for increasing strength than super-slow training.

These findings aren’t exactly surprising given the underlying mechanics of muscle growth and how intertwined it is with building strength (if you want bigger muscles, you’re going to have to get stronger).

It all comes back to progressive overload and work performed, and super-slow training just loses that battle. To quote researchers from Ithica College, who compared fast-tempo bench pressing to slow-tempo (my emphasis added):

“One-way repeated measures analysis of variance showed tempos with a fast eccentric phase (1 second), and no bottom rest produced significantly greater (p ≤ 0.05) PO [power output] and repetitions than tempos involving slower eccentric velocity (4 seconds) or greater bottom rest (4 seconds).

“This combination of greater repetitions and PO resulted in a greater volume of work. Varying interrepetition rest (1 or 4 seconds) did not significantly affect PO or repetitions.

“The results of this study support the use of fast eccentric speed and no bottom rest during acute performance testing to maximize PO and number of repetitions during a set of bench press.”

It’s also worth noting that back when I didn’t know what I was doing, I used to do a lot of slow sets to maximize time under tension and my results were in line with the research: I found it no more effective than my regular training routines, which were pretty crappy in reality.

Train Correctly and You Can Ignore Time Under Tension

The three variables that are going to impact your weightlifting results the most are frequency, intensity (the amount of weight you’re lifting), and volume (the amount of reps you’re performing in a given period of time).

If you get these things right:

  • If you train frequently enough to maximize growth without sacrificing recovery;
  • If you emphasize heavy weightlifting (80 to 90% of your 1RM, and bonus points for stick to compound movements);
  • And if you perform an optimal number of reps per workout and per week…

…you’re going to make outstanding gains in the gym, regardless of whatever happens with your time under tension.

 

What’s your take on time under tension? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • frankie125

    Hi Mike, great article as always. I think we’ve all tried slow reps at somepoint based on the fact someone told us to and if something hurts that damn much then it must doing some good!
    If it was up to me I’d measure all workouts in terms of Joules (work done) if only so people with long gangly legs didn’t feel so inadequate when it comes to squatting! I’ve got a lot further to move it than someone with 6 inch shorter legs!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Haha yeah it’s one of the weightlifting rites of passage. 🙂

      I hear you man! I’m 6’2 with long arms so I get screwed on everything but pulling, haha.

  • Renier

    Fantastic article I was expecting an article like this, Lift heavy iron and growth 😀

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! That’s right. 🙂

  • macaphee

    thanks Mike! Even on my toughest weeks, I have always squeezed out an extra rep or gone up in weight on my compound exercises. How do you deal with plateaus? Any real proven way to power through them or just keep lifting heavy every week?

    Example: I put up 135 on the Military Press for 3×6 with solid form and almost failure on the 18th rep, but I struggle to get 145 up 3×4. Should I keep going with 145 until my reps slowly improve, or drop back to 135 and try to reach 3×7 before going back to 145?

    • Raul Lopez

      According to Mike’s books and my experience, I would go with 145 – 3×4
      until I reach 3×6. These are the situations where having a gym partner is
      extremely helpful, If you can ask somebody near you to help getting
      the 3×6 no doubt you will be doing it by yourself in a couple of weeks, It has
      happened to me on military and bench press and that was the only way I could overpass
      a plateau.

      • macaphee

        Yea, confidence goes through the roof with a spotter. I always get more reps out just because I have that security and usually never need help on the last rep. Same situation without a spotter and I’d be pushing one or even two fewer reps for weeks before I am comfortable REALLY pushing it.

        • Michael Matthews

          Same here.

      • Michael Matthews

        The spotter point is very valid as sometimes just having someone there with their hands under the bar (not even helping) can do a lot. It’s strange.

    • Michael Matthews

      I like increasing my weight once I hit 6 reps. So set 1, 6, add weight, get 4 or so next 2 sets, work with that weight next week until 6, go up, etc. If, however, you only get 2 to 3 reps after increasing, drop back and work with that lower weight until you can do TWO sets of 6, and then try to move up again. If that still fails, then work up to 3 sets of 6 and you’ll be fine.

      That said there are some strategies I like to use to break through plateaus and I’m going to be writing an article on it soon!

  • Allen

    Good article, Mike. What’s your opinion on eccentric movements?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I used to do a lot for chest and they seemed to help, but my overall training routines were shit back then so it’s hard to say.

