The Secret to Building Lean Muscle Mass

7.27 get fit this summerIt is time to slim down for Summer and a good strength program is key to maintaining your metabolic efficiency.

Are you getting the most out of your strength-training workout? If you don’t know about Time Under Tension, or TUT, then probably not.

TUT is a measurement of how long your muscles are actually working in a given set. The more work, the better. TUT can be increased by adding reps to a set, but most often it’s about pace: how fast you raise the weight, how fast you lower it, and how long you pause in between. Though these variables are crucial to proper strength-training, they’re often overlooked.

Take a simple exercise like the biceps curl. What I’ve seen in most gyms over the years is people banging out their reps quickly. For instance, 10 reps at 1 second per rep is a 10-second set, or 10 seconds of TUT. But if you slow down the pace so each rep takes 5 seconds, then 6 reps would equal 30 seconds of TUT. Although you’ve completed fewer reps, you’ve kept your muscles under tension 3 times as long, for 3 times as much work.

Managing TUT allows you to focus on all three phases of each lift.

  • Concentric: The concentric phase is when the muscles involved are contracting, generally as the weight is being lifted up.
  • Eccentric: The eccentric phase is when the muscles are extending while working, generally as the weight is being lowered.
  • Isometric: In between the concentric and eccentric is the isometric, where the muscle is engaged while neither lengthening nor contracting. With the example of a biceps curl, this would be a pause at the top of the movement. Biceps are engaged, fully contracted and working hard.

Here are some of the advantages to managing TUT in your workouts.

  • It minimizes momentum. Our muscles have a degree of elasticity. When you bounce up quickly from the bottom of each rep, you are using that elasticity to help lift the weight, and therefore not getting the full benefit of the rep. When trying to build lean muscle and get stronger, you need to slow it down and make your muscles do the work. TUT takes care of this by forcing your muscles to work throughout each rep, minimizing momentum.
  • No phase left behind! You should be working through all 3 phases of each lift. Our muscles have, on average, about 65% more strength in the eccentric portion of a lift; some muscles in the shoulder have as much as 100% more eccentric strength. So when you raise the weight up and then just let it drop down without going slow and controlling it, you are missing out on more than half of what makes the exercise effective.
  • It’s safer. When training for strength, slower, more controlled movements are not only more effective, they’re safer. Going slower helps you keep better form, making sure you stay within the proper range of motion, not over-extending, and moving tension out of the muscles and into joints. You engage the proper muscles throughout each repetition, rather than just “throwing the weight” up and down.
  • More variables are more valuable. A well-designed strength program should change and evolve with your body over time, so it stays challenging and consistently produces the results you want. When we design Koko strength programs, we evaluate all the variables that can be adjusted — from  exercise sequence to workload progression (i.e. sets x reps x weight). Add our screen-guided TUT tool – the “pace bar” – into the equation, and we have an infinite number of ways to adjust and advance your workouts.
  • It’s crazy effective. A member mentioned recently that his most recent workout had just five total sets working his chest; 3 chest press sets and 2 chest flies – and he couldn’t believe he was sore the next day. So we did the math. Assuming that each 8-10 rep set was about 40 seconds long, his pectorals were under tension for 200 seconds. The equivalent of that, in the 10/1-second reps format, would have been 20 sets! No wonder he was sore. When handled properly, TUT is incredibly efficient and effective.

Paul Romeo
Fitness Life Correspondent


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One thought on “The Secret to Building Lean Muscle Mass

  1. Pingback: 4 TUT Exercises You Can Do With a Resistance Band | The Stronger Blog

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