Time under tension (TUT) is a term that is used in the bodybuilding community. It has received much popularity from bodybuilders both natural and unnatural. But does it work? Do time under tension and muscle growth relate?? There are many articles out there that say that TUT is a load of crock but… really, does it work?
The answer is Yes, and to back this I want to bring a recent study to your attention. There are articles out there that are trying to answer this question based on studies of cats and other ridiculous things. Lets keep it simple with one of the only scientific studies out there on TUT with human test subjects. But first what exactly is time under tension?
Time under tension is the amount of time that a muscle resists weight during each set. This is used to determine the amount of work that is done.
Proof It Works
Light amount of weight (30% 1RM) have been proven to increase myofibrillar protein synthesis just as much as high intense heavy loads, when both are performed to muscle failure (Burd et al. 2010b). But how does this relate to the time under tension a muscle experiences?
To answer this question Nicholas A Burd and colleagues performed a professional study of the amount of protein synthesis that occurred from a strict time under tension standpoint. This has since been published in the Journal of Physiology.
Here 8 participants performed leg extension sets with 30% of their 1 rep max weight. They were tested with this weight using both a “long” time under tension method, and a “short” time under tension method. For the long sets they performed leg extensions at a tempo of 6 seconds up and 6 seconds down. And for the short sets they performed each leg extension rapidly with 1 second up and 1 second down. Both methods were performed for the same number of repetitions, but the slower method of course had much more “time under tension” for the whole set.
After training and receiving equal amounts of post workout protein the participants’ quad muscles, consisting of vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and rectus femoris muscles, were tested for protein synthesis rates. Myofibrillar, mitochondrial, and sarcoplasmic protein synthesis levels were measured at different times post workout.
The results? The “slow” participants experienced higher myofibrillar, mitochondrial, and sarcoplasmic protein synthesis levels at all the different times tested .
So is time under tension worth trying? Will it lead to more hypertrophy? Well this study here compared a long time under tension method to a shorter method, however, both methods used only 30% of the individuals’ 1MR. Then, as mentioned, another study (Burd et al. 2010b) produced results that showed light weight (30% 1MR) is just as effective at stimulating myofibrillar protein synthesis as heavy loads.
There is evidence to back up effectiveness of longer time under tension training with light loads, but then there are many people out there that swear it is ineffective. You be the judge.
As for me personally, I incorporate long time under tension sets for arm workouts and have noticed good gains with this style.
If you have any input on this article or questions comment below.
1. Burd NA, West DW, Staples AW, Atherton PJ, Baker JM, Moore DR, Holwerda AM, Parise G, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PLoS One.2010b;5:e12033
2. Nicholas A Burd, Richard J Andrews, Daniel WD West, Jonathan P Little, Andrew JR Cochran, Amy J Hector, Joshua GA Cashaback, Martin J Gibala, James R Potvin, Steven K Baker, and Stuart M Phillips. Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub-fractional synthetic responses in men. J Physiol. 2012 Jan 15; 590(Pt 2): 351–362.