INCREASING INTENSITY WITHOUT ADDING LOAD
‘Time under tension’ is a key training variable that we can use to manipulate and improve our current and long-term training goals when strength training.
You will see people in the gym “repping away” on the leg press or squat, often quite happy just counting their reps, following a same tempo, 1 rep every 2 seconds and never focusing on the main purpose of training. This is especially common in endurance athletes who are used to high intensity, repetitive movement.
The real focus of our strength training however should be to elicit change in the muscle group that we are targeting. If you don't hit a minimum level of muscle tension*(and exceed it), you won't be providing the neuromuscular system with adequate stimulus and you definitely won't see the results you desire.
Even though applying this training tool when working with load (kettle bells, barbells etc) is probably the most effective, it can also be useful when equipment or extra weight is limited. Applying it to even the simplest of body weight exercises is a great way to increase the intensity of your sessions.
Simply put, ‘time under tension’ is where we change the speed at which we move the weight/resistance when performing an exercise, and thus provoking a level of activity within a muscle, forcing it to adapt and get stronger. The weight isn’t always the priority when we train. By slowing the movement down (5-10sec duration) we are working to improve selective muscle recruitment, stability and control. The slower a weight is moved, the more tension can be produced.
Creating this time under tension can be achieved through a number of variations, which are dependent on the individual training goals of the athlete. For instance if you are new to strength training then we would recommend a slow controlled motion which might see you perform one repetition of a squat with a 3 second lowering phase and then a 2 second upward phase of the barbell. Further down the road to increase intensity to your training and to break through any ‘plateau’, you might add a 1 second pause at the bottom of the first phase, such as a stationary hold at the bottom of a squat.
Try it for Yourself: Perform 10 body weight squats as you usually would. Have a short rest and then try it again but this time holding the squat at the bottom for a 2-3 second count before rising up to standing. See the difference?
(* Muscle tension is where muscles remain semi-contracted for an extended period of time.)