      That said, I feel like I’ve seen some research that indicates heavy “negatives” can help increase strength.

      • Guest

        Nice question Allen, I was going to ask the same thing. Good to confirm.

  • Nick

    Great article Mike. Unrelated question, but I was curious to hear your opinions on HIIT swimming. I recently switched two of my three cardio days to high intensity swimming. This is compared to previously doing tire flips and sprints. My thoughts here were to hopefully receive a similar effect metabolically and health wise, while adding a little to my chest, core, and upper body in general, which lags behind my legs slightly. This has seemed to have awesome recovery benefits as well, but I was just hoping that the benefits were from a lack of stress on the joints rather than swimming being a highly inadequate workout compared to sprint work. Sorry that was long winded, but a reply would be much appreciated ha.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Swimming is great. Keep it up!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! HIIT swimming is great. No impact, uses your entire body. Keep it up!

    • jag

      Not sure how you think it is ‘highly inadequate workout’. I can’t imagine it being any less adequate than swimming. I think swimming is great- esp HIIT and epecially on the joints. Any type of cardio for me personally is boring, but also painful – i.e. feet, shins, knees really feel the impact. The only con to swimming is overuse of shoulder joints, so a major thing to keep in mind would be to keep proper technique, stretch the shoulders and perform any corrective exercises.

  • Antonio Solares

    Hi Mike! Im a big fan of your books. Im a physician from mexico! I have a couple of unrelated questions. How would you go about swimming when cutting? shuould I do a traditional routine? How would a HIIT routine be? also how many times a week?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I would do HIIT swimming! Swim as quickly as you can for 30 seconds, then slowly for 60 seconds, repeat. I would start with 3 x per week for 20-25 min per session.

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  • Brian Giffin

    Nice article Mike, I spent tons of time slowing down my reps too, didn’t work!

    What’s your opinion on skull crushers if you allow the bar to go all the way over almost to the ground? Could it be concerned a compound movement?

    Also what’s your opinion on Alpha liptic acid ?

    Thanks.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      I never quite understood doing that exercise that way. It turns it into a strange hybrid tris/back type of exercise. I don’t recommend it.

      Alpha lipoic acid?

  • Derrek

    So basically like slowly lowering weight for exercises, such as shrugs has no benefit. Just make sure to do it under control right?

    • Michael Matthews

      Exactly. I prefer a 2-1-2 or 2-1-1 tempo.

      • Derrek

        Whats this mean? Sorry.

        • Michael Matthews

          2 seconds down, pause, 2/1 seconds up.

  • Galen

    Great Article Mike, thanks so much for writing it.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

  • Mike

    Hey Mike,

    It makes a lot of sense what your saying here and I have always trained for strength first. However Ben Pakulski and Vince D have a program that has a lot of interest at the mo (hypertrophy max) and there’s a whole phase where they focus on time under tension. Ben has also mentioned in the past that you can make more gains by varying rep timing. Now Ben is a big guy and a pro bodybuilder and therefore a lot bigger than I think most would want to get, his programs often have the aim of surpassing your genetic potential or increasing muscle mass when gains have stopped. So I was wondering if you think time under tension was a variable that came into play at a later stage or had something to do with strengthening the mind muscle connection? Your thoughts would be much appreciated

    • Michael Matthews

      Honestly I don’t consider either of those guys particularly knowledgeable or trustworthy. Their products and marketing practices are…questionable…to say the least.

      TUT is never a major variable when you’re a natural weightlifter.

  • Nice

    Thanks!!

    In your book you suggest the 2-1-2 for every exercise. Is this consider optimal? Or should we go faster?

    • Michael Matthews

      2-1-1 is good too, but slower than 2-1-2 isn’t advisable.

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  • AJ

    The points you have made are 100 percent true when it comes to strength, no question. But you say nothing about building muscle. Hypertrophy and strength increases are two different goals completely.

  • James Buckley

    But for a lifelong lifter slow training is a fantastic tool. Following a shoulder injury I can’t push heavy weights like I used to. I can perform vicious, slow repetitions to failure – and the results are amazing.

    The key issue is quality of tension, not time under tension. If we’re working the muscles hard and progressively, they’ll grow.

    • Michael Matthews

      You can definitely make gains with slow reps. I just wanted people to know it’s not a BETTER way to train.

