This is something that Pavel Tsatsouline has written about for years.
Tension is simply flexing or squeezing your muscles harder during an exercise or movement.
What happens is you are recruiting more motor units (the cells that cause the nervous system and muscles to work together) and you are recruiting more muscle fibers to contract.
Makes sense, right? The harder you squeeze, the greater muscular recruitment you’ll experience.
The more tension you have in a particular muscle or group of muscles, the more force production you will generate.
Tension equals force.
This was written about extensively in Pavel’s book, Power To The People.
High tension training has several key components such as lifting slowly, maintaining high amounts of tension throughout the lift, and maximizing neurological efficiency (mind control).
High tension training increases tone in the muscles.
If tension equals force production, it makes sense that you will get stronger by using tension techniques in your training.
Now that we know that tension is a good thing, what happens if you increase the time under tension?
First, what is time under tension and why is this important for you to know about it?
Time under tension is the amount of time your muscles are under load during a set.
For example, doing a slow set of 10 reps will have a longer time under tension as compared to 10 FAST reps.
Again, why is this important?
Cutting edge new data from the Journal of Physiology (J. Physiol 590.2, pp. 351-362) suggests that an increase time under tension will lead to greater increases in muscular protein synthesis.
It has been known that single bouts of resistance exercise stimulates new muscle proteins which contribute to muscular hypertrophy (your muscles growing bigger).
This is ground breaking new data in this trial, which I’ll explain to you now.
Although some may argue that this is a small trial, the analysis was quite extensive in how they measured the results of protein synthesis. Analysis of protein synthesis was conducted by muscle tissue biopsy, which adds to the validity of this study.
Specifically, this study found that longer muscle time under tension increased the acute response of mitochondrial and sarcoplasmic protein synthesis and also resulted in a significant, but delayed stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis (24-30 h after resistance exercise). These findings are important cellular physiological changes.
In layman’s terms, greater increases in protein synthesis were seen in SLOW lifting movements (increased time under tension) as compared to the same exercise performed rapidly.
So then, time under tension may be very important for muscular development.
Increasing time under tension may be a better method for muscle building and preventing age related muscle loss.
The bottom line is that to get “bigger,” you will not only need to increase the load (weight), but increase the time spent under that load.
This study reveals (from a cellular level) the mechanism of increased time under tension and what this can potentially mean for muscular hypertrophy.
As stated in the beginning, not only does this type of training increase motor unit recruitment, but now there is data to suggest that there is a positive physiological response that enhances hypertrophy to a greater extent.
High tension and increasing the time under tension appear to have data driven benefits in enhancing muscular growth.
If your goals are to build muscle (and I’ve talked about how muscle building should be included in ALL of our goals) then using the technique of “time under tension” appears to be further validated.
Slow down with your exercises. Perform them safely and efficiently.
Increase your “time under tension” with appropriate exercises for maximum results.
Questions and comments are always welcome.
And, of course, please pass this important article along to others.