Time Under Tension Training:
Any Benefit for Those Over 40 Years Old?
There’s been much written about the training method known as time under tension (TUT). Some say it’s a beneficial way to work out; others say it’s a complete waste of time.
Since I use TUT when I train men and women over 40 years old, I want to explain in layman’s terms what this training method is and why I believe it is great for them.
My style of training involves challenging them to move their bodies and perform in ways their nerves are saying they cannot. My philosophy is that if you build muscles and strengthen them through resistance training, those muscles will be strong enough to push, pull, and move where you want them to. I’ve seen with my own eyes that this can work.
But what really counts when it comes to building and strengthening muscle is progressive overload. A muscle will grow in direct proportion to the amount of work it’s required to do. Muscles that are asked to do little will grow little, while muscles that are asked to do a lot will grow a lot.
The reason I believe that time under tension training can be beneficial to individuals over 40 is that by focusing on timed sets rather than going for a specific number of reps, you can directly influence the intensity of the set and stimulate results in the form of stronger muscles.
What Is Time Under Tension Training?
TUT essentially refers to how long a muscle is under strain during a set. For an average person, a typical set of 10 reps will take anywhere from 15 to 25 seconds, depending on lifting speed.
By putting a muscle under strain for a longer time — such as 120 seconds — you can cause more hypertrophy, or increase in muscle cell size.
There is debate over how long that time of strain needs to be to turn a regular set into a TUT set, and I believe there’s no substantial scientific support for any of the recommendations put forth thus far.
So for me, it becomes a question of using my experience with thousands of clients over 40 years to come up with my repetition pace of six counts up and six counts down.
This leads me to another aspect of this type of training: slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers and why each needs to be trained differently for maximal results.
What Are Slow-Twitch and Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers?
People have two general types of skeletal muscle fibers: slow-twitch fibers (type I) and fast-twitch fibers (type II). Slow-twitch muscles enable endurance feats such as distance running, while fast-twitch muscles are used in powerful bursts of movement like sprinting.
To make the argument that TUT is an important type of training, we have to know whether TUT makes a difference in the strengthening of any muscle fibers. Emerging research out of Russia shows that this indeed is the case, with high, or extended, TUT showing more type I fiber growth (slow twitch) and lower TUT displaying greater hypertrophy of type II fibers (fast twitch).
And I have personally experienced this in my own training and the training of many of the participants in my 12-week OptimalBody challenges.
Ultimately, my position is that different training methods must be used when trying to fully develop strength, to cultivate muscle development, and to fight off muscle wasting due to age or in people with diseases.
TUT is not the only method of training but it should absolutely be incorporated into any fitness program at some point. Doing any movement or activity that takes a considerable amount of time is taxing on the slow-twitch muscle fibers.
Even cleaning out a cabinet, when you are using your arms for an extended time, is demanding on slow-twitch fibers as opposed to fast-twitch ones. Proper TUT training will help combat the fatigue associated with these types of activities for older people.
How to Try TUT in Your Own Workouts
To perform workouts using the TUT principle in the way I have been successful at using it and to make it simple, here is the best way to incorporate TUT into your routine:
- Find a weight that allows you to do 8 to 12 repetitions per set. TUT puts more stress on your muscles, so if you are using 20-pound dumbbells for bicep curls, you may only be able to use 15 pounds with TUT training.
- Keep your pace at six counts on the extension and six counts on the contraction. For a bicep curl, that means six counts up and six counts down.
- Do three sets for each exercise.
There are many ways of working out and getting results in the gym. I have found that changing your workouts (cycling them) keeps the training from getting boring and keeps your muscles from becoming lazy.
Time under tension is only one way of stimulating muscles and creating strength and growth. I usually use this technique for a period of 30 days before I move on to a different training technique, such as super sets, fast-twitch training, four-point tempo … you get the point! I will get into these other training methods in later blogs, but for now, try TUT training and see where it takes your muscles.