Another Way to Grow Your Muscles: TUT

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.Β 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 partialΒ 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!

24 thoughts on “Another Way to Grow Your Muscles: TUT

  1. Great article, I always tell my clients “Muscle not Momentum”! Myself, I’ve been doing front offload squats with a count of 3 down. Doesn’t take a lot of weight to feel that one burn. πŸ™‚


  2. Love the article. The Dynamic Tension Workout in the May 2012 issue of Fitness Rx uses this technique to a degree. Their time under tension is simply 6 secs up and 6 seconds down. “Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps to failure at 50 to 80% maximum strength (1RM) two times a week if you want to build muscle and strength”.

    I missed the “two times a week” comment and embarked on a 1 month trial. At the end of my 2nd week I felt and looked great. I decided to do a strength test. And was I disappointed. I lost strength. I looked good but I lost strength.

    I love the strategy. Felt and looked great. But i think I will employ it again as a once a week, Friday workout.

    Does TUT generally increase hypertrophy at the expense of strength?

    I would love to find a mix/balance to achieving both goals: hypertrophy and strength! Is “tempo” and frequency the key?


    • Hmm, no I’ve never heard of TUT compromising strength. Strength gains are done with a lower rep scheme but can be in different tempos as well. A pause at the isometric phase is another very burn-worthy way to confuse your muscles. If your goal is both, your strategy should be to cycle (or periodize) your training. There’s lots written on cycling… You’ll have several weeks each of strength, recovery, and hypertrophy. I should write something on this as well. Let me know which direction you go!


  3. Thanks for this post–you’ve got me thinking about tempo, and it’s a topic I probably should pay more attention to. I do always focus on mindfulness and correct form (for myself and others), and to a certain extent that helps ensure reps aren’t blasted out too quickly.

    Oh, and I totally agree: hypertrophy is the bottom line. πŸ™‚


  4. LOVE it Suzanne! You know I do!!! Of course I have cycled tempo thru the years & love how different it feels to change it up! I tend to be very in control anyway but I am going to really slow it down next time for some body parts! I love that feeling! For those out there that have not done it, prepare for major DOMS! πŸ˜‰

    Off to read the article!!!


  5. Working with TUT tempos in my workouts has evolved over the past few years…to the point where a lot of my training is based on time instead of reps & sets.

    And yet if we look at mainstream fitness sites, TUT is virtually ignored.

    Thank goodness for fitness bloggers willing to push the envelope


  6. Suzanne, before reading this post I just thought TUT was the name of an Egyptian king. My trainer has been focused on going slower on certain moves and now I can see why. As always, you are a great source of enlightenment. πŸ™‚


  7. This is actually the first time I have heard about TUT and you gave me a lot of great ideas shared here.. I am sure this can help a lot of people, not just me..


  8. Ahhhhh – I learn so much here! Yes, I think in terms of tempo… and since I’m not a lover of working out, my tendency is to rush rush rush. But I have definitely been more “mindful” – in general and in terms of tempo. When people want to mix it up? I think this is an often overlooked tool to incorporate, eh? Love this! Love you!


  9. TUT – new word or acronym for me. πŸ™‚ It does sounds great to know about it especially its technicalities. I mean, gaining lean and large muscles is not an easy task and it is better to do it in the right way. I’m really learning a lot here. πŸ™‚


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