  • Steve Jakobs

    I think what people are now saying is, building strength is no longer the most important factor. I think over time, you should look to increase strength, but as far as stimulating muscle growth and not strength, if building strength was the only factor in getting bigger, why not just do 1-3 reps per set? Obviously that isn’t a good idea if size is your goal. I’ve been reading more and more about guys doing much higher reps 15-40 reps for size.

  • Adel-Alexander

    ..Still.. You shouldn’t swing the weights around though. 😛 I read a book on form just earlier that said you should lift the weights with control and it should take no more than 2-3 seconds on the descend or the ascend of certain workouts

    • Michael Matthews

      Definitely. Some lifts are more explosive though. Deadlift, for instance–I’m trying to explode it up and almost drop it in a controlled fashion down.

  • Arian

    I think you gave this a twist which isn’t completely the way it’s meant. (Unless I misunderstand you)
    Time under tension doesn’t mean (for what I read in various articles) necessarily that the reps have to be slow. It means picking the right speed for your goals. TUT for gaining power is 3:0:X (you’d want to train the ATP-CP system), what is slow about this? Unless you are saying the slow eccentric movement is bulls%#t.

    • Michael Matthews

      Training that emphasizes TUT has you performing slow reps, and this isn’t better than traditional rep tempo of 2-1-2 or 2-1-1, that’s all.

  • Matt

    Mike, here is a very interesting article on this subject:

    http://helpingthebesttogetbetter.com/?p=472

    • Thanks! I’ll check it out.

      • Steve Molof

        That article, if I’m understanding it right, basically proves Mikes position to a T. Cool to see the science behind it. Great piece.

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  • simon weild

    The studies show an increase in strength and power, not growth. Strength doesn’t always translate to growth. I am not denying the principle of progressive overload but this can be incorporated with TUT in mind. You will not maximise growth potential by slinging around heavy weights using momentum and tendons for leverage. TUT and Progressive Overload are both important.

    • TUT is a factor but I still stand by my conclusion: if you get the fundamentals right and use a “standard” rep temp of something like 2-1-2, you’re going to get the most out of your training.

      • jules

        standard rep tempo is not 2-1-2 it is 1 up one down….2-1-2 is tut man;) a standard tut is 3 up 3 down with your stop at the top you have 5 seconds vs 6 stop bullshitting yourself when you use tut yourself and say you dont, it is very important!

        • Lol no clue what you’re even saying.

          Training that emphasizes TUT has you doing very slow reps.

          • Mikcle

            Not just slow reps but a high volume of them 10-15

  • Jacob Andersen

    I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding in this article.
    This article is about TUT in association with muscle Growth. Yet all studies, according to you, are related to strength/power and not muscle Growth (and they are not the same). For this article to make sense, define what you mean by strength. Because some definitions of strength incoorporate muscle reflex activation, momentum and neural drive, which has nothing to do directly with muslce mass and strength of the muscle.
    You can try to illiminate the above factors with slower movement (no momentum and ) and by pausing at the end of the excentric motion (no helpful muscle reflex at the bottom of the motion), and thereby focus more on raw strength (strength that is directly related to muscle size).
    Of course you will build muscle mass by training traditionally an without Time under tension. But you will also gain alot from TUT in my opponion, if you know how to do it.

  • Nicholas Conopa

    There is a saying that a very well respected IFBB Pro Bodybuilder has said over and over, Big muscle are always strong, but strong muscles aren’t always big. (Ben Pakulski) This simple statement shows clearly that the two, while correlated, don’t happen at the same time. there should be periods that you train with TUT for muscle hypertrophy, and periods when you train with Intensity or Volume training for strength. (volume being weight used x reps performed). knowing how to switch between these two styles of training can lead to insane gains in size and strength.

  • joe

    I think the biggest problem people have is that they listen to ‘pro’ bodybuilders and youtube ‘naturals’. Look at it like this, if the guys upper arms are bigger then his head, chances are his workout has little to do with his muscle size. Natural bodybuilding is a whole different animal.

    • Exactly. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know that.

      • Michael Heath

        I use a similar routine to those in the Arni’s encyclopedia for both building and cutting. He was a proper bodybuilder and the bodybuilders of that level today are to big and Imo old skool bodybuilding is the way to go. I highly recommend this book if you haven’t read it already. I’ve read a lot of books dedicated to training and every book I’ve read says train to failure on every set but obviously don’t do to many sets or you’ll over train.

