Time Under Tension Repetition Speed The Forgotten Secret

Time Under Tension Repetition Speed The Forgotten Secret

Talk to 10 different strength coaches about which is the best way to train and I’ll guarantee you, you’ll get 10 different answers. So, who is right???

The truth is, everything works, just not forever. Most people get results when trying a new program created by the latest ‘guru’ simply because it is a stimulus that their body was previously not exposed to. Expose your body to something new and different = new and different results. Simple.

What does this mean for you? Firstly, and obviously, do not stick to the same program for too long or your results will be mediocre at best.

Secondly, you can find change and improvement in the simplest ways. So, before you go overhauling your whole training routine, read on for one of the simplest and quickest ways to change your training stimulus and accelerate your results to a whole new level.

Repetiton speed is one of those variables that receives little if any consideration when people are designing their program. The truth of the matter is, lifting speed is extremely important.

Let’s say for example that I got you to perform a Standing Military Press with a 16kg Kettlebell. On the first set I got you to pump out 10 reps by going as fast as you can, pumping the arm up and down as if it was a piston. The second set I got you to slow the pace down so you performed a steady slow contraction on the way up for 3 sec, a controlled descent for 4 sec, and then a 2 sec pause at the bottom. Do you think the training effect of these two sets would be different? You better believe it!

The reason for this is that in the slower lift, more time is available for tension to be developed and muscle cross bridges to form, and also, the muscle has a greater “Time Under Tension”.

Of course with Time Under Tension, I am mainly referring specifically to your Grind’s, as Ballistics are explosive in nature, there is no real way of performing a slow and steady 4sec concentric phase on a Snatch. So, the following principles apply to Grinds only.

Depending on your goals, Time Under Tension can be extremely important. If your desire is to gain mass for example, the optimal time a muscle should contract during a set should fall between 20-70sec. This doesn’t mean that if you desire muscle gain that your sets can’t fall above and below this figure, but generally speaking, most of your sets should fall in this range.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can pick up an 8kg bell, do a set of presses that lasts 30sec and sit back and weight for explosive growth to take place. You still need to provide the muscle with a minimum threshold to generate ENOUGH tension in the muscle, then you need to expose that muscle to sufficient TIME under that tension. But that’s a topic for another article.

Back to Grinds…So, one of the obvious ways you can spice up your old program and introduce your body to a new and interesting stimulus is to vary the “Time Under Tension” that the muscle is exposed to. This can be done in successive sets or successive workouts. The key here is planned variation to elicit a specific training response.

When talking about the Temp of each lift, you need to get used to the idea of the written code.


May look like someones post code, but is actually telling you the time of each phase during each lift.

The first number signifies the eccentric, or lowering portion of the lift. In the above case, that would mean that the weight is lowered over a 4sec period.

The second number refers to the pause in the bottom position.

The third number is the concentric, or up phase of the lift.

The fourth number is the pause in the contracted position.

Let’s take the Kettlebell Front Squat as an example. If you are using the above annotation, this would mean that you would descend into the squat over a 4sec count, no pause in the bottom position and drive back to upright over 2sec. You would then start your descent into the squat again without a pause at the top.

You can see how this would be a completely different set to a:


This set involves a 6sec lowering phase, a 2sec pause in the “hole”, a 4sec drive up, and then a 1sec pause at the top before lowering into your next rep.

In this last example, each rep would take you a whopping 13sec to complete, compared to the 6sec from the previous example. So, if you time under tension goal was say 40sec. Using the first example, you would complete around 7reps:

6sec x 7 = 42sec Time Under Tension

Under the second examply, you would only need around 3 reps:

13sec x 3 = 39sec Time Under Tension

An interesting thing occurs when you come across the following


The X here denotes “as fast as possible”. So the rep is 2sec to lower, no pause at the bottom, explode as fast as possible to return, no rest in the contracted position.

As well as the above examples, why don’t you experiment and try a few different tempo’s of your own?

What’s the moral here? Don’t get tied down into doing the same workout, same routine, same exercises at the same pace day in day out.

If you find that you’re getting stuck on a particular repetition range with a certain bell size, find new and interesting ways to measure your improvement. You might only be able to press the 24kg bell for a max of 5 reps. But at what speed? What if you sped your rep speed up on the concentric (up) phase? What if you performed that same 5 reps but the total Time Under Tension was 5sec longer for the set? Do you think this is an improvement? You bet it is!

Why don’t you try progressing the tempo from workout to workout, week to week. Have one week as an “explosive week”. Another as a “strength” or slow week. Keep the stimulus changing and your body guessing.

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