Personal trainers have a lot of goals that aren’t focused on aesthetics. We want you to activate your glutes and fix muscle imbalances. Increase your V02 max and improve your neuromuscular control.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in aesthetics; I’m very interested in aesthetics and get a lot of gratification from enlarging my muscle fibers, so to speak. Add in a low-fat diet and you’ve got a supremely cut, lean physique. What’s not to love about that? It’s surely a worthy goal whether the experts agree or not.
There’s an aesthetic ideal you want to reach – be it looking lean and tight, seeing muscle definition in your shoulders, shaping your butt, or winning a competition. With aesthetics, the basic goal is always to gain muscle (and many times to lose fat as well). Losing fat will come from diet, but I’m going to talk about gaining bigger muscles – hypertrophy – here.
I’m of the opinion that muscle definition on men and women is highly attractive, and if you don’t grow your muscles you surely can’t change the composition of your body and gain that definition.
Time under tension
By definition, hypertrophy is the enlargement of skeletal muscle fibers in response to overcoming force from high volumes of tension. It stands to reason that if the time under tension (TUT) is longer, the muscle must work harder.
I’ve talked before about the importance of knowing how long to rest and how many reps to do, but changing how long your muscles are under tension is another important technique. Incidentally, TUT is also referred to as “tempo” (which is written as x/x/x – eccentric/isometric/concentric).
There are optimal times for time under tension, depending on your goals. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the optimal TUT for hypertrophy is 20-70 seconds per set (8-10 reps in a range between 4/2/1 and 2/0/2 tempos). So for a goal of 40 seconds TUT, a set of 10 reps would need to consist of four-second reps. One very effective way to stimulate muscle growth is a longer eccentric phase, when the muscle is lengthening and resisting gravity. For example, when doing a bicep curl, you would curl the weight up for one count and down for three. If you do eccentric training, you should cycle it in your training and not use it every workout to avoid overtraining.
Even if you don’t want to worry about TUT, I promise you that slowing down your reps will encourage more muscle growth than rushing through. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people in the gym doing quick reps and even quick partial reps. Partial reps have a place in training, but when done quickly, they are a supreme waste of time. Just remember to vary the times under tension weekly and don’t fall into the habit of always using a 4/0/1 temp, for example. Varying tempo is one of the fundamental principals in creating changes in your body.
For more information about TUT, check out this article. But before you do, please leave me a comment about whether you’ve thought about or used this technique before and what you think of it!