        • Michael Heath

          This could be different if you train one muscle groups per week as you’d do a lot more sets but on a 2 day split you do 1 warm up and 2-3 setts to failure

        • Arnie’s routines in the Encyclopedia are ridiculous. I would never recommend them to a natural weightlifter.

  • Ben Watkins

    I think the problem is people care about weight lifting and not bodybuilding 6-8 reps and 4 sets aint gona do alot atleast not for a long period of time everyone is so sure what the internet says and magazines say is the way to go then disses people what people call overtraining and get big theres no way u can b satisfied with doin 4 sets of 8 reps or whatever its aload of old cobblers i dont care how strong u are if thats all u can do ur not a bodybuilder period!

  • Morgen

    Should you be training at 80/90% of your 1RM in every workout? Or could you do like 70% on Week 1, 80% on Week 2, 90% on Week3 and then Week 4 go for PR (then rinse and repeat)?

    • Yep, you should.

      Each set of each workout you should be lifting as heavy of weight as you can for 4-6 reps. Of course, while keeping good form and full ROM. You shouldn’t be training to failure each set either.

  • Lee Nagle

    Mike, I have noticed that my rep tempo tends to take longer than 1 to 2 seconds on the final portion of the rep when performing certain lifts, such as the bench press, yet I am able to get 6 reps. Does this mean I am lifting too heavy? I can’t thank you enough for your wisdom!

    • That’s fine. The point is you don’t have to mess with super-slow training.

  • jules

    “You see, the primary driver of muscle growth is progressive overload, and this means lifting heavier and heavier weights over time. If you want to build a big, strong physique, your number one goal in all of your weightlifting should be adding weight to the bar over time.”

    Sorry mike I’m going to have to call you out on your bs… 1)If i’m doing hit workouts and increasing the weight everytime with tut isn’t that progressive overload?
    2) The primary driver of TUT is intensity. Everyone will agree that intensity is very very important for strength and muscle. The problem with TUT is that people fry their bodies and overload way too much! ie: The more intense the workout the shorter it should be.

    • Did you read the article?

      TUT is a factor but if you train with a normal rep tempo it will take care of itself.

      The main thing you have to focus on as a natural weightlifter is building strength. That’s AT LEAST your first 3 to 5 years.

      And no going higher and higher rep isn’t the same.

      • jules

        strength is not the most important thing that is why powerlifters some are not that big it is all about hypertrophy which is much different than just strength training;)

      • jules

        u guys say regular tempo of 2 seconds 1 second at top and 2 seconds down, this is tut….. a regular tempo is 1 second up and downs and typical tut is 6 seconds total, stop contradicting yourself

  • Darren

    Jules, intensity refers to the amount of load on the bar. Michael has hit the nail on the head, with progressive intensity overload being the driving force behind adaptation. That and adequate recovery.

    High volume and TUT are inefficient uses of gym time, in my opinion. They both tend to induce fatigue and thus increase potential for injury.

    Personally, I always aim to shift the bar as fast as possible at any given load, and never lift to exhaustion. But then, I’ve always been an athlete and my primary concern is strength and power. But even so you’ll find that aesthetics are a happy side effect of my primary concerns, not the goal.

    Those of you who think that strength increase occur solely as a result of increased neural drive and not muscle hypertophy and are dependant on the number of reps/sets/ and TUT are misguided. Sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertophy do not occur separately. As you get stronger cross sectional muscle fibre size increases. Muscles get bigger.

    And power is mass x acceleration dived by time. And we know that using the stretch shortening cycle of a muscle with a rapid eccentric movement increases the force production of the concentric contraction. It would be remiss not to take advantage of this.

    Another principle is that muscles will always recruit slow to fast twitch fibres. Using a heavy load and less reps will get you there faster, than using a lighter load and higher reps. FT muscle fibres have the greater propensity to increase in size. And if the load isn’t sufficient, you may never recruit the FT fibres at all.

    Tempo is an overrated concept, if I took 2 seconds to lift anything I’d want to know why. Even when working at very high loads of 90% -95% of 1rm and above, you should aim to move the bar as smooth and as fast as possible. Grinding out a rep is not acceptable.

    I remember a friend of mine saying to me how impressed he was that I could shift the bar so effortlessly when deadlifting 170kg compared to some of the other guys in the gym. This is no where near my max on this lift, but it was my first session back after a long lay off with illness. The thing is, I never grind out a lift. I know if I’m going to lift that weight or not – the bar will either move or it won’t, and I know as soon as I start the pull. If I attempted another lift and put 180kg on the bar and felt that the lift was going to be a grind, I wouldn’t have continued with the attempt.

