What is Time Under Tension and How to Use It

What is Time Under Tension and How to Use It

The Basics of Time Under Tension and How to Use it

You’ve probably heard the phrase “time under tension” before. It’s common to hear “it’s the key to growth,” referring to time under tension tossed around the gym. This phrase is commonplace because altering it is a great way to increase the dose-response (effect) of an exercise. But to get the most out of it, one must first understand how much time under tension is needed.

What is Time Under Tension?

Time under tension, also referred to as TUT, is the duration during an exercise that a muscle is under load. It’s important to keep time under tension in mind as it directly affects the dose-response from the exercise. The amount of time one should spend under tension depends on whether they are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced trainee. 

To keep it simple there are three categories for the amount of time under tension, beginner, intermediate, and advanced. These categories are a good rule of thumb but there are exceptions to the rule. These time frames are classified by the client’s prior experience with exercise, which is discussed during the consultation and determined during the assessment.

Time Under Tension for a Beginner Client:

Clients that have not had much prior exercise experience fall under the beginner time frame. The priority for these clients is to develop motor control and muscle endurance. The amount of time they need to spend under tension will be a lot longer, ranging from 30-90 seconds per set. The volume of work being done will be higher and the intensity lower

Sample Beginner Repetition Scheme:

Goblet Squat 

10 repetitions at a 3131 tempo for 4 sets

= 80 seconds of time under tension per set

Time Under Tension for an Intermediate Client:

Intermediate clients will have already had exposure to exercise and their focus will be muscle endurance and strength endurance. The time frame for these clients will be 10-60 seconds per set.

Sample Intermediate Repetition Scheme:

Bench Press 

6 repetitions at a 2111 tempo for 3 sets

= 30 seconds of time under tension per set

Time Under Tension for an Advanced Client:

Advanced clients will still focus on building muscle endurance and strength endurance when appropriate, but will also be capable of maximal contractions. The time under tension for these clients will be 0-30 seconds per set. The intensity of work being done will be higher and the volume lower. Learn how to alter volume and intensity in this free download.

Sample Advanced Repetition Scheme:

Back Squat

2 repetitions at 1010 tempo for 4 sets

= 4 seconds of time under tension per set

How to Control Time Under Tension

A way that you can control the time under tension for an exercise is adhering to a tempo. Tempo is the rate or pace at which an exercise is performed. For example, a beginner’s tempo would be 4040 for 10 repetitions. Learn more about how to control the time under tension with tempo and how to write it in this tempo specific blog.

How to Control The Client’s Results

Controlling the time under tension in your client’s exercise program is a great way to manipulate the dose-response of their training. But this only accounts for the single exercise and doesn’t include the client’s long-term plan or the time outside of the gym. A professional coach understands this and designs a program with long-term progression and lifestyle habits in mind. Learn the skills you need to become a well-rounded coach with our free Professional Coaching Blueprint. Download now and become the coach you’ve always envisioned. 


Fitness Assessments for New Clients