Here is the harsh truth: you could be working out for one hour every day, watching your diet like a hawk and yet getting little to virtually no results.

How many people have you met or seen at the gym who always seem to be there, week in week out, year after year but don’t actually ever seem to change? There’s a lot of them.

There are many, complex reasons for this but a big piece of the puzzle is a lack of focus on ‘time under tension’ training (my preferred method of generating maximum results in as little time as possible).

First, watch this video:


Fortunately, science allow us to understand what actually happens during a workout and crucially, what makes actually makes a difference and what is simply a waste of your time and accomplishing very little.

The Conventional Workout Wisdom

First let’s take a look at where most conventional workouts are going wrong. For most people, going to the gym typically involves one of two things:

  1. an aerobics class such as Zumba, Spinning or something similar;
  2. 30-60 boring minutes of low intensity treadmill work plus some wasted time on the resistance machines.

While neither of those are inherently bad, and moving your body around is better than not moving your body around, people quickly become discouraged with the lack of results on the scales and in the mirror.

Being physically present in a gym or a fitness studio does not, in an of itself, produce any results whatsoever.

Pounding out hours of steady state cardio on the treadmill or the spinning bike tend not to produce a positive adaptive response

I know people that go to the gym seven times a week, eat clean and still aren’t getting the result they really want.

In fact, contrary to what might be instinctive, more time in the gym or placing your body under a lot of stress from exercise day in day out can in fact harm your results, not improve them.

Focus on quality, not quantity or duration. But how?

Time Under Tension Training to The Rescue

Time under tension is the opposite of conventional exercise regimens which tend to focus on low intensity, steady state workouts. It is about slowing things down, maintaining correct (perfect) form, and triggering as much change in your muscles as possible. Most people have twigged that weight training is good for you by now (even if you’re a woman).

BUT most people are doing it wrong for various reasons. The main reason? People are going too fast and not spending enough time under tension to generate a positive change.

Time under tension workouts can be performed using a swiss ball

So if you’ve already converted to weight/resistance training over workout DVDs, the following might apply to you:

  • As weight/resistance workouts become more challenging, people tend to speed up the set as it progresses and ‘bang out those last few reps to get it done‘. This is a false economy and you are in fact cheating yourself. Your body does not know the number of repetitions, only the amount of stress you place it under;
  • While this is a natural response, quick reps are actually easier. This is because you are cheating by using momentum. I’d rather see one of my clients perform a movement at a slow controlled pace for one minute with a light weight than perform 10 fast repetitions of a heavy weight.
  • Let’s take an example: If you do a set of 10 repetitions in 20 seconds you have probably only properly fatigued the muscle for a very short amount of time. In other words, you haven’t used up all the fuel in the muscle.
  • Compare that to slowing things down and doing a single rep in around 15 seconds – with a slow speed (cadence) of raising and lowering whatever weight you are moving.

The Do’s and Don’t of Time Under Tension Training

Do

  • You do prefer compound movements instead of isolation exercises.
  • You do focus on ‘time under tension’ (around 90 seconds is an optimal point to reach failure).
  • You do focus on failure, not repetitions;
  • You do focus on the negative part of the movement rather than neglect it (the part where you are working with gravity in moving the weight in a controlled manner).

Don’t

  • You don’t stop with your arms or legs locked out at the top or bottom of the movement;
  • You don’t ‘swing’ the bar or the weight;
  • You don’t cheat by using other muscle groups to get the weight up and down;
  • You don’t perform the moment so quickly that you’re relying on momentum;
  • You don’t ‘bounce’ at the bottom of a movement.
Compound movements are far superior to isolation exercises to produce maximum results

For more guidance on this, see the Can DO Plan.

It can be difficult to understand what proper time under tension training looks like, so see this video to see a proper time under tension set and how hard it can be.

If you’re honest with yourself – you know when you are ‘cheating’ and you know how you could physically make the exercise more difficult – you need to be honest, make it hard for yourself to get results. Training with your ego doesn’t work.

By placing the greatest possible demand on the muscle, we trigger the optimal amount of positive change. What is more, we reduce our risk of injury because the movement is controlled and the form is good.

Time under tension is not about counting reps, it is about making every rep count. By ‘in-roading’ your muscles as deeply as possible, you achieve results faster than ever.

Crossfit and other recent exercise fads are not consistent with time under tension training principles

Why Cross fit sucks

This is also why things like Crossfit (whilst better than sitting at home eating pizza) are not particularly good for you. They focus on quick reps with poor form and often weird, uncontrolled movements. Stay away from the fad diet/exercise regimes. Your body is an ancient machine that likes conventional, familiar movement, not complex ‘innovations’.

Pressing the failure button

Once you’ve hit the ‘failure’ button once, there is no point pressing it over and over again. By this I mean, once  you have completed one proper time under tension set in which you have reached failure, there is no need to keep pressing the button with more sets – your body got the message the first time.

You’ve damaged your muscles sufficiently for them to respond and repair and for you to come back next time even better and stronger (and leaner!).

It’s a bit like pressing the button to call the lift – once you’ve pressed it once, there’s no need to keep pressing it. You’ll generate more muscle mass through using this approach and that’s great because more muscle mass = greater fat loss and a stronger leaner physique.

If you’ve reached true failure once, your body will adapt – performing multiple sets of the same exercise doesn’t get you any further along the road to change

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.

If you want to check out the full science behind the above approach, read Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week (NTC Sports/Fitness)

Thanks

D

DISCLAIMER 1

PROPER TIME UNDER TENSION WEIGHT TRAINING IS VERY, VERY TOUGH – BUT YOU HAVE TO ASK YOURSELF WHETHER YOU WOULD PREFER TO WASTE TIME IN THE GYM MAKING SMALL INCREMENTAL PROGRESS OR SPEND AN EFFICIENT AMOUNT OF TIME MAKING MASSIVE PROGRESS IN A SHORT RESISTANCE SESSION.

DISCLAIMER 2

HAVING A WORKOUT PARTNER REALLY HELPS FOR TIME UNDER TENSION TRAINING, PARTICULARLY WHERE YOU ARE USING RESISTANCE MACHINES OR FREE WEIGHTS. IF YOU HAVE A SPOTTER, YOU CAN ASK THEM TO HELP YOU WITH THE POSITIVE PART OF THE MOVEMENT AS YOU APPROACH MUSCULAR FAILURE SO THAT YOU CAN COMPREHENSIVELY FATIGUE THE MUSCLE WITH THE CONTROLLED NEGATIVE PART OF THE MOVEMENT.