    Reps do allow for progression on any given load, but I much prefer to use small increases in load and longer recoveries. I always aim to lift within a 2 rep buffer. Meaning, I know that if I had to grind out another 2 reps I could – this allows me to lift the load that I’m working with more efficiently. And because I’m not having to grind through the lift it reduces the possibility of injury.

    For the most part I work between 1-3 rep sets, but I never hit a 1rm attempt. That would be a grind and potentially hazardous.

    And lets be honest here, the difference in size between a guy who looks in decent shape and your average body builder is not the training protocol being employed or even the diet, or genetics, it’s the use of steroids. These make all the difference in the world, even without training.

    • Great comment. So many good points here. Thanks for sharing.

    • jules

      yeah heavier loads mean higher intensity that is why you can’t do high volume, lower loads means less intensity thus easy to do lots of volumes;) u guys say regular tempo of 2 seconds 1 second at top and 2 seconds down, this is tut….. a regular tempo is 1 second up and downs and typical tut is 6 seconds total, stop contradicting yourself and btw using tut u are also using progressive overload;)

    • jules

      @disqus_Gq5znQNGnl:disqus

  • Pedro B.

    So why not use both? Let’s say, use heavy weights and low reps on compound movements when starting the workout and save the TUT focused stuff for later when you’re finishing everything. Thoughts?

  • Carlitos A.

    I focus a lot on time under tension because I’ve entirely switched my workout to calisthenics. I had been lifting free weights for many years and gotten pretty stocky, maybe lifting too heavy for my frame and my joints were starting too hurt, particularly my left shoulder. Calisthenics are a lot easier on the joints and the park around the corner from my house is free so why not? Since i can’t increase my resistance with body-weight exercises, TUT along with shifting my weight from different angles are the only variables i can really adjust. I like it a lot. It’s been about 7 months since I’ve completely stopped training with free weights and my body has changed. I’m less stocky but feel that my body is longer and leaner. Also, my core is getting tighter. Unlike a dumbbell press, when you’re doing incline push ups with a 4-4-4 tempo, you really incorporate a lot of your mid section to hold that position. Same goes for pullups and pretty much every other muscle group. Anyway, I’m rambling, the point is that while TUT isn’t the end all, be all, it can be useful. Especially when your focus is general fitness and not bulking up. I don’t bother counting my reps, I just do a 4-4-4 cadence till i collapse, in most cases its somewhere around 6-10 reps. Rest for 60 seconds and repeat.

    • Thanks for the feedback!

      Cool on what you’re doing. If it’s working for you and giving you the body you want, that’s what matters.

      Keep up the good work.

    • unapologetictruth

      You should check out the Isokinator Classic or Green Giant, sounds like it’s something you’d benefit from. That entire workout device is all about TUT and I find it tougher than lifting weights and Ive had muscle mass increase from training with it too.

  • Michael Heath

    I suppose the only way to really understand how your body reacts is from trial and error. I’ve found that on the bench press a TUT that’s best for me is 4-1-1 4 being the negative 1 being the hold and 1 being the positive. Science tells us that the negative is more beneficial then the positive. I use this in the hypertrophy range 8-12 and do a two day split training six times per week however one day per week I like to go really heavy and my TUT would be more like 2-0-2. 2 being the negative 0 being the hold and 2 being the positive. The reason I do 2 on the positive is because it’s really heavy and I can’t shoot it up quickly. For me this is great for power and strength even though I work in the 6-12 rep range while using this TUT method. The only time I do less than 6 reps is when I do power exercise such as Deadlift, Good Mornings, Romanian Deadlift etc and then I do 3 sets of 10-12 reps, 6-8 reps and 2-4 reps.

    For me it’s about finding out your 1RM while doing the correct technique, even if that means going lighter. As long as every set is to failure, you stay in the 6-12, or 8-12 range and you mix it up with really heavy days to shock your body, you’ll make great gains.

    Good article by the way

    • Thanks for the comment Mike.

      Eccentric loading can be particularly useful with bench pressing. I’ve done quite a bit myself but don’t see the need to anymore.

      It sounds like you know what you’re doing. Keep up the good work brother.

  • Jay

    From my research on stuff it seems that the primary drivers for muscle growth are progressive overload and volume.

    Schofeld has some good stuff on time under tension and he actually does studies with resistance trained athletes unlike most. It appears to matter but not much. To train type 1 fibres it seems to matter more due to their resistance to fatigue. However they do have a lower capacity for growth but it doesn’t mean they can’t hypertrophy well. This is what is argued to be the size strength differential between body builders and power lifters.

    While T nation isn’t he best source schofeld himself wrote the article

    https://www.t-nation.com/training/new-science-of-time-under-tension

  • User283

    Would you say then that a slow eccentric is beneficial on an exercise like a barbell curl. Or would the slower negative (3 sec for example) make you more fatigued therefore you wouldn’t be able to do as many reps as u could? If so should you just drop the weight so like a 1 sec eccentric part or what. So the question is how important is it that you control the weight and should you do long eccentrics, cause this made me really curious about that. I’ve known for a long time thaz progressive overload id the key but at thw same time it was like a habit to me to really focus on the eccentric part of exercises like bicep curls,know I’m wondering if that slowed my strength gains

    • A slow eccentric is essentially increasing time under tension and that reduces the work your muscles could be doing. The key for strength gains is progressive overload and heavy weights.

      So, for the eccentric, you want to lower the weight quickly but with good control. 1-2 seconds is fine.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon.

  • David

    I followed your routine for about 6 months, increasing all of my weights significantly over time. Eventually, due to heavy incline bench press and wear/tear I tore my labrum in my shoulder. I’ve been reading your articles consistently, and the one thing I don’t understand is as follows; clearly there is a limit to what your individual body can handle load wise. Time under tension seems to be a way to reduce the impact of heavy weights on your joints without sacrificing size. You can’t keep increasing weight forever, i.e. I weigh 175 and was pressing 280 on the incline before the injury. How do you mitigate the long term danger of heavy weights on your joints while still increasing size?

    • I’m sorry to hear that David. How is your recovery going?

      You can keep increasing weight for many, many years. The increases just become much more gradual.

      You can also increase total weekly volume for major muscle groups.

      Those are what you want to focus on–not increasing TUT.

  • ivan bruno villela martins
  • Michael

    I guess it’s all about do what works. We’re not all created equal. Lifting heavy destroys your joints, ask any seasoned bodybuilder, that’s why I do TUT, even super slows, and I see great gains. But you’re right it doesn’t give me as much strength, but it gives me endurance and stronger ligaments.
    Have you by any chance read Body By Science? Thoughts?

    • Ironically it’s not the heavy lifting per se but the repetitive use. That is, the more reps you do over time (with at least a moderately heavy load), the worse your joints are going to fare.

      Yeah I have and…meh. It’s not a good program for people looking to really gain muscle and strength.

    • sjs1967

      I agree that we’re not all created equal. I have lifted for years with very slow gains. I did play soccer for many of those years so the cardio demands were huge, but even after my playing days the gains come slow.
      I hit plateaus every 3 weeks so progressive overload doesn’t work well for me. I’m a small guy (140 lbs) and am finding sets in the 12 rep range with a 3011 tempo are giving me gains I haven’t seen before. I’m even finding that my strength is increasing as after 3 cycles of 4 days each I went back to the original exercises and can lift more weight for 60 seconds.

  • Nick

    Would this still be the case if you removed the concentric portion of the lift altogether? We can lift more weight eccentrically than concentrically, so would lifting heavier weights than we can normally handle with only slow negatives not be a way of increasing the work the muscles can do?

    • Good question. There’s a bit of research that indicates that heavy eccentric work is indeed beneficial, but unfortunately it has limited applicability (it works well for bench pressing, for example, but not squatting or deadlifting).

  • Luciano Camacho

    Right now i’m following a program that basically is all about TUT, i haven’t finished the program yet and i’m no longer enjoying it very much because of what i have recently read about TUT, do u think is a good idea to stop doing it and focus more what u said here? (Volume) i also miss to lift heavy a** weights 😅 thanks!

  • Tiip

    Seems nobody here has mentioned the large increase in growth hormone release found to accompany TUT.

    That’s gotta count for something.

    TUT may be a substitute for GH releasing compound exercises.

  • Salah El Mackawi

    Hey Mike
    Rep tempo 2-1-2 on bench press means:
    2 seconds to lower the bar
    1 second hold on the chest
    2 seconds push the bar up
    Correct?

    Don’t you suggest to hold the bar one second on the top?

    • You’re going to spend 1s at the top regardless just by lifting heavy haha. But yes, 2s down, 2s up.

      • Salah El Mackawi

        Thx Roger
        But I didn’t get the point.
        So I have to pause at the top or when the bar on the chest?

        • If we apply this to the bench press, it means we are to lower the bar to our
          chest in 2 seconds, pause for 1 second or less, and raise it in 1 or 2 seconds.

          • Salah El Mackawi

            Thx Roger appreciate it
            And on the top you will be waiting a second or less because of the heavy weight.
            🤗

          • Sure, or more if you need to catch your breath or something

  • sakib800

    I see the comments indicating confusion on the rep speeds….

    I read Mikes book and he indicates controlled reps of 2 seconds on the way down, 1 second hold and 2 sectioneds on the way up.

    Is this the proper speed or is this too slow and considered “time under tension”?

    Basically for example on the dead lift and bench press, if i basically let loose and drop on the way down instead of “controlling” the rep will it affect me negatively?

    • Follow the book, please! Don’t go loose and let weights drop. You cheat yourself from gains and put yourself at injury risk.

  • Bryan Humphrey

    Thanks so much for this article!

    I have had more than one gym guru come up to me and tell me that I am doing it wrong because I wasn’t doing enough reps or spending enough time under tension.

    • Haha yeah, that’ll happen. I’m glad you liked the article!

  • Manbearpig95

    You seem to have that same mentality as Greg Gallagher for hypertrophy: get stronger. So there’s you two. Then on the other hand you have someone like Brandon Carter and specifically Jeff Cavalier who have more muscle mass than him doing eccentrics and tut(Mind muscle connection?) and have more size than you guys. However, the thing is they’re prob weaker than you two when it comes to strength.

    Sorry, but there’s more ways to skin a cat Mike. You can’t just keep adding weight on forever in hopes of gaining size. The same goes if you were to do just that and increasing volume. If you look at Jeff’s recent video it makes perfect sense to do it the way he prescribes. You don’t risk the health of your joints as much than if you were just focus on just adding weight. It doesn’t make sense in the intermediate and especially advanced stage when it’s an insane amount of workload that you can’t keep that kind of approach forever. We also have studies suggesting a 10% increase in muscle gains on the eccentric than the concentric. Plus that type of training is good for your joints and has a good carry over to getting stronger.
    It only makes sense to COMBINE ALL OF THE METHODS instead of just focusing on 1 or 2.

    For the beginner just focus on adding weight till you reach your foundation. No need to waste time doing other things since the workload won’t be as demanding.

    • I think you might like this article I wrote recently: https://legionathletics.com/get-stronger-gain-muscle/

      What matters most is progressive overload, and getting stronger is the best way to continue growing muscle.

    • Chris Shannon

      This article misses the point. It tries to convince you that if you slow down you will do less reps.
      If you do 3 reps of 10 you might think that you’re killing it. Especially if you increase weight each rep.
      But if you do 5 reps of 6, you still do the same number of reps. If you increase weight through each and hold to the TUT principle, you will get the same bumdlber reps and still add weight.
      It’s a no brained that the author completely ignores. Or hopes you will ignore.

      • I don’t ignore volume at all. My whole routine is based on getting the appropriate amount of reps each week to grow optimally. The point is that doing super slow reps CAN decrease the amount of volume you could have done by needlessly fatiguing you. In that sense, TUT is missing the forest for the trees. What’s important is getting stronger and progressing over time.

  • Adam W. Nardini

    TUT was sold to me NOT to get huge, but as a nearly 40 year old that TUT would reduce the amount of strain on the body (tendons, ligaments, etc.). As an older exerciser, that got my attention. What is Mike’s opinion about that aspect of TUT and have there been any studies about it? Thanks so much! Love the articles, as always!

    • Hey Adam! Glad you’re enjoying the articles.

      It’s true that using lighter weights will be easier on your joints. That said, it’s also not going to work as well for strengthening them, either.

      The main thing to keep in mind is that heavy lifting in and of itself isn’t very dangerous (typically around 1 injury per 1,000 hours of activity), but progressing to fast, with poor form, is. And that’s why people tend to get hurt.

      I’d suggest checking out these articles:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/joint-pain/
      https://legionathletics.com/fitness-at-any-age/
      https://legionathletics.com/is-weightlifting-dangerous/

      So, yes, training slower with less weight might be a little safer in the absolute sense, but it’s also just not as effective and the risks of heavy lifting are much lower than most people